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By a Newsnet reporter

Alistair Darling has been condemned for making "crass, insensitive and parochial" comments about Syria while addressing a small gathering of invitees at the secretive launch of the Glasgow branch of the Better Together campaign on Saturday.

Asked about the Commons vote last week against military action in Syria, Mr Darling said:


"Unfortunately and tragically, the atrocities that are being visited upon the people of Syria are going to continue.

"Ultimately, the long term solution is going to have to be diplomatic and the UK has got far more clout in the United Nations, in the G20 which is meeting in Russia next week, than a smaller country ever would.

"I've been to lots of these meetings throughout the time I was a minister and large countries, particularly one with a reputation like ours, have clout.

"I don't think there's anyone in this room who wouldn't want to see the clout of the UK, if possible, along with other countries, trying to bring an end to the bloodshed taking place in Syria."

The meeting was also addressed by Willie Rennie for the Lib Dems, Ruth Davidson for the Conservatives, and Labour's Scottish leader Johann Lamont, who has come under sustained criticism for being unavailable for public comment except during stage-managed events. Ms Lamont used her speech to attack First Minister Alex Salmond.

Ms Lamont said:

"Scotland deserves better than what we have at the moment. We deserve better living standards, better schools and hospitals, secure jobs and a vision of what Scotland can be.

"But at the moment we cannot address the pressing needs of you and me, of families throughout our country because Alex Salmond has the nation on pause as we await his referendum."

Ms Lamont made no attempt to sketch out what she thought a better vision of Scotland might be.

Although billed as a public meeting, details of the launch of Better Together Glasgow were kept secret until the last minute.  Those wishing to attend the launch had to apply in advance, and were notified of the venue at the last minute.  Many of those who did attend appeared to have affiliations with ant-independence parties.

It is believed that Better Together, which has struggled to translate its support in opinion polls into volunteers on the ground, took this measure in an attempt to avoid No supporters at the meeting being outnumbered by Yes supporters, as has occurred at the recent launches of a number of local Better Together groups.

However at least one Yes supporter made it through Better Together's prior vetting, and was ejected from the meeting after heckling Tory leader Ruth Davidson.  A small group of Yes supporters demonstrated outside the venue, the Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow.

Speaking to the Herald newspaper, a spokesperson for Yes Scotland said:

"We certainly agree with Johann Lamont that Scotland deserves better than we have at the moment.  But why would anybody believe that sticking with a failed Westminster system that is responsible for imposing policies such as the punitive bedroom tax is the way to achieve that?"

"One of the key advantages of becoming independent is to foster new, healthy and equal relationships with other countries in these isles. Independence for Scotland is also good for the rest of the UK.

"With a Yes vote, we will be taking control of our own future and making decisions that match our own priorities and aspirations. And, unlike now under the Westminster system, we will always get the government we vote for."

Yes Scotland also contrasted the secretive launch of Better Together's Glasgow campaign group with the launch 9 months ago of Yes Glasgow.  The Yes Glasgow event attracted over 700 supporters and has gone on to stage nearly 240 events and has enlisted more than 1000 volunteers and 500 "Yes ambassadors".

Commenting, Glasgow Kelvin SNP MSP Sandra White said:

"How incredibly sad that the first thing Alistair Darling seems to have thought of when he saw the dreadful humanitarian crisis unfolding in Syria was how to score political points from it.

"Most people would think that basing a political speech around such a serious situation - particularly one which is ongoing - is crass, insensitive and parochial.

"Regardless of people’s position on the independence debate in Scotland I have no doubt we all want to see a solution to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

"Mr Darling would have been better saying nothing if this is all he has to offer on such a serious issue."

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