New Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has accused the pro-Union campaign of being dull and called for more “passion and wit” to win over voters.
Speaking to The Scotsman just two days after he was parachuted into the job, Mr Carmichael said the Better Together campaign needed to do more to appeal to people’s “hearts” rather than just their minds. He said he was ready to face SNP leader Alex Salmond in a televised debate over the future of Scotland.
And he said the Better Together camp needed a big win in the referendum next year to make sure it was a “once in a generation” event.
The Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, who replaced his colleague Michael Moore in the job following the party’s reshuffle on Monday, said Better Together and the unionist parties have allowed the Nationalists to portray their message as negative.
He also warned that the referendum on 18 September next year could leave a legacy of deep divisions in Scottish society because of the rhetoric being used by both sides in the debate.
While he refused to discuss the merits of individuals on either side of the campaign, he said that First Minister Alex Salmond was “only a human being with faults frailties”. He said: “I am quite happy to debate independence with Alex Salmond on any day and any platform.”
He also gave a strong suggestion that the Barnett Formula of public funding – under which Scotland receives a better deal than other parts of the UK – would be open for review if Scotland votes to remain in the UK.
The SNP last night described that admission as a “gaffe” and said Mr Carmichael had “let the cat out of the bag” over the future of Scotland’s funding from Westminster, although the position on reviewing Barnett has long been held by the Lib Dems.
Mr Carmichael said the “easiest way to get rid of the Barnett Formula is to vote for independence”, but added “it will become a live issue when more tax-raising powers are devolved”.
“I’m not looking for any favours out of the UK. I’m quite happy to pay my way and I believe most Scots are as well.”
Mr Carmichael also promised that if the people in his Orkney and Shetland constituency wish to stay with the rest of the UK should Scots vote Yes, he will fight for them to break away from an independent Scotland.
“If it was the will of the people in Orkney and Shetland then I would make sure there were things done to honour their wishes,” he said.
Insisting that he was not criticising Better Together chairman Alistair Darling, Mr Carmichael was highly critical of the No campaign. “We do have to appeal to people’s hearts,” he said. “We have got to put a bit of passion and a bit of wit into this debate.
“I think that has been missing from the No campaign in particular. I feel that it has been all a bit managerial and we do need to be spikier, wittier and prepared to talk real time about what matters to people.”
He said he believes the Better Together campaign should make more of the cross-Border links within families who will be turned into foreigners by independence. “I am married to an English woman, my children are half English, their grandparents live in the south-west of England,” he said. “I don’t want to put a border between my children and their grandparents.”
He said one of the reasons for the lack of passion was the length of the campaign.
“This has been and is a ridiculously long time for a referendum campaign. Occasionally you look at the calendar and you think it has flipped backwards instead of forwards,” he said.
Mr Carmichael described his predecessor Mr Moore as “one of my best mates” who “did an excellent job”.
He was critical about the way the pro-Union campaign had allowed the SNP to portray their message, which Nationalists have labelled “project fear”.
He said: “If you think of the defence paper this week to deal with defence industry jobs, what the government said there is that here are the opportunities that come to Scottish industry because we are part of the UK.
“We then allow them, the Nationalists, to say we are threatening to take away these jobs, which is nonsense.”
Mr Carmichael also suggested that the No campaign needed to be more imaginative and “look for the less obvious benefits of being in the UK”.
He highlighted the huge role the UK army plays in humanitarian operations around the globe, arguing that an independent Scotland could not have ownership of something so big.
But he said his biggest fear was that the rhetoric on both sides will leave a legacy of division in Scotland.
He said: “I think that the debate will become more tense in the next 12 months. I fear it might actually become more divisive seeing the direction of travel has been thus far. Once you get into the heat of a campaign I suspect there will be stupid things said on both sides.”
Last night, an SNP source said Mr Carmichael’s suggestion that the Barnett Formula would be up for review following the referendum was a “gaffe”.
“The cat is well and truly out of the bag – Alistair Carmichael has confirmed that a No vote would see Scotland’s funding slashed by Westminster,” he said. “This is a huge gaffe by the new Scottish Secretary just two days into his new job .”
A spokesman for Better Together said: “We agree this is an incredibly long campaign. We will use every minute available to us to make our positive case for Scotland staying in the UK.”
The Scotsman Conferences is hosting a series of events capturing the many facets of the Scottish independence debate. 3 December sees a formidable line up of expert speakers tackle “The Independence White Paper: A Business Plan for Scotland?” For more details on this and other great events please visit www.scotsmanconferences.com