Hyperbole in Lords after Forsyth accuses Salmond of sabotage threat
FORMER Scottish Secretary Lord Forsyth has used parliamentary privilege to accuse SNP First Minister Alex Salmond of threatening to sabotage an independence referendum if one is called by the UK government.
Lord Forsyth is one of the leading figures calling for the UK government to take the referendum out of the Scottish Government’s hands and is pushing an amendment to the Scotland Bill that would bring forward a plebiscite by 2013.
It is understood that his accusation is based on a conversation Mr Salmond had with Tory Chancellor George Osborne.
Mr Salmond was accused of not just threatening to lead a boycott of a referendum organised at Westminster but also threatening to use his position to prevent police and other public services from providing the necessary support for one.
The row comes just a week after the SNP conference and a senior UK government source telling The Scotsman that ministers in London are preparing to take control of the referendum if Labour provides its support for the move.
There are growing concerns in Westminster about the delay in naming a date for a referendum, and Lord Forsyth, along with Labour peers such as Lord Foulkes, have warned that the uncertainty will damage Scotland’s economy.
There are also concerns over Mr Salmond’s plans for a multi-option referendum including devolution max instead of a straight yes/no question on independence.
Constitutionally, a legally binding referendum can only be organised in Westminster, but Mr Salmond has claimed that his party’s majority victory in the Holyrood election this year means only the SNP has a mandate to carry one out.
The issue is also the subject of a double inquiry by the Commons Scottish affairs select committee.
However, matters came to a head yesterday when Lord Forsyth of Drumlean asked Cabinet minister Lord Strathclyde: “Could you confirm that privately the First Minister has been threatening government ministers that if we constitute a legally conducted referendum campaign in Scotland, he will make it his business to boycott that referendum and prevent the police and other services from seeing it carried out?
“Is the First Minister not getting a bit too big for his boots?”
Lord Strathclyde, who is leader of the House of Lords, replied that he could not confirm what Lord Forsyth had said.
He added: “But if it were true that he would seek to frustrate a referendum in Scotland that had been legally and rightly established by the Westminster parliament it would be the most extraordinary event. Surely the first person who should whoop for joy if there were to be a referendum on the issue of separation in Scotland should be the First Minister.”
Tory Lord Cormack, referring to Zimbabwe and its predecessor Southern Rhodesia, whether “the First Minister of Scotland seeking to emulate Ian Smith or Robert Mugabe” in declaring independence.
A spokesman for the First Minister said: “We have no idea what Lord Forsyth is talking about – the reality is that the Scottish Government won a resounding mandate in May to deliver the referendum in the second half of this Holyrood term, a position accepted by the Prime Minister after the election.
“The UK government has no mandate whatever on the referendum issue, and no amount of wishful thinking by Lord Forsyth can change that.”
However, that was challenged by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.
He said: “The SNP did win a mandate to hold a referendum on independence in May.
“However, people in Scotland now need the answers to the many questions that have been laid at the SNP’s door about what independence would actually mean for Scotland.
“So far they have been met with a deafening silence.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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