Scots of Many Stripes Urge a Separate Parliament
Polls suggest today's vote will favor more local rule for Scotland.
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND — James Bond (Sean Connery) wants an independent Scotland. But for the time being, Ian Fleming's fictional hero would be reasonably happy with a Scottish legislature.
Mr. Connery, the first movie actor to portray Secret Agent 007, emerged from tax exile in the Bahamas to play a starring role in the final days before today's referendum on whether England's northern neighbor will get its own parliament.
At a rally last weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, Connery smiled modestly when introduced as "the world's most famous Scot" and went on to insist that its own lawmaking body was "Scotland's rightful heritage."
"I am here because I am a Scot and because I believe in my country," he told the Monitor afterward. "We want and need our own parliament reflecting the characteristics of Scotland - enterprise, compassion, and justice."
The actor's presence at the rally was not its only surprising feature. For the first time anyone could remember, bitter political adversaries agreed to be photographed and share a platform together. They all favor a parliament for Scotland.
Donald Dewar, secretary of state for Scotland in Britain's Labour Party government, was heard singing from the same political hymnal as Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (which wants full independence from England), and Jim Wallace, leader of the centrist Scottish Liberal Democrats.
All argued that in today's vote Scots should support both propositions on the ballot: that their nation should have its own parliament, and that the parliament should have power to raise taxes in addition to those levied by the House of Commons in London.
There are, of course, contrary voices. William Hague, leader of the Conservative Party, who visited Scotland Tuesday, warned that a separate parliament for Scotland "could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom" which has existed since 1707 when Scotland began to be represented in Britain's Parliament.
He was supported by the former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who arrived in Edinburgh unexpectedly on the same day. She called plans for devolution "a negation of Britain's shared history" and "an abdication of our joint future."
But it was noticeable last Sunday, when campaigning resumed after a week-long hiatus caused by the funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales, that the first placards to appear in the streets were being put up by the "Yes-Yes" forces who back both a new parliament and tax-raising powers.
The "No-No" and "Think Twice" campaigns, led by Scotland's Conservatives, have been handicapped by the fact that at the May 1 general election not one Conservative parliamentary candidate from Scotland was elected to Parliament.
Michael Ancram, an English member of Parliament who speaks on Scottish issues and has been campaigning against devolution, has had difficulty persuading voters to forget - or forgive - his activities in the 1980s. Then, as a member of the Thatcher government, he helped to impose a highly unpopular poll tax on Scotland, which was later withdrawn.
"Devolution is a pig in a poke," Mr. Ancram told the Monitor. "If a Scottish parliament gets power to raise its own taxes, the people of Scotland will pay dearly."
Not many Scots appear to have bought the Conservative argument. In an opinion poll yesterday in The Scotsman newspaper, 56 percent of respondents said they would vote "yes-yes," 14 percent "yes-no," and 27 percent "no-no," suggesting a huge majority favoring a Scottish parliament and a closer vote on the issue of tax-raising powers.
Outside the gates of the gray granite building in Edinburgh where a Scottish legislature would convene, Gillian Grant is helping to staff a "vigil," now nearly five years old, demanding a separate parliament. "It has been a long, long haul, and sometimes I've wondered whether we would ever get our way," she says. "But I have a feeling we'll win."
If the referendum does pass, Scotland will take a big step away from a parliamentary system that has been in place for centuries.
Elections to Britain's Parliament are held under a "winner takes all" system that puts the leading vote-getter in office without needing a majority of the votes cast. A Scottish parliament would be elected under a system used for elections in Germany and other European countries. Each voter would have two ballots - one to select a local representative, the other to elect seven additional members of the parliament nominated by each party.
The effect, says Marion Rolls, national secretary of the Campaign for a Scottish Parliament, would be to "ensure the representation of parties which might otherwise be squeezed out." In Scotland, she said, this could include Conservatives, the leading opposition party in the rest of Britain.