Questions for Labour as Tory domination of No campaign is laid bare

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By a Newsnet reporter

The scale of Tory domination over the strategy of the anti-independence campaign has been laid bare by revelations over the extent to which the Lib Dems have been side-lined after it emerged the Tories coalition partners were not consulted on important key decisions. 

By a Newsnet reporter

The scale of Tory domination over the strategy of the anti-independence campaign has been laid bare by revelations over the extent to which the Lib Dems have been side-lined after it emerged the Tories coalition partners were not consulted on important key decisions. 

Claims made by senior Lib Dems in an article in the Times also raise questions for Labour, as it remains unclear whether Alistair Darling – officially the head of the No campaign – or anyone in Labour’s Scottish team, knew and approved of the Tories’ plans.

An article in Monday’s Times newspaper revealed that David Cameron’s advisers briefed the press last week with a threat that Westminster could seize control of  Scotland’s referendum.  Senior Lib Dems were reportedly “incensed” that the Prime Minister’s threat to hold a Westminster-run referendum was made without any discussion or consultation with the junior party in the Coalition government.

Last week the Herald reported that Westminster may legislate to hold an independence referendum in Scotland.  “Senior Coalition sources” told the paper that Westminster might take action in order to prevent the Scottish Government adding a question on “Devo Max” to the ballot paper.  Opinion polls consistently show that this would be the option most Scots favour, but the UK Government and the Labour party refuse to consider anything but a simple yes or no to independence.  

The anti-independence parties insist that proposals for enhanced self-government for Scotland within the UK can only be discussed after independence has been ruled out, but have come under heavy criticism for refusing to disclose what extra powers they would devolve to Holyrood.

The warning to Scotland from Downing Street that Mr Cameron might decide to take control of the referendum away from Scotland came just a few days before the Scottish Government announced that there had been almost 10 times as many responses to its consultation on the independence referendum as there had been to the UK Government’s consultation on the same issue. 

The Scottish Government has said that it will not decide on the question on the ballot paper until after the responses to its consultation have been analysed.  A decision is expected in the Autumn.

The Times also disclosed that when David Cameron’s announced earlier this year that he would not contest the Scottish Government’s preferred 2014 date for the referendum that he did so without consulting, or even briefing, his Lib Dem allies.  The incident left Lib Dem Scotland Secretary Michael Moore deeply embarrassed, as just hours before the Prime Minister’s announcement Mr Moore had been insisting that the UK Government demanded an earlier date.

A LibDem source complained to the Times that the Prime Minister’s office was pulling the strings in the referendum campaign, the source said:

“There is a lot of string-pulling from Downing Street, but they end up making policies on the hoof without discussing them properly first.”

The fact that the Tories did not discuss the threats they would make over the referendum with their Lib Dem partners raises serious questions over whether the plans were discussed with the Labour Party.  

The SNP has insisted if the Labour party held discussions with Downing Street, Labour must make it clear whether they approve of and support Mr Cameron’s threats.  

However if, like the Lib Dems, Mr Darling and the Labour party were also taken unawares by Downing Street’s interventions, Labour risks creating the impression that Mr Darling and other senior Labour figures are content to act as spokespersons for a Conservative led and directed campaign.  The uncertainty adds to the existing lack of clarity on who is funding the official No campaign.

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson has said he will write to Alasdair Darling to ascertain whether Labour is backing moves for Westminster to seize control of the referendum.

Commenting, SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said:

“The fact that the Tories do not understand Scotland is no surprise to anyone, but the revelation that they are dictating the approach of the anti-independence parties to the referendum is seismic.

“Labour must make clear why they are happy to be in an anti-independence coalition which is clearly being directed, funded and managed by the Tories.

“Did Labour support the Tories plans for Westminster to seize control of the referendum?  Was Alasdair Darling, as head of the No campaign, briefed about these plans?

“People in Scotland deserve the truth, so I’m writing to Alistair Darling to ascertain the extent to which Labour is content to let Tories from Westminster run the campaign.

“Labour party members must be deeply uneasy over their alliance with the Tories as their Westminster cabal seizes more and more influence over the anti-independence campaign.”