Scottish independence: Margo MacDonald snubs ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign

Patrick Harvie and Alex Salmond: Not in harmony over Nato policy shift. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Patrick Harvie and Alex Salmond: Not in harmony over Nato policy shift. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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ANOTHER high-profile supporter of Scottish independence has expressed fears that the SNP has seized full control of the “Yes Scotland” campaign, as major splits began to emerge in the movement.

Prominent nationalist Margo MacDonald said the campaign launched just over a fortnight ago was too heavily “aligned to a political party” – the SNP.

Her intervention came after the co-leader of the pro-independence Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, said his party was boycotting the Yes campaign, claiming that the SNP had taken control of “every key decision”.

Mr Harvie, who appeared alongside Mr Salmond at the campaign launch, said the “problem with Yes Scotland is that it is only them” [the SNP], as he said that party bosses had decided the timing of the launch and the appointment of staff, including that of Nationalist MP Angus Robertson as campaign director.

Ms MacDonald, who gave a recorded message of support via a video link at the campaign launch, revealed that she would not be joining “Yes Scotland”.

She added Mr Harvie had said what “a lot of people have been thinking and what I feared”.

Organisers of “Yes Scotland” insist the campaign is independent of the SNP, despite key figures working for the organisation who have been seconded from the party, such as Stephen Noon and Jennifer Dempsie.

Former Nationalist MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville has also been heavily involved in the early stages of the campaign, which has received nearly £1 million from SNP-supporting National Lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir, from Ayrshire, and a similar amount in a bequest to the party from the late Makar, Edwin Morgan.

Ms MacDonald said a “lack of planning” by the SNP had meant it had put its own supporters into crucial campaign roles, as she backed Mr Harvie’s concerns in what is now threatening to become a bitter row within the pro-independence lobby more than two years before the referendum in autumn 2014.

Opposition parties seized on the divisions emerging within the Yes Scotland camp.

Shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran said: “Alex Salmond is incapable of taking an inclusive approach within his own party, so it will be no surprise to anyone that he can’t work with other parties.

“This isn’t an all-party campaign. It’s a campaign run by Alex Salmond and the SNP.”

A Yes Scotland spokeswoman yesterday dismissed claims that the SNP was running the campaign and said it had been “working well with Greens and others” involved.

However, Mr Harvie, who opposes Mr Salmond’s plans to keep the monarchy in an independent Scotland, said his party wanted a formal management committee in the campaign to ensure non-SNP members were able to influence key decisions.

He said the Scottish Greens had voted not to formally join the campaign, but they would reconsider the boycott at their party conference in October.

Mr Harvie said: “We hoped that the Yes Scotland campaign would have been broader and more inclusive. There should have been a better relationship in place before the launch.

“In the last two weeks, there has been no progress in doing something about this, despite repeated requests.

“We still want people to vote Yes, but the SNP needs to treat other parts of the campaign more than just supporters.

“Every key decision, such as the timing of the launch, the appointment of staff and the director of the campaign have been made by the SNP.

“We said before the launch that we were happy to be involved in it. We hoped that it would broaden out, but this hasn’t happened.

“We need a management group that includes those who are not just the SNP, who are making every key decision.”

Mr Harvie went on to claim the campaign discouraged supporters from debating issues such as the retention of the monarchy in an independent Scotland, as he said these “differences are never talked about”.

Meanwhile, Ms MacDonald, an independent MSP and former SNP politician, offered to act as an “honest broker” between the leadership of the Yes Scotland campaign and the Greens.

She said: “I’m sorry that Patrick Harvie feels that way, but I can’t say I’m surprised.

“I don’t think the SNP meant this to happen, but a lack of planning meant that whoever they drafted into do the jobs ended up being people they knew.”

She added: “Patrick has said what a lot of people have been thinking and what I feared, but it’s too important to allow things to drift.

“I’ll offer help to make things more broad-based. I’m not formally going to join, but I’m offering to help and be an honest broker.

“I said from the outset that I want a sovereign parliament and independence, but that people like me were not happy aligning themselves with one political party.”

However, former Labour MP Dennis Canavan, another high-profile Yes Scotland supporter, dismissed claims that the campaign was an “exclusive” SNP one.

He said: “I’m not a member of any political party, but I felt very privileged to be asked to speak at the launch.

“It’s almost inevitable that the SNP will be in the lead, but I’ve not got the impression that it’s been an exclusive campaign at all.

“The Scottish Green Party should forget whatever differences they may have with the SNP. Every effort should be made to make the campaign as inclusive as possible.”

Yes Scotland and the SNP also issued statements yesterday rejecting claims that the campaign was being run by Mr Salmond’s party.

A spokeswoman for the Yes Scotland campaign said: “Yes Scotland has been working well with Greens and others in the campaign, and we welcome the Scottish Green Party deciding their formal role at their annual conference.”

An SNP spokesman said: “Yes Scotland has the same two seconded staff from the SNP as at the launch, and we look forward to working with the Scottish Green Party and others in the months ahead, as we continue to build the fastest-growing campaign in Scotland, building on the 20,000 supporters signed up already, because the choice is now clear – we either have the people of Scotland taking decisions about Scotland’s future, or a No campaign that would rather see the Tories continue to misgovern Scotland.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the row showed that the Yes Scotland campaign was an “utter shambles.”

She said: “Not even a fortnight in, and the Yes Scotland campaign is already falling apart.”

“Once again, the SNP have been caught out trying to hoodwink voters into thinking there is broad support for separation.”