SHAFAQNA – Alex Salmond dramatically quit as first minister yesterday with a warning that millions of Scots would be “incandescent” if Westminster party leaders broke a promise to fast-track devolution Michael Gove has raised the possibility that the promises to hand over more powers could indeed stall. The chief whip made explicit the threat to hold back devolution for Scotland until Labour agreed to a reform that could severely limit Ed Miliband’s ability to govern should he become leader.
“It would be impossible to move forward without making sure you have change both in Scotland and in England,” Mr Gove said in an interview in The Timestoday. This means that a system of “English-only votes for English laws” must be brought in before Scotland can get the devolution it wants.
Mr Miliband made clear that he would resist Conservative proposals on English MPs before the next election, leaving the two parties last night in a deadlock and leading to fears that Scotland would not get the full powers it was promised.
Mr Salmond resigned after the country turned out in record numbers to reject a “once in a generation” chance to break from the UK by 55 per cent to 45.
In a desperate move to secure the Union, David Cameron and Mr Miliband had signed a joint vow on Monday to transfer extensive powers to Holyrood by a set timetable. Less than two hours after the “no” vote, however, the prime minister said that reforms to strip Scottish MPs of voting powers over English issues “must take place in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland”.
Last night, as hordes of Yes and No supporters gathered in Glasgow, the Queen appealed for calm. There would be “strong feelings and contrasting emotions”, she said in a statement issued from Balmoral. “But I have no doubt that these emotions will be tempered by an understanding of the feelings of others.”
Mr Cameron’s move, which caught the Labour leader by surprise, leaves Mr Miliband vulnerable to the charge that he is holding back a constitutional settlement for the UK to keep a party political advantage. The Labour leader said yesterday that he would wait until autumn next year before examining Westminster voting as part of his proposals for a “constitutional convention”.
In his tearful resignation statement, Mr Salmond said that Mr Cameron was already backing away from a promise to hold a Commons vote on the new Scottish devolution package before the election.
“I think people in Scotland would be astonished and outraged, particularly those who voted ‘no’ on this prospectus,” he said, adding that the millions who voted for the promise of “faster” change under the devo-max promise would be “incandescent” if it failed to appear. In a warning to the Labour and Tory leaders, he said: “They will be judged, of course, not by the words they spoke but the actions they take forward.
“There’s a suspicion that some people began to believe that something substantial was about to be offered for Scotland. Where we are now is to make sure that vows and promises and commitments which are offered are realised.
“If they aren’t realised then I suspect there will be a bitter harvest not for the people of Scotland but a bitter harvest for those who engaged in that.”
Asked if he took any responsibility for the loss at the polls, he said: “I don’t think there is any more assured a way to take whatever responsibility I have than that decision I have made. Any mistakes that were made in this campaign were mine.”
His most emotional moment in the 45-minute event was when he was asked whether he was simply adding to the grief of his supporters already mourning their defeat in the referendum. Mr Salmond, who has spent a total of 20 years at the helm of the SNP, said he was “conscious of that” but that the independence campaign was much bigger than one individual.
“I have believed in Scottish independence all my political life, I continue to believe in Scottish independence, I shall do everything I possibly can to contribute to that cause,” he said, insisting that it could be achieved within his lifetime.
Mr Gove justified the sudden appearance of what he terms “an additional component” in Mr Cameron’s pre-election promise. He said: “The overwhelming majority of people in England think this is fair. The Scottish think it is fair. “
Mr Gove, who has a constituency in Surrey and family in Scotland, said that Scottish MPs should no longer have the right to vote in parliament on issues that did not affect their country. “You shouldn’t have Scottish MPs frustrating or thwarting the will of England. Now that we have set up devolved institutions, that means a change for how Westminster operates.”
Mr Cameron’s intervention exposed a split within Labour. John Denham, a former cabinet minister who has advised Mr Miliband on winning more votes in the south of England, endorsed greater powers for English MPs. “It’s clear that the more powers that go to the Scottish parliament, the less you can have Scottish MPs voting on the same issues for England,” he said.
The former Labour home secretary Lord Reid of Cardowan also signalled that a new arrangement had to be reached with Scottish MPs. “There is a demand which has been met by a promise for further enhanced powers for Scottish parliament,” he said. “[The prime minister] said we can’t do that without looking at the needs in the reformed club, if you like, of the other nations, including the English.”
Mr Miliband said that he would not allow the moment to be used for “narrow party political advantage”. Labour sources expressed fury at Mr Cameron: One said: “He’s been petty when he needed to be big.”
Mr Salmond refused to anoint a successor yesterday, saying that there was a strong leadership team. There are rumours of a cooling in relations between him and Ms Sturgeon — the tight team which transformed the SNP into the modern political force it now is. She could stand unopposed, but other senior figures, such as Alex Neil, could throw their hat into the ring.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I can think of no greater privilege than to seek to lead the party I joined when I was just 16. However, that decision is not for today.”
Mr Salmond said that he would not accept the leadership nomination at the annual conference in November, and that after the membership ballot he would stand down as first minister to allow the new leader to be appointed by parliamentary process.