By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
Rifts in the anti-independence No campaign have deepened further after a senior Labour figure accused Prime Minister David Cameron of being a “toxic” element in the group.
The disgruntlement within the No campaign comes as Mr Cameron prepares to play a bigger role in Unionists’ attempts to keep Scotland within the UK, and follows a series of crises for the Better Together group.
It also follows Labour’s criticism of defence secretary Philip Hammond’s recent visit to Scotland, which the party labelled “unhelpful”.
SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said the growing unease in Labour – this time leaked to national newspapers – made it clear that the No campaign is “nothing more than a Tory front”.
“The splits at the heart of the No campaign are growing deeper by the day with all three factions in the campaign briefing against each other,” she said. “Labour are right to say that David Cameron’s daytrips to Scotland are ‘toxic’ for their campaign – but with Mr Cameron’s increasingly central role they can’t hide from the fact that the anti-independence campaign is Tory to its core.
“Whether Labour like it or not, it’s obvious now that the No campaign’s Tory paymasters have lost all confidence in Alistair Darling’s ‘dismal’ leadership as the polls continue to tighten in the run-up to September – which is exactly why he has been sidelined in favour of David Cameron.
She continued: “It is clearer than ever that the No campaign is nothing more than a Tory front – and ordinary Labour voters will be wondering why their party is willing to campaign alongside the ‘toxic’ Prime Minister who is decimating the welfare state and cutting Scotland’s budget.”
The latest incident follows a series of PR blunders for the No campaign. At the beginning of the year, a much-hyped re-launch was thrown into chaos when Labour MP Thomas Docherty publicly contradicted a high profile speech from former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Scotland’s future within the union when he insisted there wasn’t “any support at Westminster for more devolved powers”.
At the same time, Labour MP Jim Murphy hit out at the “poison” of the Conservatives in Scotland, despite his party standing shoulder to shoulder with the Conservatives as part of the No campaign.
The group hit further problems in April when it emerged that Better Together leader Alistair Darling had received diplomatic help – which is supposed to be reserved for UK ministers – abroad when promoting a “political message” for the No campaign.
In December senior Conservatives criticised Darling’s leadership of the Tory-funded campaign, describing the Labour MP as “useless” and “comatose”.
The news that Mr Cameron is intending to play a bigger role in the No campaign following criticism of Mr Darling is a turnaround from the Conservative leader’s previous position that the debate should take place exclusively between Scots.
In February, he bowed to public pressure and said he would be “delighted” to address floating voters in a television studio, but stopped short of accepting the challenge from First Minister Alex Salmond to engage in a debate with him directly on television.
Ms Fabiani added that the Prime Minister’s ongoing reluctance to face Mr Salmond did not reflect well on the No campaign.
“While Labour use the word ‘toxic’ to describe David Cameron – until he agrees to debate the First Minister the word people across Scotland will be using is ‘feart’,” she said.