Cameron Makes Last Minute Appeal For Unity In Scotland

Sep 15, 2014
Originally published on September 15, 2014 5:11 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Scotland today. It was his last visit before Scottish voters decide whether to break a 300-year-old union. Voting day is Thursday. Cameron offered a closing argument, urging Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom. And NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now from Edinburgh. What was David Cameron's message to the people of Scotland?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It was a passionate, intense speech. It came with lots of carrots - love letters to the people of Scotland - and also lots of sticks - dire warnings about what will happen if Scotland votes for independence on Thursday. He called this a once and for all decision. He said, if Scots vote yes, quote, "we will go our separate ways forever." Here's part of the speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINSTER DAVID CAMERON: It will be the end of a country that launched the Enlightenment, that abolished slavery, that drove the Industrial Revolution, that defeated fascism - the end of a country that people around the world respect and admire - the end of a country that all of us call home.

SHAPIRO: And then Prime Minister Cameron launched into this parade of horribles that he said will rain down on Scotland's head in the case of independence - everything from losing the pound to no longer having access to British embassies around the world.

BLOCK: Ari, in all of Scotland's history, I gather, there had never been a poll showing majority support for independence. But last week, the unity campaign saw its double-digit lead vanish, so what's going on now?

SHAPIRO: Well, at this point, every poll shows this to be an extremely close race. And the world, as a result, has stopped treating Scottish independence as some kind of quirky dream and started wrestling with the reality that this could actually happen on Thursday. China has weighed in. Germany's Deutsche Bank has said that a yes vote could lead to another Great Depression.

Even the Queen offered her view yesterday. After church services in Scotland, she said, she hopes that Scots will think very carefully about the future. It's extremely rare for her to weigh in on political issues. Now, it's possible that all of this global opinion against independence will have the opposite of the intended effect. Here's something I heard back in March from a man named Stuart Patrick who runs the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce that I think might reflect on the current situation.

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STUART PATRICK: The Scots are not necessarily people who are easily told how to vote or how to go. And if you come out too vigorously saying, if you know what's good for you, you will do X, Y. And I have to say both sides are doing this just now. Scots have a tendency to say, aye, right. No, I'm not listening.

SHAPIRO: And in fact, doing interviews around Edinburgh, I have met many people who have changed their minds from no to yes - that is from unity to independence.

BLOCK: And if that attitude that we just heard of, you know, don't tell us Scots what to do - if that attitude is real, is there a chance that Cameron's speech today will backfire?

SHAPIRO: Yes. Mr. Cameron is clearly aware of this threat, and so here's part of what he said in the speech today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAMERON: If you don't like me, I won't be here forever. If you don't like this government, it won't last forever. But if you leave the United Kingdom, that will be forever.

BLOCK: And that message from Prime Minister Cameron to the Scots - Ari, walk us through what will happen after the vote on Thursday if the Scots vote yes and if they vote no.

SHAPIRO: Well, a yes vote would trigger negotiations that would make the most complicated divorce settlement look easy - over everything from currency to European Union membership to nuclear weapons. The actual split is expected to take place in March of 2016, and the decision could have huge ripples around the world. That's in the case of yes vote. In the case of a no vote, England has promised that Scotland would have new autonomy starting next year if they stay in the U.K. It's a tough sell, but Cameron today tried to make the case that a no vote is also a vote for change.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ari Shapiro speaking with us from Edinburgh, Scotland. Ari, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.