THE new Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has warned Westminster politicians against using campaign visits to Scotland as a “lecture tour” in the run-up to next year’s independence referendum.
Mr Carmichael issued the stark warning to his UK Cabinet colleagues yesterday, during his first public appearance in Scotland since he was appointed to his new role in Monday’s Lib Dem reshuffle.
David Cameron and other ministers including Chancellor George Osborne, Home Secretary Theresa May and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond have all delivered speeches attacking independence during high-profile campaign visits to Scotland.
The SNP has described the interventions as “condescending” attempts to “talk down to people living in Scotland” about the consequences of independence.
Mr Carmichael said he had already told ministers from other parts of the UK to “be prepared to learn” from Scots and to avoid being seen as talking down to voters ahead of the referendum.
He also claimed it was “eminently possible” Scotland could back independence as he talked about the “dangers” of assuming there would be a No vote on 18 September, 2014.
And he warned anti-independence campaigners over the use of inflammatory language in the run-up to the referendum.
Mr Carmichael was moved from his post as Lib Dem chief whip to take over from Michael Moore and is expected to play a more high-profile campaigning and combative role.
Speaking during a visit to the Scotland Office in Edinburgh, he insisted that he would be assertive with his Westminster colleagues in Cabinet meetings.
However, Mr Carmichael said UK ministers should become more involved in the referendum campaign. “I think it has been one of the consequences of devolution that there has been a mindset in Whitehall that Scotland is somewhere that is now principally the responsibility of the Scottish Government, which on reserved matters it is not,” he said.
“I will be making a vigorous case [for Scotland].”
He added: “I am very keen that nobody in the UK should see Scotland as a no-go area. I have also told [ministers] that when they come to Scotland, they should come, see how things are done here, share experiences and be prepared to learn. It must be more than a lecture tour.”
The SNP claimed that Mr Carmichael’s remarks were an admission that UK ministers were “badly out of touch“ with the lives of most Scots.
Nationalist MSP Rob Gibson said: “Alistair Carmichael’s comments are a clear recognition that the condescending attitude of the Westminster government has done the No campaign no favours.
“A succession of ministers have used visits to Scotland to talk down to people living here, not least with Philip Hammond’s gaffe-filled visit earlier this week.”
Mr Carmichael said that the referendum had been a long time coming, describing it as becoming a “live prospect” when the SNP formed its minority government following the 2007 election.
He added: “Until the vote, it continues to be eminently possible that Scotland could vote for independence. One of the biggest dangers could be to think that we have it in the bag.
“If it is a No vote, those who pursue the case for independence must, for the sake of us all, be able to say that they will respect that result and they will respect the view of the Scottish people.”
He said social networking comments referring to Better Together supporters in Orkney as “quislings” were “grossly offensive”.
Look who’s doing the talking
Alistair Carmichael’s talk about a “lecture tour” could be viewed as being directed at several senior Tories who have made keynote speeches north of the Border.
David Cameron and three of his most senior Cabinet ministers, who all represent English constituencies, could easily be the ones he had in mind.
The Prime Minister, speaking during a visit to Edinburgh in February last year, talked of the “inspiring” and “great” things about the Union.
He said: “But proud as that past and present are, I am convinced that for both Scotland, and the United Kingdom, our best days lie ahead of us.
Home Secretary Theresa May said Scottish independence would leave the country open to mass immigration problems.
And Chancellor George Osborne used the launch of a Treasury paper in Glasgow last month to talk about his backing for Scotland’s place in the UK. He said: “As an Englishman, I passionately hope people in Scotland will vote to stay within the UK in just over a year’s time.”
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, in Edinburgh this week, warned a Yes vote would damage defence jobs. He said: “What little the SNP have published of their plans for the defence of an independent Scotland doesn’t add up.”
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