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Yes-No rivals to step up debate in 2013

BOTH the pro-UK and pro-independence camps are preparing to step up their campaigns ahead of the Scottish Government's long-awaited referendum White Paper in November.

Battle PLANS: Yes Scotland will unveil more celebrity backing. Better Together will build grassroots infrastructure. Picture: Gordon Terris
Battle PLANS: Yes Scotland will unveil more celebrity backing. Better Together will build grassroots infrastructure. Picture: Gordon Terris

Yes Scotland, backed by SNP ministers, will begin 2013 with a series of attacks on "unfair" UK welfare cuts while seeking to pep-up the campaign by unveiling celebrity supporters.

Better Together will ask Scots to consider what they would miss about Britain if the country opted for independence. The campaign will also seek to make up ground on its opponents by building a network of activists capable of fighting the referendum battle at local level.

Sources on both sides of the debate agree 2013 will be dominated by the referendum to an even greater extent than the past 12 months.

A number of landmark events will ensure the historic vote is never out of the headlines – but the most keenly awaited is the SNP Government's White Paper setting out the blueprint for independence in November.

Before that, the Referendum Bill paving the way for the vote is due to be passed in October.

Potential flashpoints come earlier in the year when the Electoral Commission watchdog gives its verdict on the proposed question and campaign funding – issues that have already divided the rival campaigns.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont will unveil an interim report on the party's plans for devolution in April, in another move likely to spark a row over the constitution.

A senior party source admitted: "We want to continue talking about how to deliver social justice and public services in times of financial difficulty. But there will be no getting away from the referendum."

The two main campaign groups will both become more prominent as MSPs discuss the technicalities of the referendum at the start of the year.

Better Together will focus behind the scenes on building a referendum-fighting organisation.

The campaign will begin recruiting activists – strategists believe they need 20,000 people –to deliver leaflets and get the vote out on the day. They also want to identify their supporters and plan to canvass one million Scots over the coming 12 months.

Better Together chiefs believe a large majority of Scots want to stay in the UK, but acknowledge many are less clear about their reasons than independence supporters. A series of messages on a theme of "what would you miss about Britain?" will be developed in the first three months of the year.

Alistair Darling, head of the campaign, will also begin a tour in January addressing potential supporters in a series of private meetings. The move follows growing concern that influential figures, especially in the business world, are reluctant to speak out for fear of a backlash from the SNP.

A Better Together source said: "Everything will be viewed through the prism of the referendum.

"A key priority for us will be building the grassroots infrastructure that needs to be in place by the time of the vote in 2014."

Yes Scotland, which is ahead in terms of grassroots organisation, plans to highlight the uncertainty of Scotland remaining in the UK, according to a senior campaign source.

The organisation will warn of the danger of the UK leaving the EU under a Conservative Government and attack "unfair" welfare cuts, set to bite deeper from April.

In a key message, campaigners will portray the UK as the "fourth most unequal country in the world" and ask "whose interest is the Union serving?"

While pitching heavily to left-leaning voters they will also promote the Business for Scotland group.

Yes Scotland will also create a "Liberals for Independence" group modelled on its Labour for Independence sub-group.

The campaign is also planning to unveil a string of celebrity supporters in the course of the year, and expects rivals to do the same. A source said: "Endorsements are helpful – they create a sense of confidence and momentum. But for many people we believe our focus on welfare cuts and issues such as fairness will resonate more deeply."

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