Newspaper article International New York Times

Rift Widens in Kingdom Still United ; Scottish Leader Warns Cameron That It Can No Longer Be Politics as Usual

Newspaper article International New York Times

Rift Widens in Kingdom Still United ; Scottish Leader Warns Cameron That It Can No Longer Be Politics as Usual

Article excerpt

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, will hold meetings on granting Scotland greater autonomy.

He just won an unexpected majority in Britain; she won a landslide in Scotland. He has promised a continuation of budgetary austerity; she wants to put an end to welfare cuts. He wants to keep Britain's family of nations together; she wants Scotland to break away.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland's semiautonomous legislature, govern on opposite ends of the (still) United Kingdom, and they seem to be on opposite ends of most arguments, too.

But starting as early as this week, they will hold talks on how much more autonomy Scotland should get after last Thursday's elections: Ms. Sturgeon's Scottish National Party won 56 of Scotland's 59 parliamentary seats, all but expelling unionist lawmakers north of the border and making Scotland's separatists the third largest force in Westminster.

A brief encounter between the two leaders on Friday at a V-E Day commemoration in London was captured in a photograph that appeared to show Ms. Sturgeon giving the prime minister an icy stare. Deliberate or not, the stare was reprinted in several Scottish newspapers and sums up the most likely tone of the coming negotiations.

Ms. Sturgeon wants sweeping new tax-and-spend powers for Scotland, over and above what Mr. Cameron has so far offered, and eventually, full fiscal autonomy. When she called the prime minister on Friday to congratulate him on his re-election, she warned him that it "can't be business as usual."

"I told him he cannot ignore what has happened in Scotland," Ms. Sturgeon said. "The political firmament, the tectonic plates in Scottish politics have shifted. What we're seeing is a historic watershed."

The stakes are high, and hanging over everything is a question that is not formally on the agenda: Have England and Scotland drifted too far apart to keep their 308-year-old union alive?

That question seemed to be settled last September, when Scotland voted by a substantial majority to remain part of the United Kingdom. Just eight months later, many voters in Scotland seem to believe that whatever additional powers Mr. Cameron offers the Scottish legislature in the coming weeks, another referendum on independence is only a matter of time.

In England, polls suggest a hardening of voters' attitudes toward Scottish demands, in part because of Mr. Cameron's election campaign, which aggressively depicted the S.N.P. as dangerous and irresponsible. (As one Scottish official put it: "They insulted the S.N.P. but antagonized all of Scotland.")

Ms. Sturgeon, who took office as first minister after Scotland voted against independence last fall, has made no secret of her ambition for future independence, even as she played down the issue in the aftermath of Thursday's elections. …

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