LABOUR should abandon the cross-party Better Together campaign, former first minister Henry McLeish has said as he accused the unionist group of using “fear and scare tactics” to defeat the SNP.
Mr McLeish said the anti-independence campaign was “treating Scots like idiots” as he claimed Better Together was working alongside Westminster in attempting to frighten voters about independence.
The comments from the former Scottish Labour leader came after the UK government made a series of claims about the consequences of independence such as the end of Scottish banknotes and more expensive mobile phone calls for Scots visiting the rest of the UK.
Mr McLeish said there was “too much venom and hatred aimed at the SNP” in Better Together, which is an alliance of Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems.
He called on the Labour leadership in Scotland to leave the group and “forge a new campaign” with Lib Dem supporters of greater devolution.
The Better Together campaign is led by former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, but the leadership of the group includes senior Scottish Tories such as David McLetchie, who is a director of the campaign.
Mr McLeish said that the anti-independence campaign was “tied to the utterings of David Cameron and the Scottish Tories” as he called for a new Unionist Labour-Lib Dem campaign.
He also said that Better Together was involved in a “constant haranguing of Scots” in a campaign he claimed is dominated by Westminster and London-based politicians.
Mr McLeish said: “There are fear and scare stories such as that we’ll have passport controls at the Border and won’t have access to blood transfusion supplies. Next they’ll be saying there will be seven years of famine in an independent Scotland and that aliens will land here.
“By leaving Better Together, Labour can start to reinforce its identity.”
The former first minister’s attack on his party’s decision to support Better Together came as it emerged that senior figures within Scottish Labour had refused to join the cross-party campaign because of Tory involvement.
Party figures staying away from Better Together include MP Katy Clark, MSP Elaine Smith and senior trade union officials – Richard Leonard, Scotland organiser for the GMB union, and Dave Watson, head of campaigns at Unison.
Mr McLeish warned: “Scots don’t like to be talked to like idiots and there has been a constant haranguing of Scots by Westminster in terms of the type of campaign being run.
“This could creates a backlash as Scots want to know what vision of Scotland within the Union the Unionists are campaigning for. If there’s another year of this people will start to rebel.”
United With Labour – the party’s campaign against independence – was launched by Gordon Brown this spring.
Mr McLeish insisted that a bigger cross-party group, but without any Tory involvement, was needed to deliver a No vote in the referendum on 18 September 2014.
He said: “The Tories bring nothing to the table, so Labour and progressive Lib Dems have to put forward their own campaign.
“It’s not just the referendum, we have a general election in 2015 and then a Holyrood election in 2016.”
A Better Together spokesman said: “We are running a strong, positive campaign highlighting the benefits to Scotland of continuing to pool our resources across the whole of the UK.”
SNP MSP John Wilson said: “While Henry McLeish calls on Labour to withdraw from the Better Together campaign, he would also be well advised to argue for a constructive debate on the issues surrounding independence and the referendum.
”The Labour Party will only gain credibility among its supporters if they can give a clear direction as to the future of Scotland within the Union.”
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “We are fully committed to campaigning with others who agree with us that Scotland should stay strong within the United Kingdom as part of Better Together while setting out a distinct vision for the future of Scotland through United With Labour.”