An Independent Scotland Could Falter Economically

As Scottish voters prepare for a referendum vote on Scottish independence, NPR's Rachel Martin talks to NPR's Ari Shapiro about whether Scotland would stay in the European Union.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So that is the argument in favor of Scottish independence. At the same time, many people express deep concerns that leaving the United Kingdom could hurt Scotland. NPR's Ari Shapiro has spent time in Glasgow reporting on the referendum. He joins us now to describe the other side of this debate. Hi, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So is there some kind of consensus on whether independence would help or hurt Scotland economically?

SHAPIRO: Consensus is too strong a word, but a lot of economists fear that Scotland would suffer outside of the United Kingdom. One independent think tank called the National Institute for Economic and Social Research concluded that borrowing costs could go way up if Scotland becomes independent. And the business community has serious reservations, with many large businesses expressing concerns, some even threatening to leave Scotland if the referendum passes.

MARTIN: We just heard Fiona Hyslop say that an independent Scotland would stay in the European Union and keep the pound. Is that a sure thing?

SHAPIRO: Not at all a sure thing. European Union president Jose Manuel Barroso has said that Scotland would have to wait in line and apply for EU membership with other hopefuls. As for the pound, British finance minister George Osborne has said Scotland would not be able to keep using the pound. And those are just two in a long list of officials who are warning about the potential cost of Scottish independence. Just this past week in Glasgow, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, himself a Scot, said pensioners in Scotland could suffer if the referendum passes. Here is part of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

GORDON BROWN: And I say it is right to keep our British pensions, not just because of the benefits that we gain from that, which are very considerable, but also because it is the right thing to do, to pool and share your moroses across the widest pool of people so that the benefits go to those who need them most.

SHAPIRO: And Rachel, some of this could be just a scare campaign to try to prevent people from voting for independence, but there is a lot of uncertainty about the future on many of these issues. And I don't think anybody knows for sure exactly what the answer to some of these questions will be if Scotland does become independent.

MARTIN: What about average folks in Scotland? When you talk to them, what kinds of arguments do you hear them make?

SHAPIRO: Even the independence supporters I talk to often say that they don't necessarily think leaving the UK would be a good thing economically for Scotland. For them, it is more of a vote based on the heart than the head. For example, here's a barista who I spoke to in Glasgow last month named Mikie Lee Dale.

MIKIE LEE DALE: I think we would have major problems being independent and - but I don't think that should take away, sway us from going independent.

SHAPIRO: Explain that to me.

DALE: I think it would be a huge challenge, and I think there'd be huge problems with it. And I don't think it's as rosy as our government's making out. I think there's going to be huge inequalities and things we'll have to figure out. But we're going to have to start at some point.

SHAPIRO: So as you can hear, his head says unity, but his heart says independence. And he's decided to vote with his heart.

MARTIN: NPR's Ari Shapiro. Thanks so much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

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