Nationalism in Scotland Blair scare: European institutions shelter and comfort secessionist aspirations.

November 21, 1998

WELL MIGHT British Prime Minister Tony Blair warn Scots against the Scottish National Party. Should it win the Scottish election next May, he said, the new Scottish parliament could become "a battering ram for separatism." So it would.

That would be the last thing his government intended when enacting state governments for Scotland, Wales and Greater London on the model of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Blair's British Labor Party should have worried about this earlier. During a revival of the Scottish Nationalists in the 1970s, Labor advocated a middle way, "devolution" of some power to a Scottish assembly in Edinburgh, and has never reconsidered the policy.

As a compromise, that had appeal. But Scottish politicians dominating Mr. Blair's Cabinet who want to continue governing all Great Britain see a flaw.

A state assembly needs two major parties committed to the federalist status quo. If one is separatist, when the voters get fed up with the other, the separatist party becomes the alternative. It would use power to seek sovereignty.

That has been vividly clear in Canada since the 1970s, when Quebecois Party replaced a discredited patronage machine as the official opposition in the Quebec National Assembly. Canadian politics has been seized by the issue of Quebec separatism since.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's repeated use of Scotland to test unpopular programs nearly destroyed her Conservative Party there. The only practical Scottish alternative to Labor now is the Nationalist Party. It has been running neck and neck with Labor in the polls. Labor has pulled marginally ahead, but much could happen by May.

The umbrella for the revival of Scottish nationalism is the European Union. Nationalists promise that Scotland would find shelter under its economic security.

The same effect has revived secessionism elsewhere in the European Union. Bavaria, Lombardy, the Basque country, Brittany, Corsica and the two halves of Belgium show renewed stirrings.

But Scotland will provide the first test under new conditions. If Mr. Blair doesn't like it, he has only his own party's policies to blame.

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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