By a Newsnet reporter
The UK government is planning to grab control of Scotland’s independence referendum, according to a Scottish newspaper.
Reports in the Scotsman suggest that senior figures in the UK government are seeking the support of the Labour party in an attempt at wresting control of the referendum from Holyrood.
The move would send shockwaves through Scotland’s political circles and would almost certainly lead to a constitutional eruption if the will of the Scottish electorate was seen to have been ignored by London.
The independence referendum was the central plank of the SNP’s election campaign and the party pledged to hold the ballot in the second half of this parliamentary term. May’s historic victory saw the Nationalists emerge the largest party with an overall majority, thus ensuring the referendum would take place.
However, according to the Scotsman, London is now seeking to ignore this mandate and organise a poll on its terms. In order to do this the Tory Lib Dem administration would require the support of the Labour party.
Later today at the party conference in Inverness SNP leader and First Minister Alex Salmond is expected to use his keynote speech to party delegates in order to underline the mandate given to the SNP by the Scottish people. Mr Salmond has already dropped heavy hints that the ballot will include a ‘devo-max’ option that will include full fiscal autonomy.
Recent polls suggest that only two options are realistic possibilities, independence or ‘devo-max’ – and some Unionists are now favouring an all or nothing gamble that removes the ‘devo-max’ option.
Yesterday Alex Neil issued a warning to Tory PM David Cameron to stay away from Scotland’s referendum saying that he has “no democratic mandate and try to dictate the terms of the independence referendum to the Scottish people and their democratically elected Parliament.”
Mr Neil added: “This Conference and the Scottish Government should send out a loud and clear message to David Cameron that the days when the Unionist parties at Westminster can rig a referendum, on Scotland’s constitutional future are over.
Referring to the infamous ’40% rule’ that denied Scotland home rule in the seventies, despite a majority in favour, he said: “There will be no 40% rule in this referendum.”
According to the Scotsman, the UK coalition is waiting for a new Labour leader to be named and for Labour to then decide whether to support the move.
Downing Street are reported to have denied the story, which comes at the same time as William Hague writes in the Telegraph that now is the wrong time to hold a European referendum, claiming the economy is the coalition’s priority.
Commenting, SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell MSP said:
“The Westminster parties are clearly panicking and in disarray as independence moves into the lead, and the SNP poll above even our election-winning performance – and this latest outbreak of sabre rattling is a bad blunder.
“This latest story just underlines the extent of Westminster’s incoherence – a government source is briefing that London is plotting to take away the democratic rights of Scotland’s Parliament, Downing Street is furiously denying the story, and William Hague is writing that this is not the right
time to have a referendum, on Europe!
“This plays right into our hands, because every time Westminster threatens to trample over the mandate of the people and government of Scotland to deliver a referendum in the second half of this parliament, support for the SNP and independence gets a big boost.”
Labour are currently split on how to tackle the independence argument with some senior Labour figures arguing for the party to embrace ‘devo-max’. Former Cabinet Minister Malcolm Chisholm recently added his name to a growing list of Scottish Labour figures who argue that the party must occupy the devo-max ‘middle ground’ if they are to survive.
Unionists themselves are at odds on whether to adopt a united front in the forthcoming referendum campaign with Labour’s Jim Murphy already insisting he would not share a platform with PM David Cameron.