Q&A with Alistair Darling

Claire Diamond

With the Glasgow University Independence Referendum due to take place tomorrow, the Guardian got the chance to ask Alistair Darling, Leader of Better Together, a few questions.

Better Together Darling

Guardian: What can we expect to see from the Better Together campaign in the coming months? How are you planning to go ahead with persuading people to vote ‘No’?

Alistair Darling: The focus of our campaign will be to speak to as many people as possible. I believe that there are powerful reasons for us staying together with the rest of the UK. We are better off together, we are more influential together and we are tied together in a way that means that the four countries of the UK are so much more than the sum of our parts. We can be proud Scots and we can have the best of both worlds. I think that it is absolutely right that the Scottish Parliament should have full control over areas such as education and health, but I also recognise that there is an advantage to being part of the UK. It allows us to share risks when we need to.

Guardian: How do you feel about the referendum question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, or is there another you would prefer to see?

Alistair Darling: I am happy that we finally have a question. Now, it would be nice if we actually knew the date of the referendum too.

Guardian: What are your thoughts on the way the Glasgow University Independence Referendum has been handled by a) Better Together and b) Yes Scotland?

Alistair Darling: I think that it is important that both of the campaigns in this referendum are led by the students themselves. Getting young people involved in this debate will be hugely important and I think that it would be an opportunity lost if the two campaigns pushed the students out of the way and took over the running of the respective campaigns. I can’t speak for the nationalists, but I know that we have been very clear that this is a campaign for students by students.

Guardian: Do you think the results of the GU Indy Ref will be important, and would you care to predict the outcome?

Alistair Darling: I believe that having the debate is every bit as important as the result. We are obviously many months out from the actual referendum and we should be using that time to get people to examine the issues at stake. It has been really encouraging to see so many people getting involved. I hope that this referendum is the first of many to take place in colleges, schools and universities across the country. As for the result? I know enough about student politics to know not to comment! I hope that all the effort of the Glasgow University Better Together Group is rewarded with a victory.

Guardian: How do you expect the outcome to differ from 2014 referendum?

Alistair Darling: Without knowing the outcome of either, it is difficult to answer this question. All I can say is that I am absolutely determined to win the arguments and win the referendum in 2014.

Guardian: How will the result of the GU Indy Ref, whatever the outcome may be, change the focus of the Better Together campaign between now and autumn 2014?

Alistair Darling: Our core message will remain the same. We are Better and Stronger Together when we work with our friends, families and workmates from across the UK.

Guardian: How do you respond to claims that an independent Scotland would have to reapply to the EU? Is their any new evidence that states Scotland would automatically remain part of the EU?  How would this affect Scottish, British and European students?

Alistair Darling: I think that on all of these issues, it is always best to look beyond what the politicians are telling you and listen to independent, impartial experts. The foremost experts have all said that Scotland would need to reapply. The President of the European Commission has said that we would need to reapply. The leaders and foreign ministers of several European countries have said that we would need to reapply. I think that that presents a pretty compelling case. How would this affect students?  Well, like every single person in this country we would need to see what the outcome of the various negotiations would bring. I am pretty sure that we would get into the EU, but on what terms? I am sure that Scotland would be able to, eventually, split itself away from the rest of the UK, but what would be the impact of that? No-one knows the answer.  It does beg the question, why would we put ourselves through all of this? What is the benefit to be had?

Guardian: As EU citizens, English, Northern Irish and Welsh students would be entitled to the same free tuition fees as other non-UK EU citizens, what will Scottish independence mean for university fees and Scotland’s universities, some of which are highly regarded institutions?

Alistair Darling: I think  that one of the biggest impacts on Universities would come in the area of research funding. Scotland gets double its population share of research funding from UK sources and the nationalists simply cannot tell us what would happen to this if we decide to leave the UK. This money is funding vital research here at Glasgow University and right across Scotland. It is too important for us to lose.

Guardian: What would Glasgow University and its students look like in an independent Scotland?

Alistair Darling: All of this is a leap into the dark. The nationalists are unwilling and unprepared to provide us with any of the detail that would answer even the most basic question. What is certain, though, is that what we have at the moment gives us the best of both worlds. We have a Parliament in Edinburgh which has power over the areas that matter most like health and education and we have the ability to work as part of the wider UK on areas that make sense to collaborate, like defence, welfare and university research.

Guardian: There would be some benefits to independence, what do you think are the most convincing?

Alistair Darling: I have never argued that Scotland couldn’t go it alone, I simply think that we are better together with the rest of the UK. It is for others to try and convince you of their arguments.


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