Alistair Darling urges respect in referendum debate

Alistair Darling: Questions SNP
Alistair Darling: Questions SNP
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ALISTAIR Darling has warned that some people will make it their “mission” to create divisions as the temperature rises in the battle for Scotland’s ­future in 2013.

In his New Year message, the Better Together campaign leader called for the independence debate to be conducted with respect on both sides.

It was a plea that was ­echoed on the other side of the debate by Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister in the SNP administration at Holyrood, who said both campaigns should be “positive”.

Darling made his plea as he reflected on recent controversial contributions to the ­debate.

Two weeks after novelist Alasdair Gray characterised English people in Scotland as either “settlers” or “colonists”, Darling said: “The year ended with dangerous and divisive language entering the independence debate.”

He added: “There will be those who make it their mission in 2013 to divide people from one another. Our campaign will seek to unite people around shared interests and values.

“We will be making the positive case that, on our small island, we have more in common than divides us; that Scotland has more to gain by working together with the rest of the UK family than by turning against each other, that our best future remains together rather than apart.”

Looking back on 2012, the Edinburgh MP took the view that the wind had changed in Better Together’s favour.

“Since Better Together launched six months ago the terms of the debate have changed in Scotland,” Darling said. “At the start of 2012 commentators routinely wrote about the inevitability of independence. No-one now believes that the Nationalists will have things their own way.

“Having waited their entire political lives for this moment, they have been exposed as ill-prepared for this historic debate. They haven’t thought through their answers to the really big questions: What would our currency be? How would we keep jobs that depend on trade with England? How would Scotland be represented in the world? What would happen to shipyard jobs? Would we keep the BBC?”

Darling also urged the SNP government to publish details of how an independent Scotland would work before next November – the date that ministers intend to publish their independence white paper.

“The Nationalists want to wait until the end of 2013 before offering any detail on these issues. Surely they have had long enough to think through these issues? A question as important and irreversible as this needs a full and detailed debate,” Darling said.

He added: “We need a debate conducted in an atmosphere of respect on all sides. Too often those who raise questions, without even taking sides on independence, are accused of being negative or scaremongering, when all they want to know are the answers to pretty basic questions.”

Sturgeon confirmed a referendum Bill would be introduced early in 2013, along with legislation to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to take part.

Although the referendum is not due until autumn 2014, she said the debate “has already begun in earnest”.

She added: “Now that the legal basis of the referendum has been confirmed through the Edinburgh Agreement, the debate that follows on the substance of the argument must be a positive one – the people of Scotland deserve no less.

“I want to see – on both sides of the debate, and whatever we think Scotland’s constitutional future should be – everyone involved engaging in a positive way that encourages the people of Scotland to turn out and make an informed choice on their future.

“The debate we will have over the next two years must be about how we can achieve economic growth and social justice.

“I believe only the powers we will get through independence offer us the tools we need to build the country we want.”