- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

GLASGOW, Scotland — The Scottish Nationalist Party, whose platform calls for independence from Britain, heads into elections for the Scottish Parliament tomorrow with a decisive lead over the governing Labor Party.

Motivated by strong opposition to Labor’s support of the Iraq war, 39 percent of respondents said in a YouGov.com poll that they will vote for the SNP, indicating that Labor will likely be knocked off its feet for the first time since the Scottish Parliament’s inception in 1999.

In just a week, SNP support has jumped two points while Labor support has been flat at 30 percent.

It is still not clear whether the SNP will secure a clear majority in Parliament or, if elected, how far the nationalists will go with their ambition to break up the United Kingdom. But Labor has spent the final days of the campaign warning voters that an SNP takeover would plunge Scotland into years of turmoil.

At very least, the Nationalists will have a chance to rejuvenate a debate over whether Britain should increase Scotland’s governing powers to include foreign policy and taxation.

But for many voters, the election is less about the future of Scotland than it is a final chance to give outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair — Labor’s most familiar face — a bloody nose for supporting the Iraq war.

“We all are suffering even though we had no decision-making power on the Iraq war,” Gordon Matheson, a Glasgow City Council candidate seeking re-election, told The Washington Times. “We are all tarnished.”

Labor members have worked hard to distance themselves from the British Parliament’s unpopular decision to back the war and spend billions of dollars to renew Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

“Whether you’re for or against the war or [the nuclear Trident missile system], it wasn’t our decision,” said Pauline McNeil, an outspoken war critic who has served as a Labor member from Glasgow since 1999.

“I’m arguing to people that they should not hold us accountable for the issues we are not responsible for. My vote on the health service, my vote on the roads network, my vote on the environment, that makes a difference. That’s what people should hold us account for.”

However, that message is not getting through to voters. David Moxham, Mrs. McNeil’s campaign manager, said seats once considered safe — even in Labor strongholds such as Glasgow — are now tossups.

“We will win or lose by about 100 votes,” he said.

Mr. Matheson, who campaigned door to door this week with Mrs. McNeil, said the SNP has been successful in casting themselves as the “party where people can go to protest Labor.”

Angus Robertson, the SNP campaign director, agreed, saying the war has been “completely corrosive to the Labor Party” and has helped the SNP attract new voters.

“That’s what allows me to say, ‘You can’t believe them about the Iraq war, so you can’t believe them on what they are saying about Scotland,’ ” Mr. Robertson said. “Then people go, ‘That’s right.’ It’s just as simple as that.”

The SNP had 25 seats in the just-dissolved 129-seat Parliament and is likely to come out of the vote with as many as 50. That would put it in a position to form a coalition, most likely with the Liberal Democrats, who were at 15 percent in the YouGov poll.

“By electing an SNP government, troops will not be automatically withdrawn from Iraq,” Mr. Robertson said. “But I’ll tell you [the British Parliament] will sure … be thinking about it a lot more than is currently the case. I can’t begin to tell you how much of the moving of the tectonic plates the SNP winning it in Scotland will be.”

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