A second referendum? What have you done now, Darling?
Alistair Darling suggests whole of the UK should get a vote on Scotland's bid for currency union
ALISTAIR DARLING, the former Labour Chancellor who has been taking flak for leading a lacklustre No campaign against Scottish independence, has blundered into deep water by raising the prospect of yet another referendum – this one for the rest of the UK, to vote on whether the Scots should enjoy currency union in the event of the Yes campaign winning independence this September.
The idea that the voters of England and Wales and perhaps even Northern Ireland should have to vote on this aspect of Scottish independence may strike some as mad. And for Darling to even raise the idea suggests a lack of confidence in the No campaign being successful, which will infuriate fellow unionists.
But Darling went ahead and said it anyway on Radio 4's Today programme this morning: if there is a Yes vote on 18 September and Alex Salmond, Scotland’s putative Prime Minister, seeks to keep the British pound, the rest of the UK should be given a say.
Darling: "Nicola Sturgeon [Scotland’s deputy First Minister] said there was no need for a referendum for the rest of the UK if they went into a currency union."
Today presenter James Naughtie: "Do you think they should?"
Darling: "Yeah – I think people in the rest of the UK do need a say over whether they go into a currency union."
Realising he was getting in a bit deep, Darling drew back as Naughtie tried to pin him down. "I don’t know what the other political parties would do," said Darling. "I do know it’s almost certain that the political parties would make it clear in their manifestos [for the 2015 general election] that they would not be willing to enter into a currency union precisely because it means sharing sovereignty as it would do if we joined the euro."
Darling said Nicola Sturgeon did not understand what a currency was. "She says it’s the same as we have got now. No it’s not. You would have two separate countries - we would have to reach agreement on tax, spending, borrowing and everything else."
What provoked Darling’s comments this morning was a report in Saturday's Guardian quoting an anonymous junior minister saying that, despite all three parties being against the idea, Scotland would be allowed currency union if it wanted it.
That has thrown the No campaign into turmoil and given Salmond and Sturgeon the boost they were needing to claim that the Yes campaign has got Big Mo – momentum.
Chancellor George Osborne and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander were reported to be hopping mad about the junior minister's briefing to the Guardian and wanted to know his or her identity so they could be taken to the Tower.
A Treasury insider told the Telegraph that months of preparation on the case against independence has been jeopardised. “I am livid - the amount of work that has gone into that.”
Number 10 sources told the paper the comments were “not helpful at all” while a Labour party source said: “This is a first order piece of strategic self-harm."
Salmond and Sturgeon, of course, are cock-a-hoop – which helps explain why the coalition's Scotland minister, Alistair Carmichael, used an interview with the Observer yesterday to warn that the Yes campaign may be behind in the opinion polls but it has a greater "hunger" for victory and has time before 18 September to create an unstoppable momentum.
He warned that supporters of the union in Scotland were assuming victory and failing to shout loudly enough in favour of remaining part of the UK. "The danger is that by the time they realise it could happen, it could be too late," he said.
Alistair Darling needs to think up some better reasons for saying No to Scottish independence than the threat of a second referendum south of the border. And fast.