Scottish independence: Labour step up No campaign

Ed Miliband campaigning with Johann Lamont yesterday. Picture: Hemedia
Ed Miliband campaigning with Johann Lamont yesterday. Picture: Hemedia
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SCOTTISH Labour leader Johann Lamont has urged SNP supporters not to “take a punt” on independence in the referendum vote.

Ms Lamont took Labour’s campaign for a No vote on September 18 to the heart of Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s Glasgow Southside constituency.

The Labour leader claimed that people there are set to vote by two to one in favour of Scotland staying in the UK.

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Nationalist politicians have been trying to woo Labour supporters in the run-up to the referendum, with Ms Sturgeon claiming a Yes vote could help revitalise their party, which has been out of power at Holyrood for more than seven years.

But Ms Lamont said that while some of those who voted Labour in the 2011 Scottish elections would be backing independence, she claimed more of those who supported the SNP in that election would be voting for Scotland to stay in the UK in less than two weeks.

Labour cited YouGov research as showing 20% of SNP supporters from the last Holyrood elections were set to say No to independence, with this amounting to more than 180,000 people.

That compares to more than176,000 people who voted Labour in 2011 but who plan to vote Yes in the referendum, the party said.

Ms Lamont said: “We know that Labour voters and SNP voters, people across the country, are being asked to take a punt to vote Yes and somehow everything will be OK, despite the fact that there will be a greater challenge on public services.”

She insisted the SNP’s landslide victory in the 2011 Holyrood elections was “achieved despite their policy of independence” as she said that those who had backed Alex Salmond’s party for the first time then “are key to this referendum”.

She said: “In Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency in Glasgow Southside, we are speaking to Labour and SNP supporters, and are finding two No voters for every Yes voter.

“We are fighting the biggest ground war Labour has ever fought across the country but today we’re here to speak to SNP supporters.

“We know that in 2011 people voted for the SNP as a recognition of the success of devolution and there are significant numbers of SNP voters who are voting No.

“I think that is because they understand you can have the benefits of devolution but with the security and protection of the United Kingdom.

“You can vote No as a patriotic choice because it means we can have the opportunity to create a fairer Scotland.”

Ms Lamont added: “While Labour voters are testing the arguments, so are SNP voters.

“We’re finding significant numbers of SNP voters from 2011 are now going to be voting No.

“The message is this: yes, you can care about your country, you can feel a patriotic Scot but the patriotic choice is to vote for Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom and to have the benefits of devolution with the protection and security of the United Kingdom. That is a choice I think people are increasingly recognising.”

A number of key Labour figures will travel north next week to campaign against independence as the referendum grows ever closer.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, former prime minister Gordon Brown, shadow chancellor Ed Balls and former deputy leader John Prescott are all expected to take part in the campaign in the coming days.

Ms Lamont said efforts such as this showed that Labour “recognise the seriousness of this”.

She added: “We are confident of a No vote, but never complacent, because we know people are testing the arguments.”

Ms Sturgeon, speaking on the campaign trail in Glasgow, advised Ms Lamont to focus on her own constituency.

The Deputy First Minister said: “I accept there are a lot of SNP voters in my constituency.

“My experience, and I canvass in my own constituency all the time, is that the vast majority of them are voting Yes.

“I’ve also seen the canvass returns from Johann Lamont’s constituency and if I was to give her a bit of friendly advice it would be to maybe concentrate a bit more on her own constituency because they won’t make particularly cheery reading.”

Ms Sturgeon said Labour supporters were turning to Yes because they “want many of the same things”.

She said: “They want to see us protect our public services, protect our NHS, protect the vulnerable in our society, and the best way to ensure that we can do these things is to give ourselves access to our own resources - put our hands on the levers of decision-making - and we only get that by voting Yes.

“The big mistake I think the No campaign have made is to see this as some kind of election.

“You don’t have to agree with the SNP to vote Yes. You just have to agree that it’s right that control over decisions and the resources of Scotland should be taken here and that we should always get the governments we vote for, not Tory governments that we don’t vote for.”