Alex Salmond vows to keep promise


by Paula Murray

Alex Salmond yesterday insisted he will not be cajoled into fast-tracking the referendum on Scottish independence, as speculation grew that it could be held in 2014.

The First Minister said he would keep his promise to the electorate that he would put the economy first before holding the poll towards the end of the five-year term.

His insistence came as opponents – including other Holyrood leaders, commentators and former politicians – all demanded the vote be held immediately now that the SNP has gained a majority.

However, the Scottish Sunday Express understands that party members are keen to hold it in 2014, the year that would mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. That year will also see the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup in Gleneagles, creating a feelgood factor around the country.

Speaking as he and his 68 new MSPs gathered in Edinburgh, Mr Salmond said: “When independence happens depends on the Scottish people. You can’t sneak independence up on people, it has to be decided in a referendum. What is clear is that the vast majority of people believe in the right to decide in a referendum.

“I said in the election campaign what the timetable was and that was to hold the referendum in the second half of this parliament. We have had an overwhelming vote on that basis and we will keep faith with the people who expressed faith with us.”

Among those urging the SNP to “bring it on” and push forward the Referendum Bill to see a vote this year were Conservatives from both sides of the Border. Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie – who spent has spent the past four years arguing against an independence vote – said Mr Salmond had “no excuses” to delay the issue.

She added: “The referendum will now happen. Scottish politics will be dominated by the question until it is settled.    

“Until then, the more pressing issues of jobs and the economy and public sector reform could be consigned to the back burner.

“Business will be left in limbo until they know the outcome. Alex Salmond wants to have his cake and eat it. Some might argue that is his prerogative as the victor. But Scotland deserves clarity.”

Her deputy, Murdo Fraser, said the UK Government should give “very serious consideration” to trumping Salmond by launching its own referendum on the constitutional future.

He said: “If Alex Salmond is feart to bring forward his referendum to the Scottish people now, perhaps that is something that should be done for him.

“Bring it on. If we are going to have a referendum we should have it as soon as possible so we can get the question settled.”

Tory peer Michael Forsyth, the former Scottish Secretary, agreed that the Prime Minister should take a lead over the referendum question.

He said: “David Cameron has quite recently said he wants to set out a respect agenda for Scotland. I think he should amend the Scotland Bill so we can have an immediate referendum.”

The Scottish Trades Union Congress has also called for it to be held sooner rather than later.

However, party members and political commentators believe there is a growing clamour for it to take place in 2014, to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

Former SNP candidate David Kerr said it would make “perfect sense”, adding: “I think it would seem to be the perfect candidate because it would be Scotland’s year.

“We already have the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games and the economic climate will have improved as a result of the SNP policies. All the elements would seem to be in Scotland’s favour.”

Ian Hamilton QC, who famously raided Westminster Abbey in 1950 to bring home the Stone of Destiny, said Mr Salmond should “wait a year or two”. He added: “There can be no doubt Scotland will be independent. There is only one way to go. It is essential that we all work together.”

The SNP pledged to hold a referendum during the last parliamentary term, but the plans were dropped because of a lack of support from the other parties. A long consultation period, known as the National Conversation, was held following the publication of details of how independence would work.

The First Minister has already said that he has no intention of moving away from the monarchy, saying the Queen should remain the head of state as Elizabeth of Scotland. According to the SNP, the Pound would still be the currency, no passport controls would be needed at the English border, and Scotland would be entitled to a share of the UK military.

Other shared aspects, such as embassies, would be divided between Scotland the remainder of Britain.
Politics expert Dr Peter Lynch, of Stirling University, yesterday branded the U-turn from the Unionist parties as “bizarre bravado”. He added: “They are effectively calling for the break up of the Union. They seem to be so certain that the answer would be ‘no’ but what if it is ‘yes’?

“It is extremely funny because we are hearing all the other parties talking about the referendum rather than the SNP.

“The Nationalists control the agenda and the others seem to be unable to accept it. They are panicking, calling for an immediate referendum thinking that will stuff the Nats.”


Published with thanks to the Sunday Express Scotland