Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Salmond in the pink after landslide for Scottish nationalists

The most emphatic victory in any of the elections was scored in Scotland. It is now governed by a party whose major policy objective is the break-up of the United Kingdom.

The Scottish National Party was the largest party in the last Scottish parliament. But, with 47 out of 129 seats, it depended on the support of other parties to govern. Now it has secured a comfortable majority of 69 MSPs.

It has pledged to use this commanding position to call a referendum on Scottish independence, urging a ‘yes’ vote. It was thwarted in this objective last year by the combined weight of the other parties. Now its landslide victory allows it to push the policy through and the referendum is expected to be held later in the autumn.

On the face of it, this could be the end of the Union; the death- knell of the ancient connection with England by means of a popular vote. With a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, it could refuse the ‘Sassenach’ Trident fleet access to Scottish bases like Faslane and Gare Loch. The Labour Party, the former giant of Scottish politics which might have blocked the SNP, lies like a slaughtered Goliath after its worst defeat in 80 years and its leader, Iain Gray, is resigning.

Even as he congratulated SNP leader Alex Salmond (right) on his triumph, David Cameron sounded a warning. “On the issue of the United Kingdom, if they want to hold a referendum, I will campaign to keep our United Kingdom together with every single fibre that I have.”

It sounds like a constitutional crisis to rival the medieval rebellion of Braveheart, or of Mary Queen of Scots, but in fact it isn’t. All the signs are Scottish voters in Labour heartlands switched allegiance to what they saw to be another social democratic party which will stand up for Scottish interests.

The clinching argument against a complete break with England is the subsidy Scotland receives from Britain, about £9 billion a year, which, like our block grant, is worked out under the complex Barnett formula.

Mr Salmond, however, has worked out that if British university fees increased and Westminster paid the money up front in student loans, that would result in an increase in the Scottish allocation under Barnett. He has managed to switch the money around so as to charge no fees at all to Scottish students at Scottish universities while costs soar elsewhere.

He will, he has pledged, use the Holyrood parliament to protect Scots “from the effects of London life”.

The SNP has also given a more Scottish feel to Scotland, maximising its cultural offering for tourism. He is keen to work with Stormont to maximise funding for regions and joint projects, whether in tourism or negotiations with Westminster.

He could be a powerful ally for our new administration.

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