The verdict on Salmond’s first 100 days in power

ALEX Salmond will today mark the 100th day since he returned to office by reflecting on a stormy start to a second term that has been marked by ambitious plans to increase Scotland’s powers and a series of high- profile rows.

In comparison with the whirlwind that characterised the early days of his first period of office in 2007, the First Minister has been slower out of the blocks this time despite his election victory, which delivered an outright majority for the first time.

When the SNP first came to power, Mr Salmond, then at the head of a minority government, lost little time in announcing plans to abolish road tolls, end tuition fees and to stop hospital closures.

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In the 100 days that have passed since MSPs voted him in as First Minister, there have been fewer announcements, and Mr Salmond has concentrated on his plans to transfer more powers from Westminster to Holyrood.

His desire for £2 billion of borrowing powers to be given to the Scottish Parliament and control of corporation tax to be devolved to Edinburgh has been pursued with vigour.

The First Minister believes that real progress has been made on borrowing powers, with UK ministers viewing his proposal favourably. Devolution of corporation tax appears to be lower on the Treasury’s agenda.

In addition, the SNP government also wants to see more Holyrood powers over broadcasting, the Crown Estate, which owns offshore resources, and has delivered papers on all these plans to the UK government.

His opponents have criticised the First Minister for concentrating on the constitution when independence was barely mentioned by the SNP during the election campaign.

Making legislative progress has been hampered by the fact that the parliament closed down for the summer recess shortly after the First Minister was sworn in. But an attempt to fast-track anti-sectarian legislation before parliament rose was delayed amid fears that it was unworkable and was being rushed through Holyrood.

Following the criticism, there were plaudits for Mr Salmond when he stalled the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill by telling MSPs that: “Everybody accepts we have a majority in this chamber, but we need consensus”.

His language echoed his victory speech in which he assured the nation that the SNP did not have a “monopoly of wisdom”. Less edifying was his language when he became embroiled in a row with the legal establishment.

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His critics believed his intemperate remarks criticising the Supreme Court judge Lord Hope and the human rights lawyer Tony Kelly were evidence that Mr Salmond’s victory had gone to his head.

The SNP’s decision to use its parliamentary power to appoint its own MSPs as conveners of all the major committees also raised concerns about Mr Salmond’s untrammelled power. The appointment of an SNP Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick, was not redolent of the politics of consensus.

More criticism came the SNP’s way when two of its new MSPs, John Mason and Bill Walker, suggested homosexual marriages should not be legalised.

Their contributions led to calls for Mr Salmond to make his own position clear on the issue and also threw the spotlight on the controversial views on homosexuality held by the SNP’s main donor, Sir Brian Souter.

The First Minister also failed to escape unscathed from the Westminster row over politicians’ closeness to News International, with correspondence revealing that he was keen to develop a strong relationship with Rupert Murdoch.

Last night, his opponents were scathing about the SNP government’s approach over the 100 days.

Labour leader Iain Gray said: “The nature of Alex Salmond’s government has been exposed as one intent on self-serving petty, party political interest and narrow minded nationalism rather than a proper government for Scotland.

“The First Minister avoided the independence issue during election but since has concentrated on little else, trying to create a false divide with the rest of the UK. His row over the Supreme Court was an embarrassment.” Unsurprisingly, the SNP has a different take on the last 100 days, and next month will publish its legislative programme which will include plans for minimum pricing for alcohol which were thwarted in the last parliament.

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The government is today expected to publish a list of its achievements, which will include increasing employment, rising exports, the completion of the M74 and progress in treating NHS patients.

However, questions remain over issues such as university funding, the economy, and the nature of the SNP’s vision of independence that will be voted on towards the end of the parliamentary term.

A spokesman for the First Minister said: “The SNP government has hit the ground running in the 100 days since the election of Alex Salmond as First Minister, with a range of positive policy achievements, actions and announcements on jobs, transport, health, housing, energy, education, the environment and justice.”