Talking tough: Scottish secretary takes the fight to the SNP

By Phil Scullion

Scottish secretary Michael Moore signalled a tougher approach towards the Scottish National party (SNP) in a major speech in Edinburgh today.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, accused SNP leader Alex Salmond of "lacking interest" in the powers currently centred at Holyrood, instead only focusing on those not available to the Scottish government.

He defended the coalition's legitimacy by pointing out that the votes received by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were higher than the number cast for the SNP in the Scottish parliament regional list.

Mr Moore told the David Hume Institute in Edinburgh: "There is an insidious narrative in which the Scottish government is portrayed as standing up for Scotland's interests by standing against the UK government.

"So let me be very clear about something which UK ministers have been perhaps too slow — or considered it unnecessary — to point out. Scotland has two governments — distinct, elected and legitimate.

"Each takes decisions in the interests of Scotland, in light of their respective powers and their democratic mandate."

The SNP won a historic victory in May, taking a majority in the Scottish parliament.

However Mr Moore criticised the lack of focus on specifically Scottish issues by the administration.

"They should get on with the job. Yet, all too often, their minds appear to be focused on other things — particularly if those things are happening south of the border," he added.

"The first minister's concentration on them leaves the impression that Scottish ministers lack interest in the powers they do have while being obsessed with powers they don't have".

A spokesman for the SNP recently provided a more positive appraisal of their first 100 days in office.

He said: "We've struck the balance between building on our impressive track record and delivering on the priority areas – including the economy, transport, health, education and justice – while also putting forward a detailed case for securing more powers.

"A survey in December showed over two-thirds were in favour of more powers for the Scottish parliament."

Eddie Bone, chairman of the Campaign for an English Parliament, went to Edinburgh for the speech and to enter the devolution discussion.

He told beforehand: "We want to make sure it's a positive experience, we're going up there to debate. That's why we've decided to hand out the red rose to quietly remind people that actually England does exist.

"For devolution to be successful for Scotland and Wales then England needs to be included. There needs to be understanding and perspective. I've just come back from a tour along the Welsh border and people are desperate for direction."

Figures released by the Treasury yesterday showed the gap between spending per head in England compared to Scotland and Wales grew by 15% over the last year, meaning £1,624 more public money is spent on the average Scot than the average Englishman.

Spending per head was also higher in Wales and Northern Ireland, while per capita spending in London exceeded that in Scotland.