The latest news from day one of the nationalist knees-up in Inverness.
Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, yesterday opened his party’s annual conference in Inverness, declaring Scotland was “now in an irreversible process of independence, and closer to it than ever before”.
The conference, the last before the general election, comes amidst a sea of tricky headaches for the SNP administration such as a tough draft budget; accusations the Education Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, has backtracked on promises over classes sizes; and the decision by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to release the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, on compassionate grounds and send him to a hero’s welcome back in Libya.
If Mr Salmond was feeling any pressure, he wasn’t showing it, giving a typically buoyant opening address, setting out an ambitious target to triple the number of MPs the party has at Westminster to 20 after the next election.
“Our objective is clear. By winning a platform of 20 Scottish National Party MPs, we can transform the terms of politics.
“I want a hung parliament because a Westminster parliament that is hung on Scottish votes will at long last swing in Scotland’s direction.”
Were his aspirations to be met, it could lead to the intriguing possibility of a party committed to the break-up of the Union as we know it could hold the balance of power in who forms the very same United Kingdom government whose legitimacy to rule they question.
Doubts, however, have been cast over how realistic the SNP’s goal of vastly increasing its representation at Westminster are, with an article by Lesley Riddoch in the Guardian pointing out the huge challenge the nationalists would face in reaching their targets under the first-past-the-post electoral system.
Despite such challenges, a recent Ipsos Mori poll for Holyrood magazine has the SNP leading all other parties just eight months out from the next election. What is more, the same poll sees 55 per cent of Scots satisfied with the First Minister’s leadership – up 18 per cent – compared with 40 per cent for David Cameron and 38 per cent for Gordon Brown.
Given such results, perhaps Mr Salmond can relish the fight he is now gearing up for against a future Conservative government unlikely to have increased much the one seat it currently holds in Scotland.
Meanwhile, Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop has used her conference speech to regain the initiative following accusations of a u-turn on class size numbers in the first three years of school and her decision to cut spending on teacher training. Speaking to delegate, Ms Hyslop announced that the Scottish Government would provide an extra £8.6 million to support an additional 3,000 students over the course of the current academic year.
Elsewhere, delegates at the conference passed a motion urging broadcasters to include the First Minister in any leaders debate in Scotland between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Mr Salmond will give his keynote address to the party conference on Saturday, and Left Foot Forward will report on the key points that arise from his speech.
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5 Responses to “Salmond: Scotland “in an irreversible process of independence””
“Were his aspirations to be met, it could lead to the intriguing possibility of a party committed to the break-up of the Union as we know it could hold the balance of power in who forms the very same United Kingdom government whose legitimacy to rule they question.”
Sadly we know whose side the SNP came down on in the past. In ’79 it was their critical votes that brought down the Callaghan govt and ushered in Margaret Thatcher.
As Callaghan said at the time: “What a massive display of unsullied principle! The minority parties have walked into a trap. If they win, there will be a general election. I am told that the current joke going around the House is that it is the first time in recorded history that turkeys have been known to vote for an early Christmas.”
I’ve no time for the nats myself …but Labour does need to change the record regarding the no confidence vote in 1979. I’ve NEVER heard the Liberals being accused of bringing down the Callaghan despite their havng 14 MPs (3 of them Scottish). It is in any event 30 years ago (and if the Thatcher legacy is still with us it is in part because new Labour bought into into many of it’s assumptions) Two years on from Labour losing its top slot North of the border for the first since the 1950’s I’ve yet to see any serious analysis of why they lost. Knee jerk nat baiting might keep the colleagues warm in Holyrood – but it aint going to change much in the wider world
The 1979 vote of confidence also just meant that the election was in held in May rather than 5 months later in October – and in retrospect even Callaghan didn’t believe that he’d have won it then either.
Of course like Brown his big mistake was not going earlier – just as if Brown had sought to strengthen his position in Autumn 2007 by holding a snap election we’d now be looking at another 2-3 years of Labour govt, so if Callaghan had gone to the country in Oct 1978 before the Social Contract collapsed the polls indicated we might have been spared the worst years of Thatcherism (and if she’d survived that defeat and won in 1982-3 her slash and burn policies would at least not have been implemented in the middle of a deep recession).
Scotland may well be closer than ever to independence, but given that it’s never really been that close to it in the past, that’s not necessarily saying very much. Talk of an “irreversible process” is just standard Nationalist bluster, and I strongly suspect Alex Salmond himself knows it.
Even if the SNP succeed in achieving a pivotal position in the House of Commons after the next election, it may not work out for them quite as they expect. In other countries such as Spain and Canada with devolved layers of government, the entangling of separatist parties in coalition politics at the national level has if anything strengthened state cohesion. The pattern seems to be a steady accretion of powers to the devolved bodies, which nonetheless always falls a good deal short of independence. Of course most of these countries have PR, so coalition politics is normal whereas in the UK it is exceptional.
Whatever the next election result, the fact remains that there is no precedent I can think of of a developed country breaking up without a major political crisis. The closest example is the break-up of Czechoslovakia, but given this occurred so soon after the fall of communism (a fairly dramatic event) I’m not sure it can really count.
Perhaps a Tory government, with minimal Scottish representation, pursuing a slash and burn approach to public finances could provide such a crisis, but I suspect even this would be insufficient. It seems far more likely to me that the coming years will see increased devolution rather than full independence.
Glasgow win hides scale of Labour’s task | Left Foot Forward
[…] arrogant attitude. It will have been a particular blow for the nationalists following Salmond’s aim, set just a few weeks ago at his party conference, to get 20 SNP MPs elected at the general […]