ALEX Salmond has accused former Tory Cabinet ministers Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord Forsyth of having “learned nothing” since their time in power, after they launched strongly worded attacks on the idea of full economic powers for Holyrood.
The First Minister seized on attacks the two made on “devo-max” – an option that would see all economic powers transferred to the Scottish Parliament – to demand “clarity” from Prime Minister David Cameron over his pledge for more Holyrood powers if Scotland votes against independence.
Mr Salmond claimed former foreign secretary and Scottish secretary Sir Malcolm and ex-Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth had presided over the electoral decline of the Tories north of the Border, when they served in the cabinets of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
He dubbed the two Tory grandees “the Bourbons of Scottish politics – they have ‘learned nothing and forgotten nothing’” – a reference to the European dynasty that was repeatedly overthrown and restored to the thrones of nations such as France, Italy and Spain between the 16th and the 18th centuries.
The row comes after Mr Cameron’s visit to Scotland last week, during which he offered a deal that would see the referendum ballot restricted to a single question on independence in return for a promise of more powers after a vote in favour of the Union. Mr Cameron has declined to say how much power he is prepared to transfer to Edinburgh, arguing the independence question has to be answered before such details are sorted out.
Lord Forsyth issued a stark warning to the Prime Minister that his pledge of more powers had “lit the touch paper” for supporters of devo-max, while Sir Malcolm said it would be “independence in all but name”.
Mr Salmond said: “These interventions by senior Tories at Westminster – seeking to hold Scotland back – underline exactly why we need clarity from the Prime Minister as to what his proposals amount to.
“Not only does his offer need to be in the public domain well before the referendum, David Cameron should spell it out within the timescale of the Scottish Government’s consultation on the referendum, which ends on 11 May. That is plenty of time, if the Prime Minister and his colleagues are serious about it.
“Given these negative interventions by Tory Scottish secretaries from their party’s anti-devolution years, the issue right now is the people’s right to know what the Prime Minister’s alternative to independence is.
“David Cameron has said, for the very first time, that it is not the current Scotland Bill – but his own party is clearly deeply divided on the issue.
“The Prime Minister has an obligation in the coming weeks and months to tell the rest of us what his offer is.”
Mr Salmond heavily criticised Sir Malcolm and Lord Forsyth for standing on a Conservative platform in the 1990s opposing devolution. He said: “Lord Forsyth and Sir Malcolm are the Bourbons of Scottish politics – they have ‘learned nothing and forgotten nothing’.”
However, Sir Malcolm hit back and compared Mr Salmond to Maximilien Robespierre, one of the most influential figures of the French Revolution, who was executed. Sir Malcolm said: “If we’re the Bourbons, then Mr Salmond appears to think that he’s Robespierre, but he should remember that Robespierre ended up on the guillotine too.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister was clear in his speech, and in his meeting with the First Minister, that any discussions on further devolution should take place after the referendum, which should have a single question and take place as soon as possible.”