Scottish independence gamble as party leaders quit PMQs

Three amigos? Cameron, Clegg and Miliband fight to save the union
Three amigos? Cameron, Clegg and Miliband fight to save the union
Ian Dunt By

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have taken the unprecedented step of missing tomorrow's PMQs to campaign in the Scottish independence referendum.

The three men put out a ramatic statement confirming they would be absent from the event, saying:

"There is a lot that divides us - but there's one thing on which we agree passionately: the United Kingdom is better together.

"That's why all of us are agreed the right place for us to be tomorrow is in Scotland, not at prime minister's questions in Westminster.


"We want to be listening and talking to voters about the huge choice they face. Our message to the Scottish people will be simple: 'We want you to stay'."

William Hague will face Harriet Harman over the dispatch box in the place of Cameron and Miliband.

The move is a high risk strategy particularly for the prime minister, who has previously stayed away from the front line of the campaign because it is thought that he would do it more harm than good.

It comes as Labour takes the lead in the independence debate following research suggesting the swing toward the 'Yes' camp comes mainly from working class Labour voters.

Miliband made a speech yesterday urging English towns and villages to fly the Saltire to encourage Scots to stay.

"Over the next few days we want cities, towns and villages across the UK to send a message to Scotland: stay with us," Miliband said.

"We want to see the Saltire flying above buildings all across our country.

"We are starting here in Liverpool by raising the Saltire to show we achieve fairness, equality and social justice better together than we do apart."

Brown yesterday put forward a timetable for a transfer of powers to Scotland following frantic talks between the Westminster parties over the weekend.

The parties are now promising extraordinary and wide-ranging constitutional changes, which were negotiated at speed following Alex Salmond's dramatic improvement in the polls.

Should Scotland vote 'No', the extent of the constitutional change would very likely raise questions with Welsh and English voters about why they are not also gaining new powers and could trigger a period of sustained constitutional change in the UK.

Brown took to the stage in at the Loanhead Miners Welfare and Social Club in Midlothian last night looking much more relaxed and passionate than he ever did as prime minister.

His Scottish accent sounded thicker and he cut a much more proudly socialist figure than he ever did in Downing Street.

The former prime minister said work on new legislation would begin on September 19th, the day after the referendum, with a command paper by October, a white paper by November, and a draft law in January.

Brown appears to be gradually replacing his former chancellor and bete noir Alistair Darling, who has less currency with leftist voters.

Salmond successfully painted Darling as being in league with the Conservatives and austerity politics during their last TV debate. Darling appeared to show little enthusiasm for challenging that perception and some his usefulness to the campaign may be permanently damaged by the encounter.

Brown was always more popular in Scotland than he was south of the border, but some worry his influence in Scotland may have been overstated by Better Together strategists.

Tory sources have been put in the strange position of having to defend Brown, promote Labour and call for greater involvement from trade unions, while taking a step back from the campaign themselves.

They know that any contribution from a Conservative is likely to do more harm than good. MPs have mostly stayed quiet, under orders from the Better Together campaign.

Even David Cameron will only comment on Brown's timetable at the end of the week, ensuring enough time has passed that it is not associated with him.

Many believe the continued dominance of the Tory party since Thatcher – and the acceptance of neo-liberal economic policy by Labour – have pushed Scotland toward the exit.

Miliband's speech last night argued that an independent Scotland would create competition in the British employment market and hammer down wages and living standards.

He said:

"The Labour movement was founded on the principle of solidarity.

"You know that unity is strength. You know that we achieve more together than we can do alone.

"You know that what working people have in common matters more than any division of creed, race or region. Or even nation.

"And that is why trade unions, trade unionists and the Labour movement are playing such an important role in keeping Scotland and the United Kingdom together.

"From USDAW to the NUM, from the GMB to ASLEF, from Community to the CWU, trade unions are fighting for the right kind of change in Scotland - and the whole of the United Kingdom.

"At the weekend, the Scottish and UK leaders of all these trade unions signed a joint statement declaring that our strength comes from staying together and that separation would damage the rights and conditions of working people because it would lead to a race to the bottom.

"These trade unions are saying that the choice which is true to Labour’s traditions, to trade union traditions, is to say 'No'.

"They are saying that the choice for solidarity and social justice is to say 'No'."

Last night's TNS poll put 'Yes' and 'No' camps level on 41%, once undecided were discounted.

Including the 'don't knows', the 'No' camp had a slim lead, with 39% over 38%. It was a six per cent drop since last month. Support for independence rose by six points.

The TNS poll was supposed to come out at midnight but it was released early after calls from worried City analysts.

Sterling suffered its biggest one-day fall in over a year when news of Sunday's YouGov poll broke, putting 'Yes' in the lead.

Some businesses and consumers in Scotland started moving bank deposits to England upon hearing the news, in what was seen as a preview of the chaos that could ensue if the 'Yes' camp wins the referendum.

Sterling fell to a ten-month low to trade down 1.1% at $1.6147 against the dollar and down 1.1% at €1.2473 against the euro.

There was some glimmer of light for the Better Together campaign. A Panelbase poll, which has gone largely unremarked upon since Sunday, maintained the 'No' lead at 52% to 48%, excluding undecideds. Panelbase surveys are usually more generous to the 'Yes' camp.

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