Tories claim Salmond will axe vote if he senses loss

Salmond: ambushed at First Minister's Questions over the lack of blankets in hospitals. Picture: Jane Barlow
Salmond: ambushed at First Minister's Questions over the lack of blankets in hospitals. Picture: Jane Barlow
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ALEX Salmond will find an excuse not to hold his promised independence referendum in 2014 if he thinks he won’t win it, a former presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament has claimed.

Tory MSP Alex Fergusson, who stepped down from the Holyrood post last year, argued that if that happened the UK Government should step in and hold the referendum for him.

He told a fringe event at the Scottish Conservative conference in Troon: “Alex Salmond has set a date for the referendum in 2014.

“If he thinks he can’t win the referendum by that time, he will do everything in his power not to have the referendum. That will involve blaming the UK Government because the UK Government has not agreed to this or that demand.

“If that came about, the UK Government would have an absolute right to say ‘for three years you promised the people of Scotland a referendum, we will hold that referendum’.

“I think it would have the sympathy of people in Scotland.”

Mr Fergusson also said he thought the idea of making voting compulsory for the referendum was “very interesting and worthy of consideration”.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson was today due to use her speech to the conference to call on the SNP to use the new powers the Scotland Bill will give Holyrood to cut the country’s tax burden.

She was expected to say: “The Scotland Bill will soon bring the biggest transfer of fiscal powers to Scotland since the creation of the United Kingdom itself – new powers over stamp duty, landfill tax and the rate of income tax in Scotland. We must focus our attention on using the powers that we have, and the new powers that are coming, to build a better Scotland.

“While the new tax powers are still some time away, now is the time to think how they can and should be used.”

Ms Davidson last night launched the Tories’ anti- independence campaign, Conservative Friends of the Union, at a special rally.

She said: “Do we want Scotland to continue in the most successful union of nations the world has ever seen, or do you want Alex Salmond to replace it with a Euro union who don’t share our language, our culture, our history or our currency?”

UK Tory party co- chairwoman Baroness Warsi told the rally: “It’s our job to drown out the separatist rhetoric with a positive campaign to keep the Union intact.”

Home Secretary Theresa May was expected to argue independence would mean Scotland’s borders being opened up “to mass immigration”.