While it is far short of a mandate for independence, the one-seat win by the Scottish National Party in elections for the Scottish Parliament this past Friday will result in no end of separatist mischief-making.
Like most separatist movements, Scotland's is built on a foundation of apprehended humiliation. SNP Leader Alex Salmond, who is likely to become Scotland's First Minister on the strength of his party's 47-seat showing (Labour had 46 seats, the Conservatives 17 and the Liberal Democrats 16), may be counted on to diligently nourish that sense of collective shame among a people with an ancient and justifiably proud history. This will be manifest in many ways, such as agitating for Scotland to be permitted to field its own Olympic team, and probably by extravagant demands for North Sea oil revenue. There is, however, the small problem of the $5-billion annual subsidy Scotland receives from London. Mr. Salmond will not be in a hurry to give that up.
A report on government expenditure and revenue in Scotland last year revealed the full extent of the Scots' dependency on their English oppressors. That document, perhaps the most useful report produced by the Scottish Parliament since it was revived in 1999, calculated that the British government spent more money in Scotland, per capita, than in England, and those expenditures went across the board. Measured against the British average, Scots received 45 per cent more for welfare and benefits, 6 per cent more for education and training, 12 per cent more for economic development and 10.5 per cent more for health. This situation will likely only get worse, with public-sector overspending attempting to satiate a culture of entitlement and compensate for Scotland's sluggish productivity.
Scotland's "devolved" Parliament was devised by Tony Blair's government as a sop to Scots nationalists. Scotland has exclusive powers to legislate in certain areas, such as health and education. The idea was to undercut demands for independence by giving Scotland (and later Wales) domestic powers. The Scottish-born Mr. Blair has now been rewarded for his constitutional tinkering by seeing his unpopular Labour Party defeated by the separatists in the Scottish elections. The result is a political embarrassment for him and especially for his overeager successor, Gordon Brown, a Scotsman who will have to resist brays for ever more sovereignty from his countrymen, at the same time that they consume a disproportionate share of the national budget.