Darling must retract Project Fear’s scare-stories to regain his credibility

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   By a Newsnet reporter

The Scottish National Party has said that No campaign Chair Alistair Darling should use his speech today (Thursday) to publicly withdraw scaremongering arguments against independence which have been completely debunked, if his claims to positive campaigning are to have any credibility.

The call comes after weeks of criticism of the No campaign, with a number of misleading claims surrounding independence provoking a backlash from within its own ranks.

This week the slew of negativity and scare stories from the anti-independence campaign caused former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish to call for Labour to distance itself from the Better Together platform, which he described as being dominated by a Conservative agenda and run by politicians south of the Border.

Mr Darling recently conceded that the No campaign needed to present a positive case.  In an interview with Scotland on Sunday last week, Mr Darling said that the No campaign must give people a “good reason to come out and vote” against independence.

Mr Darling and the No campaign made the same commitment when Better Together campaign was launched.  But in a sign that the commitment was hollow, a Better Together source recently admitted to the Herald newspaper that the internal nickname for the organisation was “Project Fear”.

However despite his promises to present a positive argument, the Better Together leader also told Scotland on Sunday that he would continue to ask what he called “difficult questions” about independence.  Mr Darling did not appear to acknowledge that the difficulty for the No campaign is that the “difficult questions”, code for scare-stories, all too often prove to have simple answers.

The latest “difficult question” to be shown to be not difficult at all was the warning that mobile phone users in Scotland would be subject to roaming charges to call people in England.  The claim was made on the same day that the European Commission announced it had already agreed to remove all data roaming charges as early as next year.

Previous boasts that Scotland benefits from the UK’s AAA credit rating – which would be lost under independence – were fatally undermined when the UK itself suffered a credit rating downgrade. However, No Campaign activists continued to distribute leaflets with their AAA claim. Ironically, Alistair Darling attacked the UK Government for staking their reputation on maintaining the AAA rating.

And the No campaign asserted there would be problems with cross-border health care – even though NHS Scotland is already independent and has cross-border arrangements with the NHS elsewhere in the UK.  Experts have dismissed the No campaign’s claim.

Other “difficult questions” include the claims that Scotland would be unable to defend herself against terrorists, which would force the RAF to bomb Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. 

It is repeatedly asserted that Scotland would become a “foreign country”, even though citizens of the Irish Republic are not legally defined as “foreign nationals” and the Republic of Ireland is not regarded as a foreign country for the purposes of UK domestic legislation. The No campaign have given no reason why this cannot also apply to the citizens of an independent Scotland which would retain the Queen as head of state and be a full member of the Commonwealth. 

It was even claimed that following independence, Scots would no longer be able to watch their favourite soap operas, and the pandas would be repatriated from Edinburgh Zoo.

With signs that the public are increasingly tired of scaremongering, and the “difficult questions” are backfiring by causing the No campaign to be widely ridiculed, criticisms of the No campaign’s negative approach are now coming from within the campaign itself.

Last week Tory Deputy Leader Jackson Carlaw last week described some of the UK Government’s claims as “silly”, and former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish accused the No campaign of “treating Scots like idiots”.

Commenting, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani – who sits on the Referendum Bill Committee – said:

“If Mr Darling’s claims to positive campaigning are to have any credibility, he has to use the opportunity of this speech to publicly withdraw the silly scares against independence deployed by his own campaign – which people inside the No campaign describe as ‘Project Fear’.

“In recent weeks, we have had arguments that even the Deputy Leader of the Scottish Tories has described as ‘silly’. And a former Labour First Minister has said this week that the No campaign is Westminster-led and is treating people in Scotland like idiots.

“Next year’s referendum is about deciding what kind of Scotland we want to live in – a Yes vote means a fairer and more prosperous country with decisions taken by people living and working in Scotland. A No vote would mean that Scotland remained tied to a failing Westminster system.

“Having decisions about the economy, welfare and defence taken in an independent Scottish Parliament rather than by Westminster also means that Scotland will continue to share a social union and the bonds that connect us with the rest of the UK. Indeed, people in Scotland live, work and trade across a single European market of half-a-billion people – and the only threat to that comes from the Westminster referendum to exit Europe.

“Mr Darling doesn’t seem to understand what the referendum is about – it’s about democracy, not identity. We have a wide range of identities in modern Scotland – Scottish, British, Pakistani, Chinese, Polish, French, Irish and many, many more. Independence is the broad, inclusive and positive option for Scotland, in which all these identities can be reflected and celebrated.”