By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
Pressure is growing on Prime Minister David Cameron to take part in a TV debate with First Minister Alex Salmond after it emerged that polls swinging towards a Yes vote had prompted crisis talks in the Better Together campaign.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, a crisis summit was called on Friday between No campaign leaders because of increasing support for independence.
It’s understood there are internal splits inside the pro-unionist campaign with some members arguing the group should continue with the ‘Project Fear’ tactics of frightening voters into retaining the union, while others believe a change of strategy is needed in the months leading up to the referendum.
The revelations prompted SNP MP Angus Robertson to repeat ongoing calls for the Prime Minister overstep the chaos of the Better Together campaign and engage voters in Scotland directly with a live debate with the First Minister.
“In order to have any credibility, the No campaign revamp has to include a commitment to a debate between the Prime Minister and Scotland’s First Minister,” said Mr Robertson. “One of the problems the No campaign has faced is trying to deny the obvious – that its campaign is being driven and directed by the Tory government at Westminster. Part of their relaunch should be about having the honesty to admit this, and therefore follow through on the logic of it by agreeing to a live TV debate between Alex Salmond and David Cameron.
“While the No campaign is in substantial difficulty, we are focused on the positive case for a Yes vote – and why Scotland can, should and must become an independent country.”
According to the Daily Mail article, Better Together campaign board members will be asked to invest a six-figure sum in a bid to turnaround the public vote, although disagreements within the group have left a clear forward strategy in tatters.
One pro-Union source told the paper: “We need to beef up the campaign. We are continually struggling against accusations of negativity.”
Recent polls have shown a significant increase in the number of voters in Scotland planning to vote Yes, while studies have shown that the Project Fear tactics have failed to frighten voters towards No. Despite UK Chancellor George Osborne recently hitting headlines when he ruled out a currency union with an independent Scotland, polls showed voters believed he was bluffing.
In January, the No campaign’s attempted re-launch ended in a nightmare for the unionists when its most high profile figures contradicted each other over Scotland’s future in the union. While former Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared during a speech that Scotland’s devolved powers would be strengthened under a future Labour Government, Thomas Docherty MP proclaimed there wasn’t “any support at Westminster for more powers in Scotland”.
“Average support for Yes is currently running at 44 per cent, and the gap with No has halved since November – which is the reason for the panic in the No campaign ranks,” Mr Robertson went on.
“It was people in the headquarters of the No campaign who christened their own operation ‘Project Fear’, and they are now prisoners of their own negativity about Scotland. As they desperately try to change tack – for example by pointing out that Scotland is the wealthiest part of the UK outside London and South East England, even without a single drop of North Sea oil – it helps to underline that Scotland has got what it takes to be a successful independent country.”
Last month, Mr Cameron bowed to public pressure and told STV he would be “delighted” to speak to floating voters in a television studio, despite previously insisting that the debate was a matter for “Scots living in Scotland”, prompting calls for him to go a step further and debate directly with Mr Salmond.
[PLEASE DONATE TO OUR LATEST APPEAL WHICH IS SEEKING TO RAISE FUNDS FOR AN ACADEMIC STUDY INTO THE REFERENDUM OUTPUT BY BBC SCOTLAND.]