LABOUR politicians across Scotland must have their “heads in their hands” after the party’s MSPs voted against Scottish Government plans for free school meals last week, Alex Salmond has insisted.
The First Minister also said that the tables were turning on the No side in the rerefendum battle, as he launched the SNP’s campaign in the Cowdenbeath by-election yesterday
But he was accused of attempting to “con” Labour voters by Labour’s deputy leader Anas Sarwar.
The by-election is being held after the death of long-standing Labour MSP Helen Eadie last year and Johann Lamont’s party is the strong favourite to hold the seat on 23 January.
Mr Salmond joined SNP candidate Natalie McGarry in Inver-keithing yesterday and predicted Labour will suffer after its MSPs sided with the Tories to vote against the move on free school meals for P1-3 pupils.
Mr Salmond said: “There must be Labour councillors around Scotland with their head in their hands at the antics of their parliamentary group, but that’s the reality – that’s what they did.
“The contortions they have gone through to justify their opposition to these important social gains have been a disgrace and this by-election is an opportunity for people in Cowdenbeath constituency to cast their verdict.”
Mr Salmond also believes that the pro-union campaign will become the side with the questions to answer in the remaining nine months of the referendum campaign, after the SNP found itself on the back foot over issues such as currency.
Asked if there a shift taking place, Mr Salmond said: “Yes – as there should be. It’s not the powers element in the No campaign and the lack of clarity on that, it’s also the reality of what we know George Osborne has planned for Scotland.”
Mr Salmond said he met Mr Osborne in 2010 before he became Chancellor and was “quite explicitly” told by the Tory MP that he wanted to scrap the Barnett Formula which distributes public spending throughout the UK. It is estimated this would see £4 billion lost from public spending in Scotland.
Mr Salmond said: “If George Osborne gets the opportunity, that’s what he will do: he will cut Scottish spending with no compunction about the revenue that Scotland generates. I had a letter from David Cameron saying he had no plans to do this, but he couldn’t commit any future government – that’s a guarantee of a maximum of 18 months.
“One of the things the No campaign is going to be asked is does that guarantee last for more than 18 months, because I don’t think many folk in the Cowdenbeath constituency would trust George Osborne to cross the road, never mind with Scotland’s money.”
But Mr Sarwar hit back ahead of a meeting of the pro-union United with Labour group in Lochgelly today.
Mr Sarwar said the Nationalists were “quite happy to say in one breath that the UK has never helped to achieve social justice then in the other saying we need independence to protect the NHS and the welfare state – institutions thought up by, created by and delivered by the Labour movement right across the UK.
“It’s a deliberate attempt to con Labour voters into thinking that no change, or no good, can ever come through a union between Scotland and the rest of the UK and that only a vote for independence can bring change.”