Andrew Whitaker: Unionist campaigns trail a poor second to the money and glamour behind independence

ALEX Salmond’s announcement at the weekend that the “Yes” to independence campaign would be launched in May suggests that the SNP already has a well-oiled political machine firmly in place similar to that which saw the party secure a thumping election victory last year.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson, who masterminded the election triumph, has already been handed the role of the pro-independence campaign director and the party has for many months now had an internal committee plotting the different stages of the referendum.

With the unionist parties still at sixes-and-sevens over the possibility of a united anti-independence campaign, the pro-independence lobby looks like it has a clear start well before the race has even begun.

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The SNP has already amassed a vast financial war chest, with Scottish Euromillions winners Chris and Colin Weir donating £1 million of their fortune to the party’s pro-independence campaign.

That, along with a bequest of almost £1m in the will of former Makar the late Edwin Morgan, means the “yes” campaign is in a position to massively outspend its unionist opponents.

Mr Salmond’s insistence that “it will be a broad-based campaign” for independence suggests that the SNP may have already lined-up a number of high profile and celebrity endorsements that could be rolled out during different stages of the lengthy run-up to the referendum.

One of the most effective parts of the SNP’s highly successful election campaign last year saw the party securing endorsements for a second term from figures not associated with the nationalist cause such as artist Jack Vettriano, former Labour supporting actor Brian Cox and former Lib Dem MSP John Farquhar Munro.

The “yes” campaign approach is also likely to be run along similar presidential lines to that which the SNP employed last year, with Mr Salmond presented as a Donald Dewar style father of the nation figure in contrast to what the nationalists will attempt to portray as the disparate and divided leaders of the unionist cause.

It’s increasingly difficult to see the anti-independence lobby getting its act together any time soon, despite the involvement of former prime minister Gordon Brown and his chancellor Alistair Darling.

The only remotely credible movement to emerge on the unionist side so far has been the cross-party “devo-plus” campaign – for devolving most tax powers to Holyrood – which boasts the financial muscle of big business delivered through think tank Reform Scotland.

However, with the “devo-plus” group’s support so far coming mainly from big business as well as politicians of the centre and right, the campaign could struggle to win popular support in what still remains the significant constituency of Scottish Labour.