David Cameron hosts Tory summit over Scotland

Alex Salmond is maintaining the pressure on David Cameron to keep his pre-referendum promise. Picture: Getty
Alex Salmond is maintaining the pressure on David Cameron to keep his pre-referendum promise. Picture: Getty
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DAVID Cameron was today hosting a summit on constitutional reforms at Chequers as a row broke out over comments by Alex Salmond suggesting Scotland could become independent without another referendum.

The Prime Minister was meeting senior MPs at his official country retreat to consider his plan to restrict the voting rights of Scottish MPs in the Commons in an attempt to deliver “English votes for English laws” – a move he has said must go “in tandem” with the process of granting fresh powers to Holyrood.

Mr Salmond has accused the UK Government of reneging on the timetable of more powers pledged by the three UK party leaders during the campaign.

But today, the First Minister’s comments that a referendum was “only one of a number of routes” to independence ignited a fresh controversy over the future of constitutional change.

Mr Salmond said although a referendum was his preferred option, achieving a majority at the Scottish Parliament was another way of reaching his party’s goal.

The sentiment was echoed by former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars, who tweeted: “Let Yes assert new indy rule – no more ref – majority votes and seats at Holyrood 2016 enough.” He later added: “What’s this about a waiting a generation – indy remains on agenda now”.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont accused Mr Salmond of suggesting the will of the Scottish people could be ignored.

She said: “His words are fundamentally undemocratic and an insult to the people of Scotland. Salmond may regret the result but this reaction is dangerous and wrong. Alex Salmond lost. It is not for him to try to overthrow the will of the Scottish people in some sort of coup.”

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron has insisted he will honour the promise of more powers for Scotland, whether or not agreement can be reached on “English votes for English laws”.

Mr Salmond claimed voters had been “tricked” into voting No by the “vow” of the three UK party leaders to produce proposed legislation on further devolution of tax, spending and welfare responsibilities by Burns Night.

When he appeared on TV hours after the referendum result, Mr Cameron said the handing of extra powers to Holyrood would have to take place “in tandem” with other reforms, including banning Scottish MPs from voting on English-only laws.

But a lack of agreement between the parties over such a plan threatens to make an already tight timetable unachievable.

Mr Salmond said: “I’m not surprised that they’re reneging on commitments, I’m only surprised at the speed at which they are doing it. They seem to be totally shameless on these matters.

“The Prime Minister wants to link change in Scotland to change in England. But he wants to do that because he has difficulty carrying his backbenchers on this and they’re under pressure from Ukip, while the Labour leadership is frightened of changes in England which leave them without a majority in the House of Commons on English matters, so they are at 
loggerheads.

“The vow was something cooked up in desperation for the last few days of the campaign.

“The Yes campaign aren’t surprised by this development, it’s the people who were persuaded to vote No who were misled, who were gulled, who were tricked – they’re the ones who are really angry.”

Former chancellor Alistair Darling, who led the Better Together campaign, said any of the leaders who rowed back on the devolution timetable would “pay a heavy price”.

He said: “The agreement reached by the three parties, as far as I’m concerned, is non-negotiable. It was promised, it’s got to be delivered, and anyone who welches on that will pay a very heavy price for years to come.”

Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems have not yet agreed precisely what the extra powers for Holyrood should be. Labour has proposed less control over income tax than the other two.

But Lord Smith of Kelvin, the former Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games chief appointed by Mr Cameron to oversee the new powers deal, played down the political differences and the difficulties over the timetable.

He said he would be speaking to all the political parties, as well as institutions, trade unions, voluntary groups and others and seeking feedback from the public.

But he said: “I think the parties are, by and large, in agreement on a lot of things. I don’t think the electorate want to wait too much longer. We kind of know what people want. I just want to make sure I get to the facts and I will deliver.”

But Edinburgh University politics professor Charlie Jeffery said delivering on the timetable would be a “tremendous challenge”.

“There is a very small window for public consultation and very little mention of the Scottish Parliament’s right to be consulted,” he said.

Meanwhile, shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran today said the party would reach out to supporters who voted for independence in the referendum.

She told the UK Labour conference in Manchester that she and other leading figures from the Scottish party would visit the ten areas with the highest Yes votes.

She said: “We have to be honest when we look at the results and see that many of the people who think that Britain can’t work for them are Labour voters.

“We need to 
understand more clearly why they are angry and what we need to do about it.”

THREE PLEDGES

Guarantee One: New powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Holyrood will be strengthened with extensive new powers, on a timetable beginning on September 19, with legislation in 2015.

The Scottish Parliament will be a permanent and irreversible part of the British constitution.

Guarantee Two: The guarantee of fairness to Scotland.

The guarantee that the modern purpose of the Union is to ensure opportunity and security by pooling and sharing our resources equitably for our defence, prosperity and the social and economic welfare of every citizen, including through UK pensions and UK funding of healthcare.

Guarantee Three: The power to spend more on the NHS if that is Scottish people’s will.

The guarantee that with the continued Barnett allocation, based on need and with the power to raise its own funds, the final decisions on spending on public services in Scotland, including the NHS, will be made by the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament will have the last word on how much is spent on health. It will have the power to keep the NHS in public hands and the capacity to protect it.

POLL SHOWS SNP ON TARGET FOR REPEAT OF HOLYROOD VICTORY

THE Scottish National Party is set to win the next Holyrood election despite the referendum defeat, a poll has shown.

The Survation survey found 49 per cent were planning to vote SNP at the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections compared with 33 per cent for Labour, 13 per cent for the Tories and three per cent for the Liberal Democrats.

It also put the SNP just four points behind Labour for next year’s Westminster general election. Labour was on 39 per cent, the SNP 35 per cent, Conservatives 18 per cent and Lib Dems three per cent.

The poll of 871 Scottish adults was carried out on Friday, just hours after the No campaign’s 55-45 per cent victory in the independence referendum.

SNP business convenor Derek MacKay said: “These ratings are very impressive, a 16-point SNP lead and well above even our 2011 election landslide vote.

“At this stage in the last parliament, it was Labour who had a double-digit lead.”

He said SNP membership has surged by more than 9000 since Friday. The Scottish Greens reported 1200 new members.

MSP CALLS FOR ‘YES ALLIANCE’ TO FIGHT WESTMINSTER ELECTION

THE SNP should fight next year’s Westminster general election on a joint platform with the Greens and Scottish Socialists under the banner of the “Yes Alliance”, a Capital MSP has suggested.

Gordon MacDonald, SNP MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands, put forward the idea in response to an email to the party’s group at Holyrood from chief whip Bill Kidd.

And two other MSPs signalled their support for the move.

Mr MacDonald wrote: “What about getting agreement with Greens, SSP, etc and stand as Yes Alliance? The unionist vote would split between Labour, Tory and Lib Dem. We would do decidedly better than the small numbers of MPs we got elected last time.”

South of Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine, a key aide to Alex Salmond, responded positively. “I was thinking along the same lines,” she wrote. “We have some very talented people who could stand.”

And another MSP Chic Brodie said: “Think Gordon’s idea is right. We intend to keep the campaign group together locally.” But he added: “I would suggest name does not include Yes, but call it Scotland Alliance.”

Tory councillor Jason Rust, who represents Colinton/Fairmilehead, demanded to know whether Mr MacDonald was calling for another referendum.

He said: “Local residents in Pentlands have a right to know if their MSP is seeking a re-run of the referendum at a time when the rest of the country is moving on in acceptance of the definitive outcome. Our MSP needs to come clean to his constituents as to what secret deals are being arranged with parties of the far left.”

Former minister Bruce Crawford emailed all SNP MSPs urging them: “Can we not just keep our own counsel on these ideas at the moment. Let’s wait and see what the next few days bring and let the dust settle.”

Meanwhile, Edinburgh Central SNP MSP Marco Biagi said a pledge of another referendum in the next SNP manifesto was “inconceivable”.

And former party treasurer Ian Blackford said the SNP should fight for “full home rule” within the UK – with all domestic policy decided at Holyrood and only defence and foreign affairs reserved to Westminster.