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.”

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