Scottish independence: Now for the referendum, says Alex Salmond
ALEX Salmond will launch his party’s campaign for Scottish independence later this month claiming he is still on track in his efforts to win secession from the UK following last week’s local government elections.
Despite the disappointment of failing to capture Glasgow, the SNP came out fighting yesterday saying their “unprecedented” feat of winning the largest number of councillors was a resounding victory, and the party’s best ever result in local government.
With party insiders determined to show that the drive to independence still has political momentum, senior sources insisted the SNP’s status as an election-winning force remained intact and would be proven in the forthcoming Yes campaign.
But outside Salmond’s circle, other SNP figures warned the First Minister he was beginning to be seen as “arrogant” by too many Scots, and that voters had wanted to bring him down a peg given the party’s massive numerical superiority at Holyrood.
They also said the SNP’s focus on winning Glasgow set up impossibly high expectations, with party chiefs getting “carried away” with the idea they could brush Labour aside.
The fall-out from Thursday’s election results came as SNP sources confirmed the formal launch of the party’s Yes referendum campaign would happen within weeks. That campaign would not be confined to the SNP, party figures stressed, with Salmond seeking to demonstrate the “breadth” in the appeal of independence.
Bolstering its claim to have won Thursday’s election, the SNP also released figures claiming to show it won more first-preference votes than Labour across the country.
Salmond, who visited Dundee yesterday, where the SNP captured majority control, said: “On every indicator, the SNP has had its best ever council result. We have more councillors and more gains than any other party – doubling our seats advantage over Labour. We have become the largest party in more councils across Scotland – including our first ever overall majorities. And we also look set to have won the overall share of the vote in a local government election for the first time in our history.”
He added: “While the Westminster coalition parties were given a mauling north and south of the Border, the SNP as the incumbent party of government in Scotland since 2007 have just won another election – an extraordinary achievement.
“Any way you look at our result, it is a landmark achievement for the SNP, which is the only party which can claim to be the party of all of Scotland – north and south, east and west, rural and urban.”
Countering the SNP claims, a Scottish Labour spokesman said Labour was the largest group in twice the number of councils as the SNP, as well as being dominant in the country’s three biggest cities: “Alex Salmond is visibly rattled by Scottish Labour being in the driving seat of local government, from Dumfries to Aberdeen and from Inverclyde to East Lothian.”
SNP sources close to Salmond said last night that the party would now move quickly on to preparations for the independence referendum. SNP sources say that while the party machine will organise the pro-independence campaign, they aim to show there is a “breadth” in the appeal of independence that includes people from other or no party backgrounds.
A senior SNP figure said: “The Yes campaign will be bigger and broader than just the SNP. It will have SNP organisation at the heart of the Yes campaign but the campaign will have a broader group behind it. It will not be an SNP campaign. It will be a Yes campaign. The overall approach will be to show that it has broad appeal, with a successful SNP at the centre of it. In our view, that is the winning proposition,” the source said.
Ministers also revealed last night that a total of 16,000 people had now taken part in the Scottish Government’s consultation on the referendum, which ends this Friday.
Salmond’s team insisted they still had the momentum after last week’s result. Winning Glasgow, Salmond’s team said, was “a very tall order” given the amount of effort that Labour, which gained an outright majority, had put into the seat. The source added: “Our aim was to get the largest number of councillors and the most votes of any party and we achieved that.”
The party produced analysis of 305 out of 353 wards, showing the SNP with 32.7 per cent of the vote, Labour with 31.5 per cent, the Conservatives with 13.1 per cent, Independents with 11.8 per cent and the Lib Dems with 6.4 per cent.
But the performance was more than a quarter down on its remarkable 45 per cent share of the vote in the 2011 Scottish election.
That drop brought concerns within the party last night about Salmond’s image now that the party has such dominance at Holyrood.
One senior party figure said: “The people of Scotland don’t like arrogance. We have been looking a bit arrogant. Alex is not getting an effective opposition at Holyrood.
“They liked minority government. They’re looking now for us to persuade them, and we were going round saying we were going to get another tsunami. I think this is a good wake-up call.”
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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