Sunday, October 15, 2006

Uneven Stephen

Had a lie-in this morning to recover from the excesses of what seemed to be a very successful conference for the SNP. If the aim was to present the party as a government in waiting, then it looks like 'mission accomplished'. Both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon gave speeches which were well received, not just by delegates but also by some surprising quarters in the media.

A range of key policies was passed, while fundraising for the election passed the £530,000 mark (and not a single peerage sold). The positive comments on Independence which followed from both Tom Farmer and Cardinal Keith O'Brien over the weekend, mark this as one of the most successful SNP gatherings in recent memory.

There's a sense in the party at the moment that the times might just be with us. While no-one is at all complacent and we realise there's much to do between now and next May, delegates were still able to leave with a spring in their step and with an appetite for the national debate to come.

It was disappointing, therefore, to see Nicol Stephen make his strongest comments yet against an Independence referendum on this lunchtime's BBC Politics Show. I don't think anyone in the SNP expects the Lib Dems to start arguing for a referendum, or to go out campaigning for a 'yes' vote were one to transpire. However, I think people are entitled to expect that a party attaching the labels of 'Liberal' and 'Democrat' to itself should have no problem in voting for a referendum bill in Holyrood and allowing it to go ahead as part of any coalition deal, when a majority of voters say consistently that they would be happy for that to happen.

It seems, then, that the Lib Dems are placing themselves significantly out of step with the Scottish voters on this matter. The 'settled will' in Scotland appears to be that devolution remains 'unfinished business' and that while more powers for Holyrood would be welcomed, so too would the chance to hold a seperate vote on whether it should become Independent.

The Scottish Tories stand as a blackened and smouldering memorial to parties which try to defy indefinitely the national will on home rule. It would be a very foolish politician indeed who chose to ignore that recent lesson from history.

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