McLeish hits out at Labour’s currency union vow

SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: The former first minister Henry McLeish has criticised Labour’s pledge to block a currency union claiming it was a threat against Scottish voters.
Former First Minister Henry McLeish. Picture: PAFormer First Minister Henry McLeish. Picture: PA
Former First Minister Henry McLeish. Picture: PA

The former Labour politician, who led Scotland for just over a year between 2000 and 2001, said Labour’s stance would annoy and irritate Scots.

McLeish, who resigned as first minister following a row over his expenses, was reacting to the position outlined by Ed Miliband when he visited Scotland at the end of last week.

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Miliband said Labour’s 2015 General Election manifesto would include a pledge to block Alex Salmond’s plans to share the pound formally.

McLeish said: “I think there’s been a serious miscalculation from Labour here. Alistair Darling gave a good, focused performance. But on the back of that we are in the extraordinary situation where a Labour leader is offering to put forward pre-emptive legislation to prevent Scotland in the event of a Yes vote getting a currency union.

“By any standards this is wide of the mark. My sadness this can only be perceived as yet another threat and, of course, this may go down badly with Scots who want an argument and want to look at the substance, but don’t want to be irritated or annoyed in this way.

“Alistair Darling for the first time in a long time allowed the Better Together campaign to gain some momentum on a serious issue. What has happened may mean that legacy is squandered.”

McLeish, who says he will vote No in the referendum, added: “It is a general election next year, are we really suggesting to Scots than in the event of a Yes vote that we will with the Lib Dems and Conservatives, put up a blocking piece of legislation to thwart the settled will of the Scottish people?”

McLeish spoke as Labour’s Scottish leader Johann Lamont claimed independence would bring a new wave of austerity for families.

Lamont said the country will face spending cuts or tax rises to maintain public services as a consequence of a Yes vote in the referendum.

She is expected to set out her arguments for a No vote and launch a fresh attack on Alex Salmond’s independence plans in a speech in Kinning Park in Glasgow today.

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She will add: “Salmond may rave against austerity but he knows a new, additional wave of austerity would come after independence. The independent experts tell us we face spending cuts or tax rises to maintain what we have now.

“That means cuts to our NHS, our schools, our pensions and our social security. And as that new wave hits, Salmond offers no hope for ordinary people, just tax cuts for the bankers and the rich.”