Reid and Alexander join attack on nationalists

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Indy Politics

Two senior cabinet ministers today mounted savage personal attacks on Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond as Labour's campaign against the Nationalists intensified.

Home Secretary John Reid and Transport and Scottish Secretary Douglas Alexander mounted the onslaught at Labour's Scottish conference in Oban.

An ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph today put support for Scottish independence at 52 per cent in Scotland.

And support for Scottish independence is running at 59 per cent among people living in England, the poll found.

The onslaught on Mr Salmond and his party by Dr Reid and Mr Alexander - both Scots who represent Scottish constituencies at Westminster - took the ferocity of Labour's campaign against the SNP to new levels in the run-up to next May's Holyrood elections.

And First Minister Jack McConnell said of the SNP leader: "He is a one-man band, a man from the past who has got very shaky judgment."

Dr Reid dismissed the SNP and their cause as "not fit for purpose" in the modern world and recalled that Mr Salmond had quit Holyrood in the early days of devolution to stay at Westminster.

Mr Salmond hopes to return to Holyrood in next May's elections but Dr Reid told the conference: "He opposed the idea of a devolved parliament for years, until it suited him.

"Then he stayed at Westminster for years, until it suited him. He didn't fight for the Parliament, he didn't build the Parliament, he didn't struggle to have it established and he did not even stay with the Parliament.

"He would like to run the Parliament now that it suits him. I tell you, Alex - dream on,"

And Douglas Alexander, 39, attacked Mr Salmond, 51, as "an old man in a hurry".

He recalled that Mr Salmond had repeatedly insisted he would not stand for the SNP leadership in 2004 only to change his mind.

"That is the only consistent thing about Alex Salmond - he always goes back on his word," said Mr Alexander. "His promises are cheap but his deeds would be costly for Scotland."

And in another mocking jibe he said of Mr Salmond, a keen follower of horse-racing: "He boasts he's an economist. Let's be honest - the biggest economic decision he has ever taken is how much to put on the 3.30 at Kempton Park."

In a wider assault on the SNP, Mr Alexander went on: "The Nationalists just don't get it. "While children throughout Europe are learning Cantonese, they want to re-enact Culloden."

Mr Alexander said Scottish people had rejected "separation" in 40 elections and told the conference in Oban, Argyll: "There is not one question we face whose answer is the break-up of Britain."

Acknowledging voter unease over Iraq he said: "If the question is the rights and wrongs of the action in Iraq, the answer is not Scottish independence.

"If the problem is stability in the Middle East, a border between Scotland and England is not the solution."

John Reid delivered a wider-ranging assault, attacking the SNP on a range of fronts.

He recalled previous SNP advances, all of which ended in reverses, and told the conference: "When I hear the polls and the pollsters and the pundits tell us there is an unstoppable, inexorable march to separation, I say we've heard it all before.

"That will not demoralise us, it will spur us to greater activity." He said of the SNP: "When they're up, they're smug. When they're down, they are very sour indeed."

Dr Reid said that for the first time in history, nearly half of all Scots had relatives from England. And separation would mean "hundreds of thousands" of children and grandchildren being forced to choose which passport to hold, he said.

Dr Reid went on to argue that "narrow nationalism" was helpless against the great issues of the age. "The environment doesn't respect border guards," he told the conference. Organised crime won't stop at Carlisle. The idea that illegal immigrants undaunted by crossing the Atlantic will be too frightened to cross the River Tweed ...

"And terrorists who refuse to distinguish between civilians and combatants or between adults and children or between Christians and Muslims - do the SNP think they are really going to make any difference in distinguishing between Scots and English victims when it comes to their attacks?

"Faced with challenges like these, the Nationalists always retreat into a silo of separation. To use a phrase, they aren't fit for purpose to face the challenges of the modern world."