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A Less-United Kingdom: 'Brexit' Vote Revives Talk Of U.K. Breakup

A young man hands out "Remain" leaflets outside the polling station at Notre Dame Primary School on Thursday in Glasgow, Scotland. As a nation, Scotland voted to remain in the EU; but as a whole, the United Kingdom opted to leave.

The United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union was historic, significant, unprecedented and decisive — but it wasn't uniform.

It was split by age: Young people overwhelmingly voted to stay, while older generations preferred to leave. It was split by education, with university-educated voters far more likely to be pro-EU.

It was split by choice of preferred newspaper — for instance, readers of The Guardian were inclined to "remain," by 91 percent to 9 percent; readers of The Express wanted to go, by 77 percent to 23 percent, according to a YouGov poll.

And — in a split that could have a transformative impact on British politics — it was sharply divided by geography.

A majority of voters in both Scotland and Northern Ireland cast a vote for the U.K. to remain in the EU. In fact, every single region in Scotland opted to stay.

As a nation, Scotland voted to remain by 62 percent to 38 percent; Northern Ireland was approximately 56 percent in favor of remaining, with 44 percent voting for a "Brexit," or British exit. In contrast, both Wales and England saw approximately 53 percent of voters in favor of leaving the EU. (England's population is much larger than the other nations in the U.K., so the total vote came down on the side of leaving the EU.)

The sharp disconnect has revived the idea of Scotland declaring its independence from the U.K. — and of Northern Ireland leaving to merge with the independent Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member.

You might remember that Scotland held a referendum on independence from the U.K. in 2014. The voters opted for unity. But an imminent departure from the EU changes things, says Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Being removed from the EU against the will of Scottish voters, Sturgeon says, is "democratically unacceptable."

"It's a statement of the obvious that a second referendum [on independence] is on the table," she said.

NPR's Sara Goo spoke with voters in Scotland who said they were shocked by the U.K.'s Brexit decision. She reports:

"The results seemed to confirm to many in Scotland that they don't have a voice in the United Kingdom. And for some, it was further reason for Scotland to align itself with the EU rather than Britain.

" 'I would vote for another referendum' to leave the U.K., said Lana Fisher, 27, of Greenock, Scotland. 'It feels like the Scottish people have voted and our opinion counts for nothing.'

"Fisher and several other Scots interviewed in Glasgow on Friday said they felt Scottish independence from Britain now seemed inevitable. An earlier referendum in 2014 attracted record voters, with many young adults supporting independence, but it was narrowly defeated.

"Christine Black, of Newton Mearns, said she voted for Scotland to remain in the U.K. — but given today's results, she's not sure how she'd vote if another referendum were held.

" 'I don't know what I'd do. I was hoping it wouldn't come to this,' she said. " 'Are we going to benefit from being part of the U.K. or not? Who's going to be running the country? ... If it's Boris Johnson and then Donald Trump in the U.S., we'd have a real disaster.' "

Meanwhile, nationalist leaders in Northern Ireland have strengthened calls for the nation to leave the U.K. and unite with their southern neighbor, the Republic of Ireland. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein politician, is urging a referendum on the question. In Ireland, that hypothetical vote is called a "border poll."

But First Minister Arlene Foster, who is pro-Britain, says it won't be happening.

"There is no way, that even if there were a border poll — and I don't want to have one — that it would be in favor of a united Ireland," she said, according to The Guardian.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

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