Scotland and the Referendum Fears of the Exit after Brexit

The Scots would clearly prefer to stay in the EU, but even here, there are pockets of voters who may support Britain's withdrawal. If the UK does leave, will it increase prospects for a renewed Scottish independence vote?
A pro-Europe demonstrator in Laurencekirk, Scotland

A pro-Europe demonstrator in Laurencekirk, Scotland

Foto: Jeff J Mitchell/ Getty Images

On a warm, sunny day, Easterhouse feels almost livable. Green grass is visible through the trash along the roadside, and residents push their improvised walkers to the Shandwick Square Shopping Centre, laughing and chatting. But a second, closer look reveals that the sign above the door of The Centaur, a local pub, is about to come off its hinges, paint is peeling off fences, there are broken windows and building walls are covered with mold.

"Our country already has enough problems," says local Lisa Hotchkiss. "It's better for all of us to stick together." That's why the 32-year-old says she will definitely vote against Brexit on June 23, when the British hold a referendum on whether to continue their membership in the European Union. But she knows that not everyone agrees with her in the blue-collar Glasgow neighborhood where she grew up and still lives today. Some also intend to vote yes on Brexit, she says.

Still others won't be voting at all. One is Nicola Robertson, a waitress at Marinaldo's Fast Food Restaurant, who says: "I know nothing about the issue, so I'm not voting." The 23-year-old serves fish and chips to the restaurant's guests, men with shaved heads and expressions like "Thug Life" tattooed on their muscular arms.

Easterhouse has a population of around 9,000 people. Data compiled by the Glasgow Indicator Project indicate that life expectancy in the district is somewhat lower than the average for Glasgow, and more people in Easterhouse receive government assistance than in the metropolitan region. The reasons are unemployment and disability. Easterhouse also ranks high on the scale of child poverty and deprivation. In 2011, around 42 percent of children lived in poverty, a rate 31 percent higher than in the city as a whole.

Fotostrecke

Photo Gallery: Working Class Neighborhood Easterhouse

Foto: SPIEGEL ONLINE

A clear outcome on the Brexit referendum is expected in Scotland, where polls predict a majority ranging from 59 to 75 percent voting in favor of remaining in the EU.

But the vote may not be as clear-cut in Easterhouse. In 2014, when Scotland voted on independence from Britain, the Glasgow neighborhood went its own way. Some 55.3 percent of voters throughout Scotland voted no, while only 44.7 percent voted yes. However, in the election district to which socially disadvantaged Easterhouse belongs, more than 25,000 people voted to secede from Britain, while only 19,000 were opposed.

The desire for independence is growing again in Scotland. If Britain votes to leave the European Union on June 23, but a majority of Scots vote to remain in the EU, Scottish independence could become an issue once again, says Alex Salmond, the former chairman of the left-leaning Scottish National Party (SNP).

The British prime minister has warned against the same scenario. In a TV debate with the right-wing populist UK Independence Party (UKIP), David Cameron recently said he feared a second Scottish referendum and deplored the "Nigel Farage Little England option."

So how will the Scots vote in June? To remain in the EU, after wanting to become an independent member of the union in 2014? Or for independence for Britain, with the option of a later secession?

Political scientist John Curtice

Political scientist John Curtice

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John Curtice, a professor of political science at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, sees the discussion as highly hypothetical. "There are many hurdles," he says, as he fills our teacups and leans back into a blue armchair in a hotel lobby on George Square. Certain conditions would have to be met first, he explains:

Britain would have to vote for the Brexit -- and Scottish voters against it. This would raise the question of feasibility, says Englishman Curtice. "I don't think the government would allow a second Scotland referendum." And even if Britain were to vote to leave the bloc, he adds, the EU would probably be strongly opposed to a new referendum.

Besides, says Curtice, there are some major unknowns: Will Conservative politician Boris Johnson succeed Prime Minister David Cameron if Cameron loses the Brexit referendum? Will the SNP remain as successful as it has been until now? Will the EU severely punish Britain in the event of a Brexit?

Scottish National Party member Jim Sillars

Scottish National Party member Jim Sillars

Foto: SPIEGEL ONLINE

Jim Sillars is a man who feels confident in his forecasts. The former SNP head is the only member of the Scottish party who favors Brexit. This is ironic, because the 78-year-old, who also served as the architect of the Scottish Independence in Europe movement in the late 1970s, was one of the leading proponents of independence in 2014. He lost that battle.

Today Sillars rails against the EU. "I don't want to live in a democratic society in which a political elite makes decisions about my life." He says no one knows the real decision-makers in the European Commission -- people who, incidentally, were not elected. He warns that Scotland could suffer the same fate as Greece or Portugal within the EU. Brussels truly badgered these countries, says Sillars, sitting in a chair in his living room in Edinburgh. Without the EU, he explains, Scotland will be able to make its own decisions again about fishing, oil and energy production.

He blames Nicola Sturgeon's "Stalinish leadership of the party" for the fact that he, an experienced trade unionist, is the only person in the SNP expressing these opinions openly. He insists he doesn't want to be disloyal to the party leadership but then he voices his opinion nonetheless, saying he has the feeling that many of his fellow party members are in favor of "out." He believes that "once Britain is out, there will no longer be any problems with the EU."

Fotostrecke

Photo Gallery: Will Glasgow District Back Brexit?

Foto: SPIEGEL ONLINE

Professor Curtice can only laugh about Sillars' change of heart. "He was undoubtedly very annoyed when the EU said, in 2014, that Scotland would have to get in line for an independent membership." Curtice doesn't believe there will be many votes in favor of Brexit in Scotland.

The referendum on the future of Britain also just happens to be a vote between the winners and losers of globalization, says the political scientist. Glasgow no longer has its once-flourishing tobacco and coal-trading industries, and nowadays ships are rarely produced in the city, which was once an important industrial center.

EU subsidies

EU subsidies

Foto: SPIEGEL ONLINE

But it is also true that Glasgow has been transformed, having steered itself out of a post-industrial phase filled with crime and misery. Now the third-largest city in Britain markets itself as a shopping destination with space for startups and artists. The local paper, the Evening Times, has even reported on how Greater Glasgow received EU funds to help it undergo this transformation. In the last two years, Glasgow University alone received 20 million pounds, and the city has been the benificiary of subsidies for infrastructure and environmental projects. Scotland is also slated to receive more than €900 million euros in subsidies from the EU structural funds by 2020.

From the looks of things, though, Easterhouse still hasn't seen much of that money.

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