SNP conference: Alex Salmond’s programme is like a colander: full of holes

The SNP’s argument is full of so many holes that it’s difficult not to conclude that it is fast resembling a colander.

The SNP come out of their annual conference in Perth fired up for the fight of their lives ahead of next year’s independence referendum.

Make no mistake about it, Alex Salmond gave a rousing speech to his party faithful on Saturday; and for all the polling, it would be unwise to bet against his political prowess being able to edge Scotland over the independence threshold.

But for all the emotion that was on display in Perth, the reality is that the SNP’s argument is full of so many holes that it’s difficult not to conclude that it is fast resembling a colander.

Firstly, it was striking how much of his speech was not so much a clear and coherent case for independence than a manifesto for what an SNP government would do under independence. In doing so, Salmond is somewhat arrogantly putting the cart before the horse.

No mention was made of the terms ‘defence’, ‘army’, ‘navy’ or ‘air force’; nothing was said on his vision for Scotland being part of a euro-style currency union with the rest of the UK; and there was no mention of Scotland’s place in the European Union if it votes for independence. The silence on these crucial issues was deafening.

Secondly, a recurring theme that SNP ministers persistently mentioned throughout the conference was the idea that independence would enable Scotland to rid itself of government’s that it did not vote for.

Given that the SNP came to power in 2011 on the back of under half of the votes cast, what are the majority of Scots who didn’t vote for them supposed to do, faced as they are by a government they did not vote for?

The SNP’s argument proves also that their case for independence can only ever be made when a Conservative resides in Downing Street. For 13 years, Scotland voted Labour and got a Labour government – they got what they voted for. It is only now that the SNP talk of Scotland getting a government they didn’t vote for.

Far from a positive vision for a sustainable and long-term future for an independent country, Alex Salmond et al are basing their campaign on petty, cheap party politics that cannot be the basis of such a huge constitutional decision to be made next year.

Thirdly, confusion now reigns over who Alex Salmond will or will not debate with. Despite his deep seated opposition to Conservatives, it’s strange how obsessed he has become with wanting to see David Cameron in a debate.

Speaking to the conference, Alex Salmond said to David Cameron:

“You and I must debate. First minister to Prime Minister. The choice is yours. Step up to the Plate – or step out of this debate! After that I will take on whichever of your substitutes you care to put up.”

The inference was clear – Alex Salmond will debate with the pro-union campaign only after David Cameron has debated with him first. This isn’t going to happen, so is Alex Salmond really going to get through the next year without debating live on TV directly with anyone?

Last Friday, however, speaking to the BBC’s Daily Politics, the SNP’s deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon declared that there is ‘no question’ Alex Salmond will debate with Better Together chief Alistair Darling and Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael between now and the referendum.

How does this unequivocal statement fit with the bar that Alex Salmond has raised to debating with them? The confusion is palpable, and the reality is that for Scotland the serious question would be not why David Cameron is not debating, but why Scotland’s very own first minister won’t debate.

And finally, Alex Salmond attacked Labour for being too right-wing for the SNP. How does this tally with his pro-active call for and readiness to support what he described in 2010 as the formation of a Labour-led ‘progressive alliance’ following the General Election?

What does Salmond really think of Labour? Is it too right-wing, or is it the progressive force he suggested it was in 2010, before Ed Miliband took on the might of Salmond’s chum Rupert Murdoch and called for the energy prize freeze?

Confused doesn’t even cover it.

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