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Labor Wins Elections to Choose Newly-Born Scottish Parliament

By T. R. Reid
THE WASHINGTON POST -- LONDON

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labor Party apparently beat back the challenge from Scottish separists Thursday as voters went to the polls to choose the first members of the newly created Scottish parliament.

Two exit polls indicated that Labor -- which wants to keep Scotland as a part of the United Kingdom -- was likely to win the most seats of any party in the new parliament. The chief separatist party, the Scottish National Party, was running a healthy second, but did not appear to be within reach of majority control.

The polling suggested that Labor’s members in Scotland will be able to form a ruling coalition with another pro-union party, leaving the Scottish nationalists as the chief opposition party in Scotland. That would end the immediate threat that Scotland might secede from the United Kingdom. But Scottish nationalist party leaders promised to keep fighting for their goal of independence.

Labor was leading as well in exit polls in Wales, where voters were also choosing members of a new local Parliament, according to the British Broadcasting Corp.

The elections in Scotland and Wales mark the first step in the historic process known here as “devolution” -- that is, transferring some elements of government authority from the U.K.’s central government in London to the new local bodies in Edinburgh and Cardiff.

There were also local elections Thursday in cities and counties all over England. There, too, the Labor Party appeared to be running in first place. The chief English opposition party, the Conservative Party, was polling in second place, with the Liberal Democrats running third, but more strongly than anyone expected.

The man who was perhaps most interested in those local results across in England was a man not on any ballot Thursday night: William Hague, the Conservative Party leader.

Hague has been under intense fire within his badly split party in recent weeks. A poor showing by Tory candidates in the local races Thursday night could be the last straw that costs him his job as party leader.