Measuring up the Tartan curtain

May 19, 2011

Visiting Scotland this week to see Alex Salmond sworn in as first minister, the newspapers were full of talk about  “independence lite”. The idea was that an independent Scotland would be free to choose as from a menu, selecting which issues to manage itself and which ones to pool with the rest of Britain.

Listening to Salmond in Holyrood and speaking to him afterwards in his official residence in Bute House,  there was little sign of soft-pedalling.

Elected unopposed as first minister by MSPs at the touch of a button in the modern parliament, Salmond stood up and promptly added demands for control of excise duty, digital broadcasting and a say in European affairs to the list of powers he is seeking from Westminster via  the Scotland Bill.

In our interview, Salmond stressed that an independent Scotland would have its own forces and foreign policy and expect control of almost all of the oil in the North Sea.

The problem for parliament in Westminster is failure to grant Scotland additional powers could persuade more Scots to think that a breakaway is in their best interests.

The vote on May 5 has created a constitutional headache for British Prime Minister David Cameron. Freed from the spectre of the Alternative Vote, he now finds himself cast in the role of defender of the United Kingdom.

Salmond plans talks with George Osborne and Nick Clegg in the next few days, but says that Cameron will have to deal with the issues himself at some point.

The SNP leader speaks with great pride of what Scotland has achieved in the world and its potential as a trusted partner in international affairs, with no axe to grind.

Politicians from the main British parties are calling on Salmond to get on with a referendum to remove uncertainty about the future of the country.

But Salmond is too astute to throw away his position of strength with a hasty move.

Some commentators have speculated that 2014 would be a propitious year for a referendum, with it being the year Scotland plays host to the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup and marks the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

Salmond refuses to specify a date, saying only that the vote will be well into the second half of parliament’s five-year term.

So 2015 could be quite a year of elections if the British coalition serves its full-term and Salmond makes his move then.

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