Tartan Pride Soars at Talk of Scottish Devolution
EDINBURGH — For nearly five years, office worker Gillian Grant has been getting up at dawn and heading for what she calls "the vigil post" near the heart of the Scottish capital of Edinburgh.
Opposite a vast granite building that used to be a high school, she unfurls Scotland's blue-and-white flag and, with traffic whizzing by, takes her position under a sign demanding a parliament for Scotland.
"Very soon now, we're going to get it," she says. "This post has been open every day since 1992. It has become a symbol of Scottish nationalism. I expect Scots will vote to have their own legislature, probably this September."
Pointing at the gray building, a note of glee colors her Scottish burr, and she adds: "That is where it will hold its first session."
Like other Scots keen to take up the British government's offer of a referendum on devolution (limited self-government), Ms. Grant stops short of wanting full independence for Scotland's 5 million people, although she thinks a breakaway from England "may come eventually."
"What I want now," she adds, "is for the people of this nation to make choices of their own."
Donald Dewar, a raw-boned, hawk-nosed Scot who is secretary of state for Scotland in Britain's Labour government, agrees that voters in Scotland - which in 1707 became part of the United Kingdom (UK) and accepted the sovereignty of the London Parliament - should have a chance to have their own legislature.
Scottish legislators currently have 72 seats in the 659-seat British House of Commons.
The Labour Party's promise of a referendum on Scotland during the recent May 1 elections is widely credited with having tipped the balance against the former Conservative government, whose prime minister, John Major, warned: "Devolution will lead to the breakup of the UK."
The Conservatives lost every seat in Scotland. Now chastened Scottish Tories are taking a second look at devolution. Former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, among party members rejected by the voters, says: "Maybe a Scottish parliament wouldn't be the end of the world."
For Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, the prospect of a parliament holding session within the walls of the old Royal High School is only mildly pleasing. He and his followers want a lot more.
"We are a nation with our own proud culture and history," he says. "Having a parliament is not the same thing as having independence." His party, which wants independence, won only a handful of seats in the election. Most of the current momentum for changing Scotland's constitutional status is coming from moderate nationalists.
In her office here, Esther Roberton has begun organizing a nationwide campaign to convince Scots that having their own legislature is "not only desirable but essential.
"Most of our people are unhappy having decisions taken for them by politicians in London," she says. Although a referendum in Scotland 18 years ago rejected devolution, she says, "The mood has changed. We need more control over our own affairs."
Conversations with people north of the border show Scottishness consists of a great deal more than tartan kilts, skirling bagpipes, and haggis for supper.
"Being a Scot is in my bones," says Peter Watson, a lawyer who represents the families of victims of the 1988 disaster in which an American airliner crashed near the Scottish town of Lockerbie. "But feeling Scottish," he says in his office in Glasgow's business district, "doesn't mean I want a parliament to displace the one in London."
"If I go down to England, I feel I am in a foreign country. Yet the people are friendly.... Anyway, look at [Prime Minister] Tony Blair's Cabinet - half of the members are Scots."
Many Scots, however, are not so relaxed. Gaelic is still spoken, especially in the west of Scotland, and there are radio broadcasts for those who prefer to hear the news in their native tongue. There is a resurgence, too, of Scottish national identity.
Lindsay Paterson is a professor of education at Edinburgh's Herriot Watt University. Speaking minutes before chairing a seminar on Scottish education, he says he is convinced of the need to foster "our own culture and nationhood."
"I may speak and lecture in the English language, but as a Scot I often find myself having more affinity with people from Scandinavia than with people from England," he says.
Where does he look for models of what Scots should be aiming for as they head toward the promised referendum? "The most relevant example," he says, "is the effort of the Basque people of Spain to find political self-expression in line with their own culture and history. They are succeeding, and Scots will too."