Alex Salmond's independence strategy harks back to days before devolution – Ian Swanson

It was like turning the clock back 30 years. Alex Salmond stood at a podium arguing that if an election produced a "super-majority" of Scottish parliamentarians in favour of independence that should trigger immediate negotiations for Scotland to become a separate state.

Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 2:38 pm

Just a few days earlier, at the launch of his new Alba party, the former First Minister's message seemed to be that a super-majority would make it impossible for Boris Johnson to resist the demand for another referendum.

But now he was focusing his appeal even more firmly on the fundamentalists in the Yes camp impatient with delay.

When Mr Salmond first won the SNP leadership in 1990, the party's line was that the SNP winning a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster would be a mandate to start talks on independence.

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It only switched to promising a referendum ten years later, just before he stepped down as leader.

That change was crucial to the SNP's later success because it allowed people to elect the party to run the country, safe in the knowledge there would be another vote before any move towards leaving the UK.

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That allowed the SNP to gain power and win the confidence of voters by proving it was capable of governing and implementing popular and practical policies.

Former First Minister Alex Salmond unveiled his independence strategy last week (Picture: Michal Wachucik/AFP via Getty Images)

This was Mr Salmond's strategy and it proved a huge success for the Nationalists, ending half a century of Labour dominance and establishing the SNP as the natural party of government, even if it did not convince enough people to vote for independence in 2014.

The idea of using an election result as a mandate to start talks on forming a separate state sounds more likely to scare voters away – although astonishingly one weekend poll claimed 36 per cent of Scots would go even further, saying pro-indy super-majority would justify a unilateral declaration of independence.

The Alba plan to demand negotiations rather than press for a referendum makes it even less likely that there can be any accommodation reached between Mr Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.

She ridiculed his strategy, saying the idea that if Boris Johnson was refusing an independence referendum despite a parliamentary majority he would somehow agree to independence negotiations without a referendum “just doesn't even pass the first test of credibility”.

Ms Sturgeon still argues the UK government will not be able to resist granting the required section 30 order for a referendum if there is a pro-independence majority at Holyrood after May 6 and there are reports that Tory ministers at Westminster take the same view.

But it is always difficult to guess what this most unpredictable of Prime Ministers will do – he has performed many U-turns but is also ready to defy normal political expectations.

There has even been speculation he might decide to take the initiative and call a referendum himself, holding it amid the job losses and economic turmoil following the pandemic in the hope voters will recoil from more upheaval.

Meanwhile, a damning new report co-written by former senior civil servant Philip Rycroft warns of central government complacency over the future of the Union and a lack of engagement with the devolved administrations.

It seems independence could be hastened as much by the UK government’s carelessness as by the calculations of the rival nationalist camps.

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