LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s opposition Labour party urged Scots on Thursday to reject independence in a referendum this month, saying it would soon oust the ruling Conservatives, who have little support north of the border.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said that even British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives think they may lose a May 2015 British general election. He cited comments by Ruth Davidson, leader of the party in Scotland, who said on Tuesday “it isn’t looking likely” her party will be re-elected.
Polls in recent days have given Labour a slender lead of 3 percentage points over the Conservatives.
Miliband’s strategy is to try to tap into a dislike of Cameron’s right-leaning party in Scotland, where it has just one of 59 British parliamentary seats, by saying that his own left-leaning party will win the election and give Scotland new powers and policies obviating any need to leave the United Kingdom.
“With that election in just eight months time the change Scotland needs is on its way,” Miliband said in a speech on a visit there.
“Electing a Labour government is the way to change Scotland. The choice for social justice is ‘No’ not ‘Yes’.”
One argument pressed by supporters of independence is that British governments and parliaments do not reflect the sentiments of Scottish voters - rather they give expression to the Conservatives’ strength, especially in southern England.
Miliband’s intervention reflects his party’s anxiety that it stands to lose around a sixth of its seats in the British parliament if Scotland breaks away from the United Kingdom in the Sept. 18 referendum.
That would be a serious blow to its future electoral prospects and make it harder for Labour, which currently has 40 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats, to win elections in what would be left of the United Kingdom.
Its performance in Scotland has faltered in recent years with the pro-independence Scottish National Party breaking its stranglehold over Scottish politics and winning its first overall majority in Scotland’s devolved parliament in 2011.
A survey on Tuesday made grim reading for Miliband. It showed Labour supporters in Scotland had become more supportive of independence, helping narrow the anti-independence campaign’s lead.
The same poll put the anti-independence campaign on 48 percent and the pro-independence side on 42 percent with around 8 percent still undecided on how to cast their vote. If undecided voter are excluded, the unionists’ lead shrank to 6 percentage points, down from 14 points in mid-August.
Miliband promised Scots, who already have control of policy areas such as education and health, that he would hand them greater oversight of tax, welfare and employment policy.
“I want to be very clear about the change I offer you in just eight months as Prime Minister: It is a changed Labour Party that is ready to change Britain,” he said.
His electioneering signals a change in tactics for Labour which has until now largely steered away from party politics on the referendum and focused on backing the cross-party anti-independence “Better Together” campaign.
The tightening of the referendum poll lead has alarmed financial markets and prompted concerns in parliament. On Wednesday, some lawmakers urged the leaders of Britain’s political parties to keep a united front and fight harder against a split.
Miliband cast such ideas of unity aside, however, and said the Conservatives were “defecting, divided and downhearted”, referring to the decision of one Conservative lawmaker to switch his allegiance from Cameron’s party to the rival right-leaning UK Independence party.
The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in Britain’s two-party coalition government, have also promised to give more powers to Scotland if re-elected.
Editing by Angus MacSwan