Hamish Macdonell

Salmond’s next stop: testing the Act of Union

Salmond's next stop: testing the Act of Union
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Fresh from his astonishing victory in Holyrood, Alex Salmond has declared his next stage is an independence referendum. This is scoffed at: technically he has no powers to do so and a maximum of a third of Scots back independence. But it's a brave man who'd bet against Alex Salmond right now, and there are many reasons to take seriously the prospect of Scottish independence. Here are some.


1) Scotland is making a mockery out of received wisdom. A few weeks ago, Labour was cruising towards victory. When the Scottish Parliament was designed, the prevailing wisdom suggested that the SNP could never win a majority because the electoral system was rigged against them. Even the SNP believed this. Everyone, it seems, was wrong


2) The 'yes' campaign will be led by Alex Salmond, whose formidable campaigning powers we've just witnessed. And who would lead the 'no' side? Cameron? Gordon Brown? The force of personality is very strong in Scottish Politics, and there's no one to match Salmond.


3) The SNP will throw everything at the referendum campaign. It will be the most important event in their lives, bar none. Expect Sir Sean Connery and every other leading Nationalist to take part, with donors filling the cause's coffers to the brim.


4) The unionist opposition is in disarray. Scottish Labour is currently in much the same state as Edward II's army after Bannockburn (or, worse, the Tories after 1997) and it is in no position to fight another major battle for the foreseeable future. The Lib Dems are only just marginally better.


5) Don't underestimate what command over the Scottish Parliament will do to the Nationalist cause. They will have civil servants using taxpayers' money to draw up the referendum plans. They will use every advantage that being in government gives them to win the vote and they will enjoy a honeymoon with the electorate too.


6) It is impossible to tell what the circumstances will be like when the referendum happens. If Mr Salmond has managed to engineer a major row with Westminster, making out that Scotland is being treated unjustly, then that could sway wavering voters his way.


It is true, and a point too often lost in Westminster, that many Scots voted for the SNP yesterday but do not support independence and will turn against the idea in a referendum. But it was also supposed to be true that Mr Salmond couldn't win a majority at Holyrood too. It was supposed to be true that Labour was a dead cert for 2011. The chances are that the referendum will be defeated but, make no mistake, the potential dismantling of the Act of Union is on the agenda for the first time in 300 years.