Scotland independence vote looms after nationalist win
Scotland moved closer to a vote on independence after First Minister Alex Salmond won a second term Friday with a surge in support for his party in elections for the Edinburgh parliament.
His Scottish National Party (SNP) secured what Salmond called a "stunning victory" in elections for the devolved Holyrood assembly, taking a string of seats off the once-dominant Labour Party, now the main opposition group.
With some votes still to be counted, it was not immediately clear if the SNP could win an overall majority.
But Salmond pledged to bring forward a referendum on Scottish independence within the next four years, something he could not deliver in his first term as the SNP were outnumbered by unionists in the Holyrood parliament.
"Just as the people have bestowed trust in us, we must trust the people as well, and that is why in this term of the parliament we shall bring forward a referendum and trust the people with Scotland's own constitutional future," Salmond said.
He also pledged to increase the powers of the devolved parliament, which already enjoys considerable independence and decides on matters such as education, health, the environment and justice.
Key areas including foreign affairs and defence are still controlled by the British government in Westminster.
"We will take that mandate and that trust forward. We will take it forward to increase the powers of our parliament," Salmond said, calling for extended borrowing powers and the right to set Scotland's own corporation tax.
Salmond has headed a minority administration since 2007 when the SNP took power for the first time in Scotland, ousting Labour who had been in office in a coalition government since the parliament opened in 1999.
Salmond could not resist taking a pot shot at the collapse of Labour's vote, comparing them to an endangered beast.
"I suppose it's a bit like the American bison. I dare say we'll still see one or two dotted about, but the great herds of Labour have gone forever," he said.
Around four million voters had been expected to cast their ballots to elect 129 lawmakers to Scotland's devolved parliament.
The victory was also a major a turnaround from around two months ago when polls suggested that the SNP were likely to be ejected from power by the resurgent Labour party.
With the arrival of a coalition in London last year of the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives -- an unpopular party in Scotland -- Labour had counted on winning back power and the polls pointed that way for many months.
Commentators said the SNP's change in fortunes was unlikely to be because of any upsurge in support for Scottish independence, which surveys show does not have overwhelming public backing.
Instead they say it is down to the SNP's perceived ability to stand up for Scotland against deep spending cuts introduced by the coalition in London, plus a lacklustre campaign by Labour.
Professor Murray Pittock, a vice principal of Glasgow University, and author of "The Road to Independence?", suggested Labour may also have been guilty of complacency.
"The scale of it is a surprise," he said. "Labour has steadily treated Holyrood as a B-team, just somebody that people should vote for to give the Tories a bloody nose. Labour was negative."
© 2011 AFP