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
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A pro-Europe demonstrator in Laurencekirk, Scotland

By in Glasgow and Edinburgh (Article and Photos)


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.

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
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Political scientist John Curtice

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
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Scottish National Party member Jim Sillars

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."

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
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EU subsidies

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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Mr Grumpy 06/16/2016
1. EU and Brexit
I have already voted (by Post) to Leave the EU. There are three things that the EU (not The UK Remain campaign) could have done that would have changed my mind. My primary concern is and shall remain Democracy and the sovereignty of the voting public. That is my 'red card' A legally binding promise to replace the EU Commission with a wholly elected body. A legally binding promise to return complete legal sovereignty to all member states. A legally binding promise to halt, or slow down the expansion of the EU to allow a return to stability and natural growth. Britain is leading the way to a reformed EU but it must do it by leaving, because reform has been shown to be now impossible. I would like to see Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Iceland, Ireland and Sweden and Switzerland (I bet it would join then) form a Northern Europe Free Trading, block outside the EU. The single market would then be a very different proposition. One based on Trade, not political interference.
jamesbtown 06/16/2016
2. Scotland
It seems that the Scots don't know what they want. First the SNP wants to rid themselves of being part of the union that is the United Kingdom. This in the cause of 'freedom' from the English yoke. Then perversely when this is achieved they are happy to cede their newly acquired 'freedom' to become members of a completely undemocratic organisation calling itself the European Union. The lunatics are truly running the asylum.
frankiboy 06/16/2016
3.
Let's make one thing clear; the Scots in the form of the SNP will try to force a vote on independence whether the UK is a member of the EU or not.This is a cherished wish for centuries.As soon as oil hits $100 a barrel they will claim all sorts of English unfairness and engineer a new vote.Being in the EU at the time allows them to say, look we are already in the club so why throw us out? The real question is whether the SNP vote can be sustained in the meantime; after all as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics.
Anglish 06/16/2016
4. The Fallacy of EU grants
Please Please journalists remember we are not as stupid as you think. You laud the giving of the grants to Scotland by the EU. Simple mathematics are for every £100 we give to the EU the EU gives us back £10. The EU keep the other £90 to give to inefficient French, German Farmers and olive growers in Italy who never actually grow the olives. We are wise to your obfuscations and mendacity.
normanandlilo 06/16/2016
5. Leave is the best option for Scotland
Scotland. There is a minority of Scots who will always see England as the enemy, and will insist on another referendum on the break up of our union. Lets hope they get their wish with. The result will be that Scotland will become, not the fifth richest country in the world ,but one of the poorest in the EU The EU is controlled by the wealthy nations of its members who have no consideration for the poorer countries, who will still want to be paid Their unemployment benefits even when many jobs are available. So the EU may welcome another poor country . But who will pay for them when the second largest contributor leaves the European Union? Cameron made a very weak effort to make reforms in The EU without success. The EU is content to continue its slide into history being another failed project.
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