By a Newsnet reporter
Media reports that anti-independence parties have agreed to increase their offer of new powers to Scots in return for a No vote in the independence referendum, have been denied by campaign leader Alistair Darling.
Less than six hours after George Osborne’s claim that the No campaign has an action plan to give Scotland more powers, the Better Together leader confirmed the reports were false telling SKY news that all new powers have already been announced.
Confusion over supposed new ‘additional’ powers began when a national newspaper reported that the three London parties had reached agreement over a new package. The reports followed a new poll which showed support for Yes had overtaken its No campaign rival.
The ‘even more powers’ claim, contained in an article in the Observer newspaper, set off fevered speculation that more powers, beyond those already on offer from Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, was set to be announced. The speculation appeared to be confirmed when UK Chancellor George Osborne told the BBC that there had indeed been a meeting at which agreement was reached between the three Unionist parties.
However, Mr Darling’s confirmation that all new powers have already been laid out, has thrown Mr Osborne’s announcement into chaos. In his interview, Mr Darling said that next week’s No announcement will merely be a timetable for when the Scottish Parliament could expect to be given the limited powers already forthcoming.
The situation was confirmed by the BBC, with the broadcaster reporting that: “A timetable for new powers for Scotland would not break referendum purdah period rules, says the UK government.
“The UK and Scottish governments are prohibited from publishing anything which argues ‘for or against a particular outcome’ during purdah.”
The confusion has been seized on by the Yes campaign which has insisted that the only way to guarantee any more new powers is to vote Yes in the referendum.
Yes Scotland’s Chief Executive, Blair Jenkins, described Mr Darling’s interview as a gaffe.
He added: “This is a significant moment in the debate – it took just six hours for the No campaign’s extra powers offer to collapse. Mr Darling’s confirmation that the big No campaign offer is a timetable rather than any extra powers will only serve to help the decision of the growing number of Scots who are completing their journey to Yes.”
Meanwhile, there is growing concern that any new announcement from the Better Together parties may contravene election rules by breaching the so-called ‘purdah’ period.
Purdah forbids any new offer, which differs from those already made, from being announced by either side in the referendum. Concerns have been raised that postal votes have already been cast and any changes announced by either side in the referendum will alter the choices on offer when postal voters made their decision.
The situation has led to some people believing that the much favoured Devo-Max option may well be announced at this eleventh hour by the Better Together campaign. Devo-Max would have seen Scotland offered control over everything with the expection of Foreign Affairs and Defence.
Better Together funder JK Rowling has publicly called for the Labour party to offer Devo-Max. However with Purdah preventing such an offer and Labour, along with the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, having already blocked a bid to place it on the ballot paper, there is little chance of such a package materialising.