Scottish MPs celebrate election success with anti-austerity pledge

AFP , Saturday 9 May 2015

Nicola Sturgeon (Photo:Reuters)

Scotland's new pro-independence MPs and their leader Nicola Sturgeon on Saturday celebrated their seismic election gains against the backdrop of a landmark railway bridge.

A smiling Sturgeon hugged and kissed Scottish National Party (SNP) lawmakers who will take their places in the British parliament in Westminster after their dramatic advance in a general election which returned Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to power.

"The people of Scotland on Thursday voted for an SNP manifesto, which had ending austerity as its number one priority," Sturgeon said at the iconic Forth Rail Bridge outside Edinburgh.

"That is the priority that these men and women will now take to the very heart of the Westminster agenda," said Sturgeon, who heads up Scotland's devolved government but is not herself one of the new MPs.

"No longer will Scotland be sidelined or ignored in Westminster," said Sturgeon, speaking a day after Cameron promised to grant even more autonomy to Scotland, including new tax-raising powers.

Sturgeon's left-wing secessionist SNP increased its tally from six to 56 out of the 59 parliament seats for Scotland -- the only opposition success against a solid victory by Cameron's centre-right Conservatives.

"Look out London," read a front-page headline in The National, a new pro-independence newspaper. The Scotsman daily ran a picture of Cameron and Sturgeon with the headline: "Leaders of a divided kingdom".

The face of the SNP's gains was 20-year-old Mhairi Black, a Glasgow University politics student, who toppled a veteran Labour Party figure to become Britain's youngest lawmaker in nearly 350 years.

"Campaigning and studying went hand in hand," said Black, who is still completing her final year studies.

"It's just about seeing a fairer Scotland. What this is about doing is about going down and making sure that we're representing people," she said.

The SNP was founded in 1934 but languished on the margins of British politics for decades until Alex Salmond took over the party's leadership in 1990.

Even though it is one of the party's core principles, Sturgeon has been careful to play down talk of independence, which was rejected in Scotland by 55 percent to 45 percent in a referendum last year.

In her speech, she promised the SNP would represent all of Scotland including "people who voted 'Yes' in the referendum as well as those who voted 'No'".

But the question is bound to come up again, particularly as the SNP is fiercely opposed to Cameron's plans for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union to be held by 2017.

Salmond, the head of Scotland's devolved government before Sturgeon, told supporters after the referendum defeat that "the dream will never die".

"There's going to have to be a very substantial concession to Scotland given the verdict of the Scottish nation," Salmond, one of the new MPs, said on Saturday.

"One thing's for clear that the voice that was so clearly enunciated on Thursday from Scotland will not be ignored at Westminster," he said.

The SNP had hoped to influence government if centre-left Labour had topped the polls but will still have clout as the second-biggest opposition party and Sturgeon on Saturday reached out to potential leftist allies.

"We will continue to reach out to people of progressive opinion across the UK," she said.

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