- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2013

Seven hundred years after a vastly outnumbered Scottish army under legendary King Robert the Bruce defeated the English in a battle for Scottish independence, Scotland next year will again tackle the issue of separating from England.

However, the question facing Scots in 2014 will be settled at the ballot box, not on the battlefield, and Henry McLeish, a former Scottish premier, predicts the outcome will be different.

“It’s better together,” he said on a visit to Washington last week, as he boosted the benefits of preserving the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr. McLeish was here to promote a new Scottish social-media network called “myclanonline.com.”

A Labor Party activist and former member of the British and Scottish parliaments, Mr. McLeish doubts that the pro-independence Scottish National Party will have enough support to break up the union established in 1707.

He concedes the referendum could be closer than it now appears. About 60 percent of Scots oppose independence, although many support greater home rule.

“The unionist vote is now at a high-water mark,” he said.

Mr. McLeish still foresees a defeat for the referendum by a ratio closer to 55 percent against and 45 percent for. “It’s unlikely that independence will be approved, but the question is: What comes next?” he said. “Scotland wants vastly expanded powers.”

The Scottish Parliament reconvened in 1999, nearly 300 years after Scotland and England dissolved their legislatures to create the British Parliament in London.

But the Scottish Parliament has limited jurisdiction, similar to the powers of a U.S. state government. Scotland can regulate its own judicial, educational and health systems, but it has no control over foreign policy and only limited taxing authority.

In October, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond agreed on the terms for an independence referendum. The Conservative Mr. Cameron, like the liberal Mr. McLeish, oppose the breakup of Britain.

Mr. Cameron persuaded Mr. Salmond to agree on a referendum that poses only the question of independence. The Scottish leader had supported a second question that would have given Scotland more powers.

The independence question presents a challenge to NATO, which has a nuclear submarine fleet based on Scotland’s River Clyde. Mr. Salmond’s party opposes nuclear weapons and wants the fleet relocated from Scotland.

The relationship between Scotland, with 5 million people today, and England, with a population of 53 million, has been tense since the Middle Ages, when English kings such as Edward I invaded to subjugate the Scots.

The Scottish Wars of Independence — depicted in the largely fictional film “Braveheart” — reached a landmark at the Battle of Bannockburn on June 24, 1314. Robert the Bruce defeated Edward’s son, Edward II, even though the Scots had far fewer than half of the strength of the English army of about 18,000 men.

The Scots would fight for more than 40 years longer before winning independence — only to give it up 350 years later, when the Scottish and English parliaments in 1707 united under the crown of Queen Anne, who had been the monarch of both countries separately.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:


Panos Moumtzis, regional coordinator for Syrian refugees at the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. He joins a Brookings Institution panel discussion on the humanitarian crisis in Syria’s civil war.

Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, who addresses the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on Russia’s misuse of anti-extremist laws to target dissent.

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