Scotland roars... rather quietly

Scotland went to the polls yesterday not so much with a roar more a polite whimper. As preparations began for a re-enactment of the battle of Stirling Bridge, 700 years ago, when William Wallace saw off the English, voting in the historic home rule referendum was, in parts, distinctly slow.

The early turnout was reported to be "noticeably down" on what is usual for a general election (71 per cent last May). Later, heavy rain fell across the central belt, much to satisfaction of "No" campaigners. A turnout much below the 63 per cent figure achieved in the abortive 1979 referendum would be regarded as a poor endorsement for Home Rule.

A parliament for Scotland will have repercussions for Westminster, and its confrontational style of politics, way beyond anything most MPs have yet contemplated, according to leaders of the coalition that has worked effectively for Home Rule.

As voters went to the polls, the political parties were already looking ahead to the composition and character of the new assembly.

Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, is being tipped as Scotland's "prime minister" - the officially titled First Minister who will head the devolved administration.

Mr Dewar, 60, was typically reticent when asked yesterday whether he wanted the job, but close colleagues believe he would be an "excellent" choice..

The repercussions of setting up a parliament in Edinburgh will be considerable. At least a dozen Labour MPs with seats in Scotland are believed to want to stand for the new body. Mr Dewar and Henry McLeish, the devolution minister, have both voiced an interest.

Competition to get on Labour's panel is expected to be fierce. It is likely to be restricted to about 200 names and will be vetted by the party leadership in London to keep out the municipal time-servers of the central belt who have severely tarnished Labour's image in recent months.

Several Liberal Democrat MPs are considering a transfer, and all six Scottish Nationalist MPs are certain to stand.

Letters, page 15

Andrew Marr, page 17

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