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Scotland poised to give big election win to party fighting for independence

Scotland poised to give big election win to party fighting for independence

Scotland this week marks the 300th anniversary of the day it united with England to give birth to Great Britain. Yet as it observes the milestone, Scots are poised to hand a resounding election victory to a party that vows to dismantle the union.
For Treasury Chief Gordon Brown, the proud Scotsman preparing to succeed Tony Blair as Britain's prime minister in the coming months, there's a bitter irony: With his moment of triumph in sight, his homeland may be slipping from his grasp.
Latest polls show the Scottish National Party is set to sweep elections to Scotland's regional government on Thursday, claiming a mandate to chart a path toward an eventual split. The party, which has pledged an independence referendum by 2010, dreams of an independent nation matching the economic successes of neighboring and similarly populated Ireland and Norway, rather than relying on heavy subsidies from London.
At the heart of the matter is the nature of nationhood at a time when the European Union _ an even broader umbrella _ might be seen as a guarantor of peace and prosperity no less great than Britain. And while Scotland would not have automatic entry, few believe it wouldn't ultimately join the now 27-member club.
There are significant economic subplots.
With independence, Scotland would control lucrative oil and natural gas reserves in the North Sea. The SNP also promises drastic corporate tax cuts that would attract foreign investment and, it claims, transform Scotland into a Tartan Tiger on par with Ireland's Celtic Tiger.
Brown and the governing Labour Party, however, say breaking free would wreck the Scottish economy. The territory lags behind England economically and benefits far more from British public spending than it contributes in national taxes.
And it would be a humiliation for Labour to have presided over the breakup of Great Britain _ even though the English and the Scots share a surprising antipathy last demonstrated in the widespread refusal of Scots to support the beleaguered England soccer team at the 2006 World Cup.
Will a divorce take place? Perhaps not so fast. Despite the SNP's growing support, an independent Scotland may yet remain far off _ as it has been in Spain's Basque country, which has had broad powers of self-rule since the late 1970s.
Polls show that less than a third of Scots currently want to leave the union, and even SNP party activists acknowledge rancor over Blair's 10-year premiership is helping their cause as much as a desire for independence. Fueling the SNP's success has been dissent over the Iraq war and domestic policies Scots feel have stunted the territory's economic growth.
But a booming, independent Scotland is the vision SNP leader Alex Salmond sells to shopkeepers as he darts between stores in the border town of Selkirk, the historic spot where William Wallace, the famed patriot who resisted English occupation, was named guardian of Scotland _ or de facto head of state _ in 1298.
Unlike the legendary outlaw given Hollywood treatment in the movie "Braveheart," Salmond claims efficient governance will prove a Scotland ruled by his party can manage the nation's affairs without interference from London.
"This is about having a chance to show what we can do as an administration," Salmond said. "Then, in 2010 we'll ask the voters of Scotland for their permission, in a referendum, to move forward to independence."
Polls suggest his party will claim the largest share of seats in Scotland's 129-member parliament and form a coalition government _ probably with the Liberal Democrats, who have previously sided with governing Labour. Results of the ballot held every four years are expected to be called from the early hours of Friday.
Labour has been the largest party since Scotland's parliament was established in 1999, following an overwhelming vote in favor of a domestic legislative body in 1997. It has never run second in a Scottish poll since 1955.
Scotland's parliament passes laws on education, health and justice and can alter income tax in Scotland by 3 pence (6 U.S. cents; 4.5 euro cent) in every pound, but London retains primacy on all matters relating to Britain as a whole _ including defense, energy and foreign relations.
Lawmakers and analysts claim Blair may have brought Thursday's predicted defeat upon himself _ by failing to foresee his move to devolve some powers to Scotland would take root and trigger renewed debate about ties to England.
If Scotland's parliament is "good enough to look after health and education, why not the economy or foreign policy?" pondered Salmond, already a House of Commons lawmaker and hoping to win a Holyrood seat and lead the Scottish authority.
Actor Sean Connery is the party's leading celebrity supporter and claims "there will never be a better opportunity than now," to move toward independence, lending his distinct Scottish burr to a campaign video.
Convincing voters of the need for secession will take more than movie star endorsements, pollsters claim. John Curtice, politics professor at Scotland's Strathcylde University, says support for separation has hovered at 30 percent for decades. But by delaying a Scottish referendum until 2010, he said, Salmond will aim to use quarrels with London to prove the case for separation.
"If London continually says no to Holyrood (as the parliament is known)the SNP will hope they've proven Scotland needs self-governance," said Curtice.
Salmond's chief foe will be Brown, who has launched an urgent defense of Great Britain, telling an Edinburgh rally any split would leave Scotland bankrupt and marginalized on the world stage.
Voters aiming to use Scottish elections to sting Blair will cause an enormous headache for his successor, said analyst Phil Cowley, handing him a mischievous neighbor who could undermine Brown's authority ahead of national polls in 2009 or 2010.
"He has always seen Scotland as his fiefdom," Cowley said. "When you do badly in the fiefdom, you suffer."
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Associated Press Writer Jennifer A. Quinn, in London, contributed to this report
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On the net:
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Updated : 2021-04-15 05:08 GMT+08:00