Chris Moncrieff: Will Salmond be the kingmaker after election?

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THE decision by Alex Salmond, former leader of the Scottish National Party, to fight a seat for Westminster at the coming general election should spell apprehension – or worse – in the Labour Party.

For Mr Salmond is not only the most effective and astute politician in Scotland, but with his political acumen he can more than match anyone in the Westminster Parliament too.

If he wins this currently Liberal Democrat-held seat at Gordon – which he is probably likely to in the present climate – then either Ed Miliband or David Cameron will face a bitter battle if the result on May 7 produces yet another hung Parliament.

Since the Nationalists lost the referendum for an independent Scotland last September, hordes of Labour members and supporters in Scotland have defected to swell the ranks of 
the SNP.

This has led to speculation, which seems well-grounded, that Labour could lose a lot of its Scottish seats on which Miliband relies for an overall majority in the Westminster Parliament.

And with the United Kingdom Independence Party posing more of a threat to the Conservatives than to Labour, both main party leaders are probably already quaking in their boots at the post-election prospects.

Certainly, if Labour is going to have to rely on the SNP for a Westminster majority in the Commons, then Miliband will find (if he is not already finding) that Salmond will drive a very hard bargain indeed.

He has already made it pretty clear that if this situation does arrive then he will be demanding far more powers for Scotland than already exist or have been promised by Westminster – including control of taxation.

His re-arrival at Westminster – assuming he wins – will transform an already dangerous situation for the main parties into one of great turbulence.

Alex Salmond is the sort of politician who will not be fobbed off by airy-fairy promises which will never get fulfilled. He will make demands for Scotland which, so to speak, he would like to see written in blood.

Who, only a few years ago, would have predicted this situation would arise? It was always the Liberal Democrats who, with some justification, preened themselves as the only potential holders of the balance of political power when or if such a situation arose. Now it is possible that we may soon be waving goodbye to the Lib Dems, who under Nick Clegg’s disastrous leadership could be disappearing off the political map altogether.

It might have been so different for this party had they had not so ruthlessly ousted Charles Kennedy from the leadership all those years ago.

Despite his alleged failings, he did more to revive the spirit and fortunes of the Lib Dems than any other of their leaders. Too late now, though...

THE coalition, born in the Downing Street rose garden in 2010, has now degenerated into a grisly, name-calling battle zone. Ladies and gentlemen, the election campaign starts here.

Nick Clegg, who is supposed to be a loyal Deputy Prime Minister, disgracefully absented himself from Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement last week. His excuses for playing truant do not impress.

The normally loyal Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has rounded savagely on the Tories, accusing them of wanting austerity forever, while the Prime Minister has accused the Liberal Democrats of being “all over the place” on the economy.

Then the Chancellor himself joins in the fray saying that both the Liberal Democrats and Labour would be a threat to the recovery, adding that both these parties would send the nation reeling back into “economic chaos”.

In fact, we are now being governed by an administration a number of whom seem incapable of keeping a civil tongue in their heads.

I think the British electorate deserve much better than this.

How can these people govern properly when they seem to be constantly at one another’s throats?

Let us hope that after May 7 we are blessed with a government not engaged in a very uncivil war.

JEREMY Thorpe, the former Liberal Party leader who died last week aged 85, was a man whose brilliant potential ended up in terrible tragedy. Although he was acquitted of conspiracy to murder his alleged lover Norman Scott, he went downhill from that day onwards.

It was horrible to see such a jaunty, amusing, clever man – and the best mimic I ever heard – crumple up as he did.

He was also the perpetrator 
of one of the best one-liners I ever heard. Bitterly attacking Harold Macmillan’s “night of the long knives” in which large numbers of his Cabinet were sacked overnight, Thorpe said: “Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his friends for his life.”

Chris Moncrieff is a former political editor of the Press Association.