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No vote campaign launch gives citizens centre stage

THE Better Together campaign for a No vote in the independence referendum was launched yesterday with one political heavyweight, no celebrities, and a surfeit of ordinary citizens who were proud to call themselves British.

united front: From left, Johann Lamont, Alistair Darling, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie at the Better Together campaign launch in Edinburgh yesterday. Picture: Gordon Terris
united front: From left, Johann Lamont, Alistair Darling, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie at the Better Together campaign launch in Edinburgh yesterday. Picture: Gordon Terris

The mix was warmly welcomed by the supportive audience, with former chancellor Alistair Darling doing the heavy lifting, especially in the surprise absence of Charles Kennedy for the Liberal Democrats. Other politicians were happy to play supporting roles.

Mr Darling said no voters had a chance to make history, adding: "The truth is Scotland's future, our future and our families' future will be economically, politically, and socially stronger as a partner in the United Kingdom.

"The truth is that this coming together of family, friends, ideas, institutions and identities is a strength, not a weakness. It is an ideal worth celebrating."

Pride of place at the launch at the Craiglockhart campus of Napier University was handed to around 40 Scots from across the country – curiously prevalent from Inverness, Wishaw and the Clyde shipyards – who testified to their attachment to the Union.

After appearing in a video and then in on-stage interviews with the best of this crop, conducted by Tory veteran Annabel Goldie and Labour newcomer Kez Dugdale, the message was good, if overdone – that people don't need the views of the celebrity tax exiles such as those wheeled out by the pro-Independence camp.

Mr Darling spoke well enough on themes of passion and patriotism, aspiration and risk, but while he promised an upbeat campaign lauding the positive aspects of the Union, the undercurrent of threat and risk was never far away.

He said: "Times are really tough at home and really uncertain, especially in Europe where all the problems of a currency union are laid bare. We need more growth, more jobs and a more prosperous Scotland.

"These are the issues that Scotland should be focusing on. The last things we need are the new areas of uncertainty, instability and division that separation will involve."

He added: "As Scots who do not want to be sold short, we are also entitled to ask questions of the Nationalists who want to establish a separate state, outside the United Kingdom. What have we learned in the past month about the SNP and their plans?

"It is that they have wasted almost 80 years: a party that was formed in the 1930s to achieve independence has not even done its basic homework about what independence would mean.

"They're not even tough questions. The most basic inquiries expose a basic truth. It is a gamble – a gamble with your jobs, your businesses, your savings. No-one advocating change as fundamental as this should be afraid of basic questions."

He issued a plea: "If you've never campaigned on anything before this, nothing has ever mattered as much as this. Come and get involved. If you've never even voted in an election, get registered to vote now. This isn't about voting in a government for a few years. It is about making history."

At a media conference following the launch, Mr Darling fielded questions on the structure and funding of the campaign. On structure, he said it was an amicable, no-votes affair between those involved, with no interference from their parties centrally. As for funding, he said there would be full statements of all donations, issued regularly in accordance with all current and future regulations.

On the question of the date of the referendum, he did not rise to the bait of a suggestion that the Scottish Government might delay it to clash with the 2015 General Election, calling this a "daft idea", and on a second question on enhanced devolution he remained dismissive.

The Herald pointed to the poll that showed a clear majority of Labour voters supported this, prompting him to say: "If you are going to put a second question on the ballot paper it must be specific. I don't know why the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations have decided to ask that question and why they have published it this morning."

The Future of Scotland group had published that 59% of Labour voters and 57% of LibDem voters backed such a second question, calling on politicians to back away from their current polarised approach.

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