All political colours in the town hall as Darling launches Better Together campaign

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling was in the isles today to lend his weight to the local group which wants Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom.

Mr Darling, an Edinburgh MP at Westminster for 26 years, launched the “Better Together Shetland” campaign at Lerwick Town Hall.

Chancellor from 2007 until 2010, he was one of only three people to serve in the Labour Cabinet continuously from 1997 until the defeat three years ago, along with Gordon Brown and Jack Straw. His other major roles included Chief Secretary to the Treasury, work and pensions minister, transport minister and Scottish secretary.

Alistair Darling was shown some of the activity at Lerwick Harbour prior to hsi speech. From left: Lerwick Port Authority chairman Harry Jamieson, harbourmaster Captain Calum Grains, Alistair Darling and LPA chief executive Sandra Laurenson.
Alistair Darling was shown some of the activity at Lerwick Harbour prior to hsi speech. From left: Lerwick Port Authority chairman Harry Jamieson, harbourmaster Captain Calum Grains, Alistair Darling and LPA chief executive Sandra Laurenson.

He told a good turnout at the town hall that there were now 200 local groups throughout Scotland committed to the Better Together campaign, and stressed the importance of getting the message across to people.

The independence referendum was the “biggest decision that any of us will take in our lifetime,” Mr Darling said, and it would be decided by people the length and breadth of the country.

“The nationalists only need to vote once,” he said,” but on our side I believe that we need to win but we need to win well. We don’t want to get ourselves into a situation with referendum after referendum.”

The town hall audience included people from all sides of the policital spectrum. Tory stalwart Maurice Mullay was joined by former schoolmate Geordie Jacobson, a lifetime Labour party supporter. As Mr Jacobson joked, “you couldn’t get a fag paper between us today!”

Others in the audience included Labour’s Irvine Tait, Gordon Thomson and Susan Bowie while the Liberal Democrats were well represented by the likes of Theo Smith, Beatrice Wishart and Theo Nicolson.

Mr Darling said there were three reasons why he supported the status quo, the first one being jobs. Scotland exported four times as much to the rest of the UK than elsewhere and England was the single biggest customer.

Number two was “influence or clout”, he said. His experience of the EU convinced him that it was the larger countries that called the shots, not the smaller countries.

“In terms of agriculture, fishing and other areas it depends on having clout. Why would we want to give that up? Why would we want to give up that influence?”

The third reason, Mr Darling said, was the emotional and cultural ties between people in Scotland and England.

“Most of us have got family and friends across the border. Remember it was a Welshman who set up the NHS, it was an Englishman who set up the welfare state and it was a Scotsman who founded the Bank of England.

” I don’t think the [2012 London] Olympics changed anything but it brought to the surface something that was already there”

Alistair Darling addresses the crowd in the Town Hall.
Alistair Darling addresses the crowd in the Town Hall.

Continued uncertainty over the currency was highlighted by Mr Darling. First the nationalists had wanted the euro, then they said they would prefer to stick with the pound, and now a number of them had suggested that Scotland should look at starting its own currency. That would be absolute madness in the current financial climate, especially in relation to pensions.

The meeting was thrown open to the audience and councillor Drew Ratter, in what was more of a statement than a question, suggested there could have been a third option in the referendum – doing away with devolution.

“All I have seen since 1999 is centralisation,” Mr Ratter said. “There is a real need now that the Better Together campaign starts to talk about what we are going to do next about the weakening of local and regional automony.”

Mr Darling said he preferred the two-answer option – did we want to stay part of the UK or not. Settle that question first and then they could begin discussing other issues.

In answer to an observation by Mr Tait, he said in future the case for the UK needed to be made better. Perhaps in the past it had not been made enough.


Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • June 29th, 2013 16:05

    What about the SIC’s £40m housing debt from the 1970s? Surely “Better Together” aren’t going to let themselves be isolated along with SNP Shetland as the only ones not supporting the campaign to write off the debt?

    That would mean we’d be no worse off voting “Yes.”

  • Brian Smith

    • June 29th, 2013 16:42

    Irvine, Beatrice, Mullay – the rainbow coalition.

  • Joe Johnson

    • June 29th, 2013 23:22

    Definitely better together! I will be voting no in the referendum next year. I’m a proud Scotsman and believe staying in the UK is best for Scotland. I’m proud also to be British and think of the Welsh. English and Northern Irish as family and don’t want things to change.

  • Douglas Young

    • June 30th, 2013 9:06

    Did you ask Mr Darling to sign your housing debt petition?

  • John Tulloch

    • June 30th, 2013 12:28

    Let’s hope there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Brian – with £40m in it?

    Bit I doot dat’s a fairy story, I hear nae wird o’ dir campaign supportin’ da piteeshun?

    Whit wye is aa’ body sae shy aboot it?

  • Bill Adams

    • July 1st, 2013 11:37

    You say that the audience “included people from all sides of the political spectrum”. Not so – it was only a selection of people on one side of the argument.
    Nevertheless an interesting selection of bed-fellows “you couldn’t get a fag paper between”!

  • ian tinkler

    • July 1st, 2013 20:37

    Bill Adams, were you there?, and if so, which side of the spectrum were you from? and was it a Risla paper (role your own)?

  • Robert Sim

    • July 3rd, 2013 23:56

    Interesting to read Alistair Darling’s reasons. On his first point about jobs, I am no doubt being naive but why would exports to the rest of the UK necessarily alter under independence, especially if Scotland were part of the EU?

    ‘Number two was “influence or clout”, he said. His experience of the EU convinced him that it was the larger countries that called the shots, not the smaller countries. “In terms of agriculture, fishing and other areas it depends on having clout. Why would we want to give that up? Why would we want to give up that influence?”’ That “clout” has certainly enabled the UK to strike advantageous deals within the EU over the years, hasn’t it?

    The third reason is “the emotional and cultural ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK”. But they surely aren’t dependent on a political union? I certainly think Scottish culture would only benefit from self-determination.

  • John Tulloch

    • July 4th, 2013 8:39

    I agree Robert, it’s unlikely to make much odds to our exports to rUK. Ireland, for example, maintains a large proportion of its trade with the UK – and the UK provided financial assistance during their crisis because it’s in our mutual interest that Ireland recovers well.

    As long as rUK don’t get the Islamic government called for in some quarters – no more whisky!

    To mention fishing in the context of whether we would be better in the UK or an independent Scotland in the EU is a foolish argument to put to Shetlanders.

    Norway and Iceland don’t seem to do too badly from fishing without being in the EU. It’s only now, following Iceland’s financial debacle caused by allowing a bank to become too big and out of control, that they have decided to apply for membership. Presumably they see the financial support extended to Greece, etc. as attractive.

    I think the debate over whether UK, rUK, Scotland and Shetland would be better off in or out of the EU will be an interesting one when it comes.

    Suffice it to say the Commonwealth contains a third of the world’s population and many of its fastest growing economies with whom we have strong language, historical and cultural ties.

  • Derick Tulloch

    • July 17th, 2013 8:01

    Just a few facts, to leaven Mr Darling’s claims

    A higher proportion (72.3%) of Canada’s exports go to the USA, than Scotland’s exports go to England (40% according to Mr Darling in the J.P. McIntosh lecture last November). Last time I looked Canada was Independent.

    83.7% of Norway’s exports go to the EU. Last time I looked Norway was Independent and not even in the EU.

    The UK has ‘clout’ when it comes to agriculture and fisheries? I see. Very convincing. That will explain how well it has defended our fishing industry which was in no way used as a pawn by Edward Heath during the EEC accession negotiations.

    The ‘NHS’ was founded by a Welshman. There is no UK NHS. There is the NHS in England & Wales, and there is the Scottish Health Service (which was sneakily renamed by Michael Forsyth in the 80s as the ‘Scottish NHS’ to make it seem like there is a UK wide service. There isn’t, and never has been. Indeed the Scottish Health Service developed out of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service which existed for 35 years previously. However, because Barnett reduces the Scottish budget proportionately when budget lines in England & Wales are cut, the rapid privatization of health south of the Border will impact on healthcare in Scotland by the back door. For this reason a No vote is the greater threat to the Scottish Health Service.

    Oh, and the pound is a fully convertible currency. Any country in the world can use it. Just like Montenegro is currently using the Euro despite a) not having bothered asking Brussels and b) not even being in the EU.

    As always, the No campaign’s arguments, being superficial and specious, fall apart at the slightest scrutiny. All they have to offer is a misty romantic British nationalism, harking to the past. I prefer facts.

    But I do agree with Geordie Jacobson that you canna get a fag paper between Blue Tory and Red Tory nowadays!

  • Gordon Harmer

    • July 17th, 2013 13:25

    Derick like Salmond seems to be chasing independence at any cost, and they are both desperate in their attempts to show that. Most of Derick’s comment are not minutely relevant to the UK Scotland trade situation, neither are they compatible on a like for like basis.

    Derick said “oh, and the pound is a fully convertible currency. Any country in the world can use it”, and Salmond claims like the Isle of Man, a separate Scotland could automatically continue to use the pound.

    In a speech on the Isle of Man, Mr Salmond said: “An independent Scotland will retain the pound and we will use our sovereignty to negotiate a formal currency union with the rest of the UK”.

    Salmond said other countries, including the Isle of Man, “demonstrate that creditworthiness is based on your economic prospects, your underlying strength, not your overwhelming size”.

    Salmond’s own experts explicitly told him that we could not copy the Isle of Man because what works for an island with a population the size of Paisley won’t work for an economy like Scotland’s.

    We should be very clear what using the Manx system would mean for Scotland. We would no longer have the security of a central bank or a lender of last resort. We would be giving away any power over mortgage rates and credit card bills. We would have no one guaranteeing our savings and our pensions when something goes wrong.

    The Isle of Man is clearly a much smaller and differently structured economy than that of Scotland and to suggest that just because sterlingisation works well there means it would work well in Scotland is without practical or intelligent foundation.

    The comparison with the Isle of Man indicated that the Scottish Government has rather lost the plot in terms of the currency debate. Derick’s comparisons with the USA, Canada and Norway show the same plot has been lost by him and as for his school boy theories on the NHS, least said soonest mended.

  • ian tinkler

    • July 18th, 2013 8:18

    The Salmond’s comparison with the Isle of Man is truly great. Now can we see a better endorsement for Crown Dependency just like The Manx? For once Salmond has got it right! Wake up Shetland time for true autonomy, even Alex makes a case for partial independence of small Isles.

  • David Spence

    • July 18th, 2013 9:12

    Ian, wouldn’t Scotland have to prove it has sovereign rights over the islands of Shetland before Shetland could take any course towards greater independence?

    Needless to say most people in Shetland accept the status quo in that Scotland already has sovereign rights to the islands without questioning the legal and historical facts and, sadly to say, Shetlander’s attitude ‘ Why rock the boat in regards to resolving this issue ‘ still prevails, hence nothing being done about it.

    Yes, you can hark on about Captain Calamity’s efforts in trying to force the Crown to prove its legitimate right over the islands, but we all know what happened there. The well known saying ‘ Ignorance is bliss ‘ comes to mind when the crown tries to answer such a question, if indeed it was ever answered…….which it wasn’t.

    Maybe Shetland could take a leaf out of the Isle of Man’s situation, but I very much doubt anything like this will happen, for 2 reasons a) Shetlander’s don’t like to rock the boat and prefer the status quo (do nothing) and b) Sullom Voe bringing in millions into the Scottish/UK economy there is not a snowball’s chance in hell of Scotland ever proving or giving up the islands as long as the islands play such an important role in the economy.

  • Brian Nugent

    • July 18th, 2013 22:37

    Iceland have a new government from an April election, 2 euro-sceptic parties have formed a coalition government. There will be a referendum on whether to join the EU or not.
    You can be independent or you can be in the EU.
    We can vote Yes to leave the UK, Scottish voters should also have a referendum on whether to be in the EU or not

  • John Tulloch

    • July 19th, 2013 8:54


    Which Scottish parties will form this Euro-sceptic coalition?

  • David Spence

    • July 19th, 2013 10:11

    Brian, it seems, by all accounts, it was the banking fiasco of 2008 which caused the collapse of the Icelandic government and the subsequent political upheaval thereafter.

    It reminds me of the Council in the Hebrides losing £23,000,000 in 1991 due to the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce and the Council not taking the necessary safeguards, I assume, in protecting their investments.

    It seems the more you look into how our ‘ western ‘ social system(s) are structured and how easily they can breakdown due to 1 factor, the banking system. One must question whether having such a fragile system based on an even more fragile economic system is worthy in terms of our society being dependent on it. How can this be changed where the power of the banks is greatly reduced to the extent that our society and the necessary infrastructures within can provide what they were designed to do without the, self-centered, financial systems posing as a threat to society rather than a service?

    If the banking crisis of 2008 is anything to go by, our society has been designed and influenced too strongly by a system where they, the banks, are totally in a win-win situation and we, the public, are totally subservient to their every needs no matter what they do for their own selfish gains.


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