Scottish independence: Darling still leads No camp

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BETTER Together leader Alistair Darling has rejected claims he is being sidelined in the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK.

The Labour MP and former chancellor reacted after speculation that senior politicians were being drafted in to take a more prominent role.

Alistair Darling helps launch the Better Together 'ad van' and claims he is still heading up the No campaign. Picture: Hemedia

Alistair Darling helps launch the Better Together 'ad van' and claims he is still heading up the No campaign. Picture: Hemedia

Mr Darling, in Edinburgh to launch the latest Better Together advertising campaign, said the movement has “many voices”.

“I will be doing an awful lot in this campaign and you’ll see others, MSPs, people who’re not anything to do with politics at all,” he said.

“It’s important that everybody gets engaged in this, but I intend to lead this campaign through to the finish.

“I’ve strengthened the team because I think it’s the important thing to do as we reach the final stages, and we’ll continue to do everything we possibly can to get the biggest vote we possibly can come the 18th of September.”

He referred to recent interventions by former prime minister Gordon Brown, ex-home secretary John Reid and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander.

More voices will emerge after the European election campaign finishes later this month, he said.

Fight against independence ‘biggest ever’ for former Chancellor

The Better Together leader dismissed reports that shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander would effectively take charge of the campaign after suggestions he had failed to inspire it.

Mr Darling said it had been his decision to hand senior Unionist figures such as Labour frontbencher Jim Murphy a lead role in the group.

However, Mr Darling stated that he would still be at the “forefront” of the No campaign until the referendum on 18 September and have the final say on all key decisions.

The Labour MP said the campaign was more significant than the banking crisis of 2008, when as Chancellor he presided over a partial state takeover of the UK banking sector.

He said: “It’s the biggest single fight I’ve been involved in, including elections. Even the banking crisis pales into insignificance compared to it.”

He conceded he does not know where the rumours about his leadership are coming from.

“If you go and ask people what they’re bothered about at the moment, what they’re bothered about is the issues in this campaign,” he said.

“Frankly, who’s doing what is of minor significance compared with the huge issues like what currency will we have.”

All senior politicians have to put up with their leadership being questioned, he said.

SNP ‘putting people off debate’ - Darling

First Minister Alex Salmond is also challenged over his direction, including from within the SNP, Mr Darling said.

The single biggest issue is the question of independence and what the country might look like after the vote, he said.

Mr Darling claimed the SNP is already putting people off by “shutting down” debate and criticism.

He highlighted concerns from opposition members of Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee who accused the SNP of using its majority to remove criticism of Scottish Government policy on police reform.

“If this is how the Nationalists behave today, how will they behave if they had complete control over everything?” he asked.

“Where there is no means of exploring these things because they just shut everything down. It’s bad for democracy. Any political party in government should not be afraid of the fact that from time to time there will be criticism and legitimate questions.”

He continued: “Whether it’s me, whether it’s Standard Life, whether it’s the banks, whether it’s Barrhead Travel - anyone who says ‘Excuse me, I don’t believe you, I’ve got a question’ gets shouted down and subject to unacceptable abuse.”

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