Is the end nigh for the United Kingdom?

With the Scottish National Party predicted to come out ahead in May's election, and polls suggesting that the majority of Scots and the English back independence, could the Union be coming to an end?

In the 1990s, before their parliament was restored, the Scots were unhappy while the English were indifferent. Today, "the Scots are still unhappy, and so are the English", notes Bruce Anderson in The Independent. Polls suggest that the Scottish National Party, which is calling for a referendum on Scottish independence, could come out ahead in the Scottish election in May, while an opinion survey last weekend showed that 52% of Scots and 59% of English voters back an independent Scotland. South of the border, 48% think England should separate from Wales and Northern Ireland too. Only months before the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, a divorce appears to be on the cards.

The English have noticed a constitutional imbalance engendered by devolution, says The Sunday Telegraph: "many of their rulers are Scotsmen who are passing contentious legislation in England that does not apply in their own constituencies". Scottish MPs at Westminster can vote on English issues, such as health and education, but not vice versa, since these areas have been devolved to the Scottish parliament. And "to add insult to injury", many of the "goodies" distributed by the Holyrood parliament are funded by English money. The English subsidise the Scots to the tune of £1,050 per head a year, which pays for university tuition fees, nursing care for the elderly and new drugs for the NHS benefits denied to the English, as the Daily Mail points out.

Indeed, statistics suggest that of Scotland's population of five million, just 163,000 are net taxpayers when reliefs and subsidies are discounted, says

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Max Hastings, also in the Daily Mail. The English could stomach the financial and constitutional imbalance, were it not for the mounting hostility displayed towards them. The Scots ascribe all their problems to the English, claiming "we have shafted them, above all by stealing their' oil". But the truth is that as plenty of studies have concluded they currently lack "the entrepreneurial energy and skills to compete". It hardly helps that the parliament "promotes a shamelessly Stalinist vision of state dominance and state provision". The public sector accounts for 50% of GDP, against 40% for the UK overall, adds Michael Fry in Prospect. The ever-expanding state is edging out the private sector and "immobilising" much of the workforce, which explains why thousands of Polish immigrants arrived and found jobs locals had no incentive to do.

In short, the trouble with devolution, says Fry, a former Scottish Tory, is that the Scottish parliament "reinforces the nation's dependency culture to a greater extent than the former unionist regime did". Public money was once devoted to propping up moribund industries, whereas now it goes towards "a huge pork barrel". It's time to give up and let Scotland go it alone.

It would do the country "nothing but good to learn that public money doesn't grow on English trees", agrees Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. But don't count on independence, warns Hastings. The Scots will probably keep whining, but not take the final step to independence. Scotland will be "terrified of losing access to all that lovely English money".