SNP claims Cameron move over plebiscite may backfire


THE SCOTTISH National Party said yesterday the attempt by British prime minister David Cameron to set a quick deadline for a Scottish independence referendum would bolster support for a break up of the union.

The SNP had promised to hold a referendum later in the life of the Scottish parliament, possibly 2014, but the British government believes a speedy vote, offering a choice between independence and the status quo, would be lost.

However, Mr Cameron’s campaign to push for a binding 2013 referendum risks increasing support for the campaign led by the SNP, which has majority control in Holyrood, particularly if Scottish voters interpret his move as interference from London.

Even Scottish Labour, which supports the continuation of the union, though with the devolution of more powers to Edinburgh, and also wants a speedy referendum, believes Mr Cameron’s intervention could backfire.

Former Scottish first minister Henry McLeish (Labour) said the referendum campaign to save the union should be led by Labour, and not by the Conservatives, who have just one House of Commons MP.

Under the 1998 legislation that re-created the Scottish parliament, the power to change the constitution remain with the House of Commons and not Holyrood. This means Scottish first minister Alex Salmond could only call a non-binding referendum.

However, he argues that the “moral and political force” of a victory for the pro-independence camp in such a referendum, would be enormous “and impossible for a future government to ignore”.

British chancellor George Osborne yesterday said “some of the largest companies in the world” had expressed concerns about the uncertainty caused by a deferred referendum.

The SNP, however, rejected the argument that future business could be lost for Scotland, pointing out that Dell, Amazon and Michelin have all announced substantial investments north of the border in recent months.

Up to now the SNP has favoured a 2014 referendum, and has rejected charges that it is seeking to exploit nationalist fervour on the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, the biggest ever victory over the English.

Equally, it has favoured putting a three-part question to voters on whether Scotland should be independent, or stay in the UK,  or whether it should opt for the so-called “devo max”, where control over full tax powers and other issues would be ceded to Edinburgh.

Mr Cameron has emphasised the benefits of the union for Scotland, pointing to the 2008 rescue of the Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax Bank of Scotland. “When RBS and when Bank of Scotland were in difficulties, the United Kingdom as a whole was able to restructure and secure those banks. If they had been part of an independent Scotland, the effect on the Scottish economy would have been catastrophic.”