LABOUR last night urged its supporters to reject a new grassroots campaign set up to combat the rise of the SNP by providing advice on tactical voting.
This week sees the launch of an organisation called “Scotland in Union”, which aims to maximise a pro-UK vote against Nicola Sturgeon’s party at the general election and next year’s Scottish election.
Set up by prominent No activists, business figures and academics, Scotland in Union is a non-party, non-profit organisation which believes the referendum result was decisive and that the best way to move forward is by securing Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom.
With post-referendum Scotland facing its most complex general election for generations, the new group will commission polling and research designed to help voters who want to keep out the SNP.
But with the pro-UK parties each trying to win support in the face of the rise of Nationalist support, both Labour and the Conservatives urged voters to resist the urge to vote tactically.
The SNP claimed the campaign would backfire, arguing that tactical voting against the Nationalists would prove “disastrous” for a Labour party that was still trying to overcome the stigma of working with the Conservatives in the Better Together campaign.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson said: “This is disastrous for Labour’s general election campaign in Scotland – being joined at the hip with the Tories in the referendum caused their support to plummet, and now that is going to be perpetuated in elections. Anyone would think these people are trying to help the SNP.
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“Any campaign with the aim of electing more Tory MPs, and therefore making David Cameron’s re-election more likely, is doomed to failure in Scotland. And for Labour to be associated with such a campaign would be hugely damaging for them.”
This week Scotland in Union will host a dinner before launching publicly next weekend. The launch comes amid more evidence of increasing SNP support.
Last week a TNS poll put the Nationalists on 46 per cent compared with 30 per cent for Labour. The gap between the two parties has increased from 10 percentage points to 16 over the past few weeks.
One of the driving forces behind the campaign is Felicity Kane, a single mother-of-two and marketing professional who organised the Big Aerial No event during the referendum.
The event saw pro-UK supporters congregate at The Grange sports fields in Edinburgh where they spelled out a gigantic “No” in the dying days of the referendum campaign.
Other directors are Alastair Cameron, a former army officer in a Scottish regiment, and Andrew Skinner, the founder of the “Scotlandsaynaw” website, which was one of the leading pro-UK social media campaigns.
Yesterday Kane said: “We are faced with divided unionist parties and our hope is to align unionist voters in Scotland. We are going to create a hub to share knowledge and publish articles which cut across the barriers of politics.
“The SNP has done very well and is one united party against divided parties and our aim is to get that one voice. We want to capture the excitement and positivity that the unionist parties lack.
“There was complacency before the referendum and speaking to unionist supporters from whatever party they might be voting for, there is still concern that there is complacency.”
Their website will publish articles, and money will be raised to commission research and polling. Young voters are to be targeted through the Scottish Youth Parliament and other youth groups.
Kane is adamant that the campaign will not instruct No supporters how to vote in May when they are faced with several candidates standing against the SNP and representing different strands of the pro-Union political tradition.
Scotland in Union will, however, provide research to help people decide which candidate stands the best chance of defeating the SNP in the 59 Scottish seats.
Kane said: “Tactical voting is something we are doing research on. The research is designed to be educational, telling people about how and why they might want to tactically vote. We are not advocating that everyone should tactically vote, but we want to help people understand why it is relevant and provide them with some answers.
“We will be providing information to ensure that Scotland remains part of the Union and pointing out any misinformation.”
She added: “We are not telling people how to vote, but we are providing the tools to help people make their own decision. That’s the more productive way than people doing it blind-sighted.”
Much of their effort will be expended on the Gordon constituency where Alex Salmond is the clear favourite to defeat the Lib Dem, Christine Jardine, who is defending the long-held Liberal seat following the retirement of Sir Malcolm Bruce.
But the notion of tactical voting was rejected by Labour, which believes that any leakage of votes to the Tories or Lib Dems could scupper their chances of ousting David Cameron from Downing Street.
Although Scotland in Union says it believes politics should be about “policies not powers”, there will be those who will be dismayed by an approach which encourages the notion that a voter’s stance on the constitution becomes the over-riding consideration when entering the ballot box.
Last night a Labour spokesman said: “Labour voters should always vote Labour, as should any Scot who wants to stop the Tories being the biggest single party across the UK. A vote for anybody but Scottish Labour risks the Tories being the largest party and David Cameron returning to Downing Street by accident.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: “We’d support any organisation geared towards safeguarding the future of the Union. But from a political point of view, there is no point in tactical voting. We know what the SNP wants to do; Labour would be utterly exposed to Alex Salmond’s demands, and the Liberal Democrats are dead. The only party that can guarantee to secure the Union and the economy are the Scottish Conservatives.”
A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said: “Just like in the past as elections get nearer people worry about the implications if one party or another wins every seat.
“This time people are nervous about what happens if the SNP wins every seat in Scotland. Liberal Democrats have highlighted that the SNP government has taken its eye off the ball on day-to-day services in order to focus on independence.
“In the 11 seats in Scotland we are defending it is plain that the Liberal Democrats are best placed to champion local services, not least the NHS.”