As Scottish secretary Michael Moore and Scotland’s deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, yesterday toured the TV studios to declare a piece of history will be made today as David Cameron and Alex Salmond sign an agreement on the operation of a referendum that could lead to Scotland becoming an independent nation, Scotland on Sunday yesterday reported the thorny issue of the funding of the campaign could become one of the stickiest issues.
Reporting SNP concerns, Eddie Barnes, the paper’s political editor, wrote:
“The SNP may challenge Electoral Commission guidelines on spending limits in the forthcoming referendum campaign amid claims from the Nationalist side that they would allow the pro-Union camp to out-spend them in the crucial weeks before the vote.
“Nationalist campaigners said yesterday they intend to press for “equity” in funding in the run-up to the 2014 vote, after agreeing terms with the UK Government on the detail of the independence referendum plans.
“The SNP has called for tighter spending limits and less cash for political parties, fearing that the three pro-UK parties – Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives – will be able to financially out-muscle the parliament’s two pro-independence parties, the SNP and the Greens, in the days before the poll.
“However, the decision puts it in potential conflict with the Electoral Commission, which has suggested that spending limits be far higher for organisations and parties to ensure the vital debate is given a proper airing ahead of the poll.”
In arguing such detail matters to avoid either side being able to “cry foul”, the paper’s editorial went on to declare:
“The minutiae of the regulations will be pored over in the coming weeks, but, at this stage, it is perhaps important to lay down what should be a simple rubric by which to judge the final set of rules. That rubric is this: in the crucial final weeks of the campaign neither side in this contest should be allowed to spend more money than the other.
“This might seem blindingly obvious, but there are genuine concerns within the Nationalist camp this weekend that if the Electoral Commission rules are followed to the letter, and are not amended to suit Scottish circumstances, the more broadly based anti-independence campaign will have a financial advantage.”
At the Daily Record, the former Scottish Labour MP and minister, Brian Wilson, whilst recognising the right of the SNP following the 2011 Holyrood elections to hold a referendum, nevertheless has questioned why Scotland is being made to wait so long before it can have its say.
Noting “every survey of Scottish public opinion shows that, when asked to name our priority issues, “the constitution” comes about 19th out of 20 on the list”, he continued:
“What I find outrageous is the delay of a further two years until this vote takes place.
“As David Steel said last week, we are lumbered with “an unsettling, long drawn-out, boring process” which invites us to take “a great and unnecessary leap in the dark”. That’s a fair summary.
“Back in 1997, when Labour came to power having promised a devolution referendum in its manifesto, Donald Dewar took an Act through Parliament at maximum speed and the referendum was held within five months of Tony Blair becoming prime minister.
“There is absolutely no reason why the same process could not have been repeated – and Scotland would already be getting on with normal life and business, whatever the outcome.
“The only man who saw advantage in spinning it out over more than three years was Mr Salmond and he should be held accountable for it.”
Warning Alex Salmond will need to be monitored closely to ensure those who are 14 now who will, as a result of the deal, be allowed to vote for the first time in the referendum in 2 years’ time, Wilson continued:
“I doubt if the right of 16 and 17-year-olds to vote will make a lot of difference one way or another.
“Young people are exposed to many influences these days and are more impressed by forces that bring people together – like music and sport – than in political divisions based on nationality.
“It tells us a lot about Mr Salmond’s strategy that he is so reliant on targeting today’s 14-year-olds. A very careful watch has to be kept on the methods used to influence them, inside and outside the school gates. The classroom must not be used as a political battleground.”
At the Sunday Herald, meanwhile, concluding the deal to be announced today is a win-win both for Alex Salmond and David Cameron, the paper’s columnist, Iain MacWhirter, warned whatever the polls might say, there is still all to play for.
Observing the SNP’s key task now is to persuade those who would prefer a beefed-up Scottish Parliament within the UK to support independence, MacWhirter continued:
“Salmond has already made it easier for them by abandoning many traditional independence themes. Scotland would retain the Queen as head of state, the pound as the Scottish currency and the Bank of England in charge of interest rates. Salmond has talked of a new “social union” with England and even former fundamentalists like the Health Secretary, Alex Neil, insist that Scots will still be able to call themselves “British”.
“It’s left many observers wondering if we need a referendum at all.
“But remember, the SNP only need to win once. If they can persuade enough Unionist waverers to say Yes, on the grounds that this is the only way they can ensure that the Scottish Parliament gets more powers, then that will be enough.
“Salmond will be able to claim that Scotland has voted for independence, and begin negotiations with Westminster on division of the national debt, offshore oil reserves and other common assets. Independence means whatever Alex Salmond says it means and it might mean something rather more radical after the referendum than it appears to mean now.”
In declaring the unionist cause is “not in a good position”, he observed of the anti-independence campaign:
“The Unionists’ task will be to make clear this is a vote to leave the UK, and not some half-way house. Yes means yes. Independence is for keeps. If Scotland votes yes, Scottish MPs will have to withdraw from Westminster; the British army will pull out of Scottish bases; the Barnett Formula subsidies will cease; and the Bank of England will no longer be lender of last resort to Scottish banks.
“But the Unionists are not in a good position right now. The Olympics and the opinion polls have been a shot in the arm, but there are deep political divisions between the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. “Better Together” has yet to get its act together. Meanwhile, the SNP remain uncannily united. Indeed, the party looks remarkably relaxed given the state of public opinion on independence.
“Do they know something we don’t?”
We will have more on today’s historic announcement, from both the “no” and “yes” campaigns, later on Left Foot Forward.