The SNP’s landslide of Scottish seats in the UK general election is a “staging post” on the road to independence, Alex Salmond said yesterday.
The former First Minister made his remarks as his successor Nicola Sturgeon set out her demands for the new Conservative government, with a warning that Scotland can no longer be “sidelined or ignored” in the changed political landscape of the UK.
But full fiscal responsibility for Scotland, which is believed to be under consideration by Prime Minister David Cameron, will not be an “immediate priority” and will take “years” to implement, she said yesterday.
Instead, Sturgeon announced that an end to austerity is her key demand, along with more powers for Holyrood over welfare and employment. The First Minister was joined by 54 of the new tranche of 56 Nationalist MPs in South Queensferry yesterday after the party’s historic triumph in the Westminster vote on Thursday.
Speaking at the event, Salmond, who was elected MP for Gordon on Thursday, insisted that Scotland is a “changed nation” after the election wiped out Labour in Scotland, leaving the party with just one MP.
Asked how close Scotland now is to independence, he said: “Scotland has seen a number of days that many people thought we would never see. People thought there would never be a Scottish parliament; then some people thought there would never be an SNP government; some people thought there would never be a majority SNP government.
I said we’d want to look again at the Smith Commission proposalsNicola Sturgeon
“So this is the latest staging post in what seems progress for Scottish people.”
Salmond said he now “absolutely” believes independence will come in his lifetime.
He added: “I think the main thing we can say is that we’re not now the same country we were a year ago. I think the biggest factor behind the massive, overwhelming mandate for the SNP last Thursday is that this is a changed nation. It’s a changed nation having gone through the referendum process; a changed nation and a better one.”
The SNP insisted during last year’s referendum campaign that the vote on independence would be a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, but Sturgeon has since said a change in “material circumstances” could bring about a return to the polls.
Such changes might include a UK vote to leave the EU in the referendum which will now be held by the Conservatives, if Scotland opts to stay in. “The possibility of an attempt being made to drag Scotland out of the European Union against the will of the Scottish people would cause anyone concern,” said Salmond, “but Nicola Sturgeon identified that danger and that possibility very early on, and she set down clear parameters about what we should do to avoid that.”
The SNP have insisted that the general election was not a mandate for another referendum.
Sturgeon said yesterday that Scotland has given the SNP “a mandate on a scale unprecedented for any political party, not just in Scotland but right across the UK”. She added: “The people of Scotland on Thursday voted for an SNP manifesto which had ending austerity as its number one priority, and that is the priority that these men and women will now take to the very heart of the Westminster agenda.”
Sturgeon also played down reports that the Prime Minister was poised to offer her full fiscal autonomy – under which Holyrood gains full control over raising taxes and public spending. This is a key SNP manifesto demand, but independent economists say that it would leave the country with a financial black hole of £7.6 billion.
Nationalists want to see the Smith Commission proposals on more powers for Holyrood – promised after the referendum No vote – to be substantially enhanced.
The First Minister spoke on the phone with Cameron on Friday about the issue, and further talks are expected to take place in the coming weeks.
“It was briefly covered in our conversation,” said Sturgeon. “I said that we would want to look again at the Smith Commission proposals, and that’s a discussion that we will have.
“Our manifesto made very clear, firstly what’s already on the table has to be implemented quickly, and that we don’t think those proposals go far enough.”
SNP MPs will table a number of amendments to strengthen the Smith Commission proposals. Sturgeon added: “Financial responsibility, full fiscal autonomy, would be implemented over a period of years.
“What is important in the shorter term is to get our hands on the levers that allow us to grow our economy, to grow our revenues to get us into jobs. Those are the priorities that the SNP at Westminster and in the Scottish Government will be pressing for.
“This would include business taxes and allowances, employment powers, setting the minimum wage level and more controls over welfare.”