Cameron and Miliband unite as London battles for control of Scottish referendum

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By a Newsnet reporter
 
Labour leader Ed Miliband and Tory PM David Cameron have joined together against the Scottish Government’s plan for an independence referendum.
 
The show of unity between the two party leaders came in the wake of attempts by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition to dictate the terms of the referendum that is now earmarked for Autumn 2014.

Speaking at yesterday’s Prime Ministers Questions, Mr Cameron claimed that there was support “right across the house” for the steps taken by the coalition who have claimed that Mr Salmond does not have the power to hold a referendum.

He was joined by the Labour leader who called on Unionists to put forward a positive case for the Union and insisted that the referendum was a decisive moment that they could not afford to get wrong.  Nodding in agreement as Mr Cameron attacked the SNP – Mr Miliband claimed that the UK was “stronger together, weaker apart”.

The SNP responded to the joint attack by claiming that Mr Miliband’s show of unity with Mr Cameron was further evidence of disarray in the anti-independence camp.

The Nationalists claim that the sight of Labour MPs backing a Tory Government against the ambitions of the Scottish people will horrify Labour voters across Scotland and cause further splits in the party after Shadow Labour Defence Secretary Jim Murphy refused to share a platform with David Cameron saying “I’m not going to share a platform with him on the referendum”.

SNP Campaign Director and Westminster leader Angus Robertson MP, who raised the UK Government’s attempts to interfere in Scotland’s referendum at Prime Minister’s Questions, said:

“In ganging up with David Cameron against any more powers for Scotland, Ed Miliband has deepened the Labour split over sharing a platform with the Tories.

“Jim Murphy must be reeling.  First he refuses to share a platform with David Cameron, then Ed Miliband invites Cameron to campaign with him against powers for Scotland.

“Labour will be misreading and misrepresenting the Scottish people and many in their own party if they continue with this plan to team up with the Tories.

“As independence moves ahead in the polls, we are seeing complete disarray and division in the Unionist camp.

“What David Cameron and Ed Miliband seem to be in denial about is that the Scottish Government achieved an overwhelming mandate from the people of Scotland to hold the referendum in the second half of this parliamentary term, and that is exactly what we will do.

“Both Cameron and Miliband would be wise to hold to the position that all these matters will be determined by the people and parliament of Scotland.

“The Scottish Parliament is perfectly capable of doing exactly that – supported by the overwhelming mandate of the people of Scotland – and Westminster politicians should just let the people and parliament of Scotland deliver the referendum in the timescale set out in the election.

“The only anxiety in these matters seems to be among Westminster-based politicians, who have gone from a position of wanting no referendum to demanding one immediately – with no intervening period whatsoever, and no mandate to do so.”

The support offered by the Labour leader for Mr Cameron’s stance was similar to that offered by many Scottish Labour MPs at Tuesday’s announcement by Lib Dem Secretary of State Michael Moore when he confirmed the UK government’s intention to try to dictate referendum terms to the Scottish Government.

Mr Moore claimed that any referendum would be illegal unless it had the backing of London.  The Lib Dem MP also refused to back calls for 16 year olds to be allowed to take part, despite lowering the election age being a policy of his own party.

However this was different from a statement from Mr Moore back in May 2011 when he promised that the UK coalition would not stand in the way of an independence referendum run by the Scottish Government.

Speaking days after the SNP’s historic win last May Mr Moore said: “”I firmly believe the Scottish Parliament, if it so decides, can proceed with a referendum,” and added: “We could, I suppose, try to make a constitutional issue about where the powers lie or don’t, but I don’t think that would be a sensible use of anybody’s time.”

Mr Moore isn’t the only Unionist politician to concede the SNP have the power to hold a referendum. 

On Dec 19th, shortly after being elected leader of Labour in Scotland Johann Lamont told the Daily Record: “There is nothing inhibiting him [Salmond] calling a referendum, giving us a date, making sure there is clarity in the question and then engaging in a hard political debate about which future vision for Scotland people want.

On December 31st Ms Lamont confirmed her belief saying: “There is nothing in the SNP manifesto which stops them from naming the day for a referendum now.”

Even BBC Scotland’s own political reporter Andrew Black admitted back in May that the election result handed the SNP the power to hold the referendum.  Days after the result he said: “It’s all very well for the UK government to say it won’t stand in the way of an independence referendum.  But the bottom line is this is happening, whether the coalition likes it or not.”

However BBC Scotland’s attitude seems now to have changed with many reporters seemingly unwilling to inform viewers and listeners of earlier statements from Unionist politicians conceding what many constitutional experts are now openly confirming, including World renowned referendum expert Dr Matt Qvortrup, that the Scottish Government does indeed have the power to hold a consultative referendum.

Last Night Newsnight Scotland finally managed to locate an academic who would take the same view as the UK coalition Government.  However even Professor Adam Tomkins had to concede that so called ‘illegality’ depended on the question to be asked, thus by implication a consultative referendum can indeed be legal.

Mr Tomkins, who last year claimed that “Scottish Ministers do not speak for Scotland”, described David Cameron’s attempts at dictating terms to the Scottish Government as “an extraordinarily generous offer” by the Tory PM.  This description chimed with some of BBC Scotland’s own presenters and editors who have variously described Mr Cameron’s moves as an “offer” and a “reasonable offer”.

Newsnight Scotland also had on as a guest, the Daily Record’s Torcuil Crichton who claimed that Cameron had the early upper hand and Salmond had “blinked” first.  Mr Crichton was not introduced to viewers as a Unionist leaning journalist – which he is.  After the First Minister had announced the time of the referendum on SKY news, Mr Crichton tweeted to one Raymond Buchanan “Aye, he goes to Sky first because the channel doesn’t have the word British in the title.”

There are now growing concerns over BBC Scotland’s handling of this latest constitutional debate.  Yesterday BBC Scotland’s Gary Robertson prevented First Minister Alex Salmond from reading out a quote from Michael Moore in which the Lib Dem MP had admitted that Holyrood had the power to run a referendum.

Many viewers are also expressing disquiet over the emerging habit by the BBC to provide each of the three anti-independence parties a platform on any debates and discussions, against only one independence supporting speaker.

Some SNP supporters are questioning why there are not rules in place to prevent such an imbalance whenever the constitution is discussed, whilst others are puzzled at the lack of opportunity afforded smaller parties such as the Greens, Scottish Socialists and independents like Margo McDonald.