Scottish independence: McLeish backs SNP appeal to rivals

FORMER Labour first minister Henry McLeish says he would answer a call from the SNP to set up a “council of state” of the party’s political rivals to help negotiate Scotland’s split from the rest of the UK, if the country votes for independence next year.
McLeish: plan makes 'good sense'. Picture: GettyMcLeish: plan makes 'good sense'. Picture: Getty
McLeish: plan makes 'good sense'. Picture: Getty

In the event of a Yes vote, McLeish says politicians like him who back the Union would have to put aside “partisanship and tribalism” to help get a deal for the new country.

He backs a call to be made this week at the SNP conference by former MSP Andrew Wilson, who will suggest Scotland should be represented by a team of grandees from all parties after independence. The team would be made up of Scotland’s surviving first ministers – McLeish and Jack McConnell – as well as three former Scottish Secretaries.

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As well as brokering a deal with the rest of the UK, the team could also be involved in drafting a new written constitution alongside the SNP, Wilson is expected to argue. Such a plan would help ensure that Scotland “emerges on 19 September and the days and years beyond as a united country”.

The plan raises the prospect of the former Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth or the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, being part of a team tasked with getting the best deal for the fledgling nation.

Issues up for negotiation would involve a potential currency pact, the position of Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde, and the division of Britain’s £1 trillion national debt.

The call comes as the SNP prepares to stage its last autumn conference before the independence referendum on 18 September next year.

Nearly one in three voters say they are undecided, according to a poll last week, prompting both campaigns to agree that the race remains wide open.

SNP figures have previously backed a “team Scotland” approach after a Yes vote, in an effort to show that a vote for independence is not the same as backing the SNP.

Wilson, who has also argued that the SNP should embrace British institutions, will say this week that it is vital the party shows that its political foes also have “a stake” in the country.

He will quote advice by former US president Bill Clinton on a recent visit to Scotland who called for both sides in the debate to make an “honest effort to list the consequences of this vote” and then “actually sit down and talk to each other about it”.

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Wilson will then say Scotland after a Yes vote should draw on the war-time example of Labour MP Tom Johnston, who accepted the post of Scottish secretary in the Second World War government on the proviso that all living former Secretaries of state for Scotland advised him in a “council of state”.

Such a new council would include the first ministers and three from Lord Lang, Lord Forsyth, Lord Reid, Helen Liddell, Alistair Darling, Douglas Alexander, Des Browne, Jim Murphy, Danny Alexander and Michael Moore.

“Each side would do well to listen to president Clinton’s wise advice, and pledge to act upon it, so that Scotland emerges on 19 September and the days and years beyond as a united country – achieving the best possible outcomes for our nation in these new circumstances,” Wilson will say.

“In terms of the Yes campaign, it would be a strong reflection of that inclusive approach to have former first ministers and secretaries of state in the team negotiating Scotland’s independence and relationship with the rest of the UK – who would individually and collectively bring a wealth of experience to the process.”

Responding last night, McLeish said: “I think it makes good sense. In the event there is a Yes vote, then all of the tribalism and partisanship [of the campaign] will dissipate and we will have to take a broader view of the future of Scotland and address it in a more statesmanlike way. In principle, it makes good sense.

“The partisanship right now is doing the public no favours. If there is a Yes vote, it is not a vote for the SNP, it is a vote for Scotland.”

In response to McLeish and Wilson’s comments last night, a Scottish Labour spokesman said the party also backed the proposal. He said: “Whatever the result of the referendum, we agree that the people of Scotland and the political parties which represent them must come together the day after the vote and work towards a better, fairer Scotland.”

However, the SNP was also called on to explain how it would react if people vote No next year.

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McLeish added: “If it is a No vote, then there is a large onus on the SNP and all of us to work together. The SNP has to accept the voice of the electorate and we all have to step forward together.

“We did it through the Constitutional Convention, but at no time in the last 30 or 40 years has Scotland risen above the political fray and said it is in the interests of the nation that we get together on this.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander have also called on the SNP to agree to take part in a cross-party convention on devolution in the event that the country does vote No.

Rennie said: “It would be a loss to Scotland if the SNP chose to stand out in the dark from home rule once more.”

An SNP spokesman responded last night: “The SNP will always act in Scotland’s best interests. We are focused on achieving a Yes vote, and are confident that we will.”

Wilson’s lecture will be given at the party conference in Perth ahead of a keynote speech by Alex Salmond. SNP sources say that as many as 50 diplomats from around the world will be attending, with international interest in the country’s decision growing.

SNP sources say they aim to use comments by pro-UK figures acknowledging the fact that an independent Scotland is viable to try to persuade people of the economic argument for independence.

However, in a blog yesterday, Darling, the leader of the Better Together campaign, hit out at the SNP’s plan for an oil fund.

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Darling added: “We have heard John Swinney say that he would borrow money to gamble in an oil fund. And, most significantly, we finally have an admission that there are not huge sums of unused oil taxes that can be spent on new policies.

“Of course, Scotland could decide to go it alone. The question for us as Scots is whether it would be better for us. Is it worth the risk?”