By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
The Better Together campaign has been accused of hypocrisy after it emerged that No campaign leader Alistair Darling has received diplomatic help to push the message of his political campaign abroad.
The revelations are an embarrassment for the No campaign, which previously lambasted the Scottish Government for spending public money to circulate information about the upcoming independence referendum in Scotland. According to the Sunday Herald, the British Embassy in Washington is arranging meetings for Mr Darling to discuss Scotland during a trip to the US at the invitation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
While it is normal practice for UK ministers to receive diplomatic embassy support when on foreign visits, eyebrows have been raised because Mr Darling is not a minister and is using his visit to promote a political message.
The news that the Labour MP is being assisted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has attracted scorn from the SNP, and Better Together has been accused of being embroiled in an “abuse” of UK diplomatic resources.
“This is an abuse of UK diplomatic resources by the No campaign,” said SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson MP. “The UK’s Embassy in the United States appears to be arranging meetings and interviews for Alistair Darling in his capacity as head of a political campaign, which steps way over the line. It is part of a series of previously reported activity in Spain, Russia and across the UK’s diplomatic network on behalf of the No campaign.
“Alistair Darling complains about public money to promote awareness of the white paper so that people are informed about the referendum – yet he abuses taxpayer-funded UK diplomatic facilities to oppose an independent Scotland. The No campaign has laid itself wide open to the charge of hypocrisy.”
Responding to the revelations, a UK government spokeswoman highlighted that UK embassies provide “considerable support” for Scottish Government Ministers when overseas, but did not explain why Mr Darling could claim the same support when not on ministerial duties, adding only that it was “entirely appropriate” for the FCO to provide assistance.
The news may be a sign that the Better Together campaign and UK government is stepping up efforts to promote the anti-independence stance. Last month, it emerged that the No campaign was in crisis talks over its strategy with only months to go before the referendum.
On the UK Government’s part, it emerged in January through Russian state media that the UK was “extremely interested” in support for its anti-independence position from Russia. The story came from a source in Prime Minister’s David Cameron and followed reports that Mr Cameron had made an “anti-separatist pact” with Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy, who is staunchly opposed to the people of Catalonia holding their own referendum this year on secession from Spain.
When recently questioned on the Russia claims by MSP Christina McKelvie, Westminster’s secretary of state for Scotland Alistair Carmichael appeared to overrule his own official’s agreement to provide details of briefings issues to foreign governments.