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Scottish independence: Tories could swing yes vote

Henry McLeish still believes in the Union, but warns a tipping point is nearing that could push Scots towards independence. Picture: SNS

Henry McLeish still believes in the Union, but warns a tipping point is nearing that could push Scots towards independence. Picture: SNS

  • by SCOTT MACNAB
 

FORMER Labour first minister Henry McLeish has warned of a “crisis” within unionist politics in Scotland and a “perfect storm” brewing among voters which could see the independence campaign win the referendum.

He said Scots could vote Yes in next year’s historic poll, rather than remain part of a “divided Britain” consumed by “greed and inequality”. In a coruscating attack on the state of modern Britain under the current Tory-led coalition, Mr McLeish argues in an article for The Scotsman today that the UK is becoming “intolerant and unfair” and that the official pro-Union Better Together campaign has failed to win over Scots.

“Scottish voters may have no other option but to vote to end the historic links and build a new Scotland,” he writes.

Mr McLeish, who remains in favour of the Union, insists his party must start to “believe in Scotland as a nation” in order to reconnect with voters.

The Better Together campaign insists it is asking hard questions on pensions and savings that voters want answered.

But Mr McLeish’s intervention was welcomed by independence campaigners who insist the current Westminster system is not working for Scots.

The latest polls indicate that the pro-Union campaign has a comfortable lead of about 20 points over the pro-independence side, which is backed by about a third of Scots. But fresh research released by Ipsos Mori last week showed that almost half – 44 per cent – of Scots fall into the “undecided” bracket.

US political forecasting guru Nate Silver had warned earlier last week the that there was “virtually no chance” of a Yes vote based on recent polling – barring a major “game-changing” development such as an economic meltdown in England.

This is unlikely, according to Mr McLeish, but he warns a “tipping point” is nearing as other concerns crystallize in voters’ minds and the referendum campaign moves into a second phase. This could “blow the battle for Scotland wide open”, particularly with “Tory extremism” now driving the agenda south of the Border, he writes.

“The advance of the right poses a real threat to the Union and Scotland’s role in it. The unionist campaign has combined the hard and aggressive politics of a discredited Westminster with no vision, no narrative, no idea of Scotland the nation, and no concept of how the role of Scots and Scotland could be enhanced within a modern Union. This has caused frustration and anger, which may lead Scots to turn their backs on an increasingly divided Britain.”

The rise of the political right and English nationalism through the Tories and their “Tea Party” allies Ukip could also be factor which turns undecided Scots towards independence, the former first minister warns.

The prospect of another Tory victory in the 2015 election would be the “nightmare scenario” for the unionist campaign, which would drive a majority of Scots to vote Yes on 18 September next year, he said.

Mr McLeish has previously called on Labour to quit the pro-union Better Together alliance, which includes the Tories and Liberal Democrats. And he warns that the official pro-Union campaign is still using the “fear factor” as its major weapon.”

The Better Together campaign, led by former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, has been so “thoroughly negative” that it now risks “alienating many Scots who want to vote for the Union but feel increasingly insulted by endless threats of famine, pestilence, plague and aliens if they dared vote for independence”.

Mr McLeish says Labour, as the main pro-Union party in Scotland, must do more to step up to the plate and present a vision of a reformed Union which attracts the post-devolution generation.

“Unionist politics in Scotland is in crisis,” Mr McLeish adds.

“Labour is hesitant, lacking confidence and appears to be devoid of a narrative for Scotland’s constitutional future and lacking a vision for Scotland, in or out of the Union. The SNP is the dominant political force in Scottish politics and faces little opposition, despite being in power for more than six years.”

The pro-Union parties have pledged to come up with proposals for enhanced powers for Holyrood in the event of a No vote, but have faced criticism over a lack of detail.

The official Yes Scotland campaign last night insisted the fears set out by Mr McLeish show why support for independence has been gradually building.

“Henry McLeish has put his finger on the reasons why more and more Scots are moving from No to Yes,” a spokesman said.

“In the referendum, people will have a choice between two different directions for our nation, with a Yes vote putting Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands allowing us to do more to deliver gains for families living in Scotland.

“A No will leave our future in the hands of a Westminster system that isn’t working in so many ways, including, as Henry McLeish identifies, the creation of a more unequal society that leaves the vast majority of people in Scotland worse off.”

But a spokesman for Better Together defended its approach and insisted it is asking questions on key issues that Scots wants answered. He said: “We are running a strong, positive campaign pointing out the benefits of Scotland remaining in the UK. We believe sharing resources, risks and rewards across our islands is in our best interests.

“However, we will not stop asking difficult questions about the impact of separation on our pensions, currency, mortgages and savings. These are questions that the people of Scotland deserve credible answers to.”

Scottish Labour’s constitution spokesman, Drew Smith, insisted that the party will have a “fully detailed proposal” for further devolution which will be put to voters ahead of the referendum next year.

SNP admits 34,000 jobs for all UK, not just Scotland

The SNP government has wrongly claimed that the oil and gas industry will provide tens of thousands of Scottish jobs in the next couple of years, it has emerged.

The 34,000 jobs which were hailed are to be spread across the UK, ministers have now confirmed. The figures were set out in a recent government paper outlining the industry’s prospects in an independent Scotland.

It was published on 23 July and was amended three days later, but opposition parties yesterday seized on the blunder.

Tory finance spokesman Gavin Brown said: “On many occasions the Scottish Government has put its own unusual interpretation on figures and tried to paint it as reality.

“This time it used a UK figure and pretended it was a Scottish statistic, then blamed Lloyds for the mistake. However, it turns out the error was the Scottish Government’s and I’m glad that has now been clarified in black and white.”

Finance secretary John Swinney acknowledged the error in a written response to Mr Brown. He said: “This was a result of an incorrect interpretation of data presented by Lloyds Banking Group by Scottish Government officials in the original published version of Maximising the Return from Oil and Gas in an Independent Scotland.”

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “I am sure there are a few red faces in government offices just now.

“What is more concerning is the fact that it seems ministers tried to correct the record without letting anyone know what they were up to.

“This was a basic factual mistake that should have been acknowledged and corrected in the full glare of the public eye.”

MORE ON SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE

Henry McLeish: Unionists sunk by a perfect storm?

Leaders: No campaign has to raise its game

Michael Fry: Libertarians may prove hard to resist

Peter Jones: Labour must heed Prescott warning

 

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