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Scottish independence closer after election

by Iain Robertson

Special To The Japan Times

The 700th anniversary of Scotland’s most famous victory could mark the date it reaffirms independence from England.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) secured an historic result in the May 5 election to the devolved Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh. It was the extent of the landslide that caused widespread surprise. The party won a majority within a legislature designed, due to its proportional voting system, to never produce such a result.

Commentators ran out of superlatives to describe the scope of the nationalists’ victory, while many members of the winning party seemed astounded by what had happened.

Of 129 elected members of the Scottish Parliament, 69 are from the SNP — that’s 23 more than the party won in 2007, a result that allowed it to run a minority government.

So, is independence — the SNP’s raison d’etre — now inevitable?

Well, no. Polls indicate support for Scottish independence stands at around 30 percent of the electorate, but it’s definitely all to play for. The SNP stated before the election that, if re-elected, it would hold a referendum on independence in the second half of the five-year parliamentary term.

Opposition parties have called for that to be brought forward and have challenged First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond to “bring it on” in light of the majority it has won. Some unionist politicians have even suggested that London could take the lead and hold a referendum. There is little chance of this however, as it would be viewed poorly by the Scottish electorate and would more likely to lead to a yes vote.

The U.K.’s Westminster coalition government is led by Conservative party leader David Cameron — his party has very little support north of the border. Cameron said: “I will campaign to keep our United Kingdom together with every single fiber that I have.”

Salmond phoned Prime Minister Cameron just hours after securing victory to demand that the “Scotland Bill” currently going through the London Parliament to hand additional powers to Holyrood be beefed up to give more financial powers to his new majority administration. This chimes with the SNP’s gradualist approach of moving the country one step at a time toward its ultimate goal of independence.

The Scots’ chance to vote on independence could arrive in 2014 — 700 years after they defeated England at the Battle of Bannockburn, a pivotal moment in the wars of independence that led to the country winning its freedom. It was the later 1707 Act of Union between the two countries that led to the formation of the United Kingdom.

I said four years ago — before the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary elections — that a marriage with so many problems and complications could not survive long term, and I believe that still holds true. The days when Scottish voters were too scared to even consider going it alone are over; their endorsement May 5 of a party founded for the sole purpose of restoring Scotland to full independence is proof of that.

There is little doubt that Scotland’s citizens, at the very least, want what some have labeled “devolution max” or more powers — the “teeth” to make the big decisions that matter to Scots.

Under the current constitutional settlement in the U.K., Westminster gives Edinburgh’s Holyrood parliamentarians a block grant to spend on devolved matters. Many see this as a rather pathetic way for a country to operate.

Formed in the early part of the 20th century, the SNP came to prominence in the 1970s when oil was discovered off the coast of Scotland. The party’s “It’s Scotland’s Oil” campaign grabbed the public’s attention. An increase in its support then led to the 1979 referendum for a Scottish Assembly — which the people voted narrowly in favor of, but due to the conditions of the vote, not in sufficient numbers to make it a reality.

In 1997 the country was asked a similar question: Did it want a devolved Scottish Parliament? An unequivocal yes was the answer.

The big question on full independence may now come on the anniversary of Bannockburn. And after May 5′s staggering result, there is every chance the people might continue on the path to restoring the Scottish state.

Iain Robertson is editor of Enterprising Scotland magazine.