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The strategic significance of Salmond's speech

Brian Taylor | 17:59 UK time, Saturday, 17 October 2009

It wasn't, perhaps, Alex Salmond's finest conference speech - although there were passages of passion and moments of dry humour such as his confession that he may have caused some of the internal party turbulence which the former leader Gordon Wilson charts in his new book.

Mr Wilson, sitting in the hall, smiled knowingly.

For all that, it may prove to be one of his most significant orations. For two reasons. Both concerned with forward looking strategy.

Firstly, as billed, Mr Salmond set out the details of the method by which he hopes to prise concessions from a future UK government in the event of a hung parliament at Westminster after the next General Election.

In essence, it boils down to budgetary concessions.

The SNP would seek to extract gains for Scotland in return for voting through the clauses of a Budget to be introduced by the next government at Westminster.

Why just the budget? Because the SNP doesn't usually vote on legislation which affects England only - and would generally pursue that tactic in the next Westminster Parliament.

For another, because Mr Salmond has indicated that big-ticket programmes such as Trident might be a demand too far, resulting in zero flexibility.

For a third, because the economy is all at the moment.

There are, of course, a number of obstacles in Mr Salmond's path.

The SNP is only in play at all if there is a hung or exceptionally tight Parliament, if they have enough MPs to make a difference and if other parties, such as the Liberal Democrats, don't cut a deal first.

However, that would be for the future.

This is primarily about tactics now, about ensuring that the SNP is not squeezed entirely out of a contest where the prime focus for the voters is choosing the British Prime Minister.

The second element which intrigued me in Alex Salmond's speech was the section on the economy more generally.

He declared that the creation of wealth - and its distribution - were important when times are good and imperative when times are tough.

He went on to argue that the way to address the problems confronting the public finances was to grow the economy.

To me, this sounded rather close to the previous Gordon Brown argument when the PM sought to contrast what he called Labour investment with Tory cuts.

It sounded as if he was suggesting that the SNP could obviate spending cuts.

However, SNP strategists insist that the party isn't disavowing the need for spending constraint.

They point to the cancellation of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link as evidence of the readiness to make tough choices.


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