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Michael Forsyth: David Cameron is ending the uncertainty by enabling Alex Salmond to deliver the referendum the SNP promised

Forsyth Michael NewLord Forsyth of Drumlean is a former Secretary of State for Scotland.

The SNP got 45% of the votes in last May's elections to the Scottish Parliament and won a clear majority of the seats. Our Liberal Democrat Coalition partners - who have consistently argued for more devolution to defeat the nationalists - lost every seat they had on the mainland and their share of the vote fell to a derisory 5.2% on the regional list. For Labour the scale of their defeat was unthinkable and unexpected. George Robertson had once assured everyone that devolution would kill Nationalism stone dead and Donald Dewar boasted that he had devised a complex electoral system that would ensure no party could ever get an overall majority. As a result there are few checks on the executive, no second chamber and a committee system under the thumb of the separatists who even insisted on taking the Holyrood position of presiding officer for their party.

Alex Salmond's stunning result was not a vote for independence but a vote against Labour when neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals seemed to offer a credible alternative.  When Annabel Goldie said she could do business with Alex Salmond many Conservatives took that as permission to vote tactically for the SNP and they did so in their tens of thousands. Salmond knows this and the last thing he wants is for David Cameron to enable him to fulfill his manifesto promise which was clear and precise:

We will give Scots the opportunity to decide our nation's future in an independence referendum.

His strategy is to play for time and create as much resentment as possible on both sides of the border. We were both at St Andrews University together where he ran the SNP and I was in charge of the Tories. There were no fees in those days but now thanks to Salmond the English students have to pay £36,000 whilst the Scots, the French, the Germans, the Greeks and everyone else in the EU pay nothing. If you complain to him about the gross unfairness he will say that once Scotland is independent he will give the rest of the UK the same deal. The fact that the money to fund these free fees and free care for the elderly and free prescription charges comes from Westminster - which is about a fifth more generous than for England - creates real anger which is grist to his mill. Support for Scottish independence is actually higher according to some opinion polls in England than in Scotland as a result.

Constitutional matters are reserved to Westminster under the Scotland Act which set up the Scottish Parliament. Holyrood cannot conduct a legally binding and therefore decisive referendum without being given the power to do so by Westminster. It really is extraordinary to see the Nationalists squirming and crying foul because David Cameron has had the courage to end the uncertainty and enable Alex Salmond to deliver what he promised. There is nothing in the wording of the SNP's promise about third questions for alternative constitutional settlements or about leaving any vote to the 700th anniversary of a medieval battle.  His deputy has even been complaining that we don't have binding referenda in this country. Did she not realise that the recent AV referendum was exactly that and that her party's pledge is to give Scots the opportunity to decide in an independence referendum?

The truth is the Nationalists are playing for time at the expense of business confidence and future investment. Last year Citibank advised investors to steer clear of around four billion pounds of infrastructure projects in the energy sector because of the unstable constitutional position.

The Union in 1707 is the most successful partnership the world has ever seen. Both England and Scotland have flourished because of the Union. It was created to ensure the Protestent succession in England and to save Scotland from the consequences of the collapse of a property bubble in which half the money in circulation was lost in the infamous Darien scheme. It saved Scotland's economy then just as it did 300 years later when the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland collapsed. Salmond had a vision of an arc of prosperity made up of Scotland, Iceland and Ireland. We hear little of thar today. The Union is worth fighting for and what is needed now is for all the Unionists parties to bury their differences in an all party and no party campaign to remind people of its benefits. At the same time we must force the separatists to address the consequences of divorce. The SNP have already appointed their campaign manager and have collected £2 million in donations from two sources. Salmond is politicising the Civil Service and has all the resources of Government at his command. We should not underestimate the challenge. Labour are key for obvious reasons and we must unite with them to keep Britain united. Salmond is keen on quoting Robert Burns. He would do well to reflect on his advice in his address to the Dumfries Volunteers:

Be Britain still to Britain true
Amang oursels united
For never but by British hands
Maun British wrangs be righted.


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