Tuesday, January 16, 2007

EDINBURGH, Scotland — With barely the raising of a glass, Scotland is marking 300 years since it accepted union with England and officially put the Great in Britain.

The anniversary yesterday of the Scottish Parliament’s vote for the Treaty of Union is focusing attention more on the perennial discord than the ties that bind these two members of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Polls show advocates of Scottish independence are gaining strength in their campaign for a referendum on breaking the union.

“This treaty can and will be undone, and at the moment there is a wellspring of Scottish nationalism,” said Murray Ritchie, convener of the Scottish Independence Convention, an advocacy group. “What we need is a referendum to settle the issue of independence.”

The feeling seems mutual, judging from opinion polls in recent months, which have said that a bit more than half of Scots — and of the English — support independence for Scotland, while much smaller percentages are opposed.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, however, said any attempt to split England and Scotland would be a “crazy” idea.

“In commerce, in trade, in security and above all in shared values, the union of England and Scotland continues to be good for England, good for Scotland and right for the future of Britain,” Agence France-Presse quoted Mr. Blair saying at his regular press briefing yesterday.

The union has been contested since 1707, when protesting mobs took to the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Scottish poet Robert Burns labeled those who voted for union a “parcel of rogues.”

Though Scotland’s Parliament dissolved, the country maintained much of its national identity, its own legal and education systems and its own religion — Presbyterianism, although Queen Elizabeth II is the head of the Church of Scotland.

Ten years ago, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to accept a proposal from Prime Minister Tony Blair to have its own elected assembly with limited tax-raising powers.

Now the tercentenary, and the strong opinion poll standings of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), are giving the topic fresh impetus among Scots, who number 5 million to England’s 50 million.

Without the leveling effect of national tax rates, Scots would probably have to pay more to make up for what would be lost in parting with England.

North Sea oil revenue is the cornerstone of the separatists’ dream; oil prices have doubled the value of the industry since 2000, netting a fifth of Britain’s total corporate tax revenue, and much of that revenue would go directly to an independent Scotland, according to the SNP. But North Sea reserves are expected to run out by 2020.

Some in England grumble that Scotland effectively rules the United Kingdom with its abundance of Scottish lawmakers in high-ranking roles, as well as polling districts that make the Scottish votes a determining factor in national elections.

Mr. Blair is one of four Scottish-born prime ministers in the past century, as is Gordon Brown, Mr. Blair’s likely successor when he steps down in September.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide