No camp splits emerge as Brown backs Salmond v. Cameron debate


  By a Newsnet reporter
An apparent split has emerged between two rival anti-independence campaigns over whether UK Prime Minister David Cameron should debate with Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond.
In a surprise move, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown today backed calls for a TV head-to-head telling journalists at a Westminster briefing that it would be a “good idea”.

Calls for a debate between the two leaders have been resisted by the official anti-independence campaign Better Together.  Labour MP Alistair Darling, who served as Chancellor in Mr Brown’s Cabinet, and leads Better Together has insisted that any debate should be between himself and the SNP leader.

Mr Darling’s stance has been supported by the Tory leader himself, with Mr Cameron repeatedly arguing that any debates should involve only people who have a vote in the referendum.

However, asked today by journalists for his own views on a televised debate between the First Minister and the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who heads a rival United with Labour campaign said: “People have to decide what the best way forward is.

“I think it would be a good idea if David Cameron did debate Alex Salmond, but I’m not involved in the negotiations.”

The intervention of the former Labour leader is the latest evidence of a split between Mr Brown and Mr Darling on how best to push the pro-Union message.

Last week the former Labour leader criticised the decision by Chancellor George Osborne to issue a currency threat should Scots vote Yes on September 18th.  Alistair Darling was rumoured to have been behind the announcement that there would be no currency agreement if Scotland became independent.

Responding to Mr Brown’s backing for a debate with Mr Cameron, the First Minister said the former Labour leader was articulating a view held by most people.

Mr Salmond said: “Can I just congratulate Gordon Brown for saying what is obvious to the people of Scotland, that it’s incumbent on the Prime Minister to agree to a democratic debate with the First Minister.”

Commenting, SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing said:
“The fact that even Gordon Brown recognises the need for a First Minister to Prime Minister debate speaks volumes – and will be a source of huge embarrassment for Alistair Darling, who just this week claimed that he was the man to debate the First Minister.

“Alistair Darling will be used to being undermined by his Tory colleagues in the No campaign – but now he’s being undermined by a former Labour Prime Minister.
“The pressure is now building on David Cameron to finally agree to the head to head debate the people of Scotland want to see – and he is fast running out of places to hide.
“With 100 days to go, Mr Cameron still has time to show some leadership and agree to a debate on independence.  If he fails to do so people in Scotland will come to the conclusion that he knows how weak his own arguments are – and that he is feart to face the First Minister.

“The reality, of course, is that all of the leaders of the No campaign have negative ratings, while all of the Yes leaders’ ratings are positive – so there is no-one at the No campaign’s disposal to debate who is popular. The total net satisfaction rating is plus 33 for Yes leaders and minus 78 for No – it is clear that the people of Scotland trust Yes and don’t trust No, a key factor that will help deliver a Yes vote on 18 September.”

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “I think the Prime Minister’s view is the same as the Better Together campaign, which is they very much look forward to Alex Salmond agreeing to debate Alistair Darling.”