Tale of two towns as Scottish independence shows social divide

Wed May 21, 2014 6:33am EDT
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By Belinda Goldsmith and Suzanne Plunkett

KILMARNOCK Scotland (Reuters) - With Edinburgh's old town abuzz with tourists and its trendy restaurants full, the Scottish capital has an air of prosperity that explains why so many of its residents are happy with their lot and unwilling to risk the changes independence may bring.

But in Kilmarnock, 50 miles (80 kms) west, it is a different story. The once proud industrial town has been named the worst place to live in Scotland, battling high unemployment and with pawnbrokers and discount stores dominating its shopping center.

The contrast between the two highlights the wide social divide among Scots ahead of a Sept. 18 referendum, when Scottish residents will decide whether to leave the United Kingdom after more than 300 years to become an independent country.

Although the nationalists are still behind, they have started to gain some ground in opinion polls this year, for the first time giving the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) a chance to realize its 80-year-old dream of independence.

Opinion polls have shown residents of Scotland's most deprived neighborhoods are more likely to support independence but less likely to vote, making them a target group as both sides race to woo the undecided and typical non-voters.

While many in Edinburgh are worried about the risks that independence might bring, some residents of Kilmarnock see little to lose and believe change can only be for the good.

"It can't be any worse than it is just now," said Steven Campbell, 44, a firefighter, as he walked around the 14th Century Dean Castle on the outskirts of Kilmarnock with his wife Denise and newborn daughter Alexx.

Unlike Edinburgh, Kilmarnock would not be on many tourist schedules with little to celebrate in local industry. Its main attraction is the Burns Monument that commemorates poet Robert Burns, whose most famous work was published in the town.   Continued...

Fettes College is seen though its front gate in Edinburgh, Scotland April 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett