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No unity in Better Together

RARELY has a name been so loaded with irony.

Better Together was supposed to convey unity, co-operation and a sense of shared values.

This weekend, the pro-Union campaign is consumed by rancour, finger-pointing and impotent fury.

A single newspaper story triggered the infighting which yesterday broke out between Labour, the LibDems and Tories. But while the Guardian's report of an unnamed Coalition minister saying an independent Scotland could "of course" share the pound with the UK may have ignited the feud, it is clear the match fell on prime kindling.

Better Together's troubles reflect deeper problems with the organisation, not simply one headline.

From the outset, its strategy has been to minimise grass-roots debate - its refusals to supply speakers to public events are notorious - and scare people into voting No before they barely had a chance to consider the issues. The less people chewed over the pros and cons, the better for the No camp, it seemed.

The upshot has been a campaign over-reliant on negative messages and all but devoid of inspiration. The polls show where that got them.

They now indicate support for independence rising and backing for the union edging down, a pattern seen across all socio-economic groups, among both men and women, and in all age groups bar the over-65s.

Better Together is in trouble, and it knows it. Its job was to deny the Yes camp momentum, but the momentum has developed regardless.

The jitters manifested themselves at this weekend's LibDem conference as former leader Tavish Scott made it clear Better Together's chair, Alistair Darling, wasn't connecting with voters, even Labour voters.

And then the Guardian story arrived. It is hard to underestimate how damaging it is for the No side.

The currency issue was Better Together's ace.

The flat rejection of Alex Salmond's plan to share the pound was meant to destroy his credibility on not just one but a host of issues.

Hence Better Together's constant demands for him to outline a Plan B on the currency.

If he had done so, he would have been attacked twice as hard, for deviating from Plan A.

Now the logic the Unionist parties hoped to apply to the First Minister is being used against them. If the Coalition is willing to mislead on an issue as big as the currency, what else can be trusted? That, at least, will be the thrust of the SNP's campaign for the rest of the referendum.

Better Together acknowledge they have been wounded, but intend to carry on denying a currency union is possible. The warnings will stay in their forthcoming advertising campaign. They may keep shouting, but fewer people are listening.

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