Charles Kennedy: Pro UK campaign needs to be more positive

Charles KennedyCharles Kennedy has made a welcome intervention in the debate on Scottish independence. As far as the Better Together campaign is concerned, he’s quite off message. I suspect Liberal Democrats will feel that his comments needed saying and deliver a much-needed kick up the backside to the pro-UK organisation.

I very rarely share Better Together social media stuff because it’s only rarely that I see something that my friends will actually appreciate. The campaign generally gives off an air of dourness that doesn’t even connect with its own activists. They might well have bought into the idea that negative campaigning is effective, and while the polls are still in their favour, they will see no reason to change. A bit of inspiring mood music to get us through the long trudge to 18th September would not go amiss. When I saw Alistair Darling in conversation with James Naughtie last Thursday, by far the biggest cheer from the audience came from a suggestion that the pro-UK side needed to be more positive. Yes, the other lot say silly things that don’t make much sense, yes we have no idea what currency an independent Scotland would use or of the terms of its EU membership, yes we know that the volatility of oil revenues makes an independent Scotland’s economy at risk and yes we know that independence is for life, not just till the oil revenues run out, but we need more.  

Charles made his comments in an interview to mark the end of his tenure as Rector of Glasgow University and are reported on the BBC:

When asked about the charge of “negativity” in the No campaign, Mr Kennedy said: “I’ve made that criticism. I think that we should be more positive in terms of the way in which those of us on the Better Together side are putting over our key messages.

“I think we’re right to ask the pertinent questions, of course.

“But if you take, for example, the recent figures on the state of the Scottish economy, the decline in the oil revenues and so on and so forth, I’m not sure that the right response to that from our point of view is to say ‘there we are, we told you so, Scotland could never go it alone’.

“I’m not sure that’s a resonance that you can establish with the people and I’m not sure it’s the right one anyway.”

What about the accusation of “bullying” made by the Scottish government and others following UK chancellor George Osborne’s speech ruling out a currency union?

Mr Kennedy said: “I don’t think that the Scots will feel bullied.

“I think that the national instinct, if you like, is more ‘who are they to come up here and tell us what to do?’, which is a different mindset.

“I think it’s ‘we’ll make our own mind up, thank you very much’.”

He also went a lot further than Ming Campbell went last week in his Campbell II Report which set out a pathway to more powers. Ming said that after a no vote in the referendum, the parties should meet within 30 days and agree a consensus to go in the manifestos for the 2015 election. In contrast, Charles thinks that voters should have that information up front, before they vote in the referendum.

I think it would be better if we had a more coherent blueprint to put to people, to say, ‘voting “No” means “Yes” to this distinct proposition’, as opposed to, well, something that will be worked out in due course.

Because then you’re open to exactly the accusation that we’re making of the other side.

I’m not particularly fussed either way on that point. The referendum is about a yes or no to independence. The status quo is not an option given that the next stage of devolution enabled by Mike Moore’s Scotland Act comes into force next year. There are already substantial more powers at the Parliament’s disposal. Even if there were nothing else, I’d still prefer that to independence by a very long way. Even if we did develop a consensus on further devolution ahead of the referendum, the nationalists would still say it wouldn’t be delivered. It would, though, be a very positive step.

All in all, it’s good to see Charles bring in some warmth to this debate from stage left. Can we have some more, please?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • I suspect a lot of people in the “No” campaign for the AV referendum argued that the campaign should have been more positive, including at the victory party.

  • peter tyzack 17th Mar '14 - 11:26am

    I just don’t ‘get’ why Scotland should even contemplate being independent.. when they can see the loss of influence the UK is suffering, such that we need to be part of EU or on the coat-tails of US. Which country do the pro-Yes people see as their role-models? Which ‘independent’ nation is successfully independent and is not now contemplating being part of a larger union…?

  • Peter,
    As Scotland’s first minister pointed out on The Andrew Marr programme yesterday morning, the citizens of Scotland have been members of the EU for forty years. An independent Scotland within the EU, if I recall correctly, has been SNP policy for a very long time.
    At the moment, at most of the meetings that count, Scotland is represented within the EU by a PM who they did not vote for, whose party they have not voted for in numbers since the 1950s.
    If the part of the UK that you live in you could vote in a referendum to make sure that you never have a gang of Eton thugs running things again and you could escape the dead hand of the House of Lords (not to mention escaping Nigel Farage), wouldn’t you be tempted to vote for freedom?

  • Michael Parsons 17th Mar '14 - 12:36pm

    Liberal policy has always been in favour of Home Rule, including the “break up” of the UK; we fought long and hard for Irish Home Rule, and could have avoided the subsequent warfare thereby.
    Why on earth should we even contemplate doing anything but support an Independent Scotland with every ounce of our strength? Come to that why are we silent on the current Venice referendum to eave Italy? or the freedom demanded by the Basques and other provinces?
    Lib Dems claim to speak for local initiatives and decentralisation: here is the chance to mean it, and kick the would-be gentrified Scots in the party into touch.

  • Gladstone’s Home Rule for Ireland was pretty much the same sort of devolution that Scotland already has.

    My own opinion is that Scottish independence is not a particularly good idea, and will have many unforeseen or little-remarked consequences, mostly bad for both sides. However, the bullying, threatening tactics that have so far been used are like the husband in a difficult marriage telling his wife that if she divorces him, she’ll get no money, she won’t be able to see the children, she’ll be ostracised from their circle of friends, and so forth. Who would want to be in a marriage like that?

  • Paul Pettinger 17th Mar '14 - 2:54pm

    Charles Kennedy is a fine thinker and sorely missed – wish he was playing a much more influential role in the Party and public life.

  • A sober Charles Kennedy has more judgement and public appeal than all the three main Party Leaders put together. And Farage too! đŸ™‚

  • Patrick C Smith 18th Mar '14 - 2:59pm

    Charles Kennedy has a magical touch with ordinary people and that is a blessing in all Elections and his advice is well meant for the success of the `No Campaign’ in Scotland…

  • Ian Wallace 21st Apr '14 - 6:20pm

    I am sure that I was at a conference where Charles Kennedy was presented as the person who was going to lead the Lib Dem No campaign what happened? I fully support his line that we need to know what the proposed devolved powers are going to be. I am sure that the campaign would have been much more positive if Charles had been more prominent.
    The English do not seem to want an English Parliament, how do you have a federal structure where there are countries that do not want to participate?
    We have a Scottish Lib Dem conference, why do the English not have an English Lib dem conference?

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