UK PM David Cameron’s threat to force a London controlled referendum onto the people of Scotland has led to major splits within the anti-independence camp.
Some senior Scottish Labour figures have openly attacked the Tory PM’s proposal whilst others, such as Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, have appeared to back Mr Cameron’s threat to force an early referendum.
The splits emerged after David Cameron revealed that the UK government were looking at introducing legislation that would force the Scottish government to hold a referendum earlier than the SNP pledged in their election campaign.
The UK PM also suggested that Westminster would introduce controls over the question posed on the ballot paper in order to ensure it was clear and unambiguous. The Tory leader insisted that only one question should be asked and that there should be no devo-max option.
Former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish today called David Cameron’s move to grab control of the referendum “a dangerous tactic” and “cavalier”.
“The Conservatives have forgotten Scotland” he said before adding: “As far as many Scots are concerned Westminster lost the plot on Europe and has never got the plot on Scotland”
Mr McLeish claimed that Mr Cameron’s intervention was ignorant and very dangerous and suggested that it may in fact increase support for independence.
He said: “My main fear is the activities of David Cameron and the Conservative party through ignorance of the issue will actually exacerbate a very anti-coalition stance that already exists in Scotland and may put a number of people closer towards supporting some form of separation from the United Kingdom.”
Mr McLeish, who has previously urged Unionists to embrace devo-max, called for a debate amongst Unionists on an alternative to independence complaining that currently there isn’t one.
Mr McLeish’s comments were backed by former Labour Minister Malcolm Chisholm. The respected Scottish Labour MSP called the UK coalition’s intervention “mad meddling” which he said will “greatly increase support for independence”.
However new Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont criticised Alex Salmond’s referendum timetable. Asked about Mr Cameron’s comments Ms Lamont said that if the offer by the Tory leader helped clarify the legal position the she welcomed it.
She said: “I think if that’s what’s been offered that would be helpful .”
The threat by the UK PM has also put him at odds with coalition colleague Michael Moore who was recently reported to have been sidelined by Mr Cameron after claiming that the Union was out of date.
Last year the Lib Dem Scottish Secretary said that any attempt by Westminster to try to dictate the referendum timetable would be unwise and not good use of time.
“I firmly believe the Scottish Parliament, if it so decides, can proceed with a referendum,” Mr Moore said, adding: “There will be the normal electoral rules that have to be followed and it will have to be discussed carefully with the relevant authorities.”
The Scottish secretary said: “We could, I suppose, try to make a constitutional issue about where the powers lie or don’t, but I don't think that would be a sensible use of anybody’s time.
“If the issue of the day is to decide the future of Scotland within the United Kingdom, then that’s more important we have that debate, rather than have a debate about whether or not we can have the debate.”
The SNP have responded today with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attacking what she claimed was an attack on Scotland’s democracy.
Westminster MP and Referendum Campaign Director Angus Robertson joined his party colleague and said:
“David Cameron’s efforts to dictate the terms of a referendum to the Scottish people will only boost support for independence. It is a ludicrous, self-defeating and doomed effort from a party with just a single MP in Scotland – there are more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs.
Mr Robertson accused the Tories of having a history of “blundering their way in Scotland” and added:
“Trying to override the democratic mandate of Scotland’s voters to have a referendum in the second half of this Holyrood parliament is a disastrous start to 2012 for the anti-independence parties –and with George Osborne leading the Tory charge, the Lib Dems and Michael Moore have been well and truly sidelined.
"Only last May, Michael Moore said ‘I firmly believe’ the Scottish Parliament can proceed with a referendum – that is the democratic reality of the matter."
The SNP MP called on Labour to decide whether they backed or opposed Mr Cameron’s demands, “To side with the Tories against the decision of Scotland’s electorate would mark a new low for Scottish Labour, if such a thing is possible.” he said before adding:
“Malcolm Chisholm is a voice of sanity within the Labour Party – David Cameron’s ‘mad meddling’ will indeed greatly increase support for independence. Does Johann Lamont agree with Mr Chisholm, or with the Tories at Westminster?
“People across Scotland elected an SNP Government committed to a referendum in the second half of this Parliament, and that is exactly what we will do.
“The only people who are confused are the anti-independence parties in the UK Government and Labour in Scotland, who are in complete disarray.
“Support for independence has grown since the May 2011 election, and the actions of the Tories and Lib Dems will give it a further boost.”