Alex Salmond has had his worst week in years. The SNP annual conference revealed a split over continuing membership of Nato. Then he was exposed for, shall we say, stretching a point to its limits by claiming he had legal approval for insisting that an independent Scotland would smoothly inherit EU membership from the former UK. Small wonder that David Cameron, no mean connoisseur of omnishambles himself, crowed at PMQs yesterday. Iain McWhirter in the Herald, explains why Salmond’s spinning was bound to fail. The scene of his pratfall was an interview with fellow Scot Andrew Neil on the BBC’s Daily Politics.
The First Minister said he had legal advice from the Government’s law officers on the question of whether or not Scotland would be granted immediate EU membership after independence. When asked by Mr Neil to produce this, he said he could not disclose the legal advice because, under the ministerial code, governments do not publish advice to ministers. But this week, in Holyrood, the Deputy First Minister revealed there was no such formal legal advice.
Mr Salmond insists what he was referring to in the Neil interview was legal advice “in general terms” that was already available in Government documents. And maybe that was what he meant. But why then did he say it couldn’t be published? And why did the Government spend a large sum of public money taking the Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, to court to prevent the disclosure of a blank sheet of paper?
Added to this embarassment, the Scotsman reports a poll suggesting that Scots are quite happy with a single yes, no question in the referendum . Are these reverses signs that the independence case is starting to crack up? I doubt it. They’ve plenty of time to get their political story straighter before an October 2014 referendum. The real imponderable will be the state of the economy and Scottish spending. Will Scots agree with Salmond that tougher times are all the fault of the English government or will they feeler safer and better together with the rest of the UK? In the Guardian Martin Kettle wisely insists that the pro-Union cause need to get their story straight too. And that will be harder to achieve for rival parties than it is for the SNP.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London