With prideful nationalism, Scots on Thursday voted for self-rule and the creation of their first Parliament in three centuries.
Official results today from a national referendum echoed the universal predictions of polls and pundits politicians: a landslide “Yes” for the Parliament. There was strong support for a second “Yes” - to give the Parliament tax-making powers.
With results from all 32 districts counted this morning, the vote for Parliament was 74 percent in favor, and the vote for giving the body taxing authority was 63 percent in favor. Voter turnout was 60 percent.
The 129-member Parliament, a beacon-in-the-making for 5 million Scots with a deep-seated sense of nationhood, will have powers similar to those of American state legislatures.
Scotland will remain an integral part of the United Kingdom, but the Parliament will restore local legislative authority to the country for the first time since English and Scottish parliaments merged in 1707.
Scotland has been ruled by lawmakers in London ever since, so creation of the new Parliament represents a radical departure for a centrally administered nation where government now skips directly from the British Parliament to local city and village councils.
The Labor Party government of Prime Minister Tony Blair sponsored Thursday’s referendum, saying a Scottish Parliament would bring government closer to a region that historically has complained of getting short shrift from a far-off, otherwise-interested Parliament in London.
“The Highlands will get a better deal. We will be heard by a Scottish Parliament as we were never heard at Westminster,” said Peter Peacock, who heads the local government in the remote, sparsely populated Highlands from a base in Inverness.
Opponents of the new Scottish legislature, including the powerless Conservative Party and much of Scotland’s business establishment, say the devolution is unnecessary, expensive and dangerous, a first fatal step down a slippery slope toward independence for Scotland and destruction of the United Kingdom.
Chosen by Blair’s image-savvy advisers, the date assigned for the vote was not without good reason. Sept. 11 happened to be the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge, in which Scottish forces led by William Wallace routed the English. The number of patriotic Scotsmen visiting the battle monument at Stirling has tripled since release of “Braveheart,” Hollywood’s version of Wallace’s life.
Long a feisty independent kingdom, Scotland has retained its own legal and educational systems and its own establishment church since the 18th century merger of the English and Scottish parliaments. That is described as a union but amounted, in modern terms, to a takeover of the Scottish legislature by more powerful Westminster.
The Scots’ new Parliament will be born under legislation to be submitted by Blair later this year to the British Parliament, where its approval is certain. Elections will be called for 1999, with the Scottish Parliament making its ceremonial first sitting in 2000.
As outlined in government documents prepared for the referendum, the Scottish Parliament will oversee health service, education and training, local government, housing, economic development, transportation, law and order, the environment, farming and fishing, and sports and the arts.
But the British Parliament will retain authority over foreign and defense policy, economic, monetary and employment policies, social security and sensitive areas such as broadcasting, gambling and abortion.
Ending a political truce while Britain mourned Princess Diana, Blair barnstormed among the Scots this week, urging people “to vote for a new and modern settlement for Scotland that allows Scottish people to take decisions closer to them, closer to their priorities.”
Blunt as ever, Margaret Thatcher came to Scotland to speak for conservative forces whose “No-No” campaign never really got off the ground. “A majority vote won’t make something that is fundamentally wrong right,” said Thatcher in a losing cause.