With the too-close-to-call poll numbers for the Yes and No camps, the U.K. heads into Thursday's vote on Scotland's independence with nervous anticipation. Will Scotland achieve independence three centuries after it joined the U.K.? Or will the Better Together campaign prevail, keeping Scotland a member of the union?
We know what David Cameron thinks: The U.K. prime minister gave an emotional plea this week, warning that a separation would resemble a "painful divorce." We also know what J.K. Rowling thinks (No), what Patrick Stewart thinks (No), what Sean Connery thinks (Yes), what Alan Cumming thinks (Yes), and what many other English and Scottish celebrities think.
The lines, therefore, are clearly drawn between London and Edinburgh. But what about the other members of the U.K.: Northern Ireland and Wales? Both Belfast and Cardiff have been careful not to enter the tussle, but in recent weeks, the close votes have pushed major papers based in both countries to comment on the referendum.
In Northern Ireland, the Belfast News Letter provided readers an in-depth timeline of independence, as well as a frequently asked questions page. On Monday, it finally took a stance, publishing an editorial supporting the No campaign that also explained why the paper had not done so earlier:
If the Scots decide to quit the Union, then the United Kingdom as we know it will be in ruins.... A third of its land mass will be gone, and much of its culture and character too.
The apparent lack of interest was not a sign of indifference towards Scotland and its place within the U.K., but a reflection of the fact that almost no-one seriously seemed to think that a split would happen. Now there is alarm across these islands."
More important, the paper urged its Irish readers to "influence the outcome." "Given the long historical ties between the north of Ireland and Scotland, and given the tradition of Ulster students studying at Scottish universities," the editors wrote, "there must be scores of thousands of people here who have a loved one living on the far side of the North Channel."
The Belfast Telegraph, the country's primary evening paper, did not publish an editorial, but did provide a slew of letters from readers. Many of the letters pointed to the Republic of Ireland's independence as an example of what Scotland could expect — therefore placing most opinions on the Yes side.
One letter from Belfast resident Bernard J. Mulholland, titled "Irish example shows independence works well," argued the following:
David Cameron pleads with Scots not to 'break up this family of nations.' But the Irish Republic left the U.K. decades ago and yet it is still a member of the union and our family of nations.
If the Irish can manage their economy as well as, if not better than, Westminster, then what impediment would stop the Scots from doing the same?
Are the Better Together campaigners really arguing that the Irish are a superior race to their brothers and sisters living in Scotland? How dare they?"
Of course, as a letter from another reader noted, the Scottish need to "realise how fortunate they are." "Ireland achieved independence at a very high price: the wasteful and tragic shedding of blood," the reader wrote. "On referendum day, every Scot can win independence at the stroke of a pen."
Across the Irish Sea, the Welsh opinion faced less debate, with most op-eds and editorials safely in the No column.
The country's national newspaper, Western Mail, endorsed the Better Together campaign, comparing the culture of Wales to the culture of Scotland, and therefore arguing that all countries belonged to the U.K. because without Scotland, London would exercise tighter control over the remaining countries:
The people of the brave, rich and confident nation of Scotland have a wonderfully strong affinity with the equally proud and passionate nation of Wales.
[...] We sincerely hope that Scotland's people will choose to remain a part of the U.K. — not out of fear of the unknown but because they can and do contribute so much to our lives.
It is daunting to imagine a country where the priorities of those in the City of London exerted even greater influence over national life."
"A U.K. divorced from Scotland would be culturally, politically and economically impoverished," the editorial concluded, before launching into several thoroughly British similes. "A U.K. without Scotland would be like December without Christmas, Hay-on-Wye without books, an Eisteddfod without poetry, or the Tower of London without the crown jewels."
The figurative language didn't carry over into several other Welsh op-eds, but the sentiment remained the same. Cardiff Online published a roundup of opinions from prominent figures in the country, with more No's in the group than Yes's (along with a single Undecided.)
Still, both Wales and Northern Ireland recognize the trouble with the U.K. The Belfast News Letter's Alex Kane pointed out the No campaign had not achieved the goal of "enthusiasm, eloquence, conviction and honesty" it needed to avoid the close vote it faces this week. "[Better Together] didn't even come close to capturing, let alone promoting the essence of the United Kingdom," he wrote. "They just assumed that Alex Salmond's independence pitch would unravel at some point and that voters could, quite literally, be bribed to vote No."
Ultimately, Western Mail's Wales Senedd Correspondent Graham Henry summarizes the issue neatly. Henry penned an op-ed for the paper, writing, "If the No campaign does win out next week, it will be in spite of a family which is, at least at a political level, dysfunctional to the core — not because of it."
The U.K. family, in Cameron's words, is in the middle of a nasty divorce, with Northern Ireland and Wales playing the children forced to wait out the storm.