Mon, Nov 27, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Majority of people in UK back Scottish independence: poll

AFP , LONDON

A majority of voters in both Scotland and England back the break-up of the United Kingdom, according to a poll in the Sunday Telegraph on Saturday.

Support for Scottish independence was at 52 percent in Scotland and 59 percent south of the border in England.

Some 68 percent of English voters backed the establishment of an English parliament, while 48 percent wanted complete separation from the rest of the UK -- Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The findings indicate a hardening of support for Scottish independence as the issue comes into focus ahead of elections to the Scottish parliament in May.

That month marks the 300th anniversary of political union between England and Scotland. The two kingdoms had shared the same monarch since Scotland's king James VI, became James I of England in 1603.

The Scottish National Party, which favors independence and forms the main opposition in Scotland, has been resurgent in recent polls, worrying the three other major parties.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned on Friday of a "constitutional nightmare" if the SNP out-polled his governing Labour Party in the election.

And Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown made an impassioned defence of the union on Saturday.

The Scottish parliament, re-convened in 1999, has powers devolved from the British parliament in London and can pass laws on matters such as education, health and justice. It has limited tax-raising powers.

Matters such as defence and foreign policy are reserved for London.

However, members of parliament (MPs) representing Scottish seats can vote on, for example, health and education matters affecting only England in an anomaly known as the West Lothian question.

Sixty-two percent of English voters and 46 percent of Scottish voters want such MPs stripped of that right.

SNP leader Alex Salmond said English voters were "quite rightly" resentful of Scottish MPs voting on English affairs.

"The people of both countries are now seeing through this unionist charade and supporting independence and self-respect for both countries," he said.

"No amount of scare mongering from Brown and Blair will stop the independence tide," he said "A new partnership of equal and independent nations will be much more positive than the present hotchpotch of confusion and resentment."

David Cameron, leader of Britain's main opposition Conservative Party -- said it was time to look at the anomaly.

"However, the last thing we need is yet another parliament with separate elections and more politicians spending more money," he told the Sunday Telegraph.

Sir Menzies Campbell, leader of Britain's third-biggest party, the Liberal Democrats, said it was "entirely appropriate" to consider the role of MPs in the London parliament in time.

The Liberal Democrats are in coalition with Labour in Scotland.

Pollsters ICM interviewed 1,003 Scots and 869 English people at random by telephone on Wednesday and Thursday.

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