Alex Salmond yesterday secured support from an unlikely quarter as the former Labour first minister, Henry McLeish, suggested the current incumbent had not lied over legal advice he may or may not have received over the position of an independent Scotland in the EU – rebuking current Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont in the process.
When pressed about the position Salmond now finds himself, and speaking on the day opposition MSPs used a debate at Holyrood to pile the pressure on the SNP leader, McLeish, who was forced to resign in 2001 over an expenses scandal, last night told STV:
“I don’t think he’s misled. I think it’s easy to sit apart from the big decisions that have to be made in government. But he certainly hasn’t handled the situation well. When we are in politics, when I was in active politics, you tend to try and blur the issues.
“Being out of politics, there’s no reason why the SNP should say: ‘Look, of course we can get into NATO - there’ll be difficulties, there’ll be discussions. Of course, we can get into the European Union - there’ll be difficulties and discussions. Of course, we can get into a currency union, a sterling union, with the United Kingdom.’
“But you’ve got to own up to the fact it won’t happen automatically. So what I think we do need is a bit more forthrightness, a bit more ability to take the public seriously. So I don’t think we should talk about ‘misleading’ - but, on the other hand, it wasn’t a good week for the SNP, and it certainly wasn’t a good week for Alex Salmond.”
“I think our energy, our focus, could be used in better ways because at the end of the day this is unlikely to happen. There are far more important areas where Labour could win many converts from the public and score political goals.”
Speaking to the Record about “Scotland: The Growing Divide”, the former first minister told the paper, when questioned about the polling on independence:
“It would be an error of judgment to think the result is a foregone conclusion. Support for the Union is probably at its high-water mark and likely to decline as the campaign develops and intensifies.
“There is no room for complacency on the part of the Better Together campaign. The result is likely to be much closer than current poll evidence would suggest.”
Criticising the response of the pro-union parties to the past five years of SNP government, he continued:
“The world was changing. Politics was being transformed and so were the views of the Scottish public. But for some inexplicable reason, the unionist parties could not respond and seemed to be frozen in time as the world around them changed.
“The last five years have seen unprecedented change and have been wasted years as far as the Scottish unionist parties have been concerned. They seemed unable or unwilling to face up to the stark reality of a new politics being shaped north of the border.
“They were also at a loss to understand why the SNP had moved from a party on the fringe to a party of majority government under Alex Salmond. The new book should be seen as a wake-up call for the unionist parties, especially Labour.”
In its editorial, the Labour-supporting Record went on to warn Scottish Labour to take serious note of McLeish’s comments.
The paper today explains:
“McLeish has been a long-term fixture in the party and knows what he is talking about. At the time of his resignation, Labour dominated Westminster and Holyrood and seemed an untouchable colossus in Scottish politics. Now they have been consigned to opposition in both parliaments and are still licking their wounds over their drubbing by Alex Salmond in the Holyrood election.
“It is perhaps unlikely the SNP would have scaled those heights if they had been faced with an opposition leader of McLeish’s mettle for the last five years.”
“While the SNP are guilty of obsessing far too much over the constitution, Labour have neglected these issues to their cost. The party delivered a Scottish Parliament, then allowed the Nationalists to paint them as a party in servitude to Westminster and English interests. It is an impression that was as wrong as it was damaging.
“Now the shine is starting to come off Salmond, Labour must take the opportunity to show they are fighting for social justice and for Scotland.”