‘Stand up or butt out’ Salmond tells Cameron as debate impasse continues

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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has repeated his calls for a referendum debate with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, insisting that as leader of the Westminster government his Tory counterpart must himself answer questions or “butt out” of the debate.
 
In a letter to the PM, Mr Salmond listed a series of arguments he insisted obliged the UK Prime Minister to publicly argue his case.

In his letter, the First Minister wrote: “As the principal signatories of the Edinburgh Agreement, the natural progression in these circumstances is a televised, head-to-head debate.

“Secondly the Government which you lead is central to the entire referendum debate from the perspective of the No campaign. 

“The reality is your Government continues to make decisions affecting Scotland, such as the implementation of the Bedroom Tax and the deeply unpopular privatisation of the Royal Mail, despite the fact an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland didn’t vote for the Conservative Party.”

Mr Salmond cited recent reports that claimed Scotland’s block grant could be cut if reforms of the Barnet Formula go ahead.  The Scottish leader also said a debate would allow the Tory leader to address similar issues and also spell out what he was offering in terms of increased devolution in the event of a No vote.

“People have the right to know what it is – if indeed it is anything at all – BEFORE the referendum takes place.” wrote Mr Salmond.

Responding to demands by Mr Cameron that Labour MP Alistair Darling be allowed to take his place, the First Minister said:

“There’s a whole range of things that Alistair Darling couldn’t answer.  For example, the people of Scotland will want to know why your Government won’t sit down and negotiate with the Scottish Government over issues such as sterling or defence arrangements, even when Westminster parliamentary committees have called for such discussions.

“In any case Mr Darling’s direct opposite number in the Yes Campaign is Chairman, Dennis Canavan, the former Labour MP who has become increasingly dismayed at an out of touch Westminster system.”

Mr Salmond ended his letter with an ultimatum to his Westminster counterpart to either stand up or butt out:

“You continue to direct your Government, and its taxpayer-funded resources, to make the case against an independent Scotland.

“That is entirely consistent with your stated intention in the quote above. However your attempt to duck a television debate on the subject is not. Either you stand up and debate or butt out of the debate for good.”

The stand-off has placed the spotlight on the UK Prime Minister who continues to refuse to debate with the First Minister, claiming that the debate is a matter for Scots.  However some observers have criticised Mr Cameron’s stance pointing out that his own Westminster Government is regularly issuing statements on what it claims will be the negative impact of independence.

Labour MP Alistair Darling, who heads the anti-independence Better Together campaign, has moved to defend the Tory Prime Minister and insisted that Mr Salmond should debate with him.  However supporters of a FM – PM debate have pointed out that Mr Darling’s direct opposite number is Yes Scotland head Dennis Canavan.

Speaking on the Sunday Politics Show, the Labour MP accused Mr Salmond of wanting to turn the debate into a “Scotland versus England” contest.  It follows comments from Mr Salmond who last week dismissed a debate with the backbench Labour MP, saying he should debate with “the organ grinder”.

 

First Minister’s letter to David Cameron

Dear David,

I write in response to your letter of 26 September in which you say that you are unwilling to debate the future of Scotland with me.

With respect, your arguments for not debating Scotland’s future are undermined by the highly political nature of your letter. You are attempting to place yourself in the position of trying to dictate the terms of the debate on Scotland’s future without being willing to publicly defend your arguments in debate. You seek power without responsibility and that is unacceptable.

In addition to that clear democratic point, there are five other reasons you should reconsider and overcome your reluctance to debate Scotland’s future:

Firstly, you quite rightly acknowledge the significance of the PSA’s Democratic Innovation Award for the joint work of our two administrations in holding the Scottish independence referendum under the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement. As the principal signatories of the Edinburgh Agreement, the natural progression in these circumstances is a televised, head-to-head debate.

Secondly the Government which you lead is central to the entire referendum debate from the perspective of the No campaign. The reality is your Government continues to make decisions affecting Scotland, such as the implementation of the Bedroom Tax and the deeply unpopular privatisation of the Royal Mail, despite the fact an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland didn’t vote for the Conservative Party.  The fundamental argument at the heart of the case for independence is that decisions affecting Scotland should be taken by those who choose to work and live here. Your argument is that many should be taken at Westminster.

Thirdly, there is worrying evidence that under the current constitutional arrangements your Government intends to cut spending in Scotland. Senior Tory figures, including Scottish Tory Leader, Ruth Davidson, have called for the current Barnett Formula to be abolished. Many Tory MPs wish Scotland’s funding to be slashed above and beyond the huge austerity squeeze already taking place. This is deeply concerning and I believe that a debate on such a crucial issue should take place so you can spell out your Government’s plans to cut public spending in Scotland in the event there is a No vote.

Fourthly you suggested in Scotland last year that you had an alternative constitutional position to independence. People have the right to know what it is – if indeed it is anything at all – BEFORE the referendum takes place.

Finally, you suggest I should debate with the Chairman of the No Campaign Alistair Darling. I’m sure that other debates will take place in due course but for the reasons I have made clear the key debate has to be between the head of the Scottish Government – the First Minister of Scotland – and the head of the Westminster Government – the Prime Minister.

There’s a whole range of things that Alistair Darling couldn’t answer. For example, the people of Scotland will want to know why your Government won’t sit down and negotiate with the Scottish Government over issues such as sterling or defence arrangements, even when Westminster parliamentary committees have called for such discussions.

In any case Mr Darling’s direct opposite number in the Yes Campaign is Chairman, Dennis Canavan, the former Labour MP who has become increasingly dismayed at an out of touch Westminster system.

Following the SNP’s majority victory in the last Scottish Parliament election, you made the following comment: “I will campaign to keep our United Kingdom together with every single fibre that I have.” (Daily Telegraph May 7, 2011) You continue to direct your Government, and its taxpayer-funded resources, to make the case against an independent Scotland.

That is entirely consistent with your stated intention in the quote above. However your attempt to duck a television debate on the subject is not. Either you stand up and debate or butt out of the debate for good.

The case for a head-to-head debate between us is unanswerable. You should reconsider.

Yours for Scotland

ALEX SALMOND