DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg has accused the Yes campaign of an “act of desperation” over claims the success of the Commonwealth Games could be a boost for independence.
He spoke out after Nicola Sturgeon said the Glasgow event has left a “feelgood factor” across Scotland and the momentum is with the Yes campaign “as we come out of the Commonwealth Games”.
But the SNP deputy leader last night rejected claims she was seeking to make political capital.
Speaking at a training session of Murrayfield Wanderers in Edinburgh, Mr Clegg, who was later due to attend the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, said yesterday it was “wholly inappropriate” to hijack the success of the Games for political purposes ahead of next month’s referendum.
The Scottish Government had pledged to keep politics out of the Games with First Minister Alex Salmond agreeing to impose a “self-denying ordnance” on speaking about politics during the event.
Mr Clegg said yesterday: “It does seem an act of desperation, on the eve of the closing ceremony which should be a crowning moment in what has been a crowning sporting occasion, to insert politics in this way.”
He added: “It’s such a pity that Nicola Sturgeon should at the last minute decide to insert politics into what has been a wonderful festival of sport.
“The SNP should let people enjoy the sport, free of political spin. It’s wholly inappropriate for her to jump in at the last minute and seek to claim political credit for something which has been blissfully free of politics up until now.
“It’s been a huge success, a wonderful tribute to Glasgow and Scotland and the UK and the Commonwealth. But especially it’s been a great festival of sport. That’s how I think it should be remembered.”
Ms Sturgeon said at the weekend that the Games will “inevitably leave a feelgood factor”.
She added: “I think there is a very significant momentum behind the Yes campaign and I feel it everywhere I go in the country.
“The momentum is with us and as we come out of the Commonwealth Games that is us into the final strait of the campaign and that momentum will be visible.”
A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon yesterday rejected the criticism. “Nick Clegg wouldn’t get any medals for self-awareness, but maybe a gold for hypocrisy,” he said.
“While the No campaign shamelessly tried to politicise the Olympics, nothing that Nicola said about the Commonwealth Games reflects Nick Clegg’s silly accusation, as any fair-minded reading of the interview will confirm.”
The row comes ahead of a much anticipated televised debate between First Minister Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, the head of the pro-Union Better Together campaign, tomorrow night.
It emerged yesterday that Mr Salmond has been receiving coaching from psychology consultant Claire Howell who was also hired by the First Minister ahead of the Holyrood election in 2011 to make him appear less confrontational.
A second TV debate is also to be held between the two men on 25 August.
Mr Clegg said the First Minister must take the opportunity to clear up uncertainty across a range of issues. “The issues for Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond remain the same,” he said. “They’ve got to answer the questions that they still, even at this late stage, have refused to answer about what pulling Scotland out of this successful family of nations, the United Kingdom, would really mean.
“I hope in the debate that Alex Salmond will finally come clean on some of the answers on what it means for people’s jobs, [and] what does it mean for investment, for the money in people’s pockets.”