(Robert Ormerod for The Washington Post) EDINBURGH, Scotland — The craggy Scottish capital is ancient and modern and pretty to look at.
Which people here find ironic, since Edinburgh, along with the rest of Scotland, is scheduled to leave the European Union next month.
Ian Blackford, a lawmaker and a leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), frequently rails in the British House of Commons about Scotland “not being heard” and being taken out of Europe “against our will.”
The Scottish government, ruled by the SNP, predicts Brexit will deal an “economic shock” to the north, leave every Scot worse off by $3,000 a year, wipe out 80,000 jobs and “damage growth and business opportunities for decades.”
There is a sense, north and south, that Brexit could threaten, ultimately, to break apart the United Kingdom — first Scotland and eventually Northern Ireland.
In many ways, Brexit makes the case for another Scottish independence vote stronger: Scotland could say goodbye to English hegemony — and remain in Europe.
But Scottish voters are divided about national identity and political sovereignty, over their place in the European Union and in the United Kingdom.
Ashley Louise Rutherford, a shop assistant from Coldstream, Scotland, says, “I think there will be another independence referendum, and people may vote to leave the U.K. this time.”
(Robert Ormerod for The Washington Post) The allure of breaking free at the time of the last independence referendum — in 2014, before Brexit — was tethered to the notion that Scotland and England would remain fellow members of the European Union, maintaining close economic and social integration, a common currency and open borders.
If England is outside of the European Union and Scotland inside, what would their relationship be?
“I may sound like a Scottish Nationalist to you, but I voted ‘remain’ in the Scottish independence referendum, as I wanted Scotland to remain in Europe.”
Liz Lochhead, a former national poet of Scotland who campaigned for independence in 2014, calls Brexit “an absolute mess.”
The leader of Scotland and the pro-independence SNP, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, describes British Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for withdrawing from the European Union as “utterly shambolic.”
“But there was nothing inevitable about the Brexit process turning out to be the complete shambles that it has become,” she told The Washington Post in an interview at the modernist Scottish Parliament Building.
Sturgeon believes Brexit “immeasurably strengthens the case for Scottish independence.”
(Robert Ormerod for The Washington Post) But there’s been no sustained “Brexit bounce” for Scottish independence, and it is far from certain that a second referendum would produce a different result.
The challenge for Sturgeon and the nationalist movement is that Brexit — so far — hasn’t really changed Scottish opinion much.
Ian Montagu, a researcher at ScotCen, a social research agency, took the average of 13 polls measuring how people would vote in a second Scottish independence referendum and found that 55 percent would prefer Scotland stay put.
John Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, cautions that a sizable minority of voters — between a quarter and a third — who support Sturgeon’s SNP also support Brexit.
Overall, almost 6 in 10 Scots polled are “euroskeptics,” Curtice concluded, meaning they either support leaving Europe or, more often, want to remain in the European Union but want Brussels to have less power over Scottish affairs — especially over fisheries and farming policies.
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