What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Stay U.K. or go Scot free? Scotland weighs independence

Scots are poised to decide whether to stay in a 307-year union with England or strike out on their own. The latest polls show a Scottish referendum on independence could go either way. From London and the British Houses of Parliament, there have been pleas to stay and warnings to choose carefully. Jeffrey Brown reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes for independence, no to stay part of the United Kingdom, that's the decision facing voters in Scotland when they go to the polls on Thursday for a referendum that will test three centuries of history.

    Yesterday, in her first comments on the issue, Queen Elizabeth said Scots should — quote — "think very carefully about the future."

    The latest polls released this weekend show the vote could go either way. Prime Minister David Cameron made one last visit north today in an appeal to keep the union intact.

    Jeffrey Brown takes a closer look at what's motivating the votes to stay and the votes to go.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It's the season for highland games, Scottish dancing, caber tossing, hammer throwing, and tug of war, where the Scots put their brawn, bravado and national pride on display.

    And it comes as the Scottish people are having a political tug of war of their own, whether to stay in a 307-year-old union with England or strike out on their own. From high streets to football pitches, the choice is captivating and dividing Scotland virtually down the middle.

  • WOMAN:

    I believe that Scotland is going to be more sustainable in terms of businesses and local tourism, and our education will be stronger if we stay part of the U.K.

  • MAN:

    I'm going to vote yes because I'm fairly tired of being governed by a conservative government which as a country have not elected.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The campaign for full independence has been in the works for years. Some even say it began in 1707, when the Acts of Union creating Great Britain were signed. Since 1999, Scotland has had its own parliament in Edinburgh, separate from Westminster in London.

    That came after a British decision led by a Labor government at the time to let regions govern themselves on issues like health, education, transportation, and law and order.

    But for Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, those powers are not enough.

    ALEX SALMOND, First Minister of Scotland: It's an opportunity not just of a lifetime. It's an opportunity of the centuries. And I believe in my heart that people will grasp that opportunity.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The no-side, known as Better Together or No Thanks, believes Scotland gains more by sticking with the United Kingdom. It's led by Alistair Darling, a former U.K. treasury secretary.

    ALISTAIR DARLING, Leader, Better Together campaign: We can have a better future, a much stronger Scottish parliament within the security and opportunities that come from being part of something bigger. And I'm confident that's what the majority of people of Scotland will say when they go to the polls on Thursday.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The pair debated each other twice publicly, and one of the issues that loomed large was the question of currency. The yes campaign vows it will keep the British pound, despite insistence from the three main political parties in Westminster that's impossible.

    Scotland's economy has shifted over the past 40 years as it went through deindustrialization and Scots turned to a service-oriented economy, now the largest sector. What happens to the economy, including revenues from North Sea oil and gas, is a major flash point for the two campaigns, with questions over how much oil revenue an independent Scotland would actually get and disputes over how much oil is left.

    From London and the Houses of Parliament at Westminster, there have been pleas to stay and warnings to choose carefully.

    British Prime Minister David Cameron traveled north for a last-minute visit.

  • DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister, United Kingdom:

    This is a decision that could break up our family of nations and rip Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

    And we must be very clear. There is no going back from this, no rerun. This is a once-and-for-all decision. If Scotland votes yes, the U.K. will split, and we will go our separate ways forever.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    An 11th hour promise of Westminster for more powers for Scotland in exchange for no-votes was called — quote — "panicked, phony and measly" by the yes campaign.

    Five hundred miles north of London sits the picturesque county of Perthshire, straddling the highlands and the lowlands of Scotland.

    Jewelry maker Sally Broughton calls it home. She's a staunch yes supporter and, like the majority of Scots, has never voted for a conservative British government.

  • SALLY BROUGHTON:

    For the time, with the referendum vote, what I vote is going to make a difference. And that's such an important thing. My son is 17. He's just about to vote for the first time. He's been given a vote, which is a great opportunity for them. And he's actually going to make a difference. His voice is going to be heard.

    And that will be a new experience for him, but it will also be a new experience for me, the idea that my voice is actually going to be heard.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Broughton's son Truro can vote in this referendum because the age was lowered to include any E.U. or commonwealth citizen living in Scotland over the age of 16.

    Truro is voting yes.

  • TRURO BROUGHTON-STUART:

    I just think it's the way forward. For our country to become independent gives it its — gives it the ability to look after itself and govern itself. And I think that's really the way forward for — well, the world as a whole, I think, really. Every little country should all be on its own, doing its own thing.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But, for Rory MacDonald, a third-generation butcher in the town of Pitlochry, carving up the United Kingdom raises too many questions for his business that he says the independence campaign hasn't been able to answer.

  • RORY MACDONALD:

    But nobody has confirmed to me that my business will be secure. If anything, I have heard stories of how, when we're — if we were to be outside of the U.K. and therefore outside of Europe, which is another uncertainty, whether we're in or out, then it would be very difficult trading — circumstances for any business to trade south of the border, because we're no longer British-made. We're not longer U.K., made in the U.K. We're made in a foreign country.

    And who knows what sort of trading terms there will be between us and the rest of the Europe, never mind just England and Wales.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Helen McDade, another Pitlochry resident and no-voter, says she thinks people in her camp are keeping their decisions quiet because of a certain level of intimidation.

  • HELEN MCDADE:

    I know of people who have been told in the public, you're a traitor to Scotland because you're not going to vote for this by people who he regarded as friends. And he was appalled.

    Now, that might not be common, but it doesn't have to be common for you to feel, well, this is the community I'm in, and I don't expect that. So, I think there is an issue about how we all move on after the referendum, whatever happens.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Leading Scottish historian Sir Tom Devine says the idea of Scottishness has waxed and waned over the years, but is at its strongest now.

    SIR TOM DEVINE, Author, "The Scottish Nation": What we're talking about is the dual identity, the hybrid identity of Scottishness and Britishness.

    In the late 18th century, some thinkers thought that Scotland was going to become North Britain and would lose its ancient identity. That didn't happen. Instead, there emerged this mix of Scottishness and Britishness, which exists to this day. And — but the pendulum swung over time.

    For example, during the Second World War and thereafter, Britishness was at its peak. But Scottishness didn't disappear. Scots still had a very strong identity.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Devine himself recently switched from being a no-vote to a yes, because he believes the union needs fundamental reform.

    If the independence vote wins, he says, the historical implications are huge.

  • SIR TOM DEVINE:

    I mean, it will be a tumultuous and it will be a cataclysmic event in Britain, the most significant for the last three-and-a-half centuries by far.

    And, definitely, there will be a bedding down period. There will be turbulence. But I believe, in the long run, it will be better for the relationship between the two countries, England and Scotland.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Meanwhile, from England, there have been pleas to stay from regular citizens.

  • WOMAN:

    I think that the two countries effectively are far more than the sum of their parts. And I think that an alliance is essential, and that's what we should be focused on.

  • MAN:

    I quite like the union. I quite like the idea of Scotland being part of it.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Hill livestock farmer Jim Fairlie, a lifelong Scottish nationalist, has this message for England.

  • JIM FAIRLIE:

    This is not us wanting to be anti-English, as about us saying, in a way, OK, listen, Scotland, this is what we have. This is who we are. This is what we have done. Why do we allow another country to make the big decisions about how we go forward from here?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    On Thursday, the decision is up to Scotland's four million registered voters, who have one deceptively simple easy question to answer: Should Scotland be an independent country, yes or no?

Listen to this Segment

The Latest