Hadrian’s Wall Redux Seen as Bigger Risk to U.K. Than EU

The biggest threat to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government in London lies in Scotland and not over the English Channel in Europe, according to a senior German lawmaker.

While the U.K. media fixate on an “utterly absurd demonization” of Jean-Claude Juncker to stop his bid to become president of the European Commission, events in Scotland, which will hold a referendum on independence in September, are “a real risk for the government in London,” said Axel Schaefer, a lawmaker for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Social Democratic Party coalition partner.

Seen from Berlin, Cameron’s “biggest problem is that the Scots symbolically rebuild Hadrian’s Wall on Sept. 18” by voting Yes, Schaefer, who is the SPD’s parliamentary spokesman on European affairs, said yesterday in a telephone interview.

The German focus on Scotland underscores the growing international awareness of the vote and its potential impact on Britain. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who as a Scotland resident gets a vote, added to the attention today with the announcement that she gave 1 million pounds ($1.7 million) to the campaign to keep the U.K. together.

While Britain’s main national political parties are united in their opposition to the nationalist campaign led by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, in recent weeks they have emphasized their intention to give Scotland more financial power as they try to head off any possibility of a “Yes” vote.

Latest Poll

The latest poll, released today, showed the rival campaigns in the battle over Scotland’s future both failed to gain any ground last month.

The survey by TNS showed 42 percent plan to vote to remain in the U.K., with 30 percent supporting independence and 28 percent undecided. The 12 percentage-point gap was unchanged from the month before. Among people who said they were certain to vote, the gap widened by one point to 10 points, with 44 percent planning to say “No” and 34 percent “Yes,” TNS said.

Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scot opposed to independence, said at an event in London this week that he expected home rule for Scotland within the U.K. because “we are as close to federalism as we can get.”

Next month’s survey may be more indicative of whether efforts to persuade Scots to stay in the union are working.

TNS said it polled 1,011 people at least age 16, the minimum to vote in the referendum, on May 21-28. That was before the arguments escalated as the U.K. government and nationalists grappled over the cost of setting up an independent state and traded accusations of false figures.

Dividend or Bonus

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander put forward his department’s calculations of a “U.K. dividend” of 1,400 pounds for every Scot by sticking with the status quo on May 28. On the same day, Salmond spoke of an “independence bonus” of 1,000 pounds for going it alone.

The following week, Cameron’s Conservative Party introduced plans to give Scotland more control over income tax should voters reject independence.

“My guess is that if we vote to stay, we will be in the heady position of the spouse who looked like walking out, but decided to give things one last go,” Rowling said in a statement on her website. “All the major political parties are currently wooing us with offers of extra powers, keen to keep Scotland happy so that it does not hold an independence referendum every ten years and cause uncertainty and turmoil all over again.”

While the vote is only open to residents in Scotland, TNS said a separate poll found opposition to Scottish independence increasing in the rest of Britain, with 61 percent of 1,090 adults saying the country shouldn’t break away. That was up eight percentage points since August. No margin of error was given for either of the two polls.

Catching Up

“It may be that as people in the rest of the U.K. are exposed to the debate about Scotland’s future to a much greater extent than before, they are thinking more about the impact of independence,” said Tom Costley, head of TNS Scotland.

There are signs of increased confidence elsewhere in the anti-independence campaign defeating the nationalists.

A man in London gambled 400,000 pounds at William Hill Plc on a “No” vote, in what the bookmaker said was the largest ever political bet. The odds were 1-4, meaning the customer stands to make 100,000 pounds if his wager is successful. As a result, William Hill shortened the odds to 1-5, while lengthening those on a “Yes” vote to 10-3 from 11-4.

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