- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Scotland’s voters took heed of one of their most famous fictional countrymen, “Star Trek” Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery Scott, and said “beam me up” out of the United Kingdom, when they gave control of the local parliament last week to the independence-seeking Scottish National Party.

Independence, however, would take a bit longer than Scotty’s transporter beam to sever the 300-year-old union between Scotland and England.

Less than one-third of Scots want to dissolve the United Kingdom, according to public opinion polls.Instead, the surge in support for the Nationalists last week in elections for the Scottish Parliament had more to do with anger directed at Prime Minister Tony Blair over the Iraq war and policies that many Scots believe have hurt their local economy.

“Never again will we see the Labor party assume that it has a divine right to rule Scotland,” said Nationalist leader Alex Salmond, who reportedly hopes to become first minister of the devolved Parliament here.

Final results showed that the Nationalists grabbed 47 seats; Labor came in right behind with 46. The Conservatives took 17 and the Liberal Democrats 16.

The wafer-thin win margin booted the ruling Labor Party out of power for the first time in the Scottish Parliament’s short history, Labor’s most dramatic defeat in Thursday’s local elections across Great Britain.

For a couple of chaotic days before the results were tallied, elected officials tried to figure out why more than 100,000 votes had been rejected. Odd stories surfaced, including one about a golf club-wielding man who smashed ballot boxes, ripping about 100 papers that had to be pieced back together.

Though Labor avoided the total nationwide meltdown that some analysts predicted, 39 million voters across Britain did get a chance to voice their displeasure with Mr. Blair, who is expected soon to announce a date for his resignation.

Conservatives picked up more than 800 local council and other seats across Britain, inflicting heavy losses on Mr. Blair’s Labor Party.

In Wales, home of another devolved assembly, Labor lost seats but maintained power, provided it can find a coalition partner.

Mr. Blair downplayed the results, telling the BBC the results provided a “perfectly good springboard” for the next general election.

“You always take a hit in the midterm,” he said. “We came from worse results a few years ago and won an election. And we’re going to do it again.”

Now, people are curious to see how the election will affect the relationship between the British and Scottish parliaments.

Mr. Salmond said if he were elected first minister, he would be “anxious” to work with Gordon Brown, a fellow Scotsman who is expected to replace Mr. Blair as prime minister of the United Kingdom. But he also hinted there could be disagreements.

“It’s quite clear who’s lost [the election]; this government and the Labor Party have no moral authority left for running things.”

The Nationalists still must decide whether they want to rule Scotland as a minority government or form a coalition with another party to increase support for its political agenda, which includes independence.

“We are still to have discussions over the next few days, and we’ll approach them constructively,” Mr. Salmond told reporters yesterday. “We’ve had conversations informally, but there’s been no formal negotiations as yet. During the election, we expressed a preference for a coalition, and that’s certainly my preference.”

Whatever the case, it is clear that the Nationalists will push for a referendum on independence in 2010, while the other main parties continue to support Scotland’s union with England.

As for Scotty, the role was played by the late James Montgomery Doohan, an Irish-Canadian actor.

He tried a variety of accents for the part, according to an article in the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, and decided to use a Lowland Scottish accent because he believed Scots make the best engineers.

Last month, Mr. Doohan’s ashes were put on a rocket in New Mexico and blasted briefly into outer space before returning to Earth by parachute.

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