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For weeks Alex Salmond has been marching around studios, lecture theatres, the Scottish Parliament and everywhere else that is prepared to listen to him acting, as some have dubbed him, the King of Scotland, master of all he surveys.
Having been successful in keeping his minority government in tact over the course of the last Scottish Parliament, last year saw not only his party achieving what the electoral system was not supposed to allow – namely majority single party government in Edinburgh – but saw off also the leaders of all three of his main rival parties.
And according to the polling the SNP remain by far the most popular political force in Scotland, streets ahead of their rivals for power.
But all is not lost. Having seen Salmond dominating the news agenda and leading the debate over Scotland’s future, at last the pro-union parties have grasped the threat posed by the SNP, with this weekend seeing both Labour and Lib Dems in Scotland using their respective conferences to take on Alex Salmond.
This follows David Cameron’s commitment just a few weeks ago to look at further powers for Scotland. Good news for those committed to the union.
But it’s not just the fact the pro-union parties are at last recognising the importance of the issue which should be heartening for those opposed to the concept of an independent Scotland. The plan put forward by a cross-party group in Scotland for “Devo-Plus” taps into the will of the 71% of Scots who, in recent polling by Ipsos Mori, support further powers being devolved to Holyrood.
In my recent contribution to Holyrood magazine, I called on Labour and those supporting the Union to fight independence by outlining a credible, progressive alternative. Having agreed the principle of further powers being given to Scotland, it is time for those supporting this option to take the bull by the horns and seek its inclusion on the ballot paper when Scots vote on their future.
If the argument, as made by the Scottish secretary, Michael Moore, on Sunday’s Andrew Marr programme, is that the uncertainty over Scotland’s future is creating economic and business uncertainty, what then would it do for the economy for possibly two years of debate over independence to then be followed by further uncertainty over what extra powers could be devolved to Scotland if it rejected the idea of going it alone? It simply doesn’t stack up.
The Union will be saved based on a positive alternative to independence. At present though, the ‘Save the Union’ campaign finds itself in a half-way house, making a case against independence by pledging further powers for Scotland without revealing what that would look like and what further powers Holyrood should have.
Having been so strident in calling for Alex Salmond to outline the exact details of what an independent Scotland would look like, it is time the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour did the same and established a consensus over what further powers, short of independence, would look like and mean and have it put to the people.
With Ipsos Mori reporting that 59% of Scots would like “devo max” as an option when they vote, it cannot be tenable for the pro-Union campaign to turn its back on the will of the people who have consistently in polling called for a genuine choice over Scotland’s future constitutional settlement.
Following the Scotland Office’s calls for a referendum a year earlier than the autumn 2014 date set by the Scottish government there is a danger, one academic has now claimed, that Scots could find themselves “annoyed” into voting for independence out of opposition to being told when to vote and what to vote on in the face of the will of both the people or Scottish government.
As Dr Paul Cairney, head of politics at Aberdeen University, has concluded:
“We make different decisions when we are annoyed. We make different decisions when we feel that we are being pressured or told what to do… That is why David Cameron’s recent strategy seems so off the mark.”
For the pro-Union campaign the prospect of further powers for the Scottish Parliament and government is a winning formula. It is time to put it to the test as the positive, progressive alternative to Alex Salmond’s independence bandwagon that Scotland so desperately needs.
• Sign up to receive our weekly summary of the news from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, The Week Outside Westminster
• Salmond courts Murdoch as pro-union dream team finally begins to emerge – Ed Jacobs, February 28th 2012
• Cameron heads north, Salmond heads south and Mervyn’s living in the future – Ed Jacobs, February 16th 2012
• Miliband to outline vision of a fairer Union – Ed Jacobs, January 30th 2012
• Salmond’s Scottish referendum is a textbook example of a leading question – Alex Hern, January 27th 2012
• Progressives need a positive vision for Scotland – Ed Jacobs, January 26th 2012
• The 25 questions over the SNP’s Murdoch links – Ed Jacobs, July 19th 2011