The pace of change in Scotland is fast, so much so that in the space of ten years the country could go from being without its own parliament to being an independent state. The latest news is that the main opposition party, the unionist Scottish Labour Party, is now backing the Scottish National Party (SNP) in their bid to hold a referendum on independence, but they remain opposed to independence and will head the ‘no’ camp.
The Labour Party, under Wendy Alexander, hope their new strategy will check the SNP’s growing popularity and stop the governing party from attracting further support for independence.
Although Labour’s change of stance was unexpected, on Tuesday the Daily Recordreported that the party had been considering their strategy for some time. The newspaper cited an internal party document which warned that SNP leader, Alex Salmond, would benefit from “three-and-a-half years of SNP engineered constitutional debate and... establish himself and his party as a credible party practised in government”. For this reason, Alexander not only wants a referendum but wants one as soon as possible: within twelve months.
The SNP have already said they are ‘delighted’ with Labour’s change of stance, although they will no doubt want to stick to their own timetable and hold a referendum in 2010. Opinion-polls show the party’s popularity is increasing: the most recent poll, published on the first anniversary of the SNP government, showed 45% supported Alex Salmond and the SNP, who were 14 points ahead of the Scottish Labour Party.
Doubts over Labour’s new strategy
The Labour Party, the second largest party in the Scottish Parliament, had previously ignored all talk of a referendum, although some Labour MSPs often said they would be keen on the idea if a no-vote was guaranteed. The Scottish Labour party has never taken such a clear stance on the issue. It remains to be seen whether changing their position when the SNP’s popularity has never been greater causes divisions within the Labour party. The Scotsmanreported the reactions of several Labour MPs in Westminster, one of whom expressed their surprise at Alexander’s announcement, while another claimed the Scottish Labour Party leader "was off her head”.
Photo: Alex Salmond (SNP), First Minister of Scotland, and Wendy Alexander, leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
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