Scottish independence: Parties in talks over ‘rainbow coalition’ to save Union
THE campaign to preserve Scotland’s place in the UK is finally under way among the pro-Union parties, with discussions having taken place between senior Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat figures.
They are determined to focus on their “shared aims” in the months and years ahead after watching the Nationalists seize the early initiative in the referendum debate.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Anas Sarwar and Tory constitution spokesman David McLetchie have held talks in recent months in an effort to co-ordinate their campaign.
But the meetings have been branded a “toxic pact” by the SNP, which says Labour in particular will suffer due to its involvement with the Westminster coalition parties and that voters will abandon it “in their droves”.
The pro-Union campaign has faced criticism in recent months, with senior figures such as Labour’s Jim Murphy indicating his reluctance to share a platform with Prime Minister David Cameron because of differences in other policy areas.
The start of talks will be widely seen as an acceptance that greater co-operation is needed.
Mr McLetchie said yesterday: “In the upcoming debate over Scotland’s future, it is vital that those who believe in keeping Scotland within the United Kingdom work together to help achieve this objective.
“Although there are clear differences between parties on certain aspects of the future constitutional make-up of the UK, we must focus on our shared aims rather than our minor differences.”
Strategists in the unionist parties have watched with alarm as the SNP moulded a coalition of business and civic bodies backing either independence or further constitutional change. They are now keen to hit back with their own “rainbow coalition” in favour of keeping the Union.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said the emergence of people in the Greens and beyond arguing in favour of constitutional change had to be countered by the pro-Union campaign in the months and years ahead.
“I accept that there would need to be cross-party co-oper-ation on this on the same basis that Salmond has constructed this other coalition,” she told Holyrood magazine. “That’s constitutional politics.
“People of different political backgrounds can come together around this one issue.”
Ms Lamont has previously insisted she would be in charge of Labour’s referendum campaign and would not be “overshadowed” by Westminster politicians. She has said she would not follow Mr Murphy’s refusal to share a platform with Mr Cameron, insisting she would be ready to do so as part of a campaign to save the Union.
It is expected the pro-UK campaign will bring together groups from across industry and civic life and will be formally launched in the aftermath of the spring party conference season.
Senior Scottish figures in the main unionist parties, such as Labour’s Alistair Darling and the Conservatives’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind, are expected to play a key role in the months ahead, although at the moment there are no plans for a single figure to spearhead the campaign.
There was a frosty reception, however, from Nationalist backbencher Gordon MacDonald.
The Edinburgh Pentlands MSP said: “The anti-independence parties are now in cahoots in what can only be described as a toxic pact.
“In uniting with the Tories, the Labour leadership will further alienate themselves from both the Scottish people and many in their own party.
“This comes as Ed Miliband has recorded a disastrous approval rating among Scots voters, with a dismal minus 63 per cent – three times lower than David Cameron’s minus-18 rating.
“It is clear the people of Scotland are rightly appalled by Labour agreeing ‘100 per cent’ with the Tories on Scotland’s future.
“So, with the party’s deputy leader Anas Sarwar having ‘regular discussions’ with the Tories and Lib Dems on Scotland’s future, it is no wonder voters are abandoning his party in their droves.”
There were concerns among the pro-Union parties when it emerged recently that Chancellor George Osborne had led the discussion on Scotland at the UK Cabinet. The Lib Dems’ Lord Steel, a former presiding officer, warned it would be “disastrous” for the campaign to come across as being “English Tory” led.
Labour and the Conservatives have been at loggerheads in recent months over the role to be played by Mr Cameron in the anti-independence campaign.
Senior Cabinet figures have insisted that, as Prime Minister, he must play a pivotal role, but Labour has been split on the issue, amid concerns the Nationalists would seize on the chance to portray him as an English “interloper”.
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “We are happy to work with anyone who shares our position that Scotland is stronger working in co-operation and partnership with our neighbours, while ensuring we set out a positive and distinct Labour vision for the future of Scotland.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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