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Scotland is a key battleground in Brexit-dominated election

Britain will go to the polls on Thursday in what’s being viewed as a historic election. The country voted in 2016 to leave the E.U., but Brexit opponents in Parliament have thwarted successive Conservative governments from achieving that aim. As Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries again to advance Brexit, Scotland will play a key role in deciding its fate. Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The United Kingdom goes to the polls on Thursday for what's been billed as the most important general election since the end of the Second World War. The Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hoping to get a big enough majority in Parliament so he can finally make Brexit happen.

    One of the most passionate battlegrounds in this election is Scotland, where not only does the majority oppose Brexit, but also nationalists are pushing for Scottish independence from the U.K.

    NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Edinburgh.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Graduation at St. Andrews, Scotland's most venerable university. It's the moment when students reach life's launchpad. In this election, many Scots are also hoping for lift off.

  • Brad Mackay:

    It's not overstated when people say that this is a historic election.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Brad Mackay is a Professor of Strategic Management and Vice Principal of St. Andrews.

  • Brad Mackay:

    The outcome of this election is going to have a massive impact on the future of Scotland, on the future of the rest of the UK, indeed on the future of the EU for many, many years to come.

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    And we are gathered here for one simple purpose. And that purpose is to demand the right to choose a better future for our country.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The issue of Britain leaving the European Union has been incredibly divisive, and some experts believe that the emotional wounds may take more than a generation to heal. And fear Brexit that itself could ultimately lead to the break up of the United Kingdom. Here in Scotland more than anywhere else this election is being framed in terms of a battle between independence and staying in the United Kingdom.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The Scottish National Party, the SNP wants to secure a second independence referendum, to determine whether the country should leave the UK and become an independent state. The party lost the first referendum in 2014.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    In order to have a chance of a second bite at independence, the Nationalists and other opposition parties need to muster enough Parliamentary seats together to defeat Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives. The SNP is desperate for Scotland to stay in the EU. Nicola Sturgeon is the First Minister of Scotland's semi-autonomous Government.

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    A vote for the SNP on December the 12th is a vote to escape Brexit. It is a vote to put Scotland's future in Scotland's hands.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But if the conservatives win a clear majority, Brexit will go ahead, Scotland will remain in the UK, and dreams of independence will have to be put on ice for years because the Conservatives won't allow a second referendum. Stephen Kerr is defending the Parliamentary district of Stirling, which he won in 2017. He represents the Conservative Party, which opposes Scottish independence.

  • Stephen Kerr:

    Why would you break up the most successful political union in the history of the world? Why would you break up the United Kingdom family? For what purpose other than some ideological obsession which frankly has no basis in reality.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    800 years ago when the Scots were at war with the English, and led by King Robert the Bruce, the military wisdom of the day was: control Stirling, and you control Scotland. Today the Parliamentary seat has a similar strategic significance. This is a seat the Conservatives have to win. Last time around they had a wafer thin majority. Their only realistic opponents are the Nationalists, the SNP.

  • Stephen Kerr:

    This is how the seat will be won. It is going to be won vote by vote and that means a lot of time spent on doorsteps having conversations with people.

  • Voter:

    No, I am afraid I am going to vote for your worst enemy.

  • Steve Kerr:

    My worst enemy? I don't have a worst enemy.

  • Voter:

    Well, you know who. I am for Scottish Independence. Maybe more the heart.

  • Steve Kerr:

    If you had said to me that you were going to vote for me I would have done a jig down this road.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Undaunted, Kerr goes in pursuit of other potential supporters.

  • Stephen Kerr:

    We are certainly not going to be wiped out in Scotland. I mean that's a narrative, the SNP have a narrative they wish to plant in people's minds.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Alyn Smith is the SNP candidate opposing Stephen Kerr in Stirling

  • Alyn Smith:

    There is no good news in Brexit. It's all shades of bad and that is why I want to go to the House of Commons and to meet these points and try to win these arguments. The UK is not one state.The UK is four countries that comprise a state. And the trouble being that some of the people who are in charge of the UK right now have never actually taken the time to understand what our perspective actually is.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    That perspective is laid out in an SNP campaign video.

  • SNP Election Video:

    Right now, Scotland is being dragged out of Europe against our will. It's a Brexit we never voted for. Forced on us by a Tory government we never voted for. A government led by a Prime Minister whose priorities are not ours.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    That prime minister of course is Boris Johnson, who opposes a second vote on Brexit, as well as a second vote on Scottish independence.

  • Boris Johnson:

    Do we want another referendum? That's why this manifest is so aptly, so aptly named. We don't want another referendum on Scotland. We don't. And we rule it out because we don't want to destroy the most successful political partnership of the last 300 years.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Boris Johnson's core message is to get Brexit done, to honor the outcome of the 2016 referendum on European Union membership. Early in the Scottish campaign, he toured a distillery making Scotland's national tipple, buoyed by the Bank of England's assessment that his proposed Brexit deal with Europe would ease economic uncertainty.

  • Boris Johnson:

    What the Governor of the Bank of England said quite rightly, is that when we get Brexit done it will immediately unleash investment and confidence into the UK economy, and that is what I am saying to people.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Scotland used to be the fiefdom of the Labour Party. Its leader Jeremy Corbyn is promising the most radical socialist programme in generations. The nationalists say a coalition with Labour is possible if Corbyn guarantees a second referendum on Scottish independence. But Corbyn says if elected, he won't agree to that, at least not right away.

  • Jeremy Corbyn:

    No referendum in the first term of a Labour government because I think we need to concentrate completely on investment across Scotland. The issue is the needs of the people of Scotland, and a Labour government in Westminster would be in a position to deliver that.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But most pollsters agree that if any party is going to be buried in Scotland on election day, it is Labour. Analyst Mark Diffley says the nationalists have replaced Labour as the party of Scotland's working class. He's been studying the ratings of Johnson, Corbyn, and Scottish first minister Sturgeon.

  • Mark Diffley:

    The Prime Minister is particularly unpopular in Scotland. He has a satisfaction rating of something like minus 60 or minus 70. Mr Corbyn has about the same, whereas the First Minister's tends to split the public down the middle.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Back at St. Andrews, Brexit is causing anxiety. The university worries about attracting the best international talent, and of losing European grants for research projects. The Vice Principal says Scottish entrepreneurs doubt the Prime Minister's Brexit confidence.

  • Brad Mackay:

    Well, Scottish business is very concerned. The EU is a huge export market for Scottish businesses.But also when you think about supply chains which are integrated across the UK and the EU and you think about attracting even skilled labour and different types of labour for businesses, it's of tremendous concern.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Pro Scottish-Independence Historian Lesley Orr says England is responsible for creating barriers, particularly the faction supporting more restrictive immigration policies.

  • Lesley Orr:

    Scotland's aspiration is to be a progressive outward-looking, inclusive nation kind of rooted in civic nationalism and actually one of the issues that Scotland has that diverges from England is the hostile environment that is the current government policy that is doing its best to keep people out, to exclude people.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Polls show that young people are driving the independence movement, but entrepreneur Harry Turner is going against the tide. He's hesitant about investing more in his catering business because of economic uncertainty. In this election, his vote will go to a party that opposes Scottish independence.

  • Harry Turner:

    Personally I think that if Scotland went independent I would move to England because I am that worried about the economic situation.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Such views are music to the conservatives. Pollster Mark Diffley.

  • Mark Diffley:

    In terms of the outcome on December 13th, the Conservatives may do slightly better than one may have predicted a little while ago.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    In Stirling, voter John Macmillan has no time for Scottish independence.

  • John Macmillan:

    It would be a ridiculous thing to do. It wouldn't, emotionally, it would satisfy some people but sensibly it's absolutely ludicrous and I very much hope that we won't be given the opportunity to have yet another referendum. Referendums are supposed to make decisions. We made a decision last time and that is the way it should stay.

  • Douglas MacLachlan:

    It's just so hard, so many people want the best for Scotland and yet we can't get it because we are overruled by England.

  • Scottish Election Video:

    Now is the time to choose a new path for scotland.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The SNP's Alyn Smith hopes that a new path will lead to a winning alliance with the Labour Party.

  • Alyn Smith:

    We will use that to build common cause to stop Brexit. We will build common cause to make clear that it's Scotland's choice to have a referendum and how people want to vote in that referendum is a wider question.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    His opponent Stephen Kerr dreads the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn moving into the Prime Minister's official residence in London.

  • Stephen Kerr:

    That man should be nowhere near Number Ten Downing Street. Almost within weeks our country would be in a financial crisis as confidence seeped away, as capital fled the country because the manifesto that Labour are standing on is a Venezuelan recipe.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This has been the most bitter election in decades. The next government will need to build bridges. Because of Brexit, that may be impossible.

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