Independence now inevitable, says Dalyell

Share this article
Have your say

SCOTTISH independence is inevitable after the SNP’s landslide victory this year, according to the veteran Labour politician and campaigner Tam Dalyell.

The former MP, who posed the West Lothian Question, said the result of Alex Salmond’s triumph would be a constitutional settlement that is “indistinguishable” from independence.

This is despite other Labour politicians believing they can save the Union by persuading people to vote against independence when Mr Salmond calls his referendum in the second half of the parliament.

Mr Dalyell, who made a name for himself through his tenacious arguments against devolution, believes the creation of Holyrood meant it was unavoidable Scottish politicians would want to grab more powers for the parliament.

His new autobiography, The Importance of Being Awkward, recounts his implacable opposition to devolution when the issued was raised in the 1970s.

Mr Dalyell told The Scotsman he was “not in the least surprised” by the surge in SNP support. “I told you so… is the most unpretty things you can say. But there it is. It is not just the SNP. But every party in any parliament that is set up is asking for more and more,” he said.

He refers to an extract in his book that recounts how Barbara Castle, a leading Eurosceptic when former PM Edward Heath wanted to join the Common Market, later lobbied for more powers for Europe when she entered the European Parliament.

“In 1976, when Harold Wilson demitted and Jim Callaghan became prime minister and wanted Barbara out of his cabinet, it was decided as a sort of consolation prize that she should be the leader of the first Labour delegation to the elected European Parliament,” Mr Dalyell said.

“Not within months, but within weeks, she was wanting more powers for the parliament. Why? Because she was bloody well there.”

According to Mr Dalyell, the Holyrood situation is similar, with Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems all joining the SNP in wanting more powers.

“It is the same thing now,” he said. “Annabel Goldie and all … Because they are there, they want more, and that is the nature of parliaments. What I think [will result] is that something indistinguishable from independence [will arise]. Unless, you chose Tam Dalyell’s option and that is the abolition of the parliament.”

In his memoirs, Mr Dalyell described how a flirtation with the politics of Northern Ireland turned him against nationalism. In 1969, he had been warned by the then home secretary Jim Callaghan not to embark on a trip to Northern Ireland just when the Troubles were escalating. Mr Callaghan’s reasoning was that he did not want a Scottish MP involved in the province.

In his book, Mr Dalyell writes: “At that point in time, Callaghan was right and I was wrong. I did not go. Scotland was tinder dry and the Troubles could easily have spread to the land of Glasgow Rangers and Celtic.

“Indeed, I made up my mind to oppose devolution for Scotland tooth and nail on the sweaty summer evening when I watched Glenn Barr, the Ulster Protestant leader, and his Ulstermen’s reed pipe band, making its way along Linlithgow High Street… I believed – and still believe – that it is much better for Scotland to be fully part of Britain and not to be hived off as an inward-looking community as in Northern Ireland at that time.”

According to his book, his attachment to the Union also has its origins in his formidable family tree. His ancestors helped engineer the 1603 Union of the Crowns, a role celebrated in the thistles and roses carved in the plasterwork of the Dalyell family home, the House of the Binns, near Linlithgow.