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Brexit Vote Reignites Debate Over Scottish Independence

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The vote deciding whether Great Britain should stay in the European Union or leave happens next Thursday. Both sides suspended campaigning yesterday after the murder of a British member of Parliament. She supported staying in the EU. The 52-year-old suspect in custody is reported to have far-right leanings. In Scotland, this vote has special resonance. That's because Scotland held its own referendum two years ago on whether to exit the U.K. Scots decided not to break away in part because of the benefits of being in the European Union. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been asking Scots how they'll vote next week.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Dundee lies up the coast of Scotland from the capital, Edinburgh. But politically, it's located somewhere near the beating heart of Scottish nationalism. Just ask Chris Law, the ardent independence campaigner who was swept into a seat in the House of Commons in London last year along with dozens of fellow candidates from the SNP, the Scottish National Party.

CHRIS LAW: It's become quite a radical town. It's known as the radical town.

KENYON: A radical town that Law says turned in the highest vote for independence in all of Scotland in 2014.

LAW: They know their own minds, first and foremost, and willing to speak up. Willing to challenge the status quo, I would say more than anything.

KENYON: It doesn't take long to find plain-speaking Scots here, but their feelings about the EU aren't always radical. Forty-eight-year-old Ron Wallace, Dundee born and bred, says he voted for independence from the U.K., and he'd do it again. But he'll be voting to stay in the European Union. Why? Because he's worried that an unshackled conservative government in London would trample workers' rights.

RON WALLACE: I'm voting to remain within the EU, and I feel that workers' rights are important. I feel that's something that the EU supports. I feel that's something the Westminster government at the moment does not support.

KENYON: Wallace doesn't have much to say about the problems the U.K. faces with immigration. It's not as big an issue in Scotland. There is a voice in Dundee for total independence from both London and Brussels, and you can find it in church. The Reverend David Robertson ministers at the Scottish Free Church, a Protestant Presbyterian denomination. He launched a social media campaign to urge Scottish voters to leave the EU because he thinks that will hasten the chances of seeing an independent Scotland someday.

DAVID ROBERTSON: In fact, if we vote to stay in then there will be no independence for Scotland for at least 20 years. It'd be off the table completely because David Cameron will have won, and Nicola Sturgeon will have helped him win.

KENYON: Nicola Sturgeon heads the SNP which trounced all rivals in last year's Parliamentary vote, claiming 56 of Scotland's 59 seats in Westminster. It's been frustrating for some Scottish nationalists to see their standard-bearer sharing stages with Prime Minister David Cameron. But polls show there's a big segment of the Scottish vote that on balance is OK with staying in the EU.

In the cafe at the Dundee Contemporary Arts Center, Norma Grier and Patricia Daly are having lunch. Daly is definitely voting to stay in the EU. Grier, who speaks first, is undecided but leaning that way, too.

NORMA GRIER: What we have to think about - I've got a grandson, 18 this month. I'm a grandmother. I'm not going to be here that long. And I'm thinking of their future. No - but, you know what I'm saying.

PATRICIA DALY: Well, I don't see any point in changing things. Everything has been OK up to now. Why change it? The grass isn't greener. Do you know what I mean?

KENYON: However they plan to vote, everyone we spoke with here agrees on one thing - this referendum isn't nearly as all-consuming and intense as the Scottish referendum was. Whether that depresses turnout is something both the Leave and Remain camps will be watching. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Dundee, Scotland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.