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Nationalism, talk of independence on the rise in Scotland, Wales

Crucial elections are coming up on May 6 in Great Britain, and nationalists in Scotland and Wales are hoping to do well enough to demand referendums on independence. Scottish voters had rejected independence in a 2014 referendum, but Brexit and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic are renewing interest and exacerbating tensions between the nations. Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Crucial elections are coming up on Thursday, May 6th in the three countries that comprise Great Britain: England, Wales and Scotland. Nationalists in Scotland and wales are hoping to do well enough to demand referendums on independence from London.

    In 2014, Scottish voters rejected independence in a referendum, but Brexit and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic are renewing interest and exacerbating tensions between the nations in what's being described as the 'disunited kingdom.' NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from North Wales.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Sundowner time in Caernarfon, 300 miles northwest of the British seat of government in Westminster, London. This world heritage town is a bastion of Welsh separatism and voters are on a collision course with Westminster.

  • Jasper Atkinson:

    Essentially, it's all about being anti-Westminster because it's an establishment of awful people.

  • Dafydd Morris:

    The union is collapsing. I think that the, I think Scotland has done pretty well in pushing independence themselves.

  • Jasper Atkinson:

    I really got to the point where I just think we've got to go for it or it's not going to happen at all.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    For the past twenty years, Hywel Williams has represented this district in the British Parliament on behalf of the Nationalist Party of Wales, known in the Welsh language as Plaid Cymru.

  • Hywel Williams:

    Our motto is, stop the world we want to get on. Actually, we want to join the world, not separate ourselves from it. But we want to join the world as ourselves, and I think we have a positive contribution to make to world affairs in our own small way.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Until now only a minority of the population has supported Welsh nationalism. But with polls estimating 35 percent in favor of independence, Plaid Cymru is promising a referendum if it gets into power in the Welsh assembly.

  • Hywel Williams:

    Certainly, Wales is a poor country relative to, say, Germany or Denmark or whatever. But we look at the small nations across the water here towards Ireland and see the huge strides that they have made as an independent country.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were given their own national assemblies at the turn of the century, so-called devolution gave powers over issues such as health and education to the three new authorities in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. The Welsh Assembly has traditionally been governed by the Labour Party, which is opposed to independence. Sion Jones is a Labour Councillor in Caernarfon.

  • Sion Jones:

    I want to see Wales have more self-determination and that means more powers towards our country. However, going as far as independence, I think is a step in the wrong direction. We are at the moment having nearly £ 20 billion by the Westminster government to control and to run our services. Without that, I think Wales would be in danger.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Polls suggest that Labour will be the biggest party after the election but may have to share power with the Welsh nationalists.

    The British government likes to boast that the United Kingdom is the most successful political and economic union the world has ever seen. But a new study by public policy experts at Cambridge University warns that Boris Johnson is widely perceived as a Prime Minister who only speaks for England.

  • Owain Jones:

    This present crisis is, I think, a lot more serious than the British state seems to realize.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Historian Owain Jones believes that English Brexiteers, who triggered Britain's divorce from the European Union, bear responsibility for Welsh referendum demands.

  • Owain Jones:

    From the perspective of Welsh home rule or Welsh independence. I think Brexiteers are more to be thanked than blamed. The fact that they are moving against the small measure of self-government that Wales has at the moment is forcing people to choose their side

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The Welsh language is part of the cultural identity driving the independence movement. What's unusual here is that the Brown family, all fluent Welsh speakers, are English. They fell in love with Welsh culture, set up home here and have become Welsh Nationalists.

  • Duncan Brown:

    Successive English governments have always been patronizing towards us.

  • Jill Brown:

    Because of ignorance, they're ready to belittle the language. And I don't really like that.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Beca Brown was elected as a local councilor for Plaid Cymru during the pandemic. Having control over health issues enabled Wales to enforce tougher measures than England.

  • Beca Brown:

    Mainly for me, it's one thing to see Wales do better. It's an ambition for Wales is an ambition for the Welsh people wanting to see us healthier and wealthier. Because going back to the pandemic, what we have seen is, I think, the eight areas in the U.K. who are worst hit by COVID, five of them were here in Wales and that's poverty.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    All Welsh eyes are on Scotland, which is further along the road to independence because the Nationalists dominate the political scene here. As she launched her election manifesto, party leader Nicola Sturgeon lay down the gauntlet to Westminster.

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    I believe passionately that with the powers of independence, we can do so much more for Scotland.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This is what remains of Kelso Abbey after English troops sacked it in the sixteenth century. It's in the Borders region where Paul Wheelhouse, is fighting for re-election. He's been the Energy Minister in Sturgeon's government. Wheelhouse believes Brexit and Sturgeon's competence during the pandemic have boosted their chances.

  • Paul Wheelhouse:

    It's not a competition, of course, but we have seen a lower level of deaths in Scotland, lower level of infections in Scotland, and we sometimes take politically courageous decisions that have been unpopular at the time but proved to be right in terms of shutting down parts of the economy earlier than in England.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This is the border. On the left bank of the River Tweed is Scotland, on the right England. John Lamont is a Conservative member of the Westminster Parliament for the Scottish Borders.

  • John Lamont:

    We need to not only ensure that we defeat the spread of the virus, but we need to deal with economic recovery plan and that will take some time. So I don't think now is the time for a referendum.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The Scottish political scene has been complicated by a vicious split in Nationalist ranks over unproven allegations of sexual harassment by the former SNP leader Alex Salmond, Salmond was cleared in court of all charges. His supporters believe Nicola Sturgeon orchestrated a campaign to bring him down. Salmond has formed his own party Alba.

  • Alex Salmond:

    The party's strategic aims are clear and unambiguous: to achieve a successful, socially, just environmentally responsible independent country.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Alba candidates like Christina Hendry, reject claims that independence demands will damage Scotland's post-COVID recovery.

  • Christina Hendry:

    Scotland is best placed to decide how we recover from the pandemic. The people of Scotland are best placed to decide what policies we should be putting forward, how we should be recovering.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    At a memorial to fallen British veterans, former soldier Bob Bolton stands up for the Union.

  • Bob Bolton:

    We are better together. This pandemic has proved that. And if I hadn't been for the U.K. government, Scotland would have been so far behind in the vaccination process. There would be many, many more people dead in Scotland than what there is now.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Some analysts believe Boris Johnson should offer the Scots a surprise referendum now because there's a good chance of it rejecting independence in the wake of the pandemic.

  • John Lamont:

    Scots will recognize the great benefits of being part of a strong United Kingdom and they recognize what they contribute to the entirety of the UK as well. So I do not accept that independence is inevitable.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But in this small Welsh garden, hopes are soaring higher than ever.

  • Duncan Brown:

    Scotland is very much our model, and if Scotland goes independent, then I really do think that there will be nothing to hold us back then.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The good ship Britain may look stable now, but troubled waters lie ahead.

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