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The Scots' war on everything British

  • 13 May 2011

When I was a schoolboy in 1967, I campaigned for Winnie Ewing, the Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate in the Hamilton by-election. She won, ushering in a new era in Scottish politics where the independence question was never far away. The next day at school, my French teacher, Miss Mosen, asked me what would happen now. 'Oh,' I said breezily, 'independence is just round the corner.'

Forty-four years on, following the SNP's landslide victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections last Thursday, my youthful words have the best chance yet of becoming true.

The SNP won 69 seats in the Scottish legislature, giving the government of First Minister Alex Salmond not only a second term but an absolute majority over Labour with 37 seats and the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Greens trailing much farther behind. It managed that result in an electoral system set up by the UK government to prevent the, for them, nightmare scenario that has just occurred.

The Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, only won his own seat by just over 100 votes while many of his shadow cabinet members were swept away in a wave of support for the SNP that spread over the Labour heartlands, including the seat of the late Donald Dewar, the revered Labour architect of devolution.

For the first time in history, the SNP holds the majority of seats in Glasgow, formerly Labour's prime fiefdom. Yet in England and Wales, Labour did much better. What happened in Scotland?

Apart from the negative campaign run by Labour which, as usual, treated the Scottish people as vote fodder, plus a leader who wasn't, the SNP had done a good job of administering Scotland as a minority government, using a mix of social justice and common sense business acumen.

Alex Salmond, the SNP's highly articulate leader, a former economist with the Royal Bank of Scotland, cut local business taxes but opposed private sector involvement in public services. He froze the council tax, and got rid of prescription fees and provided free bus travel within Scotland for over-60s. He opposed nuclear power and outlined a shiny new future for Scotland as a leader in renewable energy.

The Scottish economy continues to have higher growth rates than the UK's which is on the slide.