One year to referendum: Salmond’s ally attacks him as poll slump continues

Alex Salmond came under attack from one of his closest allies today, as he struggled to build support for independence with just one year until the vote.

The comments come ahead of a set-piece Hollyrood debate to mark the year's campaign ahead before Scotland goes to the polls on September 18th 2014.

"The campaigns to date have been a tedious parade of union jacks versus saltires, of pop identity about caring Scots versus heartless Tories," Alex Bell, who quit as head of Alex Salmond's policy unit in July, wrote in the Guardian today.

Bell warned that a white paper on independence set to be published in November opted for short term tribal attacks rather than proposing a radical and far-reaching programme for an independent Scotland.

"At its best, the Scottish nationalist movement knows this and offers a critique of what democracy and the UK state can achieve," Bell said.

"At its worst, it succumbs to the temptation to focus on old songs and tired policies. In this, Salmond is wrong."

Bells comments are part of a broader left-wing criticism of Salmond which accuses him of failing to offer a radical vision of Scotland and instead focusing on a far more conservative vision of independence designed to reassure moderate, middle-class voters.

The Scottish first minister has pledged to keep the Queen, sterling, Bank of England economic control and Nato membership if Scotland becomes independent.

That may not be enough for voters, with polls showing many believe independence would harm the economy.

A TNS BRMB survey for the Herald newspaper found 45% of voters believe the economy would perform worse if the country split from the UK, with 23% disagreeing.

Fifteen per cent said the economy would perform the same in an independent Scotland and 17% were unsure.

The limited number of uncertain respondents will concern the SNP, with the party increasingly relying on hopes of converting undecided voters to the cause in order to reverse their slump in the polls.

Most analysts believe those undecided voters will be swung primarily on economic arguments.

That initiative will not be helped by a report from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, which warned Scotland would start life as an independent country with debts of £150 billion and be forced into swapping some of that debt for oil to pay off the UK.

"Today marks one year to the biggest opportunity Scotland has ever had – referendums like this are a once in a generation event, which means the vote on September 18 next year will be the opportunity of a lifetime for many people in Scotland, as we get the chance to choose our country's future," Salmond said ahead of today's Hollyrood debate.

"Scotland can more than afford to be a successful independent country. We have enormous advantages in terms of our human and natural resources, but we need the political and economic tools to help create a wealthier and fairer society."

Speaking on the Today programme, Alistair Darling said Salmond has avoided requests for a debate with him and instead accused him of negativity.

"Being negative is asking Alex Salmond a question to which he doesn’t know the answer," he said.

"In relation to currency, they can't tell us – because they can't guarantee to keep the pound – what their fall-back position is".