Chris Moncrieff: Miliband facing dilemma over Scots’ bogeyman

Alex Salmond.
Alex Salmond.
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WILL Alex Salmond become the big, bad bogeyman of the general election on May 7?

It is looking increasingly likely that this man – one of the most astute politicians in the United Kingdom – will do more than anyone else to snarl up the hopes and prospects of both Labour and the Conservatives after the election.

When, after the Scottish independence referendum, Salmond quit as both leader of the SNP and as Scotland’s First Minister, he had no intention of retiring to his armchair and slippers far from the turmoil of political battle. Oh no, he has not finished yet, not by a long chalk.

If you believed, as David Cameron apparently did, that the substantial “yes” vote defeat in that referendum meant an end to any more secessionist campaigning for a generation, then you are wrong.

Bizarrely, the result seemed to strengthen the campaign for independence, with thousands of Labour supporters defecting to the SNP, threatening many currently Labour-held seats in Scotland – something which could have a disastrous effect on Labour’s numbers at Westminster after the election.

Salmond will be fighting the Gordon seat in Scotland, currently held by a Liberal Democrat who is retiring in May. And if Salmond wins it, as he most likely will, then he will no doubt approach Ed Miliband in the event of another hung Parliament, offering support for a Labour-SNP coalition.

But that would come at a price, namely another independence referendum in Scotland, sooner rather than later.

In politics, they don’t come much tougher than Salmond, and Miliband will be in a dilemma whether to accept such a demand or, possibly, capitulate and hand over to the Tories.

Some of this may be hypothetical, but you can bet your bottom dollar that both Miliband and Cameron are experiencing sleepless nights over the outcome of what could be the most unpredictable general election for decades.

Salmond is determined not to rest until he achieves his goal of a breakaway Scotland. And he is a very hard nut to crack.

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NO wonder the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is in a rage.

You would hardly have thought it possible, but Network Rail managed to skewer a large section of Britain’s rail system as a result of the overrunning of “essential” engineering work on what was bound to be – and actually was – one of the busiest travel days of the entire year.

We all understand that engineering work on the railways has to go ahead, but Network Rail’s handling of the situation simply gives “forward planning” a bad name.

Could they not foresee the extent of the engineering work that was required? The result was that King’s Cross, one of London’s busiest stations, was closed for a whole day leaving thousands either stranded or queuing up for hours in icy weather at the nearby and much, much smaller Finsbury Park station.

Now, hardly surprisingly, McLoughlin is demanding a full explanation for this blunder.

But will heads start to roll as a result? I wouldn’t put my life savings on it.

Incidentally, junior Rail Minister Claire Perry rather put her foot in it when she said: “Someone said that politicians are people who when they see the light at the end of the tunnel, order more tunnel. Well, not any more, as big rail projects come to fruition.”

Enough said...

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WHAT a cheek! David Laws, a Liberal Democrat, who was forced to quit the Cabinet in 2010 over an expenses scandal after only a few days as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has now suddenly bitterly attacked Chancellor George Osborne, describing his plan to reduce the deficit as a Tory “suicide note”.

Astonishingly, the soft-hearted David Cameron (presumably at the behest of Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader) eventually gave Laws a second chance by appointing him Schools Minister.

And this for a man who broke the rules on the spending of taxpayers’ money!

Many people believe that Mr Laws is lucky to remain as an MP never mind getting promoted to ministerial office in a Coalition Government.

Mr Laws says that the Chancellor’s austerity proposals were “a huge policy and strategic blunder”. If this is his idea of “support” for a Coalition Government then it is an extremely strange one.

It is hardly surprising, I suppose, that with a general election less than six months away, the Lib Dems would want to underline their independence as a political party. But if Laws, and an increasing number of his colleagues, cannot at least demonstrate some loyalty to the Government, then they should pack their bags and go.

And if this leads to an early general election, so be it.

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