By Bob Duncan
The Scottish National Party has slammed Edinburgh South West MP Alistair Darling – chairman of the No campaign – for failing to attend Westminster on Tuesday night to vote against the benefits cuts being imposed by the UK Government on hard-working families and the poorest people in society.
Mr Darling is on a “listening tour” of Scotland this week as part of the No campaign. On Monday he was at Rosyth, on Tuesday he visited Aberdeen, and on Wednesday he was in Inverness. The Commons debate was on Tuesday afternoon, the votes taking place from 7pm.
SNP Depute Leader and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described Darling’s choice to boycott the vote as a “sick joke”, saying that instead of doing the full-time job he is funded to do by the taxpayer by attending Westminster to oppose these cuts, Mr Darling preferred to be in the North East of Scotland scaremongering about independence.
Unlike Scottish Labour, the SNP had a full turn out of its six MPs to vote against the coalition’s cuts to benefits.
Ms Sturgeon said: “This was a huge blunder by Alistair Darling, and one that will haunt the No campaign right through to referendum day.
“It is a sick joke that, instead of doing his job and voting against Westminster imposing cuts that will hit working families in Scotland and the poorest in society hard, Mr Darling preferred to scaremonger against an independent Scotland and support a Westminster system that is doing such damage.
“Last night was a key moment in the debate about Scotland’s future. And in this one act, Alistair Darling laid bare everything that the people of Scotland need to know about the No campaign – when push comes to shove, they stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in the right of Westminster to impose cruel cuts on Scotland, instead of standing up for Scotland against the Tories.
“The proposals by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition are inherently regressive. Taken in the context of other changes to the tax and benefit system, the distributional analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that they hit the incomes of the lowest five deciles, with the biggest impact on the poorest three. And the analysis by Citizens Advice shows that a household with two adults in full time work on or around minimum wage, with two children and rent of £130 a week, lose out.
“Single parent families, and single earner families in low paid work are even more badly affected. And Resolution Foundation estimates that as much as 60 per cent of the budget savings will come from people in low paid work.
“Alasdair Darling had a choice on Tuesday – he could either have gone to Westminster to do his job and oppose unfair Tory cuts, or come to Scotland and support Westminster’s power to make these cuts.
“He chose the latter – and in so doing did enormous damage to the credibility of the No campaign.
“As the Welfare Commission established by the Scottish Government demonstrates, we can and will build a fairer welfare system in an independent Scotland – which is why a Yes vote in next year’s referendum is so important for the families and people of Scotland.”
MEANWHILE, about 30 former forces members turned out at the Royal British Legion in Inverness on Wednesday to hear former Chancellor Darling make his case against Scotland’s independence.
On arrival, Mr Darling was greeted by a lone protester Matthew Mackay (40), of Milnafua, Alness, who is a member the Scottish Militant Ninja Turtles Facebook group, which campaigns for an independent Scotland.
Once inside, Mr Darling, who is chair of ‘Better Together’, the main No campaign for the 2014 referendum, argued there are three reasons to stay in the Union.
According to the Highland News, he said: “One is economic, firms can sell goods and services into a larger single market, the second is we have influence in the world, for example the European Union, the big countries call the shots, and the third is the powerful emotional argument, we are Scottish, and we are proud to be British, we don’t have to choose.”
However, the Labour MP faced some tough questions from locals who quizzed him on financial cutbacks and the the state of the A9.
Bill Shand, a former chairman of the fire board, put it to Mr Darling that major Scottish industries such as whisky and oil would ensure Scotland could pay its own way.
Mr Darling replied that, while every country was capable of going it alone, “Oil accounts for one or two per cent of the total revenue in the UK.
“If anything happens to it, you can deal with it on a UK level, if you take Scotland it would account for 10 to 20 per cent of revenue and if anything happens to it, that income is volatile.”
Meanwhile, Peter Finlayson quizzed the No campaign leader about the poor condition of the A9 then asked a second question on Defence saying that since there have already been so many cutbacks to the Scottish defence footprint, would independence be any worse?
Mr Darling said he travels on the A9 regularly which can be “frustrating when you are stuck behind lorries for hours”, but he asserted that the Highlands has not been forgotten about and there was some expenditure in the area.
He added that the Government had made “difficult decisions” when it came to the Scottish regiments in particular, but argued that an independent Scotland would only have less to spend, not more.
The protester Mr Mackay told reporters: “I’m here on a peaceful protest, but he [Alastair Darling] refused to answer questions. We are sick of Alastair Darling’s scaremongering when it comes to an independent Scotland.”