by Ben Borland
Alex Salmond got down to business yesterday as he prepared to lead Scotland’s historic first majority government.
The First Minister met his new MSPs and started a timetable for policies such as the independence referendum and seizing more powers from Westminster. After the extraordinary scenes of victory and celebration on Friday, all 69 SNP MSPs gathered at the Scottish Parliament yesterday to map out a course for the next five years.
The unprecedented scale of the Nationalist landslide was brought home when it emerged they can no longer all fit in the party’s meeting room at Holyrood.
Mr Salmond said yesterday his first priority had been to telephone Prime Minister David Cameron and “lay down markers”, calling for extra powers to be added to the Scotland Bill.
He demanded early access to borrowing powers, control of Corporation Tax and authority over the Crown Estate in Scotland, to ensure that offshore energy revenue is not “filched” by the Treasury.
“I told him he is going to have to insert some economic teeth into the Scotland Bill,” he said yesterday. “There are economic measures required in that Bill to sustain the recovery we have begun in Scotland. I articulated what people supported in the election campaign.”
However, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore revealed Mr Cameron was not going to budge on the matter, setting the scene for the first of many showdowns between Edinburgh and London.
Later, as Mr Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon led a jubilant photo call at Holyrood, he admitted even he was shocked by the stunning victory.
“It was beyond anyone’s expectations,” the First Minister said. “It was the result of fighting a positive campaign. There was a big surge in the last few days as the Labour support fell through the floor. They fought a negative campaign and it rebounded badly.
“That positive message motivated both SNP supporters and people voting for us for the very first time to come out and vote.”
Ms Sturgeon backed up the demand to strengthen the Scotland Bill, calling on the UK Government to “recognise that the people of Scotland have spoken”.
“They spoke unequivocally on Thursday,” she said. “They have given the SNP a majority in the Scottish Parliament, something that, you will remember, the Scottish Parliament was designed to stop the SNP ever getting.
“That was an emphatic expression from the Scottish people and I think it would be absurd and unusual if the UK Government didn’t listen to what has been said.”
The new MSPs will begin settling in at Holyrood tomorrow, before the Kirking of the Parliament, at St Giles Cathedral, on Tuesday. They will all be sworn in on Wednesday morning and the new Presiding Officer will be elected.
However, Ms Sturgeon said the MSPs had not discussed whether or not to sacrifice one of their number to the role.
Former Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott, who stood down yesterday, is being widely tipped as a front runner, but Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m not going there. The only thing I would say about Tavish is to wish him all the best.
“The same goes for Iain Gray. These are difficult circumstances for any opposition leader. Going back, and I have to go back some time now, but I know how difficult it is to be on the losing side of an election.”
Alex Salmond will then be elected as First Minister on May 18, before he names his ministerial team and all the parliament’s committees are set up.
The Queen will then officially open the new session of the Scottish Parliament on July 1. Finance Secretary John Swinney yesterday said that the resounding election victory was a “game changer” for Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom. And he predicted the new political landscape would force Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems to change their negative tactics.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Swinney said: “The other parties have to learn some lessons from this election campaign.
“Let’s take an issue like minimum pricing, for example. I was very struck when I went round the doors by the anger and incredulity of members of the public, saying that they could not believe the other parties had stood in our way in tackling Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.”
However, he promised that the SNP would continue to work constructively with its rivals rather than wield its majority to force through legislation or score points for political gain.
After the MSPs’ meeting, the SNP’s ruling national executive committee gathered at Edinburgh’s Macdonald Holyrood Hotel.
Meanwhile, the Nationalists’ most famous supporter, Sir Sean Connery, said the country was “going from strength to strength”. He added: “This is a fantastic result for Scotland, beyond my wildest dreams.”
Independent MSP Margo MacDonald agreed that the SNP victory had sparked a national mood of celebration, as people were “carried along in the flood, happy and proud to be Scots”.
But she cautioned that Mr Salmond faced a “very difficult job” to live up to his manifesto promises in the face of the massive spending cuts to come.
She told Sky News: “He has to do two jobs. He has to run Scotland, health, education and services and so on, inside the confines of devolution and at the same time he’s got to persuade people of the benefits of independence.
“The problem comes when he has to say, ‘What we said to you about the cuts before the election… well this is after the election’.”
Published with thanks to Scottish Sunday Express