Independence campaign starts with £1 million bequest

Angus Robertson MP <em>Picture: SNP</em>
Angus Robertson MP Picture: SNP
A huge bequest of nearly £1 million from Scotland’s former makar Edwin Morgan is to bankroll the SNP’s independence campaign, it has emerged.

Angus Robertson MP, director of the independence referendum campaign, revealed at the SNP’s conference in Inverness that the party has ringfenced a £918,000 legacy left by the late poet for the party’s campaign for independence.

“We are announcing that the independence referendum campaign is starting,” Mr Robertson told the conference. “We will work as hard as possible in an unprecedented national campaign to secure the majority ‘yes’ vote for a sovereign independent Scotland.

“We will galvanise and motivate our members and supporters; work with the many supporters of independence with no party affiliation and in other parties; engage with different sectors of society to build confidence and optimism in the independence case and reach out within our communities, door by door, street by street in the most unprecedented campaign of mobilisation and communication by the SNP and in the history of Scottish politics.”

Confirming the bequest, Mr Robertson said: “Edwin Morgan didn’t wear his politics on his sleeve but he has left this party a legacy which is transformational in its scope and which we will put to use campaigning to build a better nation.

“I am delighted to confirm that Scotland’s independence campaign has been generously supported by the late, great Scots poet and makar Edwin Morgan with a substantial contribution of £918,000, which is ringfenced for the referendum campaign.”

And he added: “With these resources we are going to be able to properly support campaign efforts on the ground, in our communities the length and breadth of Scotland. Support for independence has moved into the lead and the people of Scotland want to be persuaded. Scotland’s independence campaign starts now. Scotland, it’s starting.”

Mr Robertson also asked SNP members to give “as little as £1 a month” for the independence campaign – which could raise £700,000 from the party’s 19,000 members by the time the referendum in held in three years’ time.

However, what no one yet knows is what form the referendum will take.

Alex Salmond made it clear over the weekend that he would like to put three options to the Scottish people in the referendum: independence, the status quo and independence lite.

This has been seen by many as a calculating move, designed to ensure the SNP leadership achieves something substantial from the referendum if it fails to get outright independence.

It is expected to appeal to the many Scots who want more autonomy and have sympathy with the SNP but who baulk at full independence.

It has, though, attracted criticism from within the independence movement from some who think it is a cop-out and a watering down of the core independence message.

But it has won support across from within other parties. Henry McLeish, the former Labour first minister, urged Labour this week to consider endorsing independence lite – or “devolution max”, as unionists like to call it.

“We have to look at the referendum and that doesn’t mean just opposing it but putting forward our own positive vision,” Mr McLeish said last week, “and for me that could be ‘devolution max’.”

Independence lite – or devo max – would mean the complete handover of all financial powers from Westminster to Holyrood. Scotland would raise all of its taxes and then pass a portion of them to the UK Treasury to pay for Scotland’s share of diplomatic missions, the Royal Family and defence.

Everything else would be run by Scotland in Scotland, giving Scotland independence in all but name.

This “third way” would change the nature of UK politics dramatically – if only because it would remove all Scottish MPs from the House of Commons, only leaving some Scots sitting in a confederate second chamber.

Labour leaders in London are well aware of the damage that the loss of Scotland’s battalion of 41 Labour MPs would do to their chances of regaining power in London, which is one of the reasons why the party has not taken a definitive position on the issue.

However, the idea of endorsing something positive – rather than just resisting Mr Salmond’s vision for Scotland with endlessly negative messages – does appeal to some Scottish Labour MPs.

Eric Joyce, the Labour MP for Falkirk, said last week: “Campaigning for devolution max would make eminent sense and I like to think Labour would be behind it.”

The main difficulty for Labour, and indeed the other unionist parties, is that no one knows exactly what an “independence-lite” Scotland would look like: it has never been properly defined.

Mr Salmond published detailed plans for independence in the last parliament, so there is a clear, coherent plan for that option; but for independence lite – or devolution max – the picture is very muddy indeed.

David Cameron has taken a resolutely unionist approach throughout, giving the impression that he would not countenance anything like “devolution max”.

Instead, he has taken to goading Mr Salmond, urging the first minister to hold the referendum as soon as possible, to put the question to the Scottish people and settle the issue once and for all.

For Mr Salmond, he is sticking to his intention to hold the referendum in the latter part of this parliament: the most likely dates are late 2014 (after the Glasgow Commonwealth Games) or early 2015 (before the UK general election).

He said this week he would stick to this timetable. “That’s what we said we would do and that’s what we intend to do and no amount of blustering from the prime minister is going to change that view.”

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