Better Together chief pledges extra powers will be defined “far in advance of referendum”

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  By Martin Kelly
 
Better Together campaign chief Blair McDougall has promised that all three Unionist parties will clarify what extra powers will be on offer in the event of a No vote, “far in advance of referendum”.
 
Speaking on STV’s Scotland Tonight the former Labour advisor insisted that the No campaign, which includes Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems would spell out the consequences of a No vote well before September 2014.

In an interview marking one year since the Better Together campaign launched, McDougall explained the apparent success of the No campaign, saying Better Together had exposed weaknesses in the SNP’s plans and defended the tactics employed by the Labour/Tory/Lib Dem alliance.

“If we hadn’t asked questions at the start of this year for example about pensions when we were told everything was fine, we wouldn’t have known there was a huge issue that the SNP Government hadn’t planned for private pensions.”

Referring to a leaked cabinet document in which John Swinney talked about affordability of pensions, he added:

“Nobody would have known that because of the increased costs of independence they [SNP] were planning cuts to state pensions as well.”

Mr McDougall’s claim is likely to be challenged by the SNP who only last week insisted senior citizens would have stronger pension safeguards than the UK if Scotland became independent.

Speaking during First Minister’s Questions, Alex Salmond pointed out the Scottish welfare budget was more affordable than across the whole of the UK.  Finance Secretary John Swinney had already pledged that a single-tier state pension from 2016 would be uprated by whatever was higher – earnings growth, inflation or 2.5%.

Polls

The Better Together campaign head also claimed that every single poll conducted since both campaigns were launched had shown the No vote increasing and that people all over the world were “desperate” to have the same Union as exists in the UK.

However, studio host John MacKay challenged Mr McDougall’s poll claim which is contradicted by a poll carried out in March this year by Panelbase which showed support for Yes up 2% to 36%, No down 1% to 46%, and ‘don’t knows’ at 18% – then, the narrowest gap in the campaign since it started.

Asked to define his vision following a No vote, the senior Better Together official would only say that it meant, “the continuing success of devolution” and “the best of both worlds”, part of a “bigger economy” and “more clout” in an uncertain world.

When pressed on more powers however, he replied: “More powers absolutely” and pledged that all three Unionist parties would define what extra powers would come to Scotland “far in advance of the referendum”.

Responding to claims the No campaign were overtly negative, Mr McDougall denied activists had used the term ‘Project Fear’, a reference to newspaper reports that some inside Better Together refer to the organisation using the term.

Prior to the 2007 Scottish elections, Labour’s then campaign chief Douglas Alexander had reportedly urged the party to “engender fear” amongst the Scottish electorate in order to thwart the SNP.

Mr McDougal described the descriptions of Better Together as too negative and relying on scare stories a “caricature” of the No campaign.