updated 1/16/2007 5:44:29 AM ET 2007-01-16T10:44:29

With barely the raising of a glass, Scotland is marking 300 years since it accepted union with England and officially put the Great in Britain.

The anniversary Tuesday of the Scottish parliament's vote for the Treaty of Union is focusing attention more on the perennial discord than the ties that bind these two members of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Polls show advocates of Scottish independence are gaining strength in their campaign for a referendum on breaking the union.

"This treaty can and will be undone and at the moment there is a wellspring of Scottish nationalism," says Murray Ritchie, conveyer of the Scottish Independence Convention, an advocacy group. "What we need is a referendum to settle the issue of independence."

The feeling seems mutual, judging from opinion polls in recent months, which have said that a bit more than half of Scots — and of the English — support independence for Scotland, while much smaller percentages are opposed.

A 'parcel of rogues'
The Union has been contested since 1707, when protesting mobs took to the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Scottish poet Robert Burns labeled those who voted for union as a "parcel of rogues."

Though Scotland's parliament dissolved, the country maintained much of its national identity, its own legal and education systems and its own religion — Presbyterianism, although Queen Elizabeth II is the head of the Church of Scotland.

Ten years ago, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to accept a proposal from Prime Minister Tony Blair to have its own elected assembly with limited tax-raising powers.

Now the tercentenary, and the strong opinion poll standings of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, are giving the topic fresh impetus among Scots, who number 5 million to England's 50 million.

Tuesday's anniversary is being marked in a low key manner in England, an exhibition in the House of Lords and the minting of a commemorative coin; in Scotland, special history lessons in schools and a few museum and art gallery displays.

Even Christopher Smout, the queen's official historian for Scotland and emeritus professor of history at St. Andrews University, said that independence is "perfectly feasible," and suggested economics, not nationalism, would tip the balance.

Without the leveling effect of national tax rates, Scots would probably have to pay more to make up for what was lost by parting with England.

Some English grumble that Scotland effectively rules the United Kingdom with its abundance of Scottish lawmakers in high-ranking roles, as well as polling districts that make the Scottish votes a determining factor in national elections.

Blair is one of four Scottish-born prime ministers in the past century, as is Gordon Brown, his likely successor when he steps down in September.

'High time we split up'
Although recent books by historians and academics argue that Scotland prospered as a junior partner in the British Empire, opinion polls show the Scottish National Party ahead of its rivals in the Scottish Parliament elections set for May 1. That happens to be the anniversary of the date the Treaty of Union took effect.

The SNP has promised a referendum on independence, arguing that the robust economies of Ireland and Estonia prove that small countries don't need to be attached to big ones in order to prosper in the European Union.

North Sea oil revenues are the cornerstone of the separatists' dream; oil prices have doubled the value of the industry since 2000, netting a fifth of Britain's total corporate tax revenue, and much of that revenue would go directly to an independent Scotland, the SNP says.

But North Sea reserves are expected to run out by 2020.

On the rainy streets of Edinburgh on Friday, the union continued to divide opinion. "It's high time we split up, there's no reason for this (arrangement) anymore," said David Miller, 30, a builder from Edinburgh.

Daniella Brookes, 25, a student originally from London, disagreed. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I think it'll be too expensive to break up the union," she said.

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