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Saturday, August 28, 1999 Published at 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK

UK: Scotland

Salmond protests at by-election 'fiddle'

George Robertson's life peerage has brought about the poll

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond has accused Tony Blair of 'fiddling' the timing of the Hamilton South by-election in a formal letter of protest.

Mr Salmond is angry that the poll - being held after the elevation of Defence Secretary George Robertson to the Lords - will coincide with the party's annual conference next month.

Mr Salmond's written protest was sent as he campaigned in the constituency on Saturday.

[ image: Alex Salmond:
Alex Salmond: "Cynical move"
He wrote: "I was surprised that you broke with your family holiday in Tuscany in order to meet with George Robertson and arrange an early date for the Hamilton South by-election - only made possible by appointing Mr Robertson to the House of Lords.

"As you will be aware, it has long been a convention between the parties that by-elections not be held during the conference season.

"It therefore must be viewed as a cynical move to use your powers of patronage in the Lords solely for the purpose of arranging polling day in Hamilton South in the middle of the SNP's conference."

He continued: "Presumably, you believe that this will cause the SNP some difficulty, and frustrate our process of democratic decision-making in Inverness.

"If this is your intention, then I can assure you that not only will it make no difference to our conference, but it will also boost the enthusiasm of SNP activists to fight an extremely vigorous campaign in Hamilton South."

'Cheap act'

Mr Salmond said the decision would be viewed as a "cheap and graceless act", adding: "I have no doubt that the electorate of Hamilton South will object at being used by New Labour as part of your party's disreputable control freak tactics."

The poll, which was arranged after the Defence Secretary was made Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, will take place on 23 September.

The Labour Party has denied the date was set deliberately to coincide with the SNP's conference.

The Scottish Secretary John Reid insisted this week the poll had been organised for the convenience of the electorate rather than the Labour Party.

He said: "George Robertson merits this elevation. It does enable the people of Hamilton, rather than being in limbo for three months, to choose their representative earlier than would otherwise be the case.

"This is being done as a by-election should be, for the convenience of the electorate," he added.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have selected an Edinburgh councillor as their candidate for the by-election.

Marilyn Maclaren was officially selected by the party's Scottish executive on Saturday.

Scottish leader Jim Wallace said: "I'm absolutely delighted that Marilyn has been selected. She is an excellent candidate and will be putting forward a very strong Liberal Democrat message in Hamilton South."

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