ALEX SALMOND has been accused of “abandoning his principles” after indicating the SNP is ready to start voting on English-only issues at Westminster.
The former first minister, who is in the running for a Commons return next May, has suggested SNP MPs could make the move in order to prop up a Labour government – and win concessions on more powers for Scotland.
The SNP is riding high in the polls in Scotland, which suggest they could win 20 to 30 of 59 Commons seats north of the Border in May’s vote.
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But the move has come under fire from Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, whose party are desperate to hold on to the Gordon seat which Mr Salmond is contesting.
Mr Rennie said: “For years the SNP have taken a principled position that they should not vote on English issues in the House of Commons.
“Now that they can see party advantage, they are prepared to abandon their strongly held principle.
“The people of Gordon will see Alex Salmond posturing for his party’s gain instead of standing up for local people.”
SNP MPs have generally abstained from voting on areas which are devolved to the Scottish Parliament like health and education, although they have done so when there is seen to be a potential funding knock-on for Scotland.
But the former first minister has suggested the SNP could in the future shift to a position of voting on English-only legislation.
Mr Salmond pointed to two pieces of legislation not directly affecting Scotland which he opposed when he was an MP, namely the introduction of foundation hospitals and tuition fees.
He said: “There will be many things that come across the Westminster desk that would be of little moment to Scottish people, but will be of great moment to the government of the day.”
Mr Salmond said he would “lay odds” on a balanced Parliament, also known as a hung parliament, which occurs when no party secures an absolute majority of seats.
“That’s an opportunity to have delivered to Scotland what we have been promised,” he said.
The former SNP leader has already made it clear that he believes the “more powers deal” for Scotland set out in the Smith Commission agreement sells the country short of what was promised during the referendum. A strong SNP group, holding the balance of power at Westminster, would attempt to win additional powers for Scotland, particularly on welfare and corporation tax.
Mr Salmond has also pledged that the SNP would bring its influence to bear to end the climate of austerity, with both Labour and the Tories warning of more cuts in the years ahead.
Nationalists also believe that a strong group of MPs could help bring about a nuclear-free Scotland by forcing Labour into a U-turn on the renewal of the Clyde-based Trident deterrent.
But their influence would be severely limited if they were prevented from voting on English-only issues, which would also include most justice and transport issues.
The SNP also plans to join forces with Welsh Nationalists Plaid Cymru and the Greens in a “progressive” alliance.
But the SNP would only deal with Labour, not the Tories – most probably in an informal “confidence and supply” arrangement. Nicola Sturgeon has formally ruled out putting the Conservatives back into power at Westminster.
Last month, Mr Salmond formally stepped down as SNP leader and first minister following September’s independence referendum result.
He announced earlier this month his bid to return to Westminster and was unveiled as a candidate for the SNP nomination for the Gordon constituency in Aberdeenshire.
Mr Salmond hopes to steal the seat from the Liberal Democrats, with current Lib Dem MP Sir Malcolm Bruce retiring in May after 32 years as the constituency’s MP.
The former first minister said a “barrel-load” of SNP MPs would win seats at the 2015 general election. The SNP – and other pro-independence parties like the Greens – have been riding high in the polls since the referendum defeat.
A YouGov poll last weekend put support for the SNP at 47 per cent – up 27 per cent on the 2010 result – while Labour is 20 points behind on 27 per cent. It also put support for the Tories at 16 per cent while the Lib Dems, who hold the Gordon seat Mr Salmond is contesting, appear to be facing another election wipeout on just 3 per cent.
The same poll also asked people in Scotland about their view of the Smith Commission proposals and found that 51 per cent of people thought that they failed to go far enough, 23 per cent of people thought it got the balance right and 14 per cent of people thought they went too far. And the poll put support for independence ahead at 47 per cent, to 45 per cent opposed.
At Westminster, Labour and the Tories have been neck and neck in the polls in recent months, with neither yet appearing to command the support to form a majority in May. Labour is five points ahead on 35 per cent in the latest YouGov poll, with the Tories on 30 per cent, but the Ipsos Mori organisation has David Cameron’s party four points ahead, on 33 per cent, with Labour on 29.
An SNP spokeswoman last night said: “SNP MPs voted against foundation hospitals in England and top-up tuition fees south of the Border over ten years ago because of the negative financial consequences for Scotland of these developments.
“Replacing public spending with private money in England’s health and education sectors squeezes the resources available to Scotland through the working of the Barnett Formula.”
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