Andrew Liddle

How Alistair Darling rescued Scotland

(Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Few modern politicians can claim to have changed their country, and fewer still can claim to have saved it. One who can is the late Alistair Darling.

This is not a reference to his role as Chancellor of the Exchequer during the 2008/09 global financial crisis, but rather his role as the political leader of the Better Together campaign during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. With a relentless focus on the economic risks of independence, it was Darling, perhaps more than anyone else, who shaped the arguments that would, ultimately, keep the United Kingdom together. 

Of course, Darling’s opposition to Scottish independence was multifaceted. Like all his politics, it came from his deep-rooted belief that collective action was the only solution to the social injustice he so passionately opposed. Indeed, he firmly believed, in the words of the Labour Party membership card he would carry for five decades, that it was ‘by the strength of our common endeavour that we achieve more than we achieve alone’. 

As someone with a keen appreciation of history, Darling understood that whatever the SNP tried to claim, nationalism was inherently divisive and exclusionary.

This meant he was not – as some of his separatist critics would try to brand him – a mere British nationalist, a different side to the SNP’s grubby coin. Rather, he was someone who resolutely believed in the pooling and sharing of resources in order to tackle shared challenges. 

But Darling was also not naïve about the dangers of nationalism, either. As someone with a keen appreciation of history, he understood that whatever the SNP tried to claim, nationalism was inherently divisive and exclusionary. This occasionally led him into controversy – he once criticised Salmond’s version of civic nationalism by comparing the SNP leader to the North Korean despot Kim Jong-il – but rarely misjudgement.

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