Alex Salmond has announced he plans to return to Westminster because Scots must be “their own guardians” of the nation’s future following Gordon Brown’s departure as “guarantor” of more constitutional powers.
Confirming his intention to stand as an MP in May’s general election, the former first minister yesterday said a “strong group” of SNP MPs will hold the balance of power in the next UK government.
He told supporters in the Aberdeenshire constituency of Gordon, where he plans to stand, that the Smith Commission on more devolved powers has not “lived up to what was promised”.
He said: “This is not fiscal autonomy, it is not devo-max, it is not home rule, it is certainly not near federalism.”
Referring to Mr Brown’s decision to stand down as an MP, Mr Salmond said: “The man who said he would stand as guarantor of that near federalism has now ridden off into the political sunset, leaving us with a showdown with the three Westminster amigos.”
He said Mr Brown could not have had in mind the Smith Commission proposals when he backed “the vow” of further powers during the referendum campaign, as the former prime minister was against the full devolution of income tax.
Mr Salmond said: “It is now self-evident that Gordon Brown cannot be a guarantor of a future settlement for Scotland since he has announced his retiral from politics.”
But he added that there is a “prospect of real power for Scotland” if the SNP wins a significant number of Westminster seats and pledged that Nationalist MPs will push for an even greater package of new devolution.
“Perhaps it’s time to use the Westminster elections to apply that pressure – to rumble them up in Westminster and make sure that Scotland has delivered what we were promised during the referendum campaign,” he said.
Bookmakers are already taking bets on Mr Salmond becoming a UK government minister in a new Westminster coalition next year.
“That is unlikely I would have thought, but I’m not ruling it out, I’m just saying it’s unlikely,” the former SNP leader said of the prospect yesterday.
The SNP has been on a high since the referendum defeat, with party membership soaring to more than 90,000 from about 15,000. Polls suggest it could make up 20 or more of Scotland’s 59 MPs in May’s UK elections.
Mr Salmond said that, following the referendum No vote, he has been struck “by the enthusiasm that people had to see Scotland move forward”, and the “absolute determination that Scotland could still win from the referendum”.
He said: “I think it is now clear, 11 weeks later, what we must do to ensure that progress.
“It is also likely there will be no overall majority in the Westminster parliament, and therefore in that Westminster difficulty there lies an opportunity for Scotland.”
The SNP, as laid out by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, would not deal with the Conservative party in “any shape or form”, he said.
Mr Salmond said there was “never the slightest possibility” of him seeking to represent anywhere other than Gordon, despite speculation that he could stand against Liberal Democrat Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Mr Salmond said: “The North-east of Scotland has led the way in Scottish politics before, and I believe we can do it again next May.”
He said he would not seek to replace SNP MP Angus Robertson as SNP group leader at Westminster, but he would try “to have a role” in negotiating the progress for Scotland which would arise from a powerful group of SNP MPs.
Mr Salmond is the MSP for the Aberdeenshire East constituency, which covers some of the same areas as the Gordon seat. If elected in May, he will also continue to serve at Holyrood. He said that if voters give him a “dual mandate” for both parliaments, he plans to donate one of his salaries to charity.
The Gordon seat is currently represented by Liberal Democrat Sir Malcolm Bruce, who is retiring in May. It will now become one of the most watched in next year’s general election.
Sir Malcolm, who won a majority of 6,748 over the SNP in 2010, said: “People in Gordon rejected the first minister’s independence plans overwhelmingly at the referendum. I am sure that they would be delighted to have the chance to reject him again in May. Bring it on.”
Lib Dem candidate Christine Jardine said the area had been “short-changed” during Mr Salmond’s time as first minister.
She said: “The people of Gordon deserve better, just as they deserve an MP who will stand up for what’s important to them, not chase their personal political agenda at the cost of what’s best for the people of the North-east. I intend to be a strong voice for all the people of Gordon.”
Mr Robertson said last night he is “delighted” at the former party leader’s announcement.
“Having him as part of a greatly expanded group of SNP MPs at Westminster will be a huge boost and maximise our ability to stand up for Scotland,” he said.
A Labour Party spokesman said the election next year is a “clear choice” between Ed Miliband’s party and the Tories.
He added: “Every vote for the SNP is a vote to let David Cameron back into Downing Street.
“Alex Salmond spent the referendum telling Scots why we should leave Westminster behind, but now he is heading back there.
“Being an MP isn’t a retirement project – it’s a full-time job – but Alex Salmond only seems to want it as a platform to campaign for independence.
“The vow has been delivered, and the next Labour government will transfer more powers to Scotland in our first Queen’s Speech. What people across Scotland want now is a government that gets to grips with the cost-of-living crisis and secures the recovery.”
Scottish Conservative candidate for the Gordon constituency Colin Clark described Mr Salmond as a “yo-yo man”, skipping between Scotland and Westminster.
“It seems he’s now desperately wooing to very parliament he failed to destroy,” he said.
“People in Gordon roundly rejected separation, and that is the tag the former First Minister will find difficult to shed in this campaign.”
John Curtice: Salmond back in Westminster would mean interesting times
So AFTER only five years away, Alex Salmond wants to return to Westminster. His chances look good. More uncertain is what he can achieve if he gets there.
The Liberal Democrats’ grip on Gordon has looked vulnerable ever since Sir Malcolm Bruce announced he was retiring. The SNP only needs a 7 per cent swing to take the seat.
Given their dire position in the polls, the Liberal Democrats can ill afford the potential loss of the undoubted personal vote for Sir Malcolm.
Now there is also a SNP surge in the polls, enough to make the party favourites in Gordon even if Alex Salmond were not standing.
That he has decided to do so, after having wrested the local Holyrood seat from the Liberal Democrats seven years ago, simply makes the Nationalists’ chances look even better.
But why does Mr Salmond want to return to Westminster? In part the answer is probably simply personal. He enjoys a stage on which his performances have often secured rave reviews.
However, it is also a stage that matters to his party. With the referendum lost, the SNP’s ambitions rest on what it can achieve at Westminster, not on its fortunes at Holyrood. For it is at Westminster that the fate of the Smith Commission proposals for more devolution will be determined.
At the moment not only is the SNP enjoying a surge that could make it the third largest party at Westminster, but neither Labour nor the Conservatives currently seem capable of winning an overall majority.
That opens up the possibility that the SNP could force Labour to do a deal in which SNP votes would be traded for much more devolution than Smith has proposed.
Mr Salmond would have Prime Minister Miliband at his beck and call.
However, there is potentially many a slip. On Saturday, Scottish Labour will have a new leader, charged with turning things around.
Even a relatively modest swing back to Labour could make a big difference.
Meanwhile, Labour’s ever diminishing British poll lead suggests the Conservatives could yet emerge as the only party capable of forming a government.
And if the SNP is offering to prop up a Labour government, what stance will the party take on handling the deficit? Will it really be ready to vote for cuts?
The prospect of power at Westminster could leave Mr Salmond with some awkward questions to answer.
• John Curtice is professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde
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