THE pro-UK message to Scots ahead of next year’s referendum needs to be “blunter” and “more real to people’s everyday lives”, Alistair Carmichael has warned in his first appearance as Scottish Secretary before a Commons committee.
Giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, the Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland also provoked anger over his comments that job security would be undermined in an independent Scotland on the day that 800 jobs were under threat with the closure of the chemical plant at Grangemouth.
But Mr Carmichael’s unhappiness with the tone of the pro-UK message followed comments he made to the Scotsman in an interview where he said its campaigning had lacked “passion and wit” so far, which was interpreted as a criticism of the Better Together campaign headed by former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling and the consensual approach of his predecessor Michael Moore.
He was appearing before the committee to discuss the latest UK Government analysis paper on the macroeconomic impact of Scotland leaving the UK, the fifth analysis document produced by Whitehall.
And he made it clear he thought that the UK Government so far has failed to make its papers relevant to people’s lives.
Answering a question from Labour Airdrie and Shotts MP Pamela Nash, he said: “You touch one of the challenges of this paper and it is something on which I will be focussing and that is how do you make this real to people in their everyday lives? Because you are right we aren’t.
“The challenge is always there with macro economics. You are talking big figures and big pictures but bluntly put being part of the UK means that you have an access to jobs and you have job security and that is greater than it would be if you were not part of the UK and I think you have to put it as starkly as that.”
Mr Carmichael, who admits he has a reputation as a political bruiser, also turned his fire on the SNP Scottish Government for saying one thing in public about the prospects of an independent Scotland and another in private.
He highlighted recent revelations that the Scottish Government had been advised that it would have to raise taxes or cut public spending to create an oil fund but not made that information public.
In a typically robust performance, he described it as “a shame” and “outrageous.”
Also giving evidence was Lib Dem Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander who pointed out that Scotland outperforms most of the rest of the UK economically and small independent countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Portugal.
He said: “Scotland is a highly successful small country within the UK because of the UK.”
He also warned of the economic impact of creating a border even if there are no border posts and passport controls.
He said this would cost Scottish households an average of £2,000 a year and households in the rest of the UK £100 a year because of lost cross border trade and extra bureaucratic costs.
He added: “Those who say that the border effect doesn’t exist, that is the economic equivalent of climate change denial.”
An SNP spokesman said the party did not want to react to Mr Carmichael’s criticism but SNP Treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie dismissed the claims of a border creating economic problems for Scotland or the rest of the UK.
He said: “Scots buy £47 billion of goods and services each year from the rest of the UK which support a great many jobs in the rest of the UK.
“It is silly to think that the government of the rest of the UK would put those jobs at risk it would be much better for everyone if trade were to continue.”
There was also anger over Mr Carmichael’s comments on job security with SNP critics taking to Twitter.
Former SNP parliamentary candidate Calum Cashley said: “On the day that the Grangemouth news is announced you would have thought he’d be a bit more sensitive.”
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