Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Scotland's Independence Contest - Salmond knocks out Cameron, faces tougher task with Moore

The BBC got it right yesterday when they promoted the issue of the potential Scottish independence referendum to the lead slot in their broadcast - above the announcement of the High Speed 2 rail line. Both are big stories, but the future of the UK is surely worthy of top billing. The Speaker of the House of Commons got it wrong by giving the railway top billing.

The debate will rumble on for many months or years (as will that over High Speed 2) but already seems to have settled into a reasoned conversation between SNP Leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Scotland Secretary Michael Moore.

Alex Salmond is a very canny political operator who has already seen off the slightly hysterical interventions by PM David Cameron. The PM wanted to bring forward the date of the vote and even floated the idea of allowing Scots living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to have a say. But his basic line was a dummy spitting claim that Scotland could only act through the UK Parliament, threatening legal action to enforce this.

Salmond, on the other hand wants to see the vote take place later in his term and makes the quite reasonable claim that the SNP victory last year gives him a mandate to hold a vote. He knows that a bind

It took the calming influence of Lib Dem Mr Moore to ensure that the writs didn't start flying quite yet. He made it clear that a vote will happen and that it will take place after negotiations between Westminster and Holyrood. He batted away the SNP desire to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote saying that he fully supported such a change, but it should be made because it is right, not just to give the SNP a tactical advantage.

In calming the waters, Michael Moore has ensured that he has his job for the long term. He cannot be sacked or promoted without it being seen to be an indictment of the anti-referendum campaign.

The other name that will be at the forefront of the debate appears to be former Chancellor Alistair Darling. It is felt that a 'big beast' is needed to take on Salmond and the Labour man is the favourite for the role. As such, he was trotted out for the Today programme this morning. But why take the risk of a Salmond vs Darling popularity contest. In a debate about what is right for Scotland (and for the UK as a whole) the discussion should focus on ideas, not personality.

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