LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The fight to keep the United Kingdom united is on. In six months, Scotland will vote on whether to break off and become an independent nation.
NPR's Ari Shapiro lays out the chess board.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: British Prime Minister David Cameron is desperate not to become The Man Who lost Scotland. His government is playing a good cop/bad cop game to keep the United Kingdom together. Good cop is Cameron himself. He recently held a cabinet meeting in the Scottish town of Aberdeen, where he spoke with the BBC.
DAVID CAMERON: I think this family of nations is better off together. And not just that Scotland is better off in the United Kingdom, but we in the rest of the United Kingdom think we're better off with Scotland - that we want you to stay.
SHAPIRO: Of course, there's a flip side to that message, a warning that if you break the family apart, chaos will ensue. Enter bad cop, Chancellor George Osborne. If Scotland leaves the U.K., Osborne says the newly independent country will have to abandon the British pound.
GEORGE OSBORNE: The pound is one of the oldest and most successful currencies in the world. I want Scotland to keep the pound and the economic security that it brings.
SHAPIRO: Soon after Osborne gave that speech, European Union President Manuel Barroso said an independent Scotland would not automatically be in the EU. Scotland would have to wait in line and apply with all the other hopefuls.
MANUEL BARROSO: Of course, it will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the member states, to have a new member coming from one member state.
SHAPIRO: The combination of losing the pound and losing EU membership kind of freaked out the Scottish business community. Standard Life, the insurance firm based in Edinburgh, said it might leave Scotland if the independence vote passes. Royal Bank of Scotland warned that independence could cause real financial harm. Economists have been studying what the impact would be.
At the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, Monique Ebell found that interest rates in Scotland would go up if the country breaks away.
MONIQUE EBELL: We've estimated that borrowing costs would be higher than those in the U.K. By 0.7 to one and a half percentage points, which is fairly significant.
SHAPIRO: But many Scots see economic advantages to independence, like control over oil and gas in the North Sea, and freedom from regulations that come out of London. On top of that, Ebell says there are reasons that Scots might vote for independence having nothing to do with economics.
EBELL: It's a bit like getting a divorce, right? We know that divorce is financially painful. And I'm not saying that economic independence for Scotland necessarily would be. But even if it were to be financially painful, people still choose for non-economic reasons to get a divorce.
SHAPIRO: And what are those non-economic reasons? Political consultant Steve Morgan says Americans, of all people, should understand.
STEVE MORGAN: You were once part of the empire. And you very sensibly broke away and got rid of all the trappings that go with it. Those of us who live here are stuck with it.
SHAPIRO: The leading voice for Scottish independence is First Minister Alex Salmond.
ALEX SALMOND: We must become independent if we are to provide the economic and social advances that people who live here deserve to have.
SHAPIRO: He has been appealing as much to Scottish pride as to logic.
SALMOND: To be told there are things we can't do will certainly elicit a Scottish response that is as resolute, as it is uncomfortable to the no-campaign. It is: Yes, we can.
SHAPIRO: The very existence of an independence vote shows that they can. Now the question is whether they will.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.