Independence: Salmond accused of ‘playing it safe’

ALEX Salmond has come under fire from independence supporters amid concerns that the campaign for a referendum Yes vote is stalling.
Alex Salmond has faced criticism. Picture: TSPLAlex Salmond has faced criticism. Picture: TSPL
Alex Salmond has faced criticism. Picture: TSPL

Influential figures on the Yes Scotland side have called on the SNP leadership to outline a more radical vision of independence at the end of a difficult week that saw severe criticism of the Nationalists’ plans for currency and pensions.

Discontent within the independence movement at Salmond’s “cautious” approach came as “Yes” hopes were dealt another blow by a poll showing that almost two-thirds of Scottish voters are unconvinced by his arguments for breaking up the United ­Kingdom.

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The YouGov poll, commissioned by the Better Together campaign, showed that 62 per cent of voters questioned did not find Salmond’s case for independence convincing. Crucially, the figure includes nearly a quarter of SNP voters.

According to the poll of 1,038 Scots, only 30 per cent of the electorate finds the case put forward by Salmond and the SNP convincing. Within this overall figure, more men than women, and more voters from the lower socioeconomic groups, believe the SNP are providing a compelling vision.

The poll follows a visit to Scotland by Chancellor George Osborne, who claimed that the UK could reject Salmond’s plan, in the event of a Yes vote, to be part of a new sterling zone. Salmond rebutted the claims and accused him of “scaremongering”. Then a ­report by ICAS, the accountants’ body, raised question marks over the way a pension system would be run after independence.

SNP Ministers have sought to meet those concerns by offering guarantees on issues ­including EU membership, 
the currency and Nato membership.

However, leading figures, mainly on the left of the independence movement, say that the SNP leadership should risk a more radical approach to highlighting the benefits a Yes vote in September next year.

They argue that the leadership of the campaign needs to be far “bolder” and is currently too concerned about “how things look” to the public.

Their argument is that Salmond is failing to articulate a “radical” vision for independence because he is pre-occupied with reassuring sceptical swing voters that they can vote Yes without causing too much upheaval.

One senior SNP politician said: “We can be too sensitive to the ‘how will this look?’ thing. It’s legitimate for us to say that the future of the UK is uncertain as well. But we aren’t doing that.”

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The source added: “We don’t need to pretend things are as certain as we are doing. All it does is get us out of one hole and then into another one.”

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald said: “They [the SNP] are cautious but they have got to realise that they are hoping to deconstruct a very firm and very stable construct [the UK]. You can’t do that without boldness, so they need to be bolder. There’s room for a bit of anger. We should be sick to the back teeth of having our children’s chances thwarted.”

Former SNP MSP Jean Urquhart, who quit the party after it decided Scotland should join Nato, added: “What we need to do is reassure people that they are tough enough to do this rather than simply assure them that everything is going to be OK because nothing will be changed.”

The pro-independence Green party leader Patrick Harvie also said that Salmond should not close down debate over the possibility of a separate Scottish currency, warning that by tying Scotland to the pound, it could negate the point of independence.

Harvie said: “If negotiations go badly we don’t want to find ourselves over a barrel. So we need to keep options open and make sure we are not closing down the flexibility that is the whole purpose of a Yes vote.”

Better Together’s YouGov poll also asked voters what was the key issue for them in the referendum. The economy was ranked most important, followed by tax and spending levels, and pensions and welfare.

It also asked people if they might change their view on independence if Scotland could not use the pound. Four per cent said it would make them more likely to vote for independence, while 19 per cent said it would make them less likely.

Last night SNP Campaign Director Angus Robertson responded to the Better Together poll saying: “Polling already shows that a clear majority of Scots want all tax and spending, welfare and pensions to be decided by the Scottish parliament.

“All this poll proves is that the No campaign is being led by what the Tory government says – a fact which will haunt their campaign.”