Scotland’s No campaigners seek more passion from leaders

Mild-mannered pro-union side fears Alex Salmond’s Yes side has stolen the limelight

Alex Salmond:  the No side believes the first minister has failed to answer questions about currency, pensions and welfare, oil and a host of other issues. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Alex Salmond: the No side believes the first minister has failed to answer questions about currency, pensions and welfare, oil and a host of other issues. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 01:00

Better Together, the campaign seeking to keep Scotland in the UK by defeating next month’s Scottish independence referendum, does not do raucous, crowd-thumping jamborees.

In Edinburgh on Saturday, 100 or so supporters gathered to hear leading figures from Labour, the Conservatives and former Liberal leader Lord David Steel.

The gathering had the earnest, prim-and-proper air of a local council intent on the community’s business, or a lively meeting in a golf club.

Annabel Goldie, former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, took the chair, bringing the meeting to order. Emphasising how the No campaign had brought old foes together such as herself, former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling and Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, Goldie said: “We’re like that . . . for the moment.”

Unanswered questions

With less than a month to go, the No side believes Alex Salmond has failed to answer each and every question posed about currency, pensions and welfare, oil and a host of other issues.

Still believing they will win, they nevertheless fret that Better Together is not dominating the public space in the way that Yes Scotland has done.

Scotland will get more powers if it votes No, but there is no deal between the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. “This present vagueness is a loser,” said concerned attendee Sally Gordon-Walker.

For two years, all opinion polls bar one have forecast that the No side will win , but the gap – if anecdotal evidence means anything – is narrowing.

Supporters of Better Together are less vociferous than the Yes side, often reflecting a largely middle-aged, often middle-class reluctance to take a public stand.

Equally, there is a discomfort that putting forward a No argument – no matter how justified – stands uncomfortably alongside an opponent promising a great new dawn.

In other places, the reluctance is explained by the fact that some No voters believe they will face criticism, or worse from fervent nationalists.

Nevertheless, majority rule by the Scottish National Party in Holyrood has given them a foretaste of what life in an independent Scotland would be like, and they do not like it.

Parliamentary committees are dominated by the SNP; while powers, wherever possible, are being concentrated in Edinburgh: the police, the fire brigade to name but two.

Remembering his local council days in his 20s, former Scottish Labour first minister Jack McConnell mused that local authorities now bowed to SNP diktats that they would “never have taken from the Tories”.

‘Bulldozing administration

’ Many in the room dislike Salmond. Goldie’s feelings are visceral: “What we do have at the moment is a bulldozing, arrogant, centralising, self-important, self-confident, bumptious administration.

“And this is me in a good mood,” she added.

With less than four weeks to go, there is concern in the pro-union side that Yes Scotland’s warnings of impending disaster in the National Health Service are cutting through.

In England, the delivery of health services is being increasingly contracted out to private companies, though the services remain free.

In Scotland, Holyrood controls the NHS. However, the SNP argues that “privatisation” in England will inevitably threaten the NHS – though this stands in stark contrast with its previous declarations.

McConnell said the charges are “a lie”, adding that deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, as a former Scottish health secretary, knows them to be a lie.

No more leverage

Equally, the Yes side has argued that Holyrood will lose powers, not gain them, if Scotland votes No, arguing that Scotland’s leverage will have disappeared.

Again, McConnell accused it of deceit, saying that Westminster could not act contrary to the Scottish Parliament’s wishes and had never tried to do so since the parliament’s restoration in 1999.

For pensioner Joan Pentland-Clark, however, the question facing the Scottish people on September 18th is one of duty, since the rest of the UK must be looking on aghast.

Fellow Scots voting Yes are being “self-centred and selfish” by trying to break up “a very successful 300-year union”, she said. “We have a duty to the other members of the UK, not just to ourselves.”

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