By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
Better Together leader Alistair Darling has been slammed by critics for netting almost the full annual salary of a minimum wage worker for every after dinner speech he’s made since taking charge of the campaign, totalling a whopping £250,000.
Following the revelations in the Scottish Sun on Sunday, the Edinburgh South West MP was criticised by a Scottish Parliament counterpart who said he should “put his day job first” and focus on representing constituents. The news came at the end of a turbulent week for No campaign after it emerged crisis talks were underway in a bid to prevent the Yes campaign further closing the gap between the two in the polls.
“Since the launch of the No campaign, Alistair Darling has earned almost £250,000 from big business – despite Ed Miliband promising to curb MPs’ earnings from outside interests,” said Marco Biagi, SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central. “Mr Darling has repeatedly failed to turn up to the House of Commons to vote on the UK Government’s targeting of the poor, all the while earning an average of £11,000 per speech – almost the same as an annual salary for someone on minimum wage.
“It is no wonder that the No campaign is completely out of touch with the consequences of Westminster’s austerity agenda when its leader is completely divorced from the reality of ordinary people.”
In December last year, it emerged that the former Chancellor was paid more than £30,000 for speaking at two meetings in just one day in May. He has spoken at events for Menzies Accountants, Ashurst LLP, JP Morgan, Bank of America and PricewarerhouseCooper. Records show he jetted off to Monaco for one speaking event, and he is represented in his speaking endeavours by the same company as comedian Jimmy Carr and BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman.
Mr Biagi added that it was “reprehensible” that Mr Darling did not vote against the Tories’ welfare cap in light of his bumper financial speaking deals.
“Given his huge earnings it is even more reprehensible that Mr Darling didn’t vote against the Tories’ welfare cap – which penalises some of the poorest people in the country,” he said. “While he’d seemingly rather spend his time making speeches for huge pay packets or talking down Scotland in the No campaign – Mr Darling shouldn’t forget that he is paid by the public purse to represent his constituents.
“Instead of jetting off to Monaco to speak to big business, Alistair Darling should get his priorities right and put his day job first.”
The revelations have put added pressure on Mr Darling after another troubled week for his pro-union campaign. On Monday, he admitted he was concerned about a “huge disparity” in funding between the Yes campaign and the No campaign, and said there was “no doubt” that the Better Together campaign would be outspent. He went on to criticise the Scottish Government for spending £1.3m on producing the White Paper and complained it was and “uneven contest”.
By the end of the week, crisis talks were underway in response to recent polls showing the Yes campaign is narrowing the gap with just months to go before the referendum on independence. It’s understood senior figures within the No campaign are concerned that the group’s ‘Project Fear’ tactic has backfired and failed to frighten voters into a No vote, although reports of splits within the campaign have left its future strategy unclear.