Crowds cheered and rallied in towns and cities across the nation. Scotland was about to send shockwaves across the world. The British government and indeed nation would be blindsided. The Union Flag above Holyrood would be lowered. For the first time in 300 years, Scotland would be run entirely from Edinburgh; England would have no say and Scotland would be independent.
This was the history that never was but the man who led the campaign has not been forgotten. Alex Salmond, despite what people may think of him in recent times, was the man who brought Scotland the closest it had ever been to independence in what has become a ‘once in a generation’ referendum.
But history was indeed made on the 18th of September 2014. The vote was cast in what ironically resulted in voting for a negative despite a nation being swept away by the promise of a positive future. It was an anti-climax for even some hardened unionists that I knew.
But that history was made, and it was made by the leader of the NO campaign – Alistair Darling.
Who was Alistair Darling?
Alistair Maclean Darling was born on the 28th of November 1953 in London and was the great-nephew of the Conservative MP for Edinburgh South, Sir William Darling.
After attending school in Tadworth, Kirkcaldy and Musselburgh, he attended the University of Aberdeen where he became president of the Students’ Representative Council and graduated as a Bachelor of Laws.
In 1977, Darling joined the Labour Party at the age of 23. He became a solicitor a year later and in 1982 was elected to the Lothian Regional Council where he remained until he was elected to the House of Commons.
At the 1987 general election, Darling was elected to the Edinburgh Central constituency, defeating the incumbent Conservative MP by 2,262 votes, and after its abolition, went on to represent the Edinburgh South West constituency until he stood down in 2015.
After Labour came to power in 1997, Darling served in the government as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury until 1998 when he became the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions until 2002. In 2002 he took on the role of Secretary of State for Transport until 2003 when he became the Secretary of State for Scotland before becoming the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry President of the Board of Trade in 2006. On the 28th of June he became the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a role he held for three years until Labour left office following the 2010 general election.
A seismic choice for a nation
Following Alex Salmond’s stunning election victory at Holyrood, delivering a majority of SNP MSPs under a proportional voting system – all eyes were on the Scottish Government as they announced plans to bring forward an independence referendum.
Everyone remembers the historic day the SNP won their only overall majority; everyone remembers the result of the referendum, and the skilled orator who brought Scotland to the brink of independence.
But what about the man who led the charge against the nationalists and the United Kingdom together.
Scotland didn’t just reject independence that day in 2014. Scotland, for the first time in history, gave its verdict on the Act of the Union which brought Great Britain into existence. The nation voted to remain part of the United Kingdom and for the first time ever, forced the SNP to accept that the Scottish people did not, ‘at this stage’, want to leave the UK.
His fight and legacy
Alistair Darling was the chairperson and one of the directors of Better Together, the cross-party (NO) campaign for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
In August 2014, Darling faced off against Scotland’s First Minister and the face of the YES campaign Alex Salmond in two televised debates; Salmond & Darling: The Debate and Scotland Decides; Salmond versus Darling.
Darling notably had the First Minister floundering on the issue of Scotland’s currency numerous times, an issue which was seen by some as an obstacle to a nationalist victory in the referendum.
His tactics weren’t all without criticism however as many in the YES campaign and some Scottish Labour MPs and supporters believed working with the Tories as part of the wider NO campaign would damage Labour’s electoral fortunes in Scotland. This was something that came to pass at the subsequent UK general election.
Alistair Darling. The man who led Scotland to answer the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ with a no.
His legacy was immortalised by Scotland’s vote for unity and his legacy further lives on through Scotland’s continued union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland today.
The SNP sought to divide Britain and erect barriers where the majority felt they would be more harmful than helpful. But stronger are those who stay side by side, and Alistair Darling will always be the man who held a union together under nationalist pressure and maintained the union of the United Kingdom in a world that is ever fracturing.