By Martin Kelly
The head of the anti-independence campaign has come under fire over his lacklustre leadership of the No campaign, it has been reported.
According to newspapers, Alistair Darling, who leads the cross party alliance Better Together has been criticised by leading Conservatives who fear he may be leading the No campaign to defeat.
Signs of disarray in the anti-independence campaign emerged after senior Tory and Downing Street sources were reported to have been unhappy with the Labour MP’s performance.
Mr Darling has been charged with being “useless”, having “no fire in his belly” and “comatose most of the time” by senior Tories. A Downing Street source described Mr Darling as a “dreary figurehead” for such an important campaign, and a UK Government Cabinet Minister has admitted: “We could be in real danger”.
According to the Financial Times, the No campaign has refused to use material compiled by Whitehall due to its negativity. It recently emerged that Better Together insiders had dubbed their own campaign ‘Project Fear’, a move that has been seized on by Yes campaigners who have used it to highlight the relentless negativity that has been the No campaign’s hallmark.
Another newspaper, the Daily Mail, quoted a UK Cabinet minister as saying: “We could be in real danger, we are not in any way complacent about this. The independence side have an easier sell.”
The source told the newspaper that Gordon Brown had been mentioned as a possible replacement: “We have to remember he is more popular in Scotland than he is in the rest of the country. But God help us if it takes Gordon to win the referendum.”
SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell, who is also a member of the Referendum Bill Committee, said:
“The No campaign are fighting like ferrets in a sack, and the underlying problem is their total negativity about Scotland.
“The No camp has failed to present any positive vision for Scotland, and now the knives are out for Alistair Darling. But as we saw with the sacking of Michael Moore and his replacement by Alistair Carmichael, the problem for the No campaign isn’t the messengers – it’s the message.”
Former Scottish Secretary Michael Moore was recently sacked from his role which was handed to his Lib Dem colleague Alistair Carmichael. However, a recent live TV debate with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saw the Lib Dem ‘bruiser’ roundly trounced by his SNP opponent.
Mr Maxwell added: “Not only are people in Scotland becoming fed-up with Mr Darling’s inability to offer something positive, but the UK Tory government who are calling the shots in the No campaign are clearly getting anxious about the prospect of a Yes vote.
“Perhaps one cause of their concern with the No campaign is the time Mr Darling devotes to his outside earnings – raking in over £170,000 for after dinner speaking.
“The people of Scotland have a clear choice in next year’s referendum between two futures – a choice between the fairer, more prosperous Scotland offered by a Yes vote, or the relentless negativity of the No campaign.”
Speaking to the Daily Mail, a Number 10 source denied Mr Darling had been criticised: “We are baffled by this. We do not recognise these concerns at all.”
Meanwhile Mr Darling was at the centre of another expenses story when details emerged of hundreds of thousands of pounds in payments he had received for making speeches.
According to the Herald, Mr Darling – who is still an MP – has been paid more than £170,000 for after dinner speeches, including more than £30,000 for addressing two meetings in a single day.
The Labour MP hit the headlines at the height of the MP’s expenses scandal after it emerged he had ‘flipped’ his official home address to maximise his expenses claim.
The Labour MP came under fire after it emerged he had designated four properties as his second home in four years. He also employed an accountant at taxpayers’ expense to complete his self-assessment forms.
Mr Darling, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, also claimed parliamentary expenses for a flat that he let to tenants while also claiming living allowances for his grace and favour home in Downing Street.
[Newsnet Scotland will now begin the process of slowing down as we approach Christmas. Visitors may notice fewer news stories and reduced turnover over the coming days.
However we can reveal that this week will see the third instalment of Duggy Dug, this time looking at the pound – a timely subject for our animated character and a belter of an animation.
As we approach Christmas look out also for our ‘Dirty Dozen’ feature article that will list the twelve worst examples of questionable broadcasts from BBC Scotland. If you have someone who believes the BBC is impartial then this article will open their eyes.
This coming week will also see the BBC Trust reveal its decision on the BBC’s handling of the Lucinda Creighton episode.
Newsnet Scotland, despite being in festive slowdown, will bring you the decision first and will also reveal all of the evidence as submitted by the BBC. We are sure it will prove fascinating reading.]