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Monday, November 27, 2006
The DisUnited Kingdom

SPEAKING OF NATIONAL UNITY: The United Kingdom should be broken up and Scotland and England set free as independent nations, according to a huge number of voters on both sides of the border.

A clear majority of people in both England and Scotland are in favour of full independence for Scotland, an ICM opinion poll for The Sunday Telegraph has found. Independence is backed by 52 per cent of Scots while an astonishing 59 per cent of English voters want Scotland to go it alone.

There is also further evidence of rising English nationalism with support for the establishment of an English parliament hitting an historic high of 68 per cent amongst English voters. Almost half – 48 per cent – also want complete independence for England, divorcing itself from Wales and Northern Ireland as well. Scottish voters also back an English breakaway with 58 per cent supporting an English parliament with similar powers to the Scottish one. The poll comes only months before the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union between England and Scotland and will worry all three main political parties. None of them favours Scottish independence, but all have begun internal debates on the future of the constitution.

The dramatic findings came as Gordon Brown, the favourite to succeed Tony Blair as Prime Minister, delivered an impassioned defence of the Union at Labour's Scottish conference in Oban yesterday. In an attack on the Scottish National Party, against whom Labour will fight a bitter battle for control of the Edinburgh-based parliament next May, the Chancellor claimed: "We should never let the Nationalists deceive people into believing that you can break up the United Kingdom."

The ICM poll told a very different story, however, with 60 per cent of English voters complaining that higher levels of public spending per head of the population in Scotland were "unjustified", compared to 28 per cent claiming they were justified. Even among Scots, 36 per cent said the system was unfair, with only 51 per cent supporting it. Voters also had serious concerns about the so-called West Lothian Question, the ability of Scottish MPs at Westminster to vote on solely English matters while many purely Scottish issues are decided in Edinburgh. Sixty-two per cent of English voters want Scottish MPs stripped of this right and even 46 per cent of Scots agreed. The poll showed that the English are more likely to think of themselves as British than the Scots are. Only 16 per cent of English people said they were "English, not British", compared to 26 per cent of Scots who said they were "Scottish, not British." In the sporting arena, 70 per cent of English people said they would support a Scottish team playing football or rugby against a nation other than England. But, when the question was put to Scots, only 48 per cent said they would back England with 34 per cent supporting their opponents, no matter which country it was.

There was good news for David Cameron, the Conservative leader, when voters in England were asked who they would back in a general election held tomorrow. The Tories were on 37 per cent, with 31 per cent backing Labour and 23 per cent supporting the Liberal Democrats. Mr Brown said: "There is a debate to be had about the future of the United Kingdom. But I think when you look at the arguments — at the family ties, the economic connections, the shared values, the history of our relationship which has lasted 300 years — people will decide we are stronger together and weaker apart." Mr Cameron said: "The union between England, Scotland and Wales is good for us all and we are stronger together than we are apart. The last thing we need is yet another parliament with separate elections and more politicians spending more money." Sir Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dem leader, called for a "calm rational debate" on the role of MPs from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales at Westminster. "The last thing we need is knee-jerk opportunistic political responses." Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, said: "In England, people quite rightly resent Scottish Labour MPs bossing them about on English domestic legislation. England has as much right to self government as Scotland does."

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