Scotland’s pro-union campaigners move up a gear
Better Together’ campaigners ditch ‘Project Fear’ to make argument of heart for union
Better Together leader Alistair Darling launches the organisation’s 100 Days to Go campaign during an event at Community Central Hall in Glasgow. With just 100 days of campaigning until the independence referendum, the former chancellor urged the “quiet but resolute majority” of Scots to play their part. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
For months, Better Together, the campaign fighting Alex Salmond’s bid for Scottish independence, has fought often with dry numbers and statistics.
In Maryhill Community Centre in Glasgow yesterday, the campaign – one that has been often criticised – began to fight for the emotions of Scots as they face into the last 100 days of campaigning. Eighteen-year-old Shona Munro, with a clarity that has often been lacking, told hundreds of supporters of her dreams to live in a world of “opportunities without borders”.
“Nationalism feels old-fashioned and unnecessary, like dial-up internet, or cassettes,” the university-bound Munro declared to loud applause.
Promising that she would “bloody well” campaign for each of the next 100 days, mother-of-two Clare Lallymeanwhile mocked the Scottish first minister’s promises. The pro-independence campaign “feels like a dodgy chat-up line, where they’ll still respect you in the morning”, she said. “Women are better at spotting chancers,” she added.
Between now and September 18th, Better Together will campaign on a “No, Thanks” platform, using its 250 branches around Scotland – branches that have not been as visible as those on the Yes side.
Argument of the heart
Former Labour chancellor of the exchequer Alistair Darling, never one to display emotions in public, accepts that Better Together must win the argument of the heart, not just the head.
“From the beginning, I said it had to be a campaign of head and heart,” he told reporters. “We had to make the hard- headed case for Scotland being better as part of the United Kingdom. But the emotion doesn’t run one way. We don’t doubt the enthusiasm [the Nationalists have] for their cause, [and] they shouldn’t have any doubt about ours.”
Earlier, queues had formed for bacon baps, coffees and teas, plus healthy breakfast options, in a side room where dozens signed up for “a 100-day pledge” of promised action up to September.
Coleraine-born Stewart Douglas, who has been living in Scotland for 15 years since his retirement from the British army, said people were becoming increasingly entrenched in their positions.
The Church of Scotland, he noted approvingly, had recently called for healing in the days after the referendum result is declared “whatever the outcome”. Nevertheless, the dangers of tensions could be exaggerated: “One way, or the other we will make it work, but we are trying to make the point that we can make changes without leaving the union.”
Retired trade union official Ian Fulton, however, was less convinced of the need for extra devolution in Scotland, particularly giving tax-raising powers to Holyrood.
“I think what we have got at the moment is probably sufficient,” Fulton, a lifelong Labour supporter from East Renfrewshire, told The Irish Times.
From its beginning two years ago, Better Together has struggled to craft language to match the vibrancy on offer by the “Yes, Scotland” campaign. However, the organisation has been strengthened over the last two months, while tempers have been calmed by polling numbers that argue a drift to Yes over the winter has stopped, they believe.
Most significantly, perhaps, just one in five Scots now tell pollsters that they are prepared to change their mind, making it more difficult for the Yes side to develop momentum. Up to now Better Together has faced attack for relentless negativity – a campaign strategy that was disastrously nicknamed internally as “Project Fear”.
However, Darling insists the SNP’s claims about the economy, about future oil revenues, the welfare state and the health service could not be left to stand.
“The economic arguments have been thoroughly discredited,” he says, adding: “We would have more debt, higher taxes, deeper cuts, if the ambitions of nationalists were met.”
Two years ago, undecided voters were faced with the choice of independence or the status quo, he said. “Now, with 100 days to go, the terms of trade have changed,” he added.
Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats disagree on much, Darling told the Maryhill gathering, but they agree now on the broad shape of extra devolution that Scotland should enjoy.
However, it is clear that the exact shape of that package will not be fixed until after Scotland votes on September 18th – a pledge, says the SNP, that should not be believed.