Moore echoes Douglas-Home’s infamous 1979 promise of “something better”


by a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has accused Lib Dem Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore of ‘impersonating’ the 1960s Tory Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home by promising things will improve if they vote against independence for Scotland.

The SNP comments came after Mr Moore apparently made an unspecific offer of additional powers for the Scottish Parliament if Scots vote ‘No’ in the 2014 ballot.  However, when pressed, Mr Moore was unable or unwilling to specify what extra powers Westminster would offer.

In an interview with the Times newspaper, the Lib Dem MP restricted himself to a non-binding statement that additional powers for Holyrood could be discussed in the future, but only after a No vote had been returned in the referendum.  

Speaking to the Times, Mr Moore said:  “The central point is to let Scotland decide whether it’s part of the part of the United Kingdom or not.  I’m confident it will say ‘we are’.

“Then we can work through the detail of what the next stages of devolution will be.”

The Scottish Secretary is due to meet with First Minister Alex Salmond on Monday to discuss the independence referendum.  Mr Salmond has requested a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron, a report in yesterday’s Daily Mail said that Mr Cameron would visit Scotland on Thursday to meet with the First Minister.

A number of Conservative MPs have called on Mr Cameron not to accede to Mr Salmond’s request for a meeting in Scotland, and instead demanded that the Prime Minister summon Mr Salmond to London

Mr Moore’s comments are similar to remarks made by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at the beginning of February.  Speaking to a meeting of the House of Lords Constitutional Committee, Mr Clegg said:

“I think there should be further steps towards greater autonomy, fiscal and otherwise, for Scotland and that is terrifically important.”

However Mr Clegg also stressed that any such discussion could only take place after a no vote had been secured in the independence referendum.

However Mr Clegg and Mr Moore’s comments place them at odds with Cameron.  At the end of January Mr Cameron explicitly ruled out additional fiscal powers for Scotland, claiming that a centralised tax and benefits system was the “heart” of a single country.  A spokesman for Mr Cameron’s office added that proposals such as devo-max or full fiscal autonomy were “inconsistent” with Scotland remaining a part of the UK.

Reacting to Mr Moore’s comments, a spokesperson for the Scottish Government noted that Mr Cameron and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson had ruled out additional powers for the Scottish Parliament, and said:

“While the date for the First Minister to meet the Prime Minister to discuss Scotland’s referendum is to be confirmed, we look forward to it taking place in early course, once the first minister has met the secretary of state for Scotland on Monday.”

The spokesman added: “It is clear there is growing consensus that the proposed timetable for Scotland’s referendum is entirely reasonable, however only this weekend it is obvious there are divergent views within the Westminster coalition on their position in regard to more powers – with the prime minister refusing to offer any further powers and the secretary of state for Scotland saying Scotland could get greater financial powers.

“If that is a genuine offer it should be articulated clearly to the people of Scotland at this stage.”

The SNP’s Angus Robertson MP pointed out that Mr Moore’s remarks were reminiscent of the infamous comment made by the former Tory Prime Minister Douglas-Home at the time of the 1979 devolution referendum.

During campaigning for the 1979 referendum, which offered Scotland a highly limited form of devolution and a Scottish Assembly, the former Conservative Prime Minister urged Scots to vote no.  Sir Alec pledged that a future Conservative government would offer Scotland “something better”.

However the “Something better” turned out to be Margaret Thatcher.  Mrs Thatcher’s government refused to countenance any form of Scottish self-government, and subjected the country to almost 2 decades of monetarist policies which saw a massive rise in unemployment and the virtual destruction of Scottish industry, combined with unprecedented centralisation of power in Westminster.

SNP Westminster leader and campaign manager Mr Robertson said: “Claiming that if only Scots vote against their own self-determination then they will get something more instead is just what happened in 1979 – and that didn’t lead to anything except a 20 year silence.

“Whilst Moore is playing the part of Douglas-Home, David Cameron has cast himself in the role of Margaret Thatcher, by letting it be known that there won’t be any further devolution of powers beyond the Scotland Bill – despite polls showing widespread support from the Scottish people for greater devolution

“It is clear that whatever Moore promises that the Tories oppose more powers.  Indeed Ruth Davidson actually fought her Tory leadership campaign on a pledge to fight against more powers for Scotland, calling the inadequate powers in the Scotland Bill ‘a line in the sand’.

“Meanwhile the other anti-independence party, Labour, doesn’t have the slightest idea what its policy is.  With such incoherence, it is little wonder the anti-independence front is on the retreat : Labour are on the run in Glasgow City Council, the Tories are feuding about plans to wreck the NHS in England and the Liberal Democrats are in the basement of Scottish politics.

“Despite the echoes of 1979 and Alec Douglas-Home, the Scottish people will not be fooled again by offers of jam tomorrow.  If the Tory-led coalition wants to make offers of more powers to Scotland, it should either be in the Scotland Bill or on the ballot paper in the referendum.

“There is no way people in Scotland will be taken in ever again by being told to vote no for a better deal.”