ALEX Salmond’s most trusted adviser is being installed at the headquarters of the Yes Scotland campaign after the pro-independence group suffered a series of setbacks over the summer.
Scotland on Sunday has learned that Kevin Pringle, the party’s strategic communications chief, will move this week from the SNP headquarters in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh to the Yes campaign offices in Hope Street, Glasgow.
The move will be widely seen as an attempt by Salmond to shore up the SNP’s influence in the Yes campaign, which has consistently failed to get more than a third of Scots backing independence, according to opinion polls.
Yes Scotland has endured a series of departures of senior staff, with both Jacqueline Caldwell, the director of operations, and Susan Stewart, the director of communications, quitting their posts in the organisation, as well as a police investigation into leaked emails.
News of Pringle’s move was given to SNP MSPs last week by party chief executive Peter Murell during a one-year-to-go briefing on the campaign for a Yes vote at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh.
Murrell said Pringle would be given a desk and office space at Yes Scotland along with another senior party employee, Lorraine Reid.
The move comes just a year after Pringle left a five-year stint as chief spin doctor to Salmond’s government to take up the post as the SNP’s strategic communications director.
Nationalist MSPs were told by Murrell that Pringle will continue in the SNP role, but will be part of a collective involving the pro-independence parties co-operating in the Yes campaign.
An SNP source said there was ”widespread concern” in the party’s parliamentary ranks about the performance of the leadership of Yes Scotland under its chief executive Blair Jenkins – a non-SNP figure and former BBC senior executive.
The nationalist source said that Murrell has sought to “reassure” SNP MSPs about the party’s involvement in Yes Scotland, with Pringle’s move coming as the campaign enters its final year ahead of the referendum on 18 September, 2014.
Pringle is widely viewed as one of the key figures in the SNP and his performance as Salmond’s top spin doctor is associated with the party remaining in power as a minority administration between 2007 and 2011.
He is also widely credited with being partly responsible for the SNP’s landslide election victory in 2011, when he was heavily involved in a slick campaign run by the party.
Pringle’s move to the Yes Scotland HQ will fuel speculation that Salmond is determined to exert control over what some nationalists view as an ailing cross-party campaign.
Unionist politicians last night claimed that Pringle’s move was a direct challenge to the position of the Yes Scotland chief executive Jenkins and an attempt by Salmond to impose his authority on the campaign.
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “This reflects the desperate state of the Yes campaign and the collapse in confidence amongst senior SNP figures in the way it is being conducted. Clearly the SNP are now trying to take greater control of the failing Yes campaign.”
The decision to move Pringle to the Yes Scotland HQ comes after a number of high-profile backers of the campaign – including chairman Dennis Canavan – supported the removal of the Queen as head of state under independence – a stance at odds with the SNP leadership, which wants the monarchy retained after a Yes vote.
Labour MSP Richard Baker, a director of the anti-independence Better Together campaign, said: “This shows the SNP is desperately worried about the faltering Yes campaign.
“Clearly Alex Salmond doesn’t seem to trust the Yes Scotland chief executive and that’s why he’s put his man into Yes Scotland’s HQ.”
Pringle will work alongside fellow SNP employee Reid, the party’s campaign services manager during her career.
A spokesman for Yes Scotland said: “As we move into the final year of the campaign, more people from the broad independence movement – the SNP, Scottish Greens, National Collective and others – will be using hot-desks at the Yes Scotland HQ in Hope Street, Glasgow.
“Kevin Pringle plans to work from our office for one or two days a week because it suits his work-life balance between his base in Edinburgh and his new home in Gourock.
“He will continue to be working for the SNP, not for Yes Scotland.”