By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
Comparing its attacks on independence with a wartime bombing campaign which left hundreds dead is “reprehensible” and has exposed the UK government’s rhetoric over key independence issues, an MSP has said.
The Herald newspaper yesterday quoted sources close to the UK coalition boasting of a “Dambusters” approach to the independence referendum. The term was coined after a second world war air-raid which led to the blowing up of German dams leading to the drowning of 1600 people.
The comments came after it emerged earlier this week that Standard Life had begun taking steps to make a transfer of business to England “if necessary”, and last week’s announcement from Chancellor George Osborne that Westminster would try to prevent Scotland from keeping the pound should Scottish voters choose to vote Yes in the referendum.
However, linking the anti-independence campaign to the war time bombing raid has led to claims that the No campaign’s “project fear” has now gone into overdrive, and that the Dambusters comment showed the Coalition Government was operating a deliberate strategy of scaremongering people into a No vote.
“These comments are a shocking example of the No campaign’s attitude towards Scotland,” said Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford. “Political strategy is one thing – but for the UK Government to happily admit that it is actively trying to undermine confidence in the Scottish economy is totally reprehensible.”
Mr Osborne’s decision to rule out a currency union with Scotland was met with both criticism and scepticism by voters. Strathclyde University professor of politics John Curtice said that move had “backfired in spectacular” fashion after voters reacted angrily to Mr Osborne’s attitude. Then, in an embarrassing moment for the Chancellor, the deputy leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Jackson Carlow, distanced himself from the claim, agreeing that it would be “rational and sensible” to keep the pound and that if Scotland voted Yes, he would help “man the barricades”.
“The fact that the UK Government has admitted that George Osborne’s Sermon on the Pound was simply the opening salvo in a pre-meditated campaign strategy shows the Chancellor’s intervention for what it was – campaign rhetoric designed to bully people in Scotland into voting No and not a realistic description of what will happen after a Yes vote,” Mr Crawford added.
The news from Standard Life comes on the back of the continuing fallout over the currency union claims from Mr Osborne, with the Royal Bank of Scotland – which this week reported £8.2bn in losses – now warning that its business could be “negatively impacted” by a Yes vote in the Scottish referendum.
However the boost for the No campaign was short lived when yesterday two leading figures from the air industry both signalled backing for the Scottish Government’s stance on key independence issues.
British Airways boss Willie Walsh said that Scottish independence would be a “positive development” for the industry.
Asked in a BBC interview if a Yes vote would be damaging for the company, Mr Walsh replied: “No, because we’ll continue to fly to Scotland.
“If anything, it might be marginally positive because I suspect the Scottish government will abolish air passenger duty, because they recognise the huge impact that that tax has on their economy.
“So no, it’s probably going to be a positive development, if it does happen, for British Airways.”
Mr Walsh’s backing for a Yes vote was then followed by similar comments from Ryanair Chief Michael O’Leary who told BBC Radio Scotland’s Newsdrive programme that he supported the plans for reduced Air Passenger Duty, a currency union and Scotland’s continued membership of the European Union.
The Ryanair boss told BBC Radio Scotland: “There’s no doubt that most airlines would support the position of the Scottish Government in relation to the abolition of the APD (air passenger duty), which does untold damage to Scottish tourism.”
He added that the drop in APD will mean: “business numbers to Scotland double over a 5-10 year period” benefiting “job creation in tourism”.
First Minister Alex Salmond said there was “substantial evidence” to show that an independent Scotland would be a competitive place to do business, and said the SNP’s proposal for a currency union was “exactly the sort of thing Standard Life have been calling for”.
He added: “Standard Life will find Scotland a good place to do business as it, indeed, does business in 10 countries around the world.”
Chief Secretary to the Treasure Danny Alexander said that the news from Standard Life highlighted “the consequences of the SNP’s dangerous, risky and unclear plans for independence”, but was criticised for his stance on the subject.
Bruce Crawford added: “The barely concealed joy that the Westminster establishment is taking in attempting to create threats to Scottish jobs is completely outrageous – and Danny Alexander and the No campaign should be ashamed for their part in it,”
The Better Together campaign has been accused by some within its own ranks of using scaremongering tactics in a bid to frighten voters into a No vote instead of stating a positive case for the union.
Former Conservative defence secretary Michael Portillo echoed the view on this week’s edition of This Week on BBC One when discussing the referendum on the European Union, saying: “If we did get a referendum, David Cameron’s government would use the same tactics they’re using in the Scottish referendum, in other words they would try and scare people rigid about the consequences of leaving the European Union.”