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Scottish Nationalism on the Rise. Unhappiness with Thatcher policies, wider European prospects fuel separatist demands. MIFFED AT MAGGIE

By Julian BaumStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 24, 1989


WHEN John McGrath's ``Border Warfare'' played to packed houses in Glasgow last month, the audiences were highly partisan. The play dramatized the often turbulent history of relations between Scotland and England, including a re-creation of the Scottish parliament that voted in 1707 to join with the English parliament in London.

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Glasgow theatergoers were asked to vote their own preferences and every night the results were the same: They reversed the decision and opposed union with Britain by at least 10 to 1.

While perhaps not an accurate reading of public opinion, the informal theater poll in Glasgow registers the rise of Scottish nationalism that is now the dominant political issue north of the English border.

``There is no doubt at all that the majority of people are unhappy with the way Scotland is governed,'' says political activist Judy Steel, wife of David Steel who is a member of Parliament and a former leader of Britain's Liberal Party.

Scotland's unhappiness with rule from London has a long history. Its revival in the late 1980s has more to do with the free-market policies of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the strengthening of the European Community (EC) than it does with historic border wars.

It is ironically set against the recovery of the Scottish economy after the slump in oil prices in the mid-1980s and a development boom in Scotland's largest city, Glasgow. While still high compared with England, unemployment is falling and government expenditures on Scotland have doubled in the past decade.

Scotland, however, sees itself as a working-class country, equalitarian and largely socialist. Even if Scots compete well in the ``enterprise culture'' promoted by Mrs. Thatcher, they rebel at attempts to turn their society into model of capitalism, especially under a government they do not support.

Scottish grievances include rule by a Conservative Party which retains only 10 seats out of 72 seats of Parliament that represent Scotland. The number of Conservative parliamentarians is so few that London must recruit ministers for Scottish affairs from outside.

Resentment against these English officials can run deep. Commenting in the Guardian newspaper, playwright McGrath wrote that Scotland is ``now ruled by a bunch of suave brigands who nobody voted for and nobody can do anything about ... ''

Although there is a revival of demands for self-determination in Scotland, support for independence is still limited. Advocates of independence, mainly the Scottish National Party, insist it is the only option if Scotland wants a say in its own affairs. ``Either the Scottish people are sovereign or the English Parliament is sovereign - it can't be both,'' says Chris McLean, spokesman for the Scottish Nationals.

But critics say that independence is a whim which ignores the economic realities of Scotland's remote geography and the benefits of union with Britain.

``I don't believe a majority of Scotland wants independence, they want devolution,'' says Douglas Sinclair, chief executive of the Ross and Cromarty District Council in the Scottish Highlands. Mr. Sinclair says that the recent push for self-government is the outcome of a steady centralization of power under Thatcher. ``Scotland is being very much sucked into the mainstream of Thatcherism,'' he says.

Scottish frustration with Thatcher's government is partly based on the perception that she lacks sympathy for the region. Mrs. Thatcher once said that if it had not been for Scotland and its large contingent of Labour parliamentarians, now at 49 members, Britain would not have experienced what she has called the ``dark tunnel of socialism.''