SNP to capitalise on water sell-off

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THE Scottish National Party will gather for its annual conference in Perth this week armed with a provocative new slogan: 'It's Scotland's Water'.

The Nationalists hope this fresh rallying cry will strike as popular a chord as 'It's Scotland's Oil', the slogan which propelled the SNP to its first major electoral breakthrough in the mid-Seventies.

Water privatisation is shaping up to be just as controversial north of the border as the poll tax. The Conservatives made no mention of any plan to sell off Scotland's water industry in their Scottish general election manifesto. The plan only surfaced after they unexpectedly achieved a slight gain in Scotland.

Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, said the party would link its opposition to the constitutional issues. 'The crucial point which we'll be hammering home is that the Conservatives have no mandate to inflict water privatisation on the Scottish people,' he said, citing a newspaper poll earlier this month which showed that only 4 per cent of the Scottish population were in favour of a sell-off.

Mr Salmond added: 'Water is an even more emotive issue than oil. It is a more tangible and immediate national resource. Also it is something we already have under our control.'

The privatisation plan has aroused deep unease among some Scottish Conservatives who believe it makes a mockery of the gentler rhetoric which the Government has employed towards the Scots since the general election.

John Young, chairman of the Association of Scottish Conservative Councillors, said he had met only a small number of Tories who supported the idea.

The former Glasgow official has written: 'It is no exaggeration to say that many people in Glasgow and the west of Scotland look upon water as a gift of God. With the possible exception of the Highlands, no other part of the United Kingdom has such an emotional outlook . . . Scotland is awash with water.'

The SNP will not be the only political movement hoping to make capital out of the issue. Militant is on the march in Scotland and threatening a campaign of civil disobedience and public protest similar to that which it waged against the poll tax.

Tommy Sheridan, leader of Scottish Militant Labour, said: 'There will be no water disconnections because we will protect communities and homes from private profiteers.'