Alistair Darling is to spearhead a Save the Union campaign of all the pro-union parties in Scotland, according to a Mail on Sunday scoop. The former Chancellor has just confirmed the story on the Marr show, although the BBC website has still to catch up with it.The report says the plan was hatched in true Edinburgh style over tea and sandwiches in his constituency home, one of a several over recent months. It was impressively attended.
No 10 director of political strategy Andrew Cooper and former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie attended the historic talks to discuss how to defeat Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond in the referendum on independence.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander and Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy were also at the meeting, with the Liberal Democrats represented by Euan Roddin, the special adviser to Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.
The scoop – or leak – can be seen as a drizzle on Alex Salmond’s parade as he launches his independence campaign this week. In the Telegraph, the mordant prophet of the pro- Union forces Alan Cochrane believes that Cameron and Co are now reconciled to Alex Salmond’s referendum date of 2014. If the date is really settled, the big issue then is what will appear on the ballot paper. One question or two? And what would be the single “fair” question?
Darling foresees the pro-Union counterblast launching “ in a few weeks’ time,” a timetable that gives them all to do. Divided over devo max and the wider UK economy, how can Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives coalesce? The campaign, says Darling, will be “led from Scotland”. So with Cameron and Miliband (and Brown it seems) wisely staying in the background who will be the counterweight to the canny charisma of Salmond? It’s hard to imagine any of the local leaders being up to it.
Could it be Alistair Darling himself, a quiet man once called “the most boring man in British politics,” but whose bursts of candour about the economy these days come as a breath of fresh air? The lively fear is bound to be that they’ll settle for a messy collective like the anti- Europe campaign of the early 70s which bit the dust and which Salmond will be able to divide and rule. Much may depend on the sentiment about the economy. So the question asks himself: if the pro-Union parties can come together over the Union steered by Alistair Darling, why can they not not agree over a Plan A+ for Growth?
Adds The whole issue would be horribly complicated if by some strange chance the main Westmisnter parties were to agree on an “In or Out” referendum on EU membership. The Observer says Ed Miliband is coming under party pressure to back a referendum call by the time of the Euro-elections of 2014. What a fine muddle that would land us in alongside a Scottish referendum. The idea is an internal Labour party wheeze to try to checkmate growing Tory euroscepticism amid the turmoil of the eurozone crisis. As such it has nothing do with the British national interest and will – probably – die the death.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London