Scottish first minister calls for united front in visit to Northern Ireland

Monday, June 18, 2007

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond made his first official visit outside Scotland as First Minister, meeting his counterpart in Northern Ireland, First Minister Ian Paisley.

The leader of the Scottish National Party, who is calling for Scotland and Northern Ireland to present a united approach toward governance, addressed the Northern Ireland Assembly and said Stormont, and the Scottish Parliament "now share a political model based on necessary compromise."

"The Deputy First Minister hasn't stopped being a nationalist and you, First Minister, haven't stopped being a unionist," Salmond said, referring to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin and Paisley, of the Democratic Unionist Party. "Nevertheless, what matters is identifying the areas where you agree and working on those. It doesn't remove the other issues, but it allows a democratic chamber to function and an executive to govern.

"No-one in this chamber should feel that their aspirations, their view of the future, is anything other than legitimate," Salmond said in his speech, quoted by BBC News Online.

The Stormont Parliamentary Building in Northern Ireland.

Salmond hailed the dedication of Prime Minister Tony Blair and the resolution of the Northern Ireland political crises.

"You will know how closely many in Scotland follow events and I am acutely aware of the difficulties you faced and, indeed, still face in the path to progress," he said in the Stormont Senate chamber.

"In that context, the efforts to make strides forward in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland are truly remarkable.

"Scottish Government and the people of Scotland salute you for that collective leadership.

"Leadership is a concept that is often cheapened and devalued in modern politics but the members of this Assembly have done something truly impressive.

"Over the last years, you have turned a seemingly intractable situation into one full of hope and optimism. That is real leadership."

Salmond, as a Scottish Nationalist, said he is a passionate believer in Scottish independence, but compromise is still needed.

Salmond said that he thinks the Edinburgh Parliament and the Belfast Assembly present a united front on devolution issues as they seek more home rule powers.

Among the issues would be lowering corporation tax to a 12.5 percent rate.

“It is not a question of ganging up, it is a question of formulating ideas in a constructive way,” Salmond said. “And on many of these issues it will also be, in my opinion, in the interests of the Westminster Government."

He said the British-Irish Council, meeting next month in Belfast, is "the best mechanism we currently have for Scotland and Northern Ireland to work together within the devolved structure".

Salmond is also planning to visit Welsh leader Rhodri Morgan in addition to visits to Ireland, Brussels and Norway.