Salmond urges Blair to give him civil-service briefings

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The Independent Online
THE leader of Scottish Nationalists, Alex Salmond, yesterday cashed in on his party's surge in support in an opinion poll by calling on Tony Blair to give him civil-service briefings before the elections for the Scottish Parliament.

He and the six SNP MPs have never been given access before to the kind of briefings Mr Blair enjoyed when he was the leader of the Official Opposition. The parliamentary leader of the SNP, Margaret Ewing, said: "We asked for civil-service briefings last year like those Tony Blair had before the last election and we got a resounding no but opinion polls have changed things. We should not be denied that kind of access. In the past we were never going to be elected as a government, even if we won all the seats in Scotland, but we could form the administration in Scotland, or at the very least be the Official Opposition. Therefore, we think it is right we should have briefings."

Mr Salmond yesterday asked in writing to the Prime Minister for the SNP be briefed on formulation of legislation on a number of issues.

Mr Salmond said: "The practice of opposition politicians receiving confidential briefings from the civil service, and working with them to make initial preparations for the implementation of their policies, is an accepted part of democratic politics in the UK.

"Indeed, Tony Blair had the advantage of such meetings 18 months before the last election. Now, with just over a year to the first sitting of the Scottish Parliament, there is an unanswerable case for the SNP to be given the same rights.

"In areas such as land reform, where there is a clear consensus for change, we would want to work closely with the Scottish Office civil servants to prepare a draft Bill for early introduction in the first session of the Parliament in 1999."

Mr Salmond said his party had made an informal approach to Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar earlier this year, but had been told no such access could be granted before the Scotland Bill had passed through Westminster. That might not be until autumn.