Differences emerge within SNP over Salmond plan for devolved power vote

Thu, Feb 16, 2012, 00:00

PUBLIC DIFFERENCES have emerged within the Scottish National Party over first minister Alex Salmond’s determination to give voters the option to vote for greater devolved powers from London in the proposed 2014 independence referendum.

Today Mr Salmond will meet British prime minister David Cameron in Edinburgh, with the Scottish leader still insisting Westminster can have no say over the wording of the referendum to be put to voters – London wants a straight Yes or No on the Union.

Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars condemned Mr Salmond’s plan to have a choice between a continuation of the Union, or so-called “devo-max” – where all powers, bar those over defence and foreign policy, would be ceded to Edinburgh. Devolution-max, said Mr Sillars, a frequent thorn in Mr Salmond’s side, is a “fraudulent claim” to keep the SNP in one piece and in power if it loses a straight choice on independence, as polls suggest would happen.

Up to now, Mr Salmond has insisted he wants voters to face a Yes or No question on the Union, but such a choice could have disastrous consequences for his party’s fortunes if voters reject it.

Mr Sillars, saying that Mr Salmond has developed a taste for power, maintains that “devo-max” is “a fall-back position” for the first minister who has enjoyed “tea with the Emir of Qatar”, and no longer relishes a “cold weekend of surgery work”.

The public display of divisions within the SNP will be welcomed by Mr Cameron, whom Mr Salmond has portrayed as an interfering Englishman.

In a speech in Edinburgh today, Mr Cameron will make clear his desire to save the 300-year-old Union. He will say it is “a matter for heart and soul” and that “something really precious is under threat and everyone who cares about it” needs to speak out.

“Of course, there are arguments that can be made about the volatility of dependence on oil, or the problems of debt and a big banking system. But that’s not the point. The best case for the United Kingdom is entirely positive.

“We are better off together. Why? Well, first of all, let’s be practical. Inside the United Kingdom, Scotland – just as much as England, Wales and Northern Ireland – is stronger, safer, richer and fairer,” he will say, according to extracts of the speech released last night.

Speaking in London last night, Mr Salmond pushed strongly for the ceding of control over corporation taxes to Edinburgh to be included in legislation currently before the House of Lords.

“With responsibility for taxation, including corporation tax, we will be able to target support to specific areas and industries, such as our vast energy sector or the computer games industry, where Scotland has a real edge on international competitors in terms of cutting-edge innovation,” he said.

Under the legislation, the Scottish government would get powers to raise £2 billion worth of borrowings, but Mr Salmond wants to double that figure, saying it would help to stimulate growth – a policy distinctly at odds with the views of chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne.