Following the launch yesterday of the Better Together campaign to retain Scotland’s place at the heart of the union, the Scottish press is unanimously praising the approach it is taking.
However, coverage has been tinged with calls for the campaign to outline an alternative vision for Scotland, particularly around what new powers Holyrood should enjoy.
In the Herald, whilst welcoming the heading of the campaign by Alistair Darling, a warning was made that the campaign needs to win both the emotional and intellectual arguments. In its editorial, the paper explained:
“Alistair Darling, recalled from his political back seat to front this pro-UK campaign, is a good choice for the job, not only because of his undoubted commitment to both Scotland and the UK but also because he is a well-respected political heavyweight, capable of taking on Alex Salmond .
“There is steel beneath that calm and apparently mild-mannered exterior. As a former chancellor, he is well-qualified to make the UK case on the economy, the area where this campaign is likely to be won or lost.
“Yesterday’s launch provided a solid start, avoiding the razzmatazz of the Yes Scotland event. Instead of a star-studded line-up, its focus was on the “quiet majority”.
“Mr Darling had a fine line to tread, both accentuating the positive reasons for staying within the United Kingdom, while implying the potential risk and uncertainty of going it alone. His emphasis was on what unites us – “the ties that bind us”: not merely friends and family, but institutions such as the NHS, the BBC , the Bank of England (founded by Scots) and the Army.
“And like the child who gives the address “Scotland, UK, Europe, The World”, he argues that being passionately Scottish and passionately British are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, his case is that we can be citizens on all these levels.
“He also asserts that Scotland’s membership of the UK provides clout on the world stage at every level from Britain’s impressive foreign aid budget to a seat on the UN Security Council. An independent Scotland could not match that clout.”
For the Scotsman meanwhile, it’s leader highlighted what it perceived to be a “gap in the unionist camp”, arguing that the campaign needs to set out what the future “shape” of Scotland should be. It noted:
“As this is going to be a long, long campaign, it is important to learn the lesson of recent British and Scottish political history in terms of what attracts – and what repels – voters. It was perhaps expecting too much to see a sparkling sprint start to what will be a marathon but both sides have to realise how voters perceive their respective campaigns.
“After yesterday, there continues to be a gap in the unionist campaign. This debate is about Scotland’s future, but it is unclear what shape the unionists propose devolution should have should they win the referendum vote.
“It is a gap which has to be filled, a lesson which can be learned from some recent constitutional history. Through the Conservative years in the 1980s and 1990s, the Tories were mystified why, according to the polls, devolution was an exceedingly low priority with the voters and yet seemed to cause them so much pain in elections.
“One interpretation of what they failed to understand is that the electorate, while primarily concerned about such matters as unemployment and the health service, increasingly viewed devolution as a barometer which could be used to judge how committed political parties were to Scotland. Since the Tories were opposed to devolution, many concluded they were not interested in Scotland and thus the Tory vote fell to extinction levels.
“The unionist parties risk repeating this history. True, they can point to the passage of the Scotland Act as the most significant piece of fiscal devolution that has happened since the Act of Union. But so little has been made of this constitutional development that the opportunity to gain political capital from it looks to have been lost. More is now needed.
“The best that can be said for the “no” campaign’s start was that it matched the “yes” launch for lack of lustre. The opportunity is still there to develop a story for Scotland’s future that will win hearts and minds.”
For the strongly pro-Labour Daily Record meanwhile it was the contrasts between the two campaign launches that got it excited. Its leader today argued:
“The contrast between Better Together, the pro-UK campaign which was launched yesterday, and Yes Scotland, the pro-independence bid which kicked off a month ago, could not be greater. The SNP-led campaign gave us plenty of glitz and showbiz glamour. Hollywood A-listers Brian Cox and Alan Cumming made speeches and there were video messages from the likes of Sir Sean Connery, the Proclaimers and Elaine C Smith.
“The audience at Edinburgh’s Cineworld cinema were even treated to Dougie Maclean singing Caledonia live on stage. There was no such razzmatazz from Better Together. Their supporters heard a thoughtful, measured speech from Alistair Darling and saw a video in which 40 ordinary Scots explained why they wanted to stay in the UK.
“The down-to-earth approach was quite deliberate. In a key passage, Darling said their campaign would ensure “the patriotism of the quiet majority will be heard alongside the voices of the committed few”. .
“No fuss, then. Just understated pride in being Scottish and British at the same time, and sensible arguments about why Scotland benefits from being in the UK. Darling was at pains to stress the positives. Scotland’s economic prospects and global reach will be so much better as part of the UK, he argued.
“The Better Together organisers have obviously learned the lessons of Labour’s recent election setbacks and steered well clear of silly scare stories. Of course Scotland could go it alone, Darling said, as if to spell it out. It just that we’re better off together with our neighbours and colleagues in the rest of the UK.”