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Every Briton Will Be Affected If Scots Secede, British Journalist Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Quick geography lesson, the United Kingdom is called that because it unites four parts - England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. By the end of next week, it could be down to three parts because Scotland is voting whether to declare independence. A recent poll shows independence in the lead. So let's get a view from London, which is in England by the way. Jonathan Freedland reports for The Guardian newspaper. Welcome to the program.

JONATHAN FREEDLAND: Hi, there.

INSKEEP: So from your perspective, you've written that if Britain loses Scotland, it will feel like an amputation. Why is that?

FREEDLAND: Because, as you say, this is an unusual entity - a union of four nations - but that's what it's always been. And that's unique about Britain, and for it to lose a huge chunk of that - one-third of its landmass, 10 percent of Britain's people - makes it into something different. It forces those constituent nations, the largest one among them, 83 percent of the population is England - to suddenly think of themselves anew and to just be narrowly the English rather than British.

INSKEEP: Are these four nations so closely united that you think it would feel like if - I don't know - Texas left the United States or New York left the United States or something like that?

FREEDLAND: I think it would - it's analogous - and it's interesting. Since I've been writing about this, Americans have got in touch with me to say that the Civil War was fought in the United States over the notion that the union was indissoluble. Here it's always been looser and in way more overtly voluntary other than that, but the bonds are very great indeed. It is a social union as much as it's a political union, so there are 400,000 English people living in Scotland and it's estimated some 800,000 Scots living outside Scotland. So the boundaries have become very blurred and yet suddenly there would be a hard and firm border instead.

Now a lot of people on the nationalist side - the people who want to break away - say that, no, the border will be in effect on day-to-day life; it will be notional; you'll barely feel it. You can't escape the fact that this will be a breakup, and it feels painful for people on both sides of the border - the 50 percent of Scotland who polls say will be voting no - but for people, yes, in England and in Wales and Northern Ireland, too.

INSKEEP: Even though you do oppose this disunion, do you think you can understand the sentiment that is driving more and more people in Scotland to tell pollsters they're going to vote for independence?

FREEDLAND: Very much so, and I've written that if I myself was a voter in Scotland, I can see myself voting yes. It is very appealing. The notion of breaking away from a country which has been dominating increasingly by London - it's a hugely centralized country - that's where the big difference between the United States and the United Kingdom is. It is hugely centralized, this country, on London, and the last 30 years has been dominated by a particular kind of view of economics which has favored the financial sector over the industrial sector, for example.

Scotland's history is bound up in making things in industry, and yet the economy has tilted towards the city of London; the financial district, had been dominated by them. And I understand why people would want to break away from that and make their own start, but something very special has been created over 300 years by this union. The Industrial Revolution, great efforts in innovation and engineering and enterprise - yes, the British Empire - which is a hugely checkered and complicated history, but also the creation of the welfare state of a social-democratic settlement, postwar - these are very great and cherished things that threaten to be torn to shreds with a yes vote.

INSKEEP: Just a couple of seconds here, but what's your gut feeling? Is independence going to pass?

FREEDLAND: My gut feeling at the moment is it's unbelievably close. It's knife edge close, and if it goes one way or the other, it may be just by less than a single percentage point. It all depends about momentum. I'm not underground there. It's hard for me to tell what the current momentum is, but I think it will be nail-bitingly close, and yes could win.

INSKEEP: Mr. Freedland, thanks very much.

FREEDLAND: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Jonathan Freedland is executive editor of the opinion pages at The Guardian, and he spoke with us from London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.