By a Newsnet reporter
Fear of the SNP and Alex Salmond has yet again found prominence amongst Scottish Unionist politicians as the UK Labour conference witnessed outgoing Labour leader Iain Gray and Ann McKechin attack the Nationalists.
Speaking at his last conference as leader of Labour in Scotland Iain Gray followed last week’s lead by the LibDems and launched a bitter tirade against the First Minister, accusing him of “insufferable pomposity”.
Mr Gray admitted responsibility for Labour’s humiliating defeat at the hands of the Nationalists in May’s Scottish elections and claimed he stayed on as leader to give the party time to reflect.
The outgoing Labour leader implied that Scotland could indeed survive as an independent nation but said he believed the best option lay within the Union.
On the economy Mr Gray attacked the SNP’s performance and suggested the recent employment figures should not be the only measure of economic performance. Mr Gray attacked the Scottish government’s capital spending strategy for saving jobs, describing it as “plan MacBull”, a mocking reference to Mr Salmond’s ‘Plan MacB’.
He said: “The SNP always measure their success against England. In the world of the SNP, a marginal drop in unemployment is a triumph just because it’s still going up in England.
“Well that isn’t Labour’s benchmark. If you only aspire to be marginally better than the Tories then you shouldn’t be in politics.”
The conference also heard Shadow Scottish Secretary Ann McKechin claim that the timescale for the independence referendum is creating ‘uncertainty’. Ms McKechin, who faces losing her shadow cabinet role, demanded that the Scottish government “come clean” over the question that will appear on the referendum ballot paper.
Ms McKechin said: “The time for playing games with the people of Scotland should now be over.
“Are we seriously to believe that the First Minister, who has spent most of his waking hours for the past 30 odd years on how to achieve separation, doesn’t know the question to ask the Scottish electorate?”
The conference also saw Jim Murphy announce a scheme that will allow armed forces personnel to become members of the Labour party for £1.
Responding to Iain Gray’s speech SNP Business Convener Derek MacKay said:
“The only thing Labour should remember from this speech is that the people of Scotland put their trust in an SNP Government. That is a welcome realisation from Iain Gray.
“Iain Gray’s speech sets out the very reasons Labour lost. Unemployment in Scotland is falling, employment is rising, we have the highest employment rate of any nation in the UK, and the SNP’s Opportunities for All programme will provide training or education for every 16-19 year old.
“And at a time of real difficulty, the five-year council tax freeze from the SNP is protecting household budgets as people struggle to meet rising living costs. People across Scotland want to see more job creating powers for Scotland, they support the SNP in taking action now to boost our economy with help for business, investment in capital projects and access to borrowing powers.
“And as May’s result shows the people of Scotland trust the SNP to offer a referendum and the opportunity for Scotland to step forward as an independent nation.”
Arrogance and splits
Meanwhile a statement by Labour leader Ed Miliband has led to claims of arrogance by the party’s Scottish opponents.
Ed Milliband’s insistence he will not rest until Labour is “back where it should be, running Scotland” brought accusations from the SNP that Labour have still to learn from the overwhelming support the SNP achieved in May’s Scottish elections.
Mr Miliband’s comments were followed this morning by further splits in the ‘No’ campaign against independence after Douglas Alexander and Ann McKechin refused to confirm they would join Jim Murphy who has said he will refuse to share a platform with the UK PM David Cameron
Despite Ed Miliband saying that his party would work alongside the Tories, the rest of the Labour party appear to be at odds on the issue.
Bob Doris, SNP MSP for Glasgow, said:
“Ed Milliband must learn that it is the voters who decide who should run Scotland not the Labour party. This kind of arrogance shows Labour have learned nothing from the overwhelming endorsement of the SNP as the party voters want to govern Scotland in May’s elections.
“Scottish Labour must be hanging their heads in shame in Liverpool. The party is a mess, the leadership is a mess and now even their opposition to independence is a mess. If the Unionist parties are incapable of agreeing and working with each other, they can’t expect the people of Scotland to agree with them in the referendum campaign.”