SNP and Tories round on Labour over Scottish referendum

The Scottish National party (SNP) and the Conservatives have both launched attacks on Gordon Brown for his handling of Wendy Alexander’s calls for a referendum on Scottish independence.

Problems began on Sunday, while Mr Brown was still reeling from his poor elections performance, when Ms Alexander – Labour’s Scotland leader and once a member of the Brown inner circle – called on the SNP to “bring it on”.

The call directly contradicted Gordon Brown’s position on the issue, and threw the Labour party into damage limitation mode.

The Conservatives, who support Labour’s opposition to Scottish independence, used the confusion to accuse the prime minister of dithering.

In a letter to Mr Brown yesterday, David Cameron said: “You appear unable to lead your party in any one direction on this issue of vital importance to the whole of the UK.”

During prime minister’s questions yesterday, Mr Brown’s answers appeared to be at odds with those of Ms Alexander. When asked by Mr Cameron whether he agreed with what Ms Alexander had said, Mr Brown responded: “What the leader of the Labour party in Scotland was pointing to was the hollowness of the SNP, which said that it wanted independence, said that it wanted it immediately, and now wants to postpone a referendum until 2010/11.”

Mr Cameron replied: “I think the prime minister is losing touch with reality. This is what Wendy Alexander said: ‘I don’t fear the verdict of the Scottish people’, she told BBC Scotland on Sunday: ‘Bring it on’. What else could that possibly mean?”

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP deputy first minister, said: “Wendy Alexander’s position is now completely untenable – Gordon Brown has destroyed her leadership and placed serious questions over his own, given the number of inaccuracies in his PMQ answers.”

Ms Alexander appears to have decided to call for the referendum following polls which showed the Scottish people would almost certainly reject the idea.

Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP, is hoping a full term of SNP government – currently enjoying healthy opinion poll ratings – and the possible election of a Conservative government will change their minds.