ALEX Salmond hit back at claims today that independence was “the love that dare not speak its name” as he responded to Labour taunts that the SNP had binned the referendum campaign in the Aberdeen Donside by-election.
Labour leader Johann Lamont used her questions to claim that Mr Salmond and SNP candidate Mark MacDonald were down-playing the independence question, aware that it was not popular on the doorsteps.
But Mr Salmond hit back by raising the speech earlier today by Labour leader Ed Miliband backing a cap on welfare payments, to argue that independence would allow Scotland to stick to a path of “social justice”.
Mr Miliband’s speech was an “embarrassment” for the party, he said, claiming it had now given up on its opposition to Coalition welfare cutbacks.
The Aberdeen Donside by-election takes place on June 20th, and was caused by the death of Brian Adam, the SNP MSP for the seat.
The chamber was noticeably less full for the weekly First Minister’s Questions than usual, prompting suggestions that MSPs may have been campaigning.
Mrs Lamont claimed that neither the First Minister nor his candidate were mentioning independence, focussing instead on local issues.
She added: “Independence is the First Minister’s passion but every time there is an election it becomes the love that dare not speak its name.”
This, she said, was because the case for independence was “falling apart”. Her claim that John Swinney had been “exiled” as a spokesman in the debate was met with an ironic wave from the Finance Secretary.
Mr Salmond responded: “Can I just say to Johann Lamont that the case for independence is articulated in terms of the economic progress and social justice it would bring to Scotland. This week of all weeks she is in no position to back social justice since they are tearing up their opposition to Tory welfare reforms, presumably so that Alistair Darling will feel more comfortable at the Tory conference this week”.
He was referring to the fact that the former Chancellor plans to attend this weekend’s Scottish Conservative conference, in his capacity as head of the pro-UK Better Together campaign.
However, Mrs Lamont said that Mr Salmond was “to the right of George Osborne”, pointing to his support for a cut to Corporation tax. And drawing on Mr Salmond’s visit to meet Edinburgh Zoo’s pandas earlier this week, she joked: “Scotland has a lot of sympathy with the panda Sweetie (the female). We know what it is to reject unwanted advances with a big beast with only one thing on its mind.”
Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson once again urged Mr Salmond to commit to a public inquiry into the baby ashes scandal, following revelations that their remains had been scattered in Edinburgh without the knowledge of their parents.
However, Mr Salmond insisted that investigations by both Lord Bonomy and the former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini had first to take their course.
A big embarrassment for the Labour party, as Peter Hain identified.