Speaking on the opening day of the conference in Inverness, Dr Allan Macartney, the MEP for north-east Scotland, urged the Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth to "take politics out of the BSE crisis". Dr Macartney said Mr Forsyth's recent comment that he "intended to fight for Scottish beef" would not have been made without Cabinet approval.
The incidence of BSE - "mad cow disease" - in the Scottish beef herd is significantly lower than the UK figure. In April, when the nationalists first suggested that a cull could be zoned to account for Scotland's lower infection rate, the idea was dismissed by the Government. Dr Macartney said yesterday that he had been urged by senior Conservative MEPs to refloat the idea. "With Mr Forsyth having done nothing in the past six months but bad mouth Europe and insist there was no Scottish solution to the crisis, Mr Forsyth on his own is hardly in a credible position to argue the case for Scottish beef in Europe."
Instead, the SNP had proposed that an all-party delegation should urgently with the EU agricultural commissioner, Franz Fischler. When the idea of a zoned approach was suggested to Brussels in April, Mr Fischler appeared to make no firm objection. However, he indicated no action could be taken unless there was a direct suggestion the UK government.
It seemed unlikely Mr Forsyth would join such an all-party tripat direct odds with his own Cabinet colleagues. However, Dr Macartney said that Mr Forsyth - regarded as a shrewd politician - would not have suggested a "separate" Scottish fight without at least seeking comment from No 10.
SNP officials said Mr Forsyth had been told of the idea before last week's Cabinet meeting but had so far not responded.
Dr Macartney said the handling of the BSE crisis by the Government was "a political education lesson in the need for independence".
To conference applause Dr Macartney said: "John Major is prepared to sacrifice the Scottish beef industry hoping the problem will die out in 2002. He has to now appreciate the urgency of the situation facing Scottish farmers and told enough is enough."
Elsewhere, the party was confident it could win more seats at the next election. In a recent poll by System Three the SNP had 29 per cent, trailing Labour on 48 but leading the Conservatives on 15. Pre conference attacks from both Tory and Labour were anticipated, and on cue arrived yesterday.
Labour criticised a Young Scots for Independence leaflet, mainly distributed at recent pop concerts. The leaflet quoted the book and film Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh with the words that the English were "wankers". Labour MP Maria Fyffe said the leaflet was racist and called for its withdrawal.
The Tories' Scottish chairman, Sir Michael Hirst, attacked the SNP's recent A Programme for Government publication claiming that 68 crucial items - from nuclear decommissioning to the replacement of tolls on the Skye Bridge - had not been properly costed.Reuse content