Serving a tiny taste of power Parliament: Scotland and Wales voted this month to create their own legislatures, thus moving a small bit closer to independence from Britain.

September 28, 1997|By Richard O'Mara

Brave Scotland and doughty Wales, having voted to establish their own legislatures after centuries of dependence on the Parliament in Westminster, have taken baby steps toward independence. They are tiptoeing away from the mother country.

The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh boldly declared the aftermath of the vote, Sept. 11., "the first day of the rest of Scotland's life."

It then added, more timorously, "We will make of it what we can."

William Hague, the spokesman for the losers in the referendum, who want to keep Scotland firmly under English control, said the voters "had the wool pulled over their eyes."

Troubles lay ahead, he warned. He suggested that the United Kingdom might be coming un-glued, that the empire upon which the sun never sets might eventually wind up alone in the dark.

With Scotland off on its own, and Wales moving timidly in the same direction, can Northern Ireland be far behind?

Serious questions are raised.

Now that Scotland has its autonomy, will the supply of Scotch whiskey fall under the control of the people who invented it? If so, what about the rest of us?

Might the Welsh, in the first yeasty flush of nationalism, do something rash, like outlawing English? Or dual road signs?

How would anyone find Merthyr Tydfil? Or know where they were when they got there? Or make their way to Aberystwyth?

Welsh is a Celtic language, the tongue of heroes. Which is to say, only heroes can handle it. It has 28 letters, eight of which are double letters, and the longest words this side of Germany. And all this without j, k, q, v, x or z.

It was odd from the beginning that Sean Connery, a Scot, was hired to play the first James Bond. For despite 007's professed loyalty to the queen of England in the movies, Connery is a fervent Scottish nationalist. He wants Scotland to be free. Scotland for the Scots and all that, even if he does prefer Majorca or Ibiza and other sunnier climes in which to live.

It's almost certain MI6 will revoke his license to kill.

Having their own assembly and the power to raise taxes on their fellow citizens doesn't add up to a full break from England for Scotland. The queen of England is still head of state. She even lives there, if only during the sunny part of the year.

Nor will devolution ensure political felicity. The Scots, who legend says can pinch a penny 'til it screams, don't like paying taxes any better than anybody else, even if the tax collectors are Scottish and not English.

Still, the Scots and the Welsh, by their votes, have served themselves a small ration of power. It is a dish neither is accustomed to.

Especially irksome for the Scots in their long association with England was the spiked heel of Margaret Thatcher, maintained neatly on the Scottish neck. If King Edward I, the man who stole the Stone of Scone, was the Hammer of the Scots, the lady from Finchley was surely the tongs.

Thatcher, whose nose lifted higher than that of any prime minister since Benjamin Disraeli when in the presence of a man wearing a plaid skirt, disdained the Scots like no one else. In return, the Scots loathed Thatcher. Between them, it is said, flowed a river of bile as pure as the waters of the Tweed, broader than the Firth of Forth.

And nobody, except perhaps the Irish, can loathe like the phlegmatic Scots. Unless, perhaps, it's the unintelligible Welsh.

A few days before the devolution vote in Wales took place this month, a group of English-speaking opponents of Welsh autonomy were spat upon and jostled in northern Wales. They were cursed - or sounds were uttered that were taken to be

curses. Nobody knows for sure.

Having been oppressed by the English for centuries, the Scots, like the Welsh, and the Irish, who have had even more of it, have developed certain embarrassing tics and painful mannerisms appropriate to their station. Tugging on the forelock, for one. A taste for English food, for another.

This latter may seem inconceivable to those who have ever experienced English cookery, but quite understandable to anyone who has tasted Scotch Eggs, much less the Scotish national dish, made of the heart, liver, lungs and stomach of some animal or other. Whoever said the kitchens of England are exalted by those of Scotland knew what he was talking about.

Some years back in London, I called a member of the Scottish Nationalist Party in Glasgow for an interview. He was so tickled (nobody had paid attention to them before) he hopped on a train and sped right down to meet me at Euston Station, where we had breakfast. He ate four bangers, English sausages in which it has been rumored meat has occasionally been detected.

He adored them. "It's the only thing of the English that I can tolerate," he said, his cheeks all puffed up with his grainy repast, the grease glistening on his lower lip.

There could be no surer sign of how debased Scotland had become under English rule.

The Scots have hung their heads for years over their predicament, angry at themselves for allowing such to come to pass.

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