Pugnacious Reid joins fray to persuade Scottish electorate to stay within union
Opposing sides in Scottish referendum present final campaigns today
John Reid: “I have a great deal of respect for people who accept the risks of independence but nevertheless say they want a separate state. I have less respect for those who pretend that there are no risks.” Photograph: Fiona Hanson/PA
Former Northern Ireland secretary of state John Reid says jokingly that he became chairman of Celtic Football Club after he stood down as home secretary “because I missed the abuse”.
He is not likely to be short of it in coming months, following his decision to become prominent on the pro-union side in the Scottish independence referendum campaign. So far, however, a majority of Scots, if the polls can be trusted, are set to reject the independence offering from Scottish first minister Alex Salmond.
However, the poll findings – which narrowed in the autumn, but seem to be widening again in favour of a No vote – are often in contrast to the energy behind the two campaigns.
On Saturday, Reid spoke in the Smith Museum in Stirling to an audience who were, for the most part, already decided that they will vote No or are seeking reasons to justify such a vote. However, Deborah Hackett, from Doune, near Stirling, tells Reid: “A lot of us are very concerned at its [the No campaign’s] total inability to get across a good story.”
Up to now, the warnings about currency, pensions, welfare and a host of other issues have seeped into the consciousness of middle-ground Scotland. Despite that, the pro-union Better Together campaign, led by former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, has failed to make many of them feel good about voting No.
Reid uses humour to help make his case, borrowing on Monty Python’s What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us? sketch from the Life of Brian.
“Alex Salmond is never struck by the irony of his boast that Scotland is the 14th wealthiest nation in the world. Every time he speaks, he tell us this. He tells us that we are wealthier than the English are and at the same time he is telling us that the English have spent 300 years exploiting us.”
Hackett later says that many people who will vote No in September are reluctant to declare their views, unlike those on the other side.
That reluctance is exhibited again when the local Labour member of the Holyrood parliament, Anne Maguire, displays the new lapel badge of the pro-union campaign.
“It says ‘No Thanks’; it says, politely, to Mr Salmond that we have considered your proposal and that we don’t want it,” Maguire tells the audience.
“You see people on the other wearing Yes badges, but you won’t see many people wearing those, I can tell you,” says another audience member, who would not be named.
The arrival on the scene 100 days out from the referendum of the pugnacious, highly articulate Reid, who was Tony Blair’s minister of choice for difficult jobs, is not accidental.
Firstly, Reid plays on the heart, drawing, controversially as it turns out later, on the “extraordinary patriotism of ordinary people” such as his father during D Day 70 years ago.
Today’s generation are being asked to display patriotism in their own way, he says, rejecting the “dangerous, demeaning” accusation that a No vote equals “betrayal and traitorous behaviour”.
“That is arrant nonsense. It is also a calumny and an insult to the people of Scotland who know that no one side of this argument has a monopoly of love for Scotland,” he went on.
Blizzard of figures
In the last few weeks, Scots have been subjected to a blizzard of figures – with the British government telling Scots that they will be £1,400 better off if they remain in the union.
Meanwhile, the Scottish government, led by first minister Salmond of the Scottish National Party, says they will be £1,000 better off if they quit a 300-year-old union. In the end, statistics will never answer all of the questions, even if the way that they are handled can insult the audience, as happened with the arguments put forward by London.
A list compiled there and published on Buzzfeed news media site used Lego figures to highlight what Scots could do with £1,400 a year – including fish suppers for 10 weeks “with mushy peas”. The blunder – which led Lego to demand that its toys not be used in a political campaign – has generated a thousand headlines, feeding into a narrative that Scots are being looked down upon.
Today, both sides will lay out their final campaigns.
“I have a great deal of respect for people who accept the risks of independence, but nevertheless say they want a separate state,” Reid says. “I have less respect for those who pretend that there are no risks. As youngsters we learn to look before we leap, we don’t cross the road without looking both ways.
“I am being benevolent to the first minister in saying that they truly believe that there no risks, that this will all be a life full of rewards. It is self-delusion at best. At worst it is deception of the people of Scotland. They will carry the can for this if politicians become blinded by their own ambitions.”