THE UK government is planning a “relentless” offensive on the impact that Scottish independence will have on household finances as the marathon campaign marks 500 days to go until the referendum.
Scotland on Sunday understands that the UK government intends to publish three detailed papers in the next few weeks and months, with the first set to focus on mortgages, financial services and pensions and how they might be affected by independence.
The move comes as Better Together leaders claim today that Alex Salmond has made a “big strategic mistake” by launching the Yes campaign without having published his own full plans on independence.
A Scottish Government white paper on the SNP’s independence prospectus is not due until November.
SNP figures yesterday denied the claims, pointing to the detailed work of the government’s financial experts on how a newly independent country might operate.
They also claim the UK government is dodging talks on co-operation after a Yes vote, which might give people more clarity.
The fresh push from UK ministers comes at the end of a torrid two weeks for the pro-independence campaign over the question of what currency Scotland would use, following a warning from George Osborne that the UK government may not want to co-operate in a new sterling zone.
The First Minister has backed keeping the pound, but other pro-independence supporters have said they would favour an independent Scottish currency to allow a new country more room for flexibility.
Today, the Better Together campaign hopes to focus more pressure on the Yes campaign by publishing 500 questions on independence on unresolved issues, including Europe, defence, broadcasting and passports.
Meanwhile, Whitehall sources said they now intend to move attention away from big macro-economic issues such as the currency and to focus on the personal financial concerns of families. A further 10 papers in other areas, such as defence and welfare, are also planned before polling day.
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Blair McDougall, the campaign director of Better Together claims that Salmond has allowed the pro-UK campaign to set the agenda.
He said: “It was a big strategic mistake they have made launching the campaign without the position [on independence] being clear and saying you have to wait until November to find out. It’s just a political device for not answering questions.”
He claims that the SNP has sought to “close down” issues such as EU membership and the currency, rather than acknowledge options and uncertainty, but in so doing they have “caused themselves trouble”.
He added: “You could make arguments that problems are surmountable but to convince people you have the strategy for leaving the UK you need to have the honesty to acknowledge it in the first place.”
SNP figures denied the claims last night, pointing to a series of publications over recent weeks, including a detailed report from the government’s Fiscal Commission on how a new country might work. A source said: “We are at our best when we are proactive.”
Meanwhile, also interviewed today, the Yes Scotland campaign team insist that the currency row has not affected the campaign, and insist that the polls are failing to pick up a shift in the “tectonic plates”, as people weigh up the options available to them.
Marking the 500-day milestone today, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon argues that “only independence” will ensure that the gap between the richest and poorest in society will be closed.
“Our economy has got so much going for it and we have so much potential to fulfil. And yet there is a paradox in Scotland today because while our economy has all of these advantages many people in Scotland feel that their living standards are under pressure like never before. The gap between the richest and the poorest is growing ever wider. Only independence can change this.”
But in his own statement, the leader of the Better Together campaign Alistair Darling said: “So far, those who want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom have relied on bluster and, sadly in the case of the EU, outright deception in order to try convince Scots to give them their backing. This, simply, is not good enough.”
He added: “Today we have published 500 questions that have been submitted to us by individuals, organisations and businesses over the past few months.”
The referendum will take place, in 500 days time, on September 18, 2014.
Writing in Scotland on Sunday today, the UK’s leading pollster Peter Kellner of YouGov argues that Salmond has a “huge mountain to climb - more Everest than Ben Nevis.” But he adds: “This far out from next year’s referendum, there is plenty of time for the public mood to change. If anyone can boost support for independence it is Mr Salmond.”