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Darling: referendum will be defining moment

A healthy turnout of all political persuasions attended the event at Lerwick Town Hall. Photo Austin Taylor

FORMER Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling breezed into Shetland at the weekend to galvanise support for the campaign against Scottish independence.

The national chairman of the Better Together campaign flew north from meetings in Orkney to launch the Shetland branch of the campaign, one of 200 across the country.

Speaking on Saturday lunchtime at Lerwick Town Hall, Darling warned of the dangers that independence posed, and stressed the need for people to get involved in the campaign.

A good-sized crowd turned up to hear the seasoned Edinburgh Labour MP’s thoughts on a variety of subjects, including campaign priorities, the flaws in the nationalists’ economic arguments, and his staunch belief in the benefits of union.

Darling specifically focussed on the need to engage more of the population in the on-going debate.

His speech also centred heavily around the practical issues arising from separation – such as more complicated trading, the loss of international influence, and the danger of foregoing the shared resources that have been so instrumental in keeping the UK economy afloat in the current climate.

He highlighted the fact that Scotland currently exports four times as much in goods and services to the rest of the UK as it does to the rest of the world combined, asking what effect the breakdown of our single market may have on Scotland’s income.

“This decision is so fundamentally important to us,” he said.

“We have to win well, and we will only win well if we can win that argument, and excite and enthuse people into supporting the case for staying part of the UK.

“Think about the European Union for a moment. It is the large countries that call the shots, not the small countries.

“Think of the importance of the European Union in terms of agriculture, in terms of fishing, in terms of many aspects of our lives.

“It actually matters that we have clout and influence in the European Union. Why would you want to give that up?”

He also emphasised the problem of our rapidly ageing population, and the numerous emotional and cultural ties that would have to be relinquished in the event of independence.

“Today of all days, when we celebrate Armed Forces Day, we remember how much we have experienced as a country as a whole, through bad times and war, as well as the things we have achieved during peace time.

“We have a shared culture, and a shared history, and that matters. It isn’t something you can lightly dismiss.”

Darling said last summer’s Olympic Games was a testimony to the shared experiences and patriotism of the British people.

Then he moved on to slate the SNP’s wavering fiscal proposals, which he described as “absolutely mad”, amidst concerns over how these would affect pensions and defence.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott at the top table with Alistair Darling - two parties, but one view on independence. Photo Austin Taylor

He rounded off his speech by reiterating that in a referendum every vote does actually count, as opposed to a general election where each vote only makes a real difference in a few marginal seats.

Once again he stressed the importance of encouraging people to take an interest.

“It’s terribly important that we make sure that all of your friends, all of your neighbours, and all the people they know, are engaged in this and that they come out and vote.

“This will be the defining moment.”

Darling took questions from the assembled audience, which included councillors Drew Ratter and George Smith, SIC political leader Gary Robinson, and a varied body of diverse political persuasion.

Issues ranged from the intensifying centralisation of power in Holyrood, praise for the shared history and interdependency of the UK, and possible complications that may arise with respect to an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU.

The issue of devolving more power to island groups like Shetland kept a fairly low profile throughout the debate, with perhaps the most telling hint coming from SIC convener Malcolm Bell during his introduction.

“The council’s position in this whole question is one of neutrality.

“We are very interested clearly in the debate, the islands certainly add a whole new dimension to the whole question.”

Daniel Lawson