Ex-SNP Boss Unsurprised By No Vote

4 November 2014, 06:02 | Updated: 4 November 2014, 06:39

A failure to concentrate on the economy adequately during the debate on Scottish independence made it "impossible'' to clinch a Yes victory, according to former SNP leader Gordon Wilson.

He said Scotland has emerged "a changed and better nation'' after September's vote, with record voter turnout showing politics "could still reach the people''.

Mr Wilson made the comments in a new book which examines the SNP from 1990 until 2014, inevitably focusing on the referendum in parts.

He said he had "high hopes but low expectations'' following polling on September 18, but had not been surprised by the result in which 55% voted No to independence.

Speaking ahead of the publication of the book tomorrow, Mr Wilson also gave a detailed opinion of outgoing First Minister Alex Salmond.

"The community campaigns and energising of the Scottish public were nothing short of miraculous,'' he said.

"The Unionists may have won but Yes has arguably won the war. The referendum ignited a long constitutional fuse which could blow Westminster apart.

"For Alex Salmond, the referendum campaign was a rocky road. In a career which was brilliant there had been lapses.

"And before he became a giant in Scottish politics, the SNP had given him a hard time at the commencement of his leadership.

"Yet, with the referendum marking a crossing of the constitutional Rubicon, times had changed and as Alex realised it was the right time for Alex to go.''

Writing in Scotland: Battle for Independence, Mr Wilson talks about Mr Salmond's performance in the live TV debates with Better Together leader Alistair Darling.

He writes: "The jury will always be out as to whether his performance in the first debate damaged Yes vitally or the second restored the momentum.''

On the first debate held on August 5, he said: "Alistair Darling was reckoned to be the underdog battling the SNP's master debater Alex Salmond. Everybody expected Salmond to win easily. That's not the way it turned out.''

He added: "... damage had been done when Darling, an experienced lawyer, had persistently interrogated him on what was Salmond's Plan B for the currency.''

However he said Mr Salmond turned things around in the second TV debate held two weeks later in which viewers saw him "retrieving his reputation as one of the best debaters in the UK''.

He said: "Salmond tackled the currency issue head on. Casually conceding there were three sets of Plan B, he took the initiative by seeking a mandate for a currency zone and challenging Darling to join the fight if Yes won on September 18.''

Mr Wilson, who led the SNP from 1979 to 1990, said the three weeks leading up to the vote was a "titanic contest of an intensity never seen in recent UK or Scottish general elections''.

Talking about the campaigning, he writes: "While the social justice campaign had closed the gap, the failure to concentrate on the economic issues adequately had made it impossible to clinch victory. I was not surprised by the result.''

Giving his personal thoughts on the referendum, Mr Wilson said: "In the book, I trace areas of campaign concern -sensitivity over asserting Scottish identity when there was a default British identity amongst older people, the failure to set out the economic reasons why Scotland needed to be independent, for example the long term mismanagement of the Scottish economy.''

He added: "For too long and too frequently, the Yes campaign was a passive punch-bag. It had no defence to the economic attacks launched by the British state. In other words there was no economic narrative.

"Reliance on statements about the wealth and resources of Scotland were not enough.''