Scots want their own legislature Historic vote: Blair plans to offer four regions limited home rule.

September 15, 1997

MANY OF SCOTLAND'S five million people have felt aggrieved since 1603, when their king acquired the throne of England, sacrificing Scottish independence in the deal. Or 1707, when this was institutionalized by sharing the Westminster Parliament and the flag. And certainly since the 1980s, when Conservatives tried out a hated head tax in Scotland before extending it to England, where it proved equally hateful.

That explains why three-fifths of eligible Scots voted on setting up a separate assembly last week, with three-fourths approving it. Nearly two-thirds approved letting this assembly raise or lower the income tax three percentage points above or below England's. The vote contrasts with a 1979 referendum, when only a third of voters favored an assembly.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair promises to have an assembly running in 2000. Scottish politics at something like an American state level begins immediately. The Scottish assembly will direct the work done since 1885 by a Scottish Office answerable to Westminister.

If nothing else, this will be good for the economy of Edinburgh, Scotland's capital and second city, its venerable respectability frayed by a reputation for drugs and prostitution. In the 1707 Act of Union, Scotland retained its own established church and legal system, and its education developed differently from England's.

The elected assembly was championed by the Labor Party a generation ago as a compromise between the independence sought by Scottish Nationalists and the status quo of the Conservatives. Most Scots reject sovereign independence. Many are doing very well in England. The alarm raised against the proposal was that Scottish Nationalists will use the assembly as a vehicle for true separatism, as in Quebec. Few Scots are worried.

Scotland is the show piece of Mr. Blair's plan to restore limited home rule to four regions, the others being Wales (where nationalism is more linguistic than political), Greater London (where Mrs. Thatcher abolished it as too left-wing) and Northern Ireland (where difficult negotiations between the parties are to begin Monday). Americans, who cherish their own states, have to think it is a good idea.

Pub Date: 9/15/97

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