My plea to Gordon: call the SNP's bluff

Just back from a holiday in Scotland, Political Editor Graham Dines urges Gordon Brown to call the SNP's bluff and hold an independence referendum on the same day as the General Election.

Graham Dines

Just back from a holiday in Scotland, Political Editor Graham Dines urges Gordon Brown to call the SNP's bluff and hold an independence referendum on the same day as the General Election.

THE furore over the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi dominated the news agenda north of the border last week. And the overwhelming sense of revulsion felt by ordinary Scots at the behaviour of their devolved administration has knocked off course all the loud mouth posturing of the Scottish National Party, which is promising to introduce a Referendum Bill on full independence for Scotland in the legislative programme to be launched in the autumn.

Leaving aside how this would wreck the political and economic balance of the rest of the United Kingdom - and why should the English, Welsh and Northern Irish not be asked for their views on the break-up of their nation state? - an independent Scotland only makes sense from a cultural and historical viewpoint.

There are many pluses to living in Scotland. It has much better social welfare for the elderly and it is putting a revamped rail network at the heart of transport policy.

The devolved Scottish administration has responsibilities for policing - personally, I think that's a nonsense - justice, housing, transport, care of the elderly, education, the National Health Service, and fisheries.

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The UK retains control of foreign affairs, defence, customs and revenue, taxation, pensions, and welfare.

In hindsight, the folly of the Act of Union in 1707 was in allowing Scotland to keep its own judicial system, rather than introducing a common, nationwide legal framework.

Perhaps it would have been better for the whole of Britain to have adopted the Scottish way of doing things - English law is by no means infallible - but one national justice set-up would have ensured the mess over the Lockerbie bomber would never have occurred.

London and Edinburgh are locked in a “who-did-what” spat over Al Megrahi. The UK government had no overt role to play in the decision to release the Lockerbie bomber.

The Scottish Justice Secretary gave the go-ahead for Al Megrahi's release, although it seems it was not unwelcomed by Gordon Brown's government despite the righteous noises made by the Labour Party in Scotland that it would never have sanctioned the move.

And it appears the majority of Scots back the Scottish Labour Party's view, which has also been endorsed by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament.

It was clear while I was on holiday last week that the row has torpedoed any hopes First Minister Alex Salmond had of leading Scotland to independence.

Whether it was in Crianlarich or Oban, Cumbrae or Helensburgh, I couldn't find anyone who supported severing the union.

Yes, the saltire proudly flies from every jackstaff and public building. Union flags are nowhere to be seen. But that seems to be the limit of Scottish ambition and the sight of saltires being waved in the Libyan capital at Al Megrahi's return shamed the general public.

The Scots wanted devolution and are happy with what they've got, although it's certain that extra powers will be ceded to Edinburgh by London, whichever party wins the general election.

And it is the prospect of that election and a Conservative victory which makes me urge Gordon Brown to call the Scottish National Party's bluff and set an independence referendum vote for the same day as the General Election.

That the Tories are not popular in Scotland is the understatement of the new millennium. Ted Heath was never forgiven for wiping Scottish counties off the map when local government was reformed in 1974 and Margaret Thatcher is hated as the woman who introduced the poll tax.

The Tories are supported by just 18% of the population and are unlikely to make much headway when the general election is held. They hold just one seat in Scotland at Westminster and the best they can hope for in 2010 is five, perhaps six.

It's a long way from the heady heights of the 1955 general election when the Conservatives under Anthony Eden polled more than 50% of the vote in Scotland

If a Tory government tries to unleash unpopular policies again in Scotland on the back of its majority gained in England, that could see a surge in support for the SNP.

Opposition parties in Edinburgh have vowed to kill off the Scottish Government's long-awaited Referendum Bill.

By voting down the legislation, Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats will make a martyr of Alex Salmond and his gang of independence supporters.

Even if passed, a Referendum Bill would need to be ratified by separate legislation at Westminster because such a vote is not a devolved responsibility. The UK government and parliament has the final say - they should trump the SNP and agree their own legislation.

Better surely to lance the boil and call a referendum for the same day as the general election. The SNP will be sunk without trace.

BOOKMAKER Paddy Power has issued odds of 3/1 on that the Scottish public would vote 'no' to independence. A `yes' vote is 2/1.

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