Sitting in a Dundee park, two students discuss their hopes and dreams and, while they fear the prospect of Britain leaving the EU, they relish what it could bring — a second chance at Scottish independence.
Hannah Finlayson and Rhys Donnelly believe Scotland would do better on its own and are undeterred by the results of a failed independence referendum in 2014 in which unionists won by 55 percent to 45 percent.
“I still think it’s a good decision for Scotland. I feel that we don’t have enough control of our country, of our own economy,” said Donnelly, who wore a T-shirt with a Scottish tartan pattern.
Situated in the estuary of the River Tay on Scotland’s eastern coast, Dundee is a nationalist bastion — where the vote for independence on 18 September, 2014 was 57 percent.
But there is little temptation to vote to leave the European Union in Britain’s 23 June membership referendum in an attempt to bring about Scottish independence.
“The best decision for us is to stay,” Donnelly said, while ginger-haired Finlayson argued: “I think we should stay in the EU because trade is a big issue”.
Independence ‘if and when’
The 2014 referendum campaign saw a massive mobilisation of independence supporters and, despite the defeat, that energy is still visible in a myriad of grassroots initiatives and the popular hashtag — #indyref2.
The Scottish National Party, which maintains independence as its ultimate goal, won 56 out of 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons last year and clinched regional parliamentary elections earlier this month — although it lost an overall majority.
The SNP’s leader Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, was confirmed in her post this week.
In interviews in recent weeks, the europhile Sturgeon has stated the importance of Britain staying in the EU and said Scotland “will only become independent if and when a majority of people are persuaded”.
Unlike their English neighbours, who are very divided on EU membership, Scots are overwhelmingly in favour of staying in, according to opinion polls.
The prospect of convincing a majority of Scots to embrace independence, however, is more complex.
“It’s very close to the kind of split that existed in 2014,” said Tom Devine, a professor of Scottish history at the University of Edinburgh, rejecting the idea that Brexit could act as a “catalyst”.
“I think that the SNP government and its allies would be foolish to entertain another referendum unless they are certain of winning it,” he said.
‘Best option is to leave’
Not everyone agrees with the SNP in Dundee.
“I think that the majority of people in Scotland spoke clearly the last time and said no. And nothing has changed,” said Linda Bell, owner of the Aabalree bed and breakfast in the city centre opposite a shop renting kilts — a traditional item of clothing.
She also does not want to hear about Brexit.
Leaving the European Union “is going to cost Britain on the whole far too much”, she said.
In Arbroath, a small fishing port near Dundee where Scotland’s 1320 Declaration of Independence was signed, Europe is not a popular subject.
Many residents complain that the EU is nothing but a bureaucratic machine without democratic legitimacy.
“Through the years it has done absolutely nothing for the fishing industries,” said Bob Teviotdale, a thick-set 48-year-old crab and lobster fisherman.
“The best option is to leave,” he said.
But a Brexit would fuel independence claims that Teviotdale said he did not want to hear — illustrating the complexity of the Scottish vote.
“It’s a tricky situation,” he said.