For most of its 46-year history, the Scottish National Party was more of a lyrical liberation front than a serious political force. Less than ten years ago it could garner only 5% of the vote in Scotland and elected only one member of Parliament. In this month's national election, the S.N.P. campaigned on a platform of self-government and won eleven parliamentary seats and 30% of the Scottish vote. The upsurge of nationalist sentiment has been prompted in part by concern over Scotland's role in controlling production of the large oil deposits off its North Sea coast. But when TIME Correspondent William McWhirter visited the country last week, Scots were quick to point out that oil is not the only or even the primary issue. His report:
The S.N.P. vote reflects a general dismay with the way England has governed Scotland. In greater and measurable numbers, the Scots are concluding that they can do most of the job much better by themselves. There is no rancor toward England in most cases, no im plied violence or even incivility, just a general feeling that she's a tired old ship that is foundering at sea. "England is overcentralized and fossilized," says newly elected M.P. Douglas Crawford, vice chairman of the S.N.P., "and this may shake it up. I say this as a bloody Anglophile. How do you get that lovely country to come to its senses?"
Two Recounts. The S.N.P. this time won four new seats, one of them just barely. Schoolteacher Margaret Bain, 29, eked out a victory by 22 votes after two recounts. The new seats are in traditionally Tory farming regions. As else where in Britain, the farmers have been angrier and more volatile than almost any other bloc. Typical of first-time Nationalist voters is former Tory Angus Leslie, 44, a beef and grain farmer. "We've had freezes and squeezes and gross mismanagement from London. I built up my beef herd because the gov ernment was begging us to start up pro duction. We did, and they stopped the export of live cattle to the Continent. They told us there was a future in beef. They didn't say it was only for five min utes. I'm voting for Scotland in the future."
But Scots have not turned to the Nationalists simply to register a protest vote. The sentiment for self-government is growing. Polls show that while only 17% of Scots want complete separation from England, fully 85% want a much stronger say in their own affairs. David Yellowlees, 53, a leading Perthshire dairy farmer, says he wants "power to come back down closer to the people, the only safe place for it to reside. We are, after all, capable of running our own affairs. The Nationalists were always considered a bit of a giggle, but the giggle now is that I keep running into people who I had no idea were voting S.N.P."