Poll: Momentum Grows For Scottish Independence From Britain

Sep 8, 2014
Originally published on September 9, 2014 7:26 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ten days from now, Scotland will vote on whether to leave the United Kingdom, and yesterday there was a massive jolt in this campaign. For the first time in history, a poll showed independence in the lead. The camp supporting unity led by double digits just a month ago. NPR's Ari Shapiro has been reporting in Scotland. He's back in London now, and joins us on the line.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, David.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So this is one poll in a campaign that is full of polls. How seriously should we take this?

SHAPIRO: You're right that you never want to give one poll too much weight, and this is within the margin of error. The poll excludes undecided voters and show that 51 percent of voters support independence while 49 percent support unity. This was a survey conducted by YouGov for the Sunday Times newspaper in London. All those caveats aside, this one poll has sent British people into a frenzy. It is almost all I've heard anyone in London talk about for the last day. The question everyone is asking is, how could unity have lost a 20-point lead in the span of a month? And nobody that I've talked to has a good answer.

GREENE: So just the remote possibility that this poll is actually telling us something, I mean, is this causing people to go into hysterics? No one's dismissing this.

SHAPIRO: Right, because it is consistent with a larger trend. If you look as far back as the survey goes, unity always had a solid lead that has been steadily and dramatically shrinking in the last few weeks. That has happened so fast that many people at first didn't even believe it was happening. I think maybe the Better Together unity campaign was in a bit of denial. This poll has wiped away any whiff of complacency they had. If unity seemed like a done deal before, right now it is anything but.

GREENE: So what's this frenzy look like that you're seeing?

SHAPIRO: Well, I think the political science term of art is a total freak out. The government is kind of panicking. Apparently that even extends to the queen, who doesn't know exactly what her role in an independent Scotland would be.

Hours after the poll came out yesterday morning, Chancellor George Osborne, who's sort of the British equivalent of the treasury secretary, said the government will announce new plans to give Scotland more financial autonomy if Scots stay in the union. This is sort of a government equivalent of, I'll treat you better, baby; don't leave me. Many people are saying, OK, why are you offering that after hundreds of thousands of Scots have already voted by mail? Needless to say, the yes Scotland Independence campaign is feeling great. Alex Salmond who leads the Scottish National Party says the wind is at his back. He's planning a victory party for a week from Thursday.

GREENE: So financial autonomy. If the U.K. is talking about giving Scots that if they stay in the kingdom - I mean, is that what a lot of Scot's who support independence are looking for? Is that why we've seen this change in recent weeks?

SHAPIRO: It's hard to say why we've seen the change. You know, when I talk to political scientists, they say in the final days of a secession vote, you usually see people break for the status quo. This does not seem to be reflecting a huge victory in a debate or the Commonwealth Games that Glasgow hosted; those were long enough ago that this doesn't seem to be a bounce from that. I mean, the only explanation I've heard for this huge swing - and this may or may not be true - is that Scotland has a really strong, to-heck-with-it, I'll-do-what-I-want, streak and that could be suddenly coming through in a burst of secessionist nationalism.

GREENE: Other reasons to want to be independent? I mean, is there a matter of pride that we see here for Scots?

SHAPIRO: Definitely national pride, and also there's a huge debate over what's going to happen with North Sea Oil and Gas, whether Scot will keep the pound, whether Scotland will stay in the European Union, the NATO alliance, what'll happen with nuclear policy and more - you can find positive arguments from the independence voters on all of those, just as you find negative arguments from the unionist voters.

GREENE: A lot of ramifications if this vote actually happens according to this poll. So one poll suggesting the majority of Scots support independence, and there is a vote in 10 days. NPR's Ari Shapiro speaking to us from London. Ari, thanks.

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