By Bob Duncan
Former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish has accused the Better Together campaign of “complacency”, and warned that support for independence will increase in the approach to the 2014 referendum.
Mr McLeish told The Scotsman newspaper that he will refuse to join Alistair Darling’s faltering No campaign due to their inability to present a positive vision for the people of Scotland, claiming Better Together was promoting an “unreformed Union”.
The former leader of Labour in Scotland also criticised his party’s recent opposition to free university tuition and free NHS prescriptions, which he described as an attack on universal services and a “knee-jerk reaction”.
He warned the anti-independence parties that the gap between those supporting and opposing independence would narrow and claimed that the current one-third supporting a Yes vote would be seen as a “low-water mark” in the lengthy run-up to autumn 2014, adding: “There is a huge danger of complacency within Better Together.”
The former First Minister also suggested his party had yet to learn from disastrous defeat at the 2011 Holyrood elections, claiming that Labour was not “distinctively Scottish enough”.
He said: “Labour still isn’t learning the lessons fast enough. The party is still not distinctively Scottish enough, whereas that’s the strength of the SNP. It’s easy to criticise policies such as free tuition, but Labour can’t wait two years to say what it’s going to do.”
Meanwhile, the rhetoric of the No campaign has become increasingly bitter over recent weeks, despite promises having been made by Alistair Darling and Anas Sarwar to raise the level of the debate.
Speaking last Monday, Mr Darling claimed that: “If there was a different immigration and asylum regime from the rest of the UK there would have to be border controls”.
Labour MP Mr Sarwar, who is head of Labour’s anti-independence campaign and deputy leader of the party in Scotland, said in the Section 30 debate in Westminster on Tuesday that the Scottish Parliament was “not a democratic place in the conventional sense; it is a dictatorship of one man”.
Sarwar’s ‘dictatorship’ slur was then reiterated on Newsnight Scotland the same evening by Lord Forsyth, an unelected Conservative member of the House of Lords.
The SNP has urged the Better together campaign to heed Mr McLiesh’s warning and engage in a more mature and positive debate on Scotland’s future.
SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, a member of the Referendum Bill Committee, said:
“Mr McLeish’s experience speaks for itself, and his moderate viewpoint stands in stark contrast to the unpleasant tribalism and negativity displayed by the No campaign of late. No wonder he wants nothing to do with them.
“The onus is on Alistair Darling and the leaders of the anti-independence parties to come to the table with their own vision for Scotland, if they have one.”
Mr McLeish also outlined how the party he used to lead were going in the wrong direction, condemning Labour’s Cuts Commission in Scotland driven by Johann Lamont as a “knee-jerk reaction”.
Ms Fabiani added:
“It is becoming more and more evident in light of recent events, that Labour and all the Westminster obsessed politicians do not have a firm grasp on the needs of the people of Scotland.
“Decisions affecting Scotland should be made by people 100% elected in Scotland and this will only be achieved with a Yes vote for an independent Scotland in 2014.”