Scottish independence: Clashes mar Miliband visit

LABOUR leader Ed Miliband accused the Yes campaign of “ugly” tactics yesterday after protesters hurled abuse at him in chaotic scenes during a visit to Edinburgh.

Ed Miliband was at the centre of chaotic scenes in Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Ed Miliband was at the centre of chaotic scenes in Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Mr Miliband was branded an “absolute liar” when he toured the St James Shopping Centre in what was supposed to be a trip to persuade undecided voters.

Shoppers were pushed aside as campaigners from both Yes and No camps clashed during the walkabout.

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Mr Miliband struggled to speak to voters and the visit was quickly brought to an end.

Among the few members of the public to whom he was able to chat, one was a visitor to the city and the other declared themselves a Yes supporter.

Mr Miliband told the BBC: “I think we have seen in parts of this campaign an ugly side to it from the Yes campaign.

“I think debates should be conducted in a civilised way – I think that’s very, very important – but I understand that passions run high.

“What I’ve enjoyed about this campaign, including today, when I get the chance, is meeting people who are genuinely undecided.” Mr Miliband had intended to underline that more powers would be transferred to Scotland in the event of a No vote.

He told reporters: “If people vote No, it’s for change and more powers for a stronger Scotland, as well as NHS funding guarantees, and that’s got to be weighed against the big risks of voting Yes.”

He added: “I think that the momentum is with the No campaign as people recognise that there is a clear offer of change.”

In a statement released ahead of the visit, the Labour leader insisted the desire for political change had been heard in Westminster and would be delivered.

He promised that “things will not go back to the way things were” after tomorrow’s vote and called on Scots to help lead reform of the British state.

“On the other path of Yes is a future of separation and risk, an irreversible decision, a risk to jobs, the economy and the NHS, as we abandon the shared resources and redistribution of our United Kingdom,” he said.

“Scotland has shown why we must and why we will change our whole country. Scotland can lead that change across Britain.”

Last night, the protesters were disowned by Yes Scotland leaders who urged supporters to focus on campaigning, “not protesting”.

They were also forced to respond to criticism from former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, who attacked the Yes campaign for undermining freedom of speech.

The pro-independence protesters waiting for Mr Miliband were heard chanting, “Ban the BBC” over allegations of bias made by Yes Scotland.

Earlier in Clydebank, Mr Darling said: “When people do ask him [First Minister Alex Salmond] these questions [about the future currency and pensions], the brave and intrepid journalists that ask him these questions, what happens? Their faces are paraded around Glasgow. This is not the sort of behaviour we expect anywhere in the UK. Scotland is a bastion of free speech and should remain so.”

A Yes Scotland spokesman said: “We are very clear that Yes supporters should spend these final days campaigning, not protesting. All abuse is to be condemned as we have said repeatedly.

“The referendum is a vibrant celebration of democracy, and we shouldn’t allow the few badly behaved people on either side to mis-characterise an event that the people of Scotland are very proud of.”

Labour had tried to keep the walkabout relatively low key but, as the media gathered, security concerns meant that Mr Miliband was more than half and hour late.

A large group of Yes supporters gathered at the entrance of the shopping centre with No supporters also congregating to meet the Labour leader.