Alex Salmond will be hoping that the Commonwealth Games now under way in Glasgow will help his flagging campaign for Scottish independence.
But just before the sporting contest got started I had a chance to catch up with him on his last foray into England before referendum day. Salmond seems to like Liverpool. Last year he got a great reception in St George’s Hall when he shamelessly played to Scouse antipathy to London by saying Scots and northerners all suffered from remote government from the capital.
He was at it again last week but the difference is the game’s afoot big time with the referendum now just eight weeks away. The Scottish Labour Party had brought down a red double decker bus with Vote No slogans all over it and parked it outside St George’s Hall. Batteries of TV cameras were in attendance along with BBC luminaries like Alan Little and Laura Kuenssberg.
He was speaking to a smaller audience of northern business people but the message was the same; Scotland and the North suffer economically from centralised government. He prayed in aid the former Liverpool Walton MP Eric Heffer who he claimed supported a young Alex Salmond in his efforts to get Scottish independence in the 1970s. Heffer’s successor Peter Kilfoyle seemed to be of the same mind. He told me he’d been on the Mersey Ferry earlier with Salmond who’d got a warm reception from the passengers. “If I was in Scotland, I’d vote for independence” declared Kilfoyle.
Salmond’s speech consisted of a battery of statistics designed to prove his case for independence but he also sought to address a growing anxiety that we in the North are going to lose out between a powerful Scotland and a dynamic South East of England. He had plans for high speed rail connections between the North and Scotland and wanted northern business people to cooperate in a cross border forum.
The Chancellor has made it clear that there could be no shared currency after independence. Salmond continues to insist that Mr Osborne is bluffing. It is the greatest weakness in his case and one that could be decisive for wavering Scots.
I have always believed that Salmond’s real project was to get the maximum amount of devolved power without full independence. I reminded him that he had wanted a third question on the ballot paper to accommodate this. He denied my suggestion that this showed a secret lack of confidence by the Scottish Nationalists that they could achieve the ultimate prize.
The three main UK parties have all promised further devolution of tax raising power if the Scots stay in the UK, so I suggested to Mr Salmond he would be a winner whichever way the vote goes. He replied that you can never trust the promises of English politicians.
The Commonwealth Games will fill the Scots with pride in what they can do for themselves. This will be followed by commemorations of the start of the First World War when Scots played a noble part in fighting alongside the other nations that made up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Then the Scots will vote.
WELL DONE WIRRAL!
Over 200,000 golf fans attended the Open at Hoylake with Phil Davies, the leader of Wirral Council and the Liverpool City Region, telling me £75m had been spent in the local economy.
Wirral Council staff were busy lobbying international guests about economic projects ranging from offshore wind to the massive Wirral Waters redevelopment. They are hoping for a major announcement shortly about a car components plant at the end of the M53 to service Halewood, Ellesmere Port and Crewe.
Along with the International Festival of Business promoted by Liverpool Council, our local authorities have done their best to promote the city region to the world this summer.