Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scotland Prepares for Parliament Vote

KIRRIEMUIR, Scotland -- Since high school, John Swinney has known what he wants: an independent Scotland.

But with a referendum on setting up a Scottish parliament Thursday, the lawmaker is performing a delicate balancing act in this prosperous rural district: promoting a plan that he admits falls short of his dream.

Nationalists like Swinney have formed an uneasy alliance with British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party. Both support the referendum, although for entirely different reasons.

Labour says an Edinburgh parliament will strengthen the union with England by safely defusing independence sentiment. The nationalists hope the parliament will be the catalyst for independence -- but need to reassure voters their dream won't necessarily come true.

"This is just a step, a step in the right direction, but it isn't independence. Maybe it is a cul de sac [dead end] for independence,'' Swinney, 33, told June Gardiner, a voter he met on a cobbled street in this picturesque market town.

Gardiner, an accounts clerk, also knows what she wants: a Scottish parliament, but not the end of union with England. She's voting yes, she says, "because I suppose it is worth a try.''

The outcome of Thursday's vote seems in little doubt. Polls indicate nearly two-thirds support having a parliament for the first time since the union of 1707, although there is less enthusiasm for the second question of giving it tax-raising powers.

The battered Conservative Party, ousted from government in May, warns the referendum could lead to friction between a parliament in Edinburgh and the House of Commons, a possible backlash of English nationalism, and a slippery slope to the end of the union.

"You are Scotland's Bravehearts -- Bravehearts who see the prosperity and security of your country threatened and who speak out,'' Conservative leader William Hague, playing on the film about a Scottish hero, William Wallace, told a rally in Glasgow on Tuesday night.

The Conservatives, in a loose coalition with business people fearing higher taxes and groups who oppose any weakening of ties with England, acknowledge they are in a tough corner.

For the first time, the Conservatives lost all their parliamentary seats in Scotland and Wales in national elections May 1. The Welsh vote Sept. 18 in a referendum offering a far less powerful assembly in Cardiff.