Scottish independence: MPs gripped by the question: was Rabbie Burns a Nat or a Unionist?
A BATTLE emerged in Westminster yesterday over which argument in the independence debate Scotland’s Bard Rabbie Burns would have supported as both sides tried to claim him as their own.
As the two sides prepare their campaigns, names from outside politics are being considered to help lead the respective campaigns. However, it was clear that, in an appeal to Scottish sentiment, both wanted a signifcant figure from Scotland’s past to help boost their support.
The day after SNP First Minister Alex Salmond declared in a major speech in London that Burns was a “great Nationalist and Internationalist”, Conservative Scottish MP Eleanor Laing declared that he was a Unionist.
The debate came as the UK government appeared to try to boost support for the Union by handing Glasgow a tax break for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Mr Salmond said in his speech that Burns’ song For A’ That contained the line which showed independence was inevitable.
“For a’ that, an’ a’ that, it’s coming yet for a’ that,” he told the audience at the Hugo Young lecture.
But during Prime Minister’s Questions, Ms Laing quoted from Burns’ poem The Dumfries Volunteer, describing it as an “impassioned plea” for the Union. “Be Britain still to Britain true, amang oursels united; for never but by British hands, maun British wrangs be righted!” she quoted.
The recital was met with disgust among the six SNP MPs, but Mr Cameron, who is half Scottish, said Ms Laing had made “a good point”.
He went on: “Burns Night will be celebrated not just across Scotland but across the whole of the United Kingdom and in many parts of the world.”
And in a clear aside to the events in Edinburgh, where Mr Salmond was launching his consultation on the referendum, Mr Cameron also turned to Scotland’s Bard to attack the SNP.
He said: “When I hear the Scottish Nationalists, who are so keen to leave the UK yet so anxious about having a referendum, I think that perhaps they should remember Burns’s words when he referred to the “Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!”
The Prime Minister was almost immediately under attack in the Twittersphere for failing to pronounce “breastie” correctly, but the quote brought a cheer from MPs across the House apart from the six Nationalists.
The SNP members appeared to be shouting out “a parcel of rogues”, a quote from a Burns poem describing the members of the old Scottish Parliament, who voted themselves out of existence in the union with Westminster.
But battle commenced later in PMQs on whether the Westminster coalition government should continue to interfere in the Scottish referendum.
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil challenged Mr Cameron on his government’s attempt to influence the date of the referendum and push for one clear question.
The attack came as a result of the UK government’s own consultation on using a Section 30 order to grant Holyrood temporary powers to be allowed to run a referendum.
The UK government contends that under existing powers in the 1998 Scotland Bill, it would be illegal for Holyrood to hold a poll. But the SNP disputes this.
Mr MacNeil asked: “Does the Prime Minister agree that in Scotland the people are sovereign, and therefore for improvement they have the right to determine their own constitutional future as they see fit?”
However, Mr Cameron said that he was just trying to help the people of Scotland get what they wanted.
He said: “Of course this is an issue for the people of Scotland, and I think we should bring forward the date when we put to the Scottish people the question of whether they want to stay in the United Kingdom – which I dearly hope that they do – or to leave the United Kingdom.
“But the point that everyone needs to understand is that options for further devolution – options for changes across the United Kingdom – are matters for all of the United Kingdom, and matters that all of the United Kingdom should rightly discuss.”
In a move which appeared timed to coincide with the consultation launch in Edinburgh, the Treasury also handed Glasgow a tax boost for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
It means that athletes resident outside the UK who compete at the Glasgow Games will be exempt from income tax. The decision mirrors a similar exemption in place for this year’s Olympic Games in London.
Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander will say in Glasgow today: “Everyone wants to see the best athletes compete at Glasgow 2014 and this exemption will make that more likely.”
The move will be welcomed by SNP sports minister Shona Robison.
Meanwhile, the growing debate has seen a continued interest by bookmakers.
Yesterday, bookmakers William Hill offered odds of 7/1 that Scotland will secure independence by 1 January, 2020, but also offered 1/16 that it will not.
“As yet, even the date of the referendum is in doubt, let alone the outcome,” said Hill’s spokesman Graham Sharpe.
William Hill has also cut its odds for the referendum to take place in 2014 from 4/5 to 4/6, and for a Yes to independence majority when it does happen from 7/2 to 3/1.
“It seems that the more Westminster tries to get involved, the more Scots decide they are in favour of independence” added Mr Sharpe.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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