SNP conference: ‘Trust will bring us independence’

ALEX Salmond yesterday claimed that the trust Scots have in the Scottish Parliament would deliver a Yes for independence next year.
Alex Salmond: 'Natural majority' of Scots favour independence. Picture: PAAlex Salmond: 'Natural majority' of Scots favour independence. Picture: PA
Alex Salmond: 'Natural majority' of Scots favour independence. Picture: PA

Giving his welcome address to the last SNP annual conference before 2014’s referendum, the First Minister said there was a “natural majority” for independence based on the public’s willingness to trust Holyrood over Westminster.

Before rushing back to Edinburgh to hold crisis talks on the Grangemouth situation, the First Minister said: “Next September 18th is Scotland’s date with destiny, the biggest opportunity the people have ever had – the opportunity to choose independence and a better future for Scotland.

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“I believe that people will choose the hope of a Yes vote, rather than the fear offered by No. And no-one now denies the reality that Scotland has got what it takes to be a successful independent country.”

He was keen to impart the message that politicians of all political colours had acknowledged Scotland could go it alone.

He quoted recently departed Scottish Secretary Michael Moore saying he would never suggest that Scotland could not be independent. Mischievously, Mr Salmond suggested Mr Moore’s remarks could have been to blame for him being replaced in the Scotland Office by Alistair Carmichael.

Moving his sights on to claims made by Better Together on mobile phone roaming charges and the future of Trident after independence, Mr Salmond said his rivals lacked credibility.

“They peddle nonsense such as mobile phone roaming charges after independence, the threat to annex Faslane, no whisky in UK embassies – the final sanction that Scotland has been threatened with – nonsense even they are forced to retract. How can we believe anything?”

With support for independence still lagging behind No voters in the polls, the SNP produced a barrage of statistics to suggest Better Together’s lead can be overturned. SNP advisers handed out poll information they claimed showed a “natural majority” for independence, based on people’s preference for the Scottish Government to have responsibility for the economy, welfare and defence.

On the opening of the four-day event, Mr Salmond made a point of accentuating the positive – an approach he believes contrasts with Better Together.

“People in the No campign cannot deny the economic viability and potential of people-talented, resource-rich Scotland,” he said. “Per head of population, Scotland has more top universities than any other country. We are the largest oil producer in the European Union, and have a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal resource. We have huge success in life sciences innovation and a thriving creative industries sector.

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“We have a quality food and drink industry aiming to turn over £16,000 million a year and our astounding natural beauty and heritage support a tourism industry which employs nearly 200,000 people.

“When even the most bitter opponents of Scottish independence agree that Scotland has got what it takes, then it’s clear that the only thing people have to fear is Project Fear itself.”

But it was the concept of trust in the Scottish political institutions that Mr Salmond was determined to hammer home.

He said: “By a factor of nearly four to one, people trust the Scottish Government rather than Westminster to govern Scotland and believe that Scotland’s Parliament should make the decisions on tax, welfare and pensions. That is the natural majority which exists for Scottish independence and why I believe it will be reflected in a majority for Yes next September.”

But Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “Alex Salmond talks about trust. Perhaps people in Scotland would be able to trust him more if he told the truth about basic things such as having legal advice on Scotland’s status in the EU even though he doesn’t. This SNP conference, much like the Scottish Government’s programme of business, will be dominated by separation sermons.

“Growing the economy, improving schools, developing further and higher education, reforming services – all of these issues which are vital to ordinary people will be relegated to the sidelines to give Salmond’s separation obsession centre stage.”

Sturgeon: Vote Yes to avoid Westminster cuts

NICOLA Sturgeon will today argue only a Yes vote can save benefits payments and universal services from Westminster cuts when she addresses the SNP conference.

The Deputy First Minister will claim the UK parties have plans to cut budgets north of the Border.

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“Be under no illusion, if we don’t vote Yes, Westminster will turn the screw and the limitations of devolution will be exposed for all to see,” Ms Sturgeon will say. “The Scottish Parliament has the power to distribute money, but Westminster decides the budget. And we know this much, there are Westminster MPs in all the UK parties itching to abolish the Barnett formula [the mechanism deciding Scotland’s budget from the Treasury] and cut Scotland’s share of spending. So I say this to everyone yet to make up their mind. Consider carefully the arguments for a Yes vote. Subject them to scrutiny and ask the tough questions. But do not ever let anyone pull the wool over your eyes about the consequences of a No vote.”

Last night, a spokesman for Better Together, which has been accused of negative campaigning, said: “Every time a Nationalist mentions their positive campaign over the next year, they should be handed these ridiculous words from Nicola Sturgeon. This takes scaremongering to a new level. It is embarrassing.”

Commentary: It’s a question of faith for Salmond as clock counts down to Scotland’s ‘date with destiny’

In the main conference hall at Perth Concert Hall, the SNP had arranged for a big calendar to count down to D-Day – September 18 2014.

Yesterday it announced there were 335 days to go. The preoccupation with that date is so acute that there will not be any grassroots dissent, proper debate will be kept to a minimum. The last SNP annual conference before what Alex Salmond described as the “date with destiny” will amount to an enormous rally for independence.

Salmond, however, had more immediate concerns. The Grangemouth crisis saw him rush back to Edinburgh for talks with the protagonists. There is, after all, a country to be run in the meantime. The feeling that this crucial SNP conference was being overshadowed by a genuine difficulty requiring strong leadership seemed apt.

In his opening remarks to conference, Salmond made great play of the trust people had in his Government and Scottish political institutions. The idea that Scotland is poorly represented by a Westminster system that does not have our interests at heart will resonate around Perth this weekend. Again and again, Salmond’s mantra was taken up by delegates yesterday and it will dominate the Yes campaign.

Despite the SNP’s much-vaunted emphasis on positive campaigning, a sneak preview of Nicola Sturgeon’s speech today shows that the next year or so will see plenty of negativity from the Yes side.

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Her warning that a No vote will lead to Westminster turning the screw on Scotland’s budget plays to a key SNP message. Holyrood is a force for good, whereas Westminster cannot be trusted to deliver for Scotland. Underpinning this is the message that the only way to make a change for the better is to vote for independence.

But urging the Scottish public to “trust” him and his Government and ridiculing the negativity of the No campaign has the potential to be a convincing tactic as long as Salmond is seen to handle difficulties such as Grangemouth effectively.