At the end of a conference marred by splits and allegations of extremism, Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party leader, yesterday sought to unite his party in Perth by launching a savage personal attack on Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Condemning Mr Forsyth as a "faintheart, shortbread-tin Scot", Mr Salmond accused him of "selling out" his homeland. Scotland's "Governor General", an ardent Thatcherite, was damaging Scotland by foisting English Tory dogma on it, he said.
By encouraging schools to opt out of local authority control, Mr Forsyth threatened to "take Scottish education down the same road as English education", Mr Salmond said, leaving it "fragmented, socially divided and close to collapse".
Rail privatisation had almost killed off the Fort William sleeper service and left the Forth rail bridge crumbling.
And replacing state-run water boards with quangos was the first step towards full-scale water privatisation, which would leave the water industry "like England's, where the only thing rising faster than the water bills are the salaries of the chief executives".
In his speech - broadcast live across Britain for the first time after the BBC bowed to SNP pressure for more air time - Mr Salmond also attacked Labour, the nationalists' main opponents. George Robertson, Labour's spokesman on Scottish affairs, had "descended into the political gutter" by accusing the nationalists earlier this week of inciting so-called tartan terrorism, he said.
He said Labour could not be trusted and only an independent Scotland - with billions of pounds of North Sea oil and gas revenues at its disposal - could increase spending on social services, invest in Scotland's distinctive education system and boost competitiveness. Sovereignty would transform the nation, he argued, making "Edinburgh a proper capital city ... Aberdeen the most powerful energy department in Europe and Glasgow a real broadcasting centre", not a BBC outpost.
After the bitter internal row over the SNP's decision to support devolution as a stepping stone to independence flared up again yesterday with hardliners accusing the leadership of bolstering Labour, Mr Salmond issued a passionate call for unity.
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