Alistair Darling: “I’m confident we will win the day”

Opponents of Scottish independence are cranking up their campaign.

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Pro-Union figures are out in force this week. This is following the YouGov poll over the weekend showing a surge in support for the Yes campaign. It came in ahead of opponents to Scottish independence by two points in the poll, taking the lead for the first time.

The news that Alex Salmond’s troops could win the referendum has galvanised Westminster politicians into action. The Labour leader Ed Miliband has joined the Chancellor George Osborne in saying that plans to devolve more powers to Scotland should happen immediately following a No vote. The leaders of the three main parties are to set out a timetable for the package of devolution that they are offering Scotland.

Yet my colleague George Eaton questions whether this promise of further devolution is too little, too late. He suggests that David Cameron’s insistence on just one question on the referendum’s ballot paper – therefore avoiding a question on “devo-max” – could have been the Unionists’ biggest error.

The leader of the Better Together campaign, Alistair Darling, has come under increasing criticism as Salmond’s side has been gaining rapid traction. He is thought of as “too negative”, too managerial, not passionate enough, to make the case for the Union. The campaign in general is also being condemned as “patronising”. In comparison to the gutsy, spirited Salmond, Darling is indeed a mild politician who does not inspire much emotion.

He spoke to the BBC’s Today programme this morning in response to the polls narrowing so dramatically.

He asserted that Unionists are not panic-stricken by the change in the polls, and said he still envisages a victory. Repeatedly, he insisted: “I’m confident that we will win the day”.

Darling told the programme “I’ve always said the polls will narrow”, and admitted that the situation is “very tight” and that the balance in the polls is tipping. However, he also cited a poll (by Panelbase) that came out yesterday, which did not show a Yes lead. And this was from a polling agency “which has traditionally been more favourable to the nationalist cause”.

On granting further devolution to Scotland, he dismissed the idea that Westminster is acting out of desperation, saying, “the additional powers coming to the Scottish Parliament were announced by the party leaders some time ago.”

He was also cautious about the idea of a federal model, calling “federalism in a country where you’ve got a very large country and three much smaller ones” “difficult”.

However, Darling’s flaws were clear in this interview. His focus on hard-headed, sombre economics-based arguments defined the interview. He referred to “respected independent institutions” such as the Institute of Fiscal Studies, and seemed only to mention the argument of the heart as an aside: “. . . and there’s also the big emotional argument, the common bond, and so on.”

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.