By a Newsnet reporter
Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore has attacked the SNP over its plans for an independence referendum, accusing of the Scottish government of trying to ‘silence’ dissenting Scots.
The Lib Dem MP’s attack followed criticisms of a Westminster Select Committee by First Minister Alex Salmond who questioned its legitimacy as it starts an ‘inquiry’ into Scotland’s independence referendum.
Mr Salmond insisted that all of the Unionist parties had campaigned against a referendum and a Unionist dominated Westminster committee had therefore no right to dictate terms to the democratically elected SNP government who had a mandate from the Scottish people.
The First Minister was speaking to Holyrood.com magazine and said: “For Ian Davidson, the Tories, but more particularly the Labour members on the Scottish Select Committee, we have usurped what they think is a natural political order and you only need to look at the language Ian Davidson has used about the SNP, for which he has had to apologise, to see what he thinks about us but as far as I am concerned, it doesn’t matter; they don’t matter, these days are over and they just haven’t caught up. I am afraid the Scottish Affairs Select Committee has, in those famous words, lost an empire and is yet to find a role.”
Mr Salmond added:
“There is no one on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, apart from Eilidh Whiteford [SNP MP for Banff and Buchan], that has a mandate to say anything about a referendum, apart from the fact that they are opposed to it.”
However the Scottish Secretary has reacted angrily and claimed that by criticising the Labour dominated committee the First Minister was trying to “shut down the debate”. Mr Moore insisted that Westminster should have a role to play in the referendum, whether others “like it or not”.
The Lib Dem MP said: “What we’re getting dangerously close to here is some kind of suggestion that only Nationalist politicians have got some role in the constitutional debate that we’re having.”
However, Mr Moore appeared to confuse the debate over Scotland’s future with scrutiny of the implementation of the referendum itself and added:
“It is not only right but essential that those elected by the Scottish people can scrutinise the Scottish Government’s case for independence and weigh up its evidence and arguments. If the Scottish Government thinks it can hold a referendum without real scrutiny and full debate, it is badly mistaken.”
Responding to Mr Moore’s claims a spokesperson for the First Minister insisted that scrutinising and delivering the referendum should be a matter for Holyrood, not Westminster.
“Scottish Ministers are answerable and accountable to the Scottish Parliament, and the referendum is a matter for Holyrood to scrutinise and deliver – not Westminster; it is part of the resounding Scottish democratic mandate achieved by the SNP in May. If the Westminster parties have difficulty grasping that very basic concept, it is a good illustration of why they are so badly out of touch with the aspirations of the people of Scotland.”
“Apart from anything else, the people of Scotland didn’t vote for the UK coalition parties, who came third and fourth in Scotland at the last Westminster Election – and they certainly didn’t vote for the four Conservative members on the Scottish Affairs Committee who don’t sit for Scottish constituencies.”
“We know from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey that a strong majority, 74 per cent, of people believe that the Scottish Government should have the most influence over how Scotland is run, compared with just 16 per cent who think it ought to be the UK Government.”
The comments from Mr Moore follow a series of polls that show support for both the SNP and independence on the rise amongst Scots. The latest Populus poll published yesterday by the Times newspaper gives the SNP a 17-point lead over its Labour rivals, with the SNP on 48%, Labour on 31%, the Conservatives 17% and Mr Moore’s Lib Dems languishing on just 2%. Although based on a very small Scottish sub-sample of just 70 respondents who said they were certain to vote, the figures follow the trend of other polls in recent months.