Scots have a surprise for you

England has taken union with Scotland for granted, but soon it is in for a shock, says Ian Hamilton
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The Independent Online
If you English knew as much about us Scots as we Scots know about you English, I should never have to write these words, but you are shockingly ignorant down there. Up here we read your newspapers, including this one. Frankly we don't think much of them. You call these papers "national dailies". Daily they may be, but national they are not. Indeed, every major English newspaper is so parochial it reads like the London edition of the Oban Times. Except that the Oban Times is better written.

This state of affairs wouldn't matter much if it were not for the profound changes that are about to take place in the structure of the United Kingdom, of which Scotland and England are the two equal founding partners.

One of two things will happen at the next election. They are both Scottish and both will profoundly affect England. The first concerns the break- up of the Tory party in Scotland as a social force. Only a few grafters, hoping to be appointed to quangos at local level, now admit to being conservatives. This is not quite true. There are still a broken beaten few of the old Macmillanite type whom we can still respect, but Tory thinking no longer counts in Scotland. It is so hated that if the Conservatives win the election in England there will be a massive defection from Labour to the Scottish National Party, as Labour becomes the party that yet again ties us to a detested Tory England. Does no one tell you how much we hate the Tories? Or do you really think that the return of that old relic, the Stone of Scone, will win a vote? I may have helped to steal that old stone in my younger days, but it was never meant to be used as a voting gimmick. We're all daft up here, but not as daft as that.

But what if Labour wins the election? Do you know that six years ago a great majority of Scottish MPs, including nearly all the Labour MPs, signed a Claim of Right solemnly asserting that Scottish sovereignty lay not at Westminster but with the Scottish people? So much hot air, you say. Sovereignty is one and indissoluble and lies at Westminster. Didn't Enoch Powell say that power devolved is power retained?

Where's Enoch Powell now? And sovereignty is whatever you think it is. Tony Blair has guaranteed that in his first year of office he will legislate to create a Scottish Parliament. Remember the weight of the Scottish vote at Westminster. Blair cannot govern England without it. And looking over the shoulder of every Labour member in Scotland is the wild, white face of an SNP supplanter. The first year of the next Parliament will be taken up entirely with Scottish constitutional business.

Nor is this all, because nothing is simple in Scottish politics. Hedging his bets, or as some would say, having painted himself into a corner, Blair has now announced that there will be a plebiscite in Scotland on the nature of this new relationship within the Union. There is only one main constitutional snag to this consultation. You English are not to be allowed to vote.

The Scottish Parliament is not another level of local government. If that were so, no referendum would be necessary. What has been promised, and what is insisted on in the Claim of Right, is a Parliament with full legislative and sovereign authority in Scottish affairs, including powers of taxation. We know in advance the result of this direct appeal to the Scottish people. We want our Parliament and we will get it. What we don't know is England's attitude when it suddenly dawns on you that a referendum is to be held on the very nature of the Union you have taken for granted for so long, one in which you are not allowed to cast a vote.

You may shrug and say that it is Scottish business and does not concern you. You are wrong.

I say frankly that many of us wish to break completely with England so that our country can go directly to Europe, as the Republic of Ireland has done with such great success. If the plebiscite were to consult the Scottish people on its undoubted right to secede, then indeed it would be Scottish business alone. We would not permit you to participate. We would not even trust you to count the votes. But this is different. This is about the Union, and so long as we are partners the well-being of one is the well-being of the other.

Within two years of your reading what I write there will be a Scottish Parliament sitting in Edinburgh. Its full sovereign legislative authority will put us in direct competition with the rest of the UK in the markets of the world, and this is only a beginning. For the first time in 300 years Scotland will have its own voice. Have you ever known a Scot who couldn't shout louder than an Englishman? Just watch out for all these special privileges that you take for granted, like the pounds 55m of lottery money for your opera house, like charging the cost of the Thames Barrier up to UK expenditure without asking us, although if you had bothered to ask, you might have found us on the side of the high tides. My heart bleeds tartan tears when I think of the wailing to come. The provinces will be worse. But they are provinces and we are a nation. And they are disorganised and we have been organising for years and years.

These are the issues that are suddenly going to confront you, and you are not even to be allowed to vote on them in our plebiscite. What a pity that England cannot raise its eyes above the latest happening somewhere east of Devon and south of Watford Gap.