Scottish parties in `unholy alliance' to secure parliament

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At a symbolic first meeting yesterday, Scottish Nationalists sat down at the same table as Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians to plan how to secure maximum support for an Edinburgh parliament, complete with tax powers.

All three parties are now represented on the executive of Scotland Forward, the non-partisan umbrella group co-ordinating the campaign for Yes votes in the referendum on 11 September.

However, the strain in the new-found unity between the parties has quickly begun to show. Kay Ullrich, a former election candidate and one of the three new SNP members of the Scotland Forward team, yesterday came under attack from Jim Stevens, an economist and member of Labour's Scottish executive. In a BBC radio interview, Mr Stevens questioned the wisdom of working alongside an avowedly pro- independence party.

Though Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, has said he is "absolutely delighted" at the SNP's participation, other senior Labour figures believe some voters who support limited devolution could be scared into the "No" camp if the nationalists trumpet the parliament as a first step to independence.

The anti-home rule "Think Twice" lobby was quick to exploit the chinks in what they regard as an unholy alliance. Brian Monteith, the Think Twice co-ordinator, said people should ask themselves why the SNP thought the parliament was worth backing.

"The Labour and SNP agendas are quite separate. But Labour so desparately need SNP support on 11 September that they are prepared to go along with a high-risk strategy they know could lead to independence," Mr Monteith said.

Two SNP representatives, Ms Ullrich and the former MP George Reid, were welcomed on board at yesterday's Scotland Forward strategy meeting. A third SNP figure, Alex Neil, the party's vice convenor for policy, will also be joining the executive.

With the referendum taking place on an aging electoral register, some 400,000 people are no longer living at the address they were on the relevant date in October 1996.

However people who have moved are entitled to vote in the areas where they have registered. A publicity campaign on postal voting got underway this week.