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A Dis-United Kingdom?

Scots get self-rule; the Welsh may, too. N. Ireland talks open today. England may be alone.

By Alexander MacLeodSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / September 15, 1997



LONDON

From his architect's office in north London, Christopher Dickerson is planning for the breakup of the United Kingdom.

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As secretary of the English National Party, he is convinced that "a few years from now, we in England will go it alone."

His is not a solitary voice.

Members of Britain's main political parties have begun talking about the until-now unthinkable: each of the United Kingdom's component parts going its own way.

Mr. Dickerson spoke after last Thursday's "yes" by 74 percent of Scottish voters to setting up a local parliament in Edinburgh in 2000. Sixty-three percent also supported giving that body limited tax-raising powers.

This Thursday, voters will cast ballots in Wales on establishing a legislature there.

And talks reopen today on Northern Ireland. For the first time, Sinn Fein, a party that is calling for total independence of the province from Britain, will be at the table.

"I foresee a time, perhaps not far distant, when there will be an English parliament representing England, with the other parts of the present UK - Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland - having parliaments and governments of their own," Dickerson says.

Alan Cochrane, a Scottish political analyst, says, "English public opinion is finally awake. There is a groundswell, with people asking, 'If Scotland can have its own parliament, why not England?' "

In fact, there already is a parliament in London, but it is British, not English. Despite a tendency to equate Britain with England, they are sharply different. "The English," Dickerson points out, "live in England. The Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish are distinct peoples and, together with the English, send representatives to the British capital to sit in the UK Parliament."

Dickerson concedes that his party is "in a formative stage, with only a small number" of active members. "It was brought into existence by the Labour government's decision to offer a separate parliament to Scotland - and it is beginning to grow," he says.

Historically, the United Kingdom is a gluing together of several nations (see map).

The UK flag - the red, white, and blue Union Jack - is itself a composite, with the crosses of St. George (England), St. Andrew (Scotland), and St. Patrick (Ireland) laid on top of one another.

During the referendum campaign in Scotland, the blue cross of St. Andrew was much in evidence. Those like Dickerson who want a separate parliament for England and say the Scottish vote is fostering such a demand, would like to see the red cross of St. George fluttering from every English flagstaff.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair may secretly share much the same sentiment.

Last Friday, he said he was "delighted" that Scots had opted for a legislature of their own with power to raise taxes. He told cheering crowds in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, "This is a good day for Scotland, a good day for Britain, and a good day for the United Kingdom."