This Week in Scotland: leadership contests and further devolution

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The race to replace Salmond

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP has confirmed that she will seek the SNP leadership after the resignation of Alex Salmond following last week’s referendum. If, as expected, she is not challenged, she would become the first female First Minister of Scotland.

Launching her candidacy in Glasgow, Sturgeon confirmed that she would seek to play “an active role” in the Smith Commission, which has been established by the UK Government to come up with a deal for further devolution to the Scottish Parliament by the end of November. Her aim, which was reiterated by Finance Secretary John Swinney MSP, was to deliver home rule and something close to federalism as a minimum.

She also confirmed that her priority would not be on “planning for another referendum” but delivering real and meaningful devolution to the Scottish Parliament. She said that this must include job creating powers, proper fiscal accountability, the ability to protect public services and deliver “fair” social security as a minimum.

On the issue of whether she would seek another referendum, Sturgeon confirmed that it was not an immediate priority. However, she caveated this by stating that this was subject to the “circumstances of the day”. In other words, whether the UK Government delivers on its further powers pledges and that the UK remaining as part of the EU. This is in contrast to former SNP leader Jim Sillars who has suggested that a majority vote at next year’s General Election should be taken as a de facto vote for independence.

The majority of the current Scottish Government cabinet have been quick to rule themselves out of the leadership contest, including John Swinney, Mike Russell, Alex Neil and Roseanna Cunningham.

The race to replace Sturgeon

With Nicola Sturgeon confirming that she is to seek the leadership of the SNP, the race for the deputy leadership has commenced. Unlike the last SNP leadership contest, Sturgeon has decided not to stand on a joint ticket platform.

So far, only Transport Minister Keith Brown MSP and Stewart Hosie MP have formally announced their candidacies.

Due Process

The leader and deputy leader are elected annually at the party’s conference. After the ballot of the party’s membership, Alex Salmond will step down as First Minister with the new leadership team taking over. The First Minister is then confirmed by a vote in the parliament. The new First Minister is then officially appointed by royal warrant.

On receipt of the royal warrant, the new First Minster will announce his/her team. The legislative agenda will then be announced in late November.

Further Powers = Further Problems

David Cameron stole a march on his political rivals on Friday morning when he announced that he would not only be seeking to devolve further powers to Scotland but would also be seeking to address the highly controversial issue of English votes for English laws simultaneously. A move that is highly popular with the Tory backbenches and grassroots.

Aware of the political ramifications of such action on any future Labour UK Government, Ed Miliband was quick to distance himself from the PMs timetable. Instead he suggested that Scottish devolution should progress as outlined by Gordon Brown MP, with a constitutional convention being established after the General Election to examine the West Lothian Question.  The result being, the SNP having a field day framing the Cameron/Miliband positioning as the unionist parties rowing back on campaign promises.

Smith Commission

Meanwhile, Lord Kelvin has called on politicians to have the “courage” to “compromise” on the issue of devolution. On a visit to the Scottish Parliament he confirmed that his job is to create a process through which agreement on further devolution is reached, but that he cannot force an agreement on the respective sides all of whom have different ideas and visions for Scotland.  Lord Kelvin’s commission will seek to produce recommendations for further devolution by St Andrews Day.

So far the Tories have put forward Baroness Goldie and Prof Adam Tomkins and the Liberal Democrats have nominated former Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore MP and Tavish Scott MSP. With each party able to nominate two individuals to participate in the commission, the SNP have confirmed that John Swinney and another to be decided will represent them, while Labour and the Greens have yet to release their nominations at the time of writing.

Pro-independence party membership explodes

The SNP and Scottish Green’s have experienced an explosion in party membership since last week’s no vote. As of yesterday, SNP membership stood at more than 57,000, an increase from 25,642 pre-referendum, and a figure that it says is larger than that of the Liberal Democrats UK membership. The Scottish Green party has also seen a surge in support following a series of strong performances from its leader Patrick Harvie MSP during the campaign.

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