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Alex Salmond, general election, hung parliament, SNP conference

Alex Salmond will "hang Westminster from a Scottish rope"


  When it comes to attention-seeking, no one does it better than Alex Salmond.  The SNP leader’s pre-conference interview with the Tory-leaning Daily Telegraph at the weekend was a classic of its kind .  “There’s a vast overwhelming majority of people in Scotland”, said the First Minister,  “who rather like the idea of a Westminster parliament hung by a Scottish rope.”  Leave aside whether this “vast majority” of Scots has given a second’s thought to what might happen if the Conservatives fail to win an outright majority at the next general election, I’m really not sure that Scots actually want to dangle Westminster on a rope.
  But the intention is to provoke and provoke it does. Talk like that gets many English Tory MPs puce with rage – believe me, I’ve seen it and had to dodge the foam-flecked rebuttals. Given half a chance they’d be swinging the rope over the nearest Westminster lamppost and hanging Alex Salmond from it.  Conservative backbenchers talk about Salmond as if he were a wily, streetwise leader of a post colonial national liberation movement – a devilish cunning demagogue who is not to be trusted as far as he can be thrown, and given Alex’s fondness for pies, that’s not far. 
   This presumably is what Salmond wants.   It’s not the first time the SNP leader has tweaked English noses.  Earlier this year, he promised that he would make Westminster “dance to a Scottish jig” after the general election by holding the balance of power in the House of Commons.  In fact, it would be the Liberal Democrats who would almost certainly be doing the jigging, since they’ll be the likely king makers.  But Alex isn’t bothered about the arithmetic – just  the reaction.  Similarly, the threat of legal action if the BBC televises a UK party leader’s debate without Alex’s participation is another way of reminding an anglo-centric media that there is another party in Scotland.  
  Now, you might ask whether it is fitting for a national leader, the First Minister of Scotland, to be thumbing his nose quite so rudely at the mother of parliaments.  Isn’t the SNP line supposed to be that,  as their answer to the West Lothian Questions, they withdraw from Commons votes on legislation that affects only England?  If so, shouldn’t they be standing aside from any coalition king-making that determines the government of England?  And, anyway, is it wise to appear so cocksure confident of winning 25 seats, when most commentators think the SNP will be lucky to win half that?  Is Alex heading for a fall? 
   Well, you accuse Salmond of over-ambition at your peril – look what happened in 2007.  Moreover, his cheek  has a  purpose. The SNP leader’s calculation is that if and when there is a Conservative government in Westminster, the Scottish political game changes over night.  Scottish politics will become a contest between Labour and the SNP over who can best defend Scotland against Tory cuts.  Labour will have a couple of hundred MPs;, the SNP will have say 20 at the  most, but numbers aren’t everything.  The SNP won power in the Scottish parliament, not because the Scottish voters want independence – though some do – but because they saw the SNP as best bet for fighting Scotland’s corner against London.  Scotland’s traditional party, Labour, seemed to have lost its voice. With a Cameron government, Scottish Labour will regain it very rapidly, and will be leading the public sector unions in their campaign against job losses.  You can already see the posters : that picture of Cameron and the Bullingdon Berties, with the caption “All in it together? Vote Labour”.  
   With a Tory government pushing through radical spending cuts, it is imperative that the SNP first of all presents these as Tory cuts imposed on Scotland from London – otherwise, as the Scottish government, they’ll get the blame for all those care homes closing and teachers not getting jobs.  Secondly, that they show they’re best able to promoting Scotland’s interests, and won’t just be innocent bystanders as George Osborne wields the axe. 
  Labour will say that this is their historic mission, and that you can’t trust the nationalists. Yesterday, the Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy,  launched Labour’s “Vote SNP, Get Tory” campaign, claiming that the SNP can do nothing other than make life easier for the Tories in office. Just look at what they’ve been doing in Scotland, Labour will say.  The SNP have been the “Tories little helpers” pushing through cuts because, like the Tories, they like it.   The Scottish Tories, says Murphy, are “Thatcher’s grandchildren” and the nats are their tartan Tory playmates.  
   So, after the election we will have not one but two anti-Tory parties vying to take on London. Not surprisingly, this is making some UK Tories begin to wonder if a constitutional confrontation might not be the wild card in the first term of a Cameron government.  Alex Salmond is itching for a fight, and there are a lot of English Conservatives who would dearly like to give him one.  Cameron has already conceded that he might have a “shortage of mandate” in Scotland, and that it might be difficult to push through an austerity budget.   For this reason, Tories grouped around the website ConservativeHome want Cameron to call an early referendum to marginalise the SNP, and demonstrate that most Scots want to stay in the union.  (I note that Tories like Annabel Goldie now say they oppose “Alex Salmond’s referendum” and haven’t actually ruled out a Cameron one}. The Liberal Democrats are coming round to a referendum, and the intriguing question is whether Labour might also decide that the way to shoot the nationalist fox is to hold the referendum Alex so desperately wants.  After all, Wendy wanted one. 
   Now, Cameron and Brown insist they’ll “do nothing that damages the Union” but I can’t help thinking that there is a lot in it for all the unionist parties now to call Salmond’s bluff, turn the tables and show that Scotland isn’t dancing to the nationalist jig, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor.  Show him that in politics as in life, the only thing that’s worse than not getting what you want, is getting it. That’s if the unionist parties have the bottle. 

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


4 thoughts on “Alex Salmond will "hang Westminster from a Scottish rope"

  1. I liked the image of "Home Counties" Tories spluttering over their scones and cream with Salmond's metaphors.Personally I don't disagree with his analysis, but I think I preferred the previous analogy of "dancing to a Scottish Jig".Not sure if the Telegraph has much of a circulation north of the Border but given the SNP electoral strategy has to be focussed on the floating/undecided voters, more careful language might be wise.People tend to prefer dancing over murder :)If the SNP achieve anywhere near the target of 20 Westminster seats next year, that would be a Big Moment, but would Cameron not be more likely to turn to the Ulster Unionsts in a hung-Parliament scenario before getting into bed with "narrow minded separatists"?

    Posted by Cruachan | October 16, 2009, 2:18 pm
  2. ""Alex Salmond will "hang Westminster from a Scottish rope"Just reminds me of that Scottish Sun front page back in election day in 2007.And as for blaming the Conservatives for the cuts coming here in Scotland.I offer exhibits A,B and C.The three parties who have been in charge over the last 12 years. And the SNP were just as happy to borrow on the tick as well. Well all those freebies such as ending bridge toll fees, hospital parking charges and an end to prescription charges have to be paid for somehow. The fact that we have cuts coming to Scotland in the next 12 months is partly down to those factors. Alas, the freezing of council tax has been devastating for places like Aberdeen. Are we going to blame an incoming Conservative government in Westminster for the swinging and very painful cuts that are happening there already?The longer we wait for the next GE, the harder its going to be for the SNP to nail the blame on the Conservatives, especially when no one else is going to escape the coming financial pain.

    Posted by Fitalass | October 26, 2009, 1:28 am
  3. Want to explain how a government that doesn't have the POWER to borrow can "borrow on the tick"?You might be interested in knowing (or maybe you prefer NOT knowing) that in the US even municipalities generally have the ability to BORROW for capital improvements.I believe that the lack of that ability for the Scottish parliament was deliberate and not well intended.HOW do you run a government properly when you can't borrow? You can't.As far as Labour leading the fight against the Tories, as the party that handed the country OVER to the Tories with their mismanagement, that is going to be one darn HARD argument to make!

    Posted by Jeanne Tomlin | October 26, 2009, 7:45 pm
  4. Speaking of which I recommend this article from someone who is no friend to the SNP:http://www.holyrood.com/index.php?option=com_holyrood&func=article&artid=3001&edition=221&brick=16Interesting reading!

    Posted by Jeanne Tomlin | October 26, 2009, 8:13 pm

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