London control of referendum would be insult – McLeish
FORMER Labour First Minister Henry McLeish has attacked suggestions that the UK government should seize control of an independence referendum as “insulting and contemptuous”, after a £1 million donation to the SNP sparked claims the size of the nationalist war chest could influence the timing of the vote.
Mr McLeish accused supporters of the move of “anti-Scottish ranting” following comments from a senior peer who said that the £1m donation from SNP-supporting Chris and Colin Weir “showed the importance” of the UK taking charge of the referendum to stop the nationalists manipulating the timing of the vote.
The row came as constitutional expert Professor Trevor Salmon from Aberdeen University said that the biggest donation in the SNP’s history from the Ayrshire couple would be a “factor” in the timing of the vote, and that it would allow the nationalists to “hoard money” until the aftermath of the 2015 General Election when he predicted the nationalists would hold the referendum.
However, an SNP source claimed the referendum was “likely” to be in 2014, when First Minister Alex Salmond would be keen to capitalise on the “feel good factor” of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow that year and the celebrations surrounding the second year of Homecoming.
Scottish Labour peer Lord Foulkes seized on the £1m donation from Mr and Mrs Weir to call on the UK government to take charge of the vote, which he said would mean the Electoral Commission had to “get involved” rather than the SNP having its own referendum commission.
However, Mr McLeish issued a stark warning to the Westminster government not to “meddle” in Scottish affairs and that supporters of UK involvement in the referendum were “divorced from reality”.
Mr McLeish, who supports full financial powers for Holyrood, or “devo max”, said: “It’s a Scottish matter and the mischief making that we’ve seen at Westminster isn’t of any help. Westminster should keep out of the referendum and not meddle.
“How can anyone at Westminster be so divorced from reality to deliver an insult to the Scottish people in this way and to heap contempt upon them.
“It would be insulting and contemptuous to the Scottish people for Westminster to get involved and anyone suggesting this at Westminster needs to grow-up instead of ranting in an anti-Scottish way.
“The Scottish Government should be allowed to get on with it, but opposition parties have got to get off the back foot and start offering alternatives such as the devo max option. My view is that only Labour can do this.”
Lord Foulkes said that although Alex Salmond had “a mandate for a referendum”, the SNP leader does not have the constitutional power to hold the vote and Westminster “should do it for him”.
He said: “This latest donation to the SNP from the lottery winners has showed us the importance of the UK taking charge, so that the Electoral Commission can get involved.”
Meanwhile, Mr Salmond faced accusations of trying to “buy the referendum with their big donors” by opposition parties at Holyrood who criticised the SNP for building up a multi-million pound war chest after the party previously said it would cap donations at £750,000.
The boost to the SNP’s coffers from the £161m winnings of Mr and Mrs Weir came after the late poet Edwin Morgan left £918,000 to the SNP in his will.
Mr Weir, a former candidate for the SNP, said that he and his wife had donated the cash to give the “people of Scotland a fair chance in the referendum campaign”. He said: “We have been supporters of the SNP for a long time, but this is about more than party politics.”
Mr Salmond, who had previously written to the couple congratulating them on their Lotto windfall, said: “The SNP relies on the donations of our ordinary members and every donation large and small goes to backing the party and making the case for independence.”
But Prof Salmon said that it was a “problem” that one side in a referendum could out-spend another and that the SNP would wait until after the 2015 General Election so that other parties in Scotland were short of funds.
He said: “If you go back to 1975 when there was a referendum on membership of the European Community, two-thirds said yes, while one-third said no.
“But the spending was 80 per cent to 20 per cent in favour of the yes vote supporters.
“All this is not new in British politics and it can affect the result. It’s a major problem. It’s clearly another reason why we should have a referendum now, as Alex Salmond appears to be building up a war chest for the referendum. The situation is very favourable for Mr Salmond, who is facing an opposition that’s likely to run a disparate campaign, while he gets to choose the timing of the vote and he’s got the money to fund a strong campaign.
“All this suggests that the cards are stacking up in favour of Mr Salmond and the SNP.
“I think that Alex Salmond will go for an independence referendum after the next General Election, as there’s the issue of who has the money to fight a referendum and it looks like that it’s only the SNP that has this.
“The SNP don’t spend that much in General Elections. They will save their money for the referendum and hoard money until after the General Election.”
Meanwhile, an SNP source said the referendum is “likely” to be 2014. The source said: “It’s the latest year of Homecoming and there will be the Commonwealth Games, when there will be a feel good factor about Scotland’s role in the world.”
But Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray railed against the proposed funding cap, and said “Alex Salmond does not have confidence in the Scottish people to back his plans for separation in a referendum so his best bet is to try and rig the whole process.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east