JOHN MAJOR'S government is bidding to head off determined moves
by Scottish nationalists and devolutionists to secure greater
independence for their country.
But a series of proposals aimed at giving Scotland's 72 members
of the London Parliament a larger say in decisionmaking has been
denounced by the government's opponents.
Alex Salmond, firebrand leader of the small Scottish National
Party (SNP), which wants full independence for Scotland, called the
government's proposals "a constitutional charade."
More menacingly, John Smith, leader of the opposition Labour
Party, which favors a separate parliament for Scotland, on March 12
attacked the prime minister's blueprint as "timorous tokenism" and
warned that the people of Scotland would not be "hoodwinked."
He said Mr. Major was trying to divert attention away from
Scotland's economic difficulties and compared the prime minister to
a rabbit caught "blinking in the glare as the juggernaut of slump
and recession comes bearing down on him."
Despite his claim of wanting to give Scots a better chance to
run their own affairs, Major has refused to reject a proposal that
promises to become the litmus test of his government's Scotland
policies: privatizing Scotland's water supplies.
In a March 8 public opinion poll published in The Scotsman
(Scotland's national daily newspaper), 86 percent of Scots said
they were against taking water out of the public sector and into
the private sector. Even among Conservatives, 7 of 10 respondents
were hostile to privatizing what they regard as a vital national
Major has deputed Scottish-born Ian Lang, secretary of state for
Scotland, to spearhead the London government's campaign to ease
nationalist pressures "north of the border."
Mr. Lang says his package of measures unveiled on March 9 is the
first serious reappraisal of the relationship between England and
Scotland since the two nations signed a treaty of political union
in 1707. The union makes Scotland part of the United Kingdom. What
angers a growing number of Scots is that most decisions affecting
their lives are made London.
Mr. Salmond, who leads a voluble group of three members of
Parliament at Westminster, complains that North Sea oil and gas
have been treated by the London government as essentially English
resources, and that the 5 million people of Scotland have not
benefited enough from petroleum profits in the last 20 years.
He says proposals to privatize Scottish water suffer from
The SNP's nationalist philosophy includes a deep-rooted belief
that the people of Scotland are culturally distinct from the
English. Salmond has said that if Scotland achieves independence
under SNP leadership it will apply for membership of the European
Community as a separate state. …