RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years. And this fall, it could break away. In September, Scotland will vote on whether to become a sovereign nation, independent of England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from a marketplace in Glasgow.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: This is the Barras Market, in East Glasgow. You can buy knockoff DVDs, used clothing, old dishes and silverware here. It used to be a thriving, bustling market, a center of commerce in Glasgow. Now, it's pretty rundown.
CONNIE HENDRY: You can just look around and see. Everybody's in the same boat. We're all broke.
SHAPIRO: Connie Hendry is smoking a cigarette outside her mother-in-law's greasy spoon cafe. Customers are scarce.
SHAPIRO: How long has this shop been here?
HENDRY: Forty-odd year.
SHAPIRO: And what did it used to be like?
HENDRY: Packing. You couldn't have moved down here, at one point. But now, it's dead.
SHAPIRO: This is Scotland's largest city. Here in East Glasgow, men only have a life expectancy into their mid-50s. That's a lifespan almost 30 years shorter than wealthy areas. So for many people here, the most important question is whether an independent Scotland will improve their lives. There's intense disagreement.
Robert McKinnon is selling wool socks at the market. He's afraid of the uncertainty that independence would bring.
ROBERT MCKINNON: Better with the devil you know. Better with the devil we've got.
SHAPIRO: His buddy Roger McKinnon says, are you crazy?
ROGER MCKINNON: London is sucking the life out of the rest of the United Kingdom.
SHAPIRO: London is about 300 miles away. And for independence supporters, London is the villain in this drama. They see a conservative government that doesn't represent Scotland's more liberal population.
At McKinnon's market stall, the disagreement between these two friends quickly devolves into a near shouting match.
MCKINNON: I'm not saying this is a perfect way but at the end of the day, I'm sticking with the devil I know. You're going into unknown territory. If you listen to everything we've been told, we won't have the BBC in Scotland. We won't have any schools. We won't have any pensions. There'll be nay Social Security, the sky's going to fall on top of yays, we're going to join Atlantis. I mean, that's what we've been told. It's nonsense.
HENDRY: London has issued dire warnings that an independent Scotland would lose the pound and the BBC, and membership in the European Union. Big business finds that scary.
SHAPIRO: In a much tidier part of town, Stuart Patrick runs the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. His group has not yet taken a formal position on the independence referendum. Patrick says he gets lobbied every day.
STUART PATRICK: There's no doubt that you start from the position that at least the existing framework is well-known. We all know what the tax regimes are, we all know what the existing currency arrangements are. So in that respect, there is a degree of pressure on the proponent of the change to make its position very clear.
SHAPIRO: In America, business has a huge influence on politics. But Stuart Patrick says it's different here.
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 or Y, and I have to say both sides are doing this just now. Scots have a tendency to say - aye, right. Nah, I'm not listening.
(SOUNDBITE OF BAGPIPES)
SHAPIRO: Outside of a nearby hotel, a man in a kilt plays the bagpipes for a wedding. Not far from here, the national piping center will sell you a waterproof bagpipe case. And a few blocks in the other direction, there are shops that make custom kilts.
This is not ironic kitsch. Haggis is no joke here. It's part of the hotel breakfast buffet.
The people of Scotland have a strong sense of national pride, of history, of identity. And that makes Blair Jenkins of the Yes Scotland campaign optimistic. He says many Scottish artists have come out in favor of independence.
BLAIR JENKINS: There's that old saying that if you win the poets, you win the people. It looks like we won the poets.
SHAPIRO: Scottish national pride is also one reason that Rob Shorthouse of the Better Together campaign for unity, says...
ROB SHORTHOUSE: This isn't actually a question of identity. You know, people aren't making up their mind based on, you know, how Scottish they feel.
SHAPIRO: So far, polls have shown the unity campaign with a solid, double-digit lead. Both sides have their headquarters here in Glasgow. And we'll get to know both campaigns better on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED this afternoon.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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