The UK leaders of the main pro-Union parties arrive in Scotland today with an emotional appeal for Scots to stay in the Union and a promise of more, substantive Holyrood powers.
Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have been branded the “three amigos” after announcing they will miss their traditional weekly joust at Prime Minister’s Questions to join the Better Together campaign in Scotland.
Last night, Alex Salmond branded the visit, which comes as Scotland’s future sits on a knife-edge, as a sign of “total and utter panic”. The First Minister said the No campaign was “falling apart” with just eight days to go before the historic referendum.
Mr Salmond also dismissed a timetable for delivering more powers which was set out by the No parties yesterday, insisting these have already been “rejected by Scots”. Backbench Tory MPs also voiced concerns last night over the “vague” promises of more Holyrood powers and indicated Mr Cameron may be forced to quit in the event of a Yes vote.
The party leaders’ decision to cancel their appearances at Westminster to attend campaign events in Scotland comes after a groundbreaking YouGov poll at the weekend gave the Yes camp a narrow lead. A TNS poll yesterday found the race for Scotland’s future was neck and neck.
Once they arrive, Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg will go their separate ways and will not be making any public appearances together. To press home the Westminster government’s desire to keep Scotland in the UK, a saltire was raised over Downing Street yesterday. Other English public and civic authorities are being urged to do the same to demonstrate solidarity among the UK nations.
“There’s a lot that political leaders disagree about,” Mr Cameron said yesterday. “But there’s one thing we all agree about passionately and that is that our United Kingdom is better off if we stay together.
“So tomorrow, the right place to be isn’t in Westminster at Prime Minister’s Questions – it’s being in Scotland listening to people and talking to people.”
He added: “In the end, it is for the Scottish people to decide, but I want them to know that the rest of the United Kingdom, and I speak as Prime Minister, want them to stay.”
But Nationalists yesterday pointed to polling conducted earlier this month found that fewer than a fifth of Scots (19 per cent) trust Mr Cameron to stand up for Scotland’s interests. A Panelbase poll for Yes Scotland also found just 17 per cent believed Mr Miliband would do this and 12 per cent trusted Mr Clegg to do so.
Mr Salmond said: “Together, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are the most distrusted Westminster politicians ever and their collective presence in Scotland will be another massive boost for the Yes campaign. The No campaign think that they are losing this campaign and these hugely distrusted Westminster leaders trooping up to Scotland is only going to boost that process. The No campaign are making blunder after blunder, but this is by far the biggest yet.”
Earlier in the day, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont was joined by her Tory opposite number Ruth Davidson and Lib Dem chief Willie Rennie to unveil the timetable on more powers for Holyrood. A joint deal would be reached on the three parties’ separate plans by the end of October, with new legislation to be published by January next year.
The leaders said voters can be “certain” that Holyrood will get new powers in the event of a No vote, despite all three parties having separate plans for more devolution.
Mr Miliband insisted there was a “very, very large measure of agreement” between the parties over the key elements of the package of extra devolution to be offered. There was consensus “over greater powers of taxation so that you can have a more progressive tax system if that is what is decided in the Scottish Parliament”, he added.
“Over issues like housing benefit so that homes can be built and you can deal with the housing benefit issue. About getting people back to work, about apprenticeships, building on the powers that already exist.”
Mr Clegg said the parties’ proposals have all been in the public domain for months, but said they had now agreed a timetable for implementation.
William Hague will stand in for Mr Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions at Westminster today, while Harriet Harman will deputise for Mr Miliband.
But MPs on the political and constitutional reform select committee hit out the “vague” promises of more devolution.
Conservative MP Chris Chope said: “I think there’s a lot of scepticism about that sort of promise coming, particularly when it is late in the day and can be attacked as being a panic measure.
“Back in 2012, the government decided that they wouldn’t give the Scots the option of greater devolution, that it was going to be independence or stay as you are. The rationale for that was articulated by the Prime Minister, saying we didn’t want to give a reward for people going for an independence referendum.
“Now, three years later, after a number of people have already cast their ballots in postal votes, we find that Gordon Brown goes off and makes a statement that must be with the authority of the government because it talks about a white paper and legislative timetable, but that hasn’t been discussed in Parliament.”
He added that if Scotland voted Yes, it could “create the largest constitutional crisis in our lifetime”, and added: “Obviously, the Prime Minister will have lot of questions to answer, not just from backbenchers but from our constituents.”
19 SEPTEMBER: the day after a No vote, the timetable for further powers will be published as a motion before the UK parliament. All UK parties will support the motion.
31 OCTOBER: the deadline for a joint deal being agreed on a package of more powers. It will see a Command Paper published setting out the package agreed, likely to contain tax-raising and welfare controls.
30 NOVEMBER: By St Andrew’s Day a white paper will be published setting out the final agreed deal.
25 JANUARY, 2015: legislation published by Burns Night, with Scotland Bill ready to be voted on by the UK parliament.
7 MAY: Second reading of the Scotland Bill will take place immediately after the general election.