Change at Scotland office bad news for Better Together

The change in personnel at the Scotland Office signals bad news for the campaign to keep the Union together.

The decision by Nick Clegg to ceremonially dump the respected Michael Moore as Scottish secretary for the more abrasive Alistair Carmichael could prove to be a disastrous decision for the Better Together Campaign.

While Moore’s style was not aggressive, between him and Better Together leader Alistair Darling they had done a good job of undermining many of the assertions made by Alex Salmond about what independence would look like.

In Alistair Carmichael, Nick Clegg has appointed someone who has earned his spurs in the Whips Office and who will be more Salmond-like in his attacks on the Scots Nats.

Clegg, the Lib Dems and the government have taken Salmond’s bait and he will be sitting in Bute House in Scotland this morning rubbing his hands in glee at the thought of a bare knuckle fight with Westminster. It’s what the SNP Leader wanted all along and it is now what he’s got.

Little surprise therefore that the Herald this morning speaks of a “bruising new phase for 2014 fight after reshuffle.”

In assessing the rationale for the decision, BBC Scotland’s political editor Brian Taylor declared:

“It is felt, frankly, that a harder, tougher approach will be needed in the run-up to the September 18 poll than that potentially on offer from Michael Moore. Enter Alistair Carmichael, the MP for Orkney and Shetland with a secure reputation as a combative Lib Dem Chief Whip – a role where the incumbents develop a propensity for getting their own way.

“I think there is a further element here. As the referendum combat develops, the UK government will be keen to take a palpably leading role in the campaign, while acknowledging that Better Together is headed by Labour’s Alistair Darling.

“Such a role for the UKG could, of course, be played by the Prime Minister. But Team Cameron are only too aware that a Tory MP from an English constituency, representing a party with very limited support north of the Border, may not be best placed to attract Scottish endorsement.”

For the Scotsman the change in personnel at the Scotland Office signals bad news for the campaign to keep the Union together.

Declaring the reshuffle to be a “gamble, the wisdom of which has yet to be proven”, its leader column this morning concludes:

“In Mr Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, and John Swinney, the Nationalists have three of the best performers on the political stage today, having proven themselves highly capable in government and in political public debate.

“In place of the image as the voice of reason that Mr Moore appeared to be cultivating, Mr Carmichael is being billed as a more combative personality. Is this the right approach, amid signs that the higher the volume goes in these debates, the more confused they get? This sends a bad signal about the expected level of maturity and thought we can expect.”

Not all commentators however mourn the loss of Michael Moore. In typical tabloid style, the Daily Record is spoiling for a fight. Arguing that a new man was needed in the final months of the campaign, the paper today writes:

“The Daily Record wants to see a vigorous and full debate on the pros and cons of independence before the crunch vote on September 18 next year. Yes, we want a fair fight. But we also want a hard fight and a passionate fight.

“You can be sure the SNP will bring passion to their arguments. For them, the referendum is the culmination of generations of work and struggle. There can no doubt of the strength of their convictions.

“For all his talents, Moore was never going to be the man to put passion into the case for the Union and that task will now fall on the broad shoulders of MP Alistair Carmichael.

“The next 12 months will require all the fiery passion of the islander.”

3 Responses to “Change at Scotland office bad news for Better Together”

  1. uglyfatbloke

    Have Moore and Darling done a good job? Well, according to certain sources yes they have…the sources being the Tory party, the Glib-Dumbs, the Daily Mail, the BBC, the Times and the Telegraph. So does that explain the runaway success of the No campaign and how they have so radically shifted Scottish opinion? Trouble with that is that the polls have hardly shifted at all in the past year. Almost every ‘No’ campaign statement has turned out to be – at best – open to question and in some cases totally untrue, but that’s not really important. What is more significant is that they have campaigned furiously without success, but so far the ‘Yes’ campaign has really done precious little but have not suffered a whit.
    Even so, it’s TV debates that will make the difference and that;s going to be hard for the ‘No’ campaign. If Cameron won’t take part – he’s willing to make statements but not debate in public – it’ll give the gnats ammunition. If Darling has a TV debate with Sturgeon he’ll get slaughtered. Even if he has a debate with Canavan (who is actually his direct equivalent as leader of the ‘yes’ side) he’ll get slaughtered while looking and sounding like a rather condescending posh public schoolboy. Darling won’t get a debate with Salmond for the same reason as Salmond (quite correctly) did n’t get to take part in the GE debates. He’s only an opposition backbencher when all’s said and done.
    One thing’s for sure, Carmichael is not an idiot and he won’t trot out all the old ‘subsidised Scotland’ rubbish so he’s going to offend a lot of tories…and a few people in Labour who should know better.

  2. SimonB

    Of course, the Tories have nothing to lose and much to gain with Scottish independence.

  3. uglyfatbloke

    As has been pointed out many times the story that Labour has always depended on Scottish MPs to form a majority is more myth than substance, but Labour does have a lot to lose…king of. In practice, the tradition of selecting relatives and old pals to stand as MPs has not produced a raft of talent, jts a lot of ‘potato labour’ types who say nothing mush but do so very loudly. The risk to Labour in Scotland is not the referendum, but the change in voting behaviour. In the past many of the people who voted for the gnats for Holyrood reverted to Labour for Westminster to keep the tories out. Consequently the benefits of FPTP were significant – 80 % of the seats (and sometimes more) for 40& of the vote (or sometimes less). This is probably no longer the case. There are several reasons for this. Partly a lot of people don’t see much difference between the parties – they may be wrong, but there it is. Partly the gnats are generally seen as having provided reasonably effective social democratic government and partly it is a product of the quality of the candidates selected. The gnats have not shifted opinion on independence to any great degree (and nor has Better Together) but they have maintained a lead in the polls despite being mid-term and after six years in office. If they cabn retain 40% of he vote – and there is no sign that they won’t – they will make lots of gains at the next GE. In a sense the Gluib-Dumbs will suffer most since they will lose one seat to Labour and most of the rest to the gnats..in fact now that Carmichael has been appointed as SofS for Scotland even puts Orkney and Shetland in play. OTH across central Scotland the gnats stand to get the benefit of FPTP. In the past they could get (roughly) a third of then vote but only a tenth of the seats. At next GE Labour may have the same sort of experience – maybe not quite as stark as that, but a still a bad day at the office. Some of the likely losers will only have themselves to blame and some will be no great loss, but some talented people will just be swept away on the tide through no fault of their own. It’s not inevitable – Ed could destroy the gnats and the Glibs and take votes from the Tories (they’ve only got one seat to lose and it’ll fall to Labour anyway) by promising Full Fiscal Autonomy. That ‘d actually be an easy sell in England and Wales since it would undermine the old ‘subsidy junky’ stuff, but don’t hold your breath.

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