Scottish Independence: 'The risks are colossal – and we may not gain anything from it', says Alistair Darling

Former Chancellor warns a convincing victory is needed to avoid a decade of political uncertainty

For Alistair Darling, winning the Scottish referendum on 18 September will not be enough. The Yes camp “only have to win by one vote”, he warns. “We have to win this well.” Without a convincing victory, the spectre of independence could continue to haunt the pro-unionists – and as the former Chancellor says: “There is a general mood that people want to put this to bed for a generation.”

Although the chairman of Better Together will not talk percentages, the feeling in his No campaign is that keeping Alex Salmond below the 40 per cent mark would be a decisive victory, while a much closer winning margin would not stop the Scottish National Party (SNP) coming back for more – and another referendum – within 10 years. The latest polls average out at 43 per cent for Yes and 57 per cent for No, so Mr Darling still has work to do.

After a wobble early this year, when the Yes campaign narrowed the poll gap, the No camp’s nerves have steadied. But Mr Darling takes nothing for granted. At this stage before the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, Labour was ahead. Yet the SNP went on to win a majority, a 10,000-volt shock from which some of its MPs believe Scottish Labour has not yet recovered. “An awful lot can still happen. Something that no one has even thought of could arrive,” Mr Darling tells The Independent.

Despite SNP claims of bullying as “the Westminster parties” warn about the impact of a breakaway, Mr Darling is confident his side is winning the argument – not least on the economy. “The Nationalists’ refusal and inability to answer pretty fundamental questions on the currency, pensions, welfare is creating a wall of doubt. People realise they are being asked to take a leap into the unknown,” he says.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond on why you should vote Yes

“People can now see the finishing post. In 2012 and 2013, the referendum wasn’t really real. It was like asking someone the day after a general election, how they would vote at the next election – it was a completely free hit.

“The sheer magnitude of the decision is looming large in people’s minds. It’s not like a general or Euro election, when you can vote for somebody else next time around. This is probably the biggest political decision they will ever take in their lives. More and more people are saying the risks are colossal and there is no guarantee whatsoever that there would be anything to gain from it. That’s why people are saying: ‘I am not buying this’.”

 

We are speaking in Mr Darling’s large detached house in Edinburgh, where the garden has provided his escape during periods of political turmoil. It is in Morningside, the posh part of the city. Another famous author, JK Rowling, used to live next door and wrote some of the Harry Potter books there. It proved a useful connection for Mr Darling: she recently gave £1m to Better Together.Mr Darling did not enter politics to debate the constitution.

He didn’t grab the leadership of the No camp; it was thrust upon him. “He’s solid, reassuring, a bit dull – and Scottish,” says a Liberal Democrat colleague in the cross-party Better Together campaign. To the SNP, Mr Darling is a “Tory substitute” and “the Alistair monkey” to David Cameron’s organ grinder. To armchair Tory generals in London, his campaign has been too negative and slow to react to events.

Such sniping is water off a duck’s back to a man who told us Gordon Brown unleashed “the forces of hell” on him in 2010 when he said – rightly – that Britain faced the worst recession for 60 years.

“It is one of the trials of life that there are people whose knowledge of Scotland is strictly limited, who might have a distant relation who came from Scotland and think that qualifies them to become an expert on the subject,” says Mr Darling. “It is slightly irritating, but perfectly natural.”

The Better Together campaign has rebranded itself as 'No Thanks' The Better Together campaign has rebranded itself as 'No Thanks' Last month Better Together rebranded itself as “No Thanks” on its campaign material, and organisers believe the softer message has helped to harden up its poll lead. They deny a U-turn away from a negative approach, saying the shift to “No Thanks” was planned as long as a year ago.

Mr Darling made no apologies for “asking tough questions” about the impact of independence but rejected the SNP charge that the battle is a positive campaign against a negative one. “What could be more negative than putting a border between two countries where there has been no border in practical terms for 300 years in a campaign that systematically attacks anyone who stands up to oppose them?” he asks. “We are putting the positive case for jobs, pensions, social security. It’s the positive case that comes from having the best of both worlds. A Scottish Parliament that has control over health and education, while we gain from being part of something bigger.”

He hits back at Mr Salmond’s claim in yesterday’s Independent that Mr Cameron is playing “European roulette”, in which Scotland could be dragged to the EU exit door in his 2017 referendum. Mr Darling replies: “It is Alex Salmond who is playing roulette with the EU. The average time it took countries to join the EU in the last 20 years is about eight years. The last thing Scottish firms need is that uncertainty. It would be entirely self-inflicted.”

He accuses Scotland’s First Minister of delaying their head-to-head TV debate, originally scheduled for next week, until after the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow end early next month, adding that Mr Salmond would be “well advised” not to try to exploit the event.

Alistair Darling has accused Alex Salmond of playing 'roulette' with Scotland's membership of the EU Alistair Darling has accused Alex Salmond of playing 'roulette' with Scotland's membership of the EU (Getty) Although the three main parties at Westminster have all promised more devolution if Scotland votes No, he denies that the lack of agreement on the detail is a handicap. “It’s not the burning issue,” he says. “Most people know the devolution settlement is here to stay; there will be more to come.”

The 60-year-old dismisses SNP claims that the narrowing poll gap between Labour and the Conservatives could boost the Yes camp as Scots fear another period of Tory rule at Westminster. Yet he is typically cautious about his own party’s general election prospects next year. “I think we can win,” he says. “Politics is much more fluid than at any time I can remember. The next election is too close to call.” And Mr Darling, who backed David Miliband in Labour’s 2010 leadership contest, denies rumours that Ed Miliband had asked him to be shadow Chancellor. “I made clear I was going to the backbenches,” he insists.

Although he has been tipped for a Cabinet return if Labour regains power next year, some Westminster colleagues believe he may call time on his Commons career after the referendum on 18 September. He has not yet told his Edinburgh South West constituency party whether he wants to be their general election candidate. But Mr Darling hints that there could yet be another chapter to his political story. “I am going to make that decision in the days following the referendum. I will see how I am feeling at that stage. I will have been involved in a two-and-a-half-year campaign. But if we win… winning does wonders for the soul.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015