Today’s Sunday Times revives reports that senior Conservatives are concerned that Alex Salmond will prevail in next year’s referendum and that David Cameron will be the last British Prime Minister.
Personally, I’d be concerned if they were not concerned – Salmond is a formidable late-stage campaigner and the ‘no’ side is, in effect, being led by the parties out of whom he made mincemeat in the last Scottish Parliament election. The future of our country is at stake: now is not the time to take anything for granted. Especially at a time when unionist parties in Scotland have been collectively spanked by a formidable and well-funded SNP campaign.
But what about specific concerns about Alistair Darling’s leadership of the campaign? When I interviewed Cameron earlier this month there had been a report in the FT that senior Tories were concerned with Darling personally. So I thought I’d ask the PM what he thought. I didn’t include his answer in the print version of the interview, but it’s worth putting his thoughts on the record.
I started by asking him who he’d prefer to have a drink with: Ed Miliband, Alex Salmond, Nick Clegg or Nigel Farage. ‘I’d go for a drink with Nick Clegg, we have a decent working relationship, we have our disagreements,’ he replied. Here’s the rest of the conversation:
FN: But you see Clegg all the time!
DC: Alex Salmond: I’d have to check my wallet afterwards!
FN: How do you think Alistair Darling is doing by the way? There has been some controversy…
DC: I think he’s doing very well, I read your piece [in the Daily Telegraph] and I understand. I think you and I would agree this is an issue of enormous importance, we cannot in any way let this argument go the wrong way. We’ve got to fight every day. It’s one of the biggest issues of next year, if not the biggest. I desperately want it to go the right way and I think the arguments that Better Together and the UK government will be making are very strong and very solid.
I try and keep a really close hand on all this. The arguments about defence jobs, the arguments about currency, the arguments about Europe, the arguments about financial services, the arguments about future fiscal trends – I think they’re really impressive, substantial pieces of work.
When I started this process, and said I thought it was time to have a referendum because the Scottish people had voted for the SNP government, the thing you kept getting from people is: I need to know the facts, I want to know the details, I want the information. While I’m frustrated by the time that we have to wait before the referendum I do think we’re putting the time to good use by really laying out the arguments – and Alistair is playing a key part of that. So I think the argument is going well but we need to keep up the pressure.
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