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Scottish flagThere’s flying a kite, and then there’s taking leave of one’s senses.

Should any readers harbour doubts about the difference between the two, I’d refer them to the briefing against Alistair Darling’s work on the Better Together campaign in today’s papers.

According to unnamed Tory sources, Darling should be sacked, and instead the campaign to preserve the Union should be run by Jeremy Hunt, an English MP who represents South West Surrey. Alternatively, it should be run by Gordon Brown.

What on earth is going on?

It’s self-evidently true to say that a No victory next year is by no means in the bag, and that Alex Salmond is a wily fox with a remarkable capacity to pull off the unexpected. Complacency is a campaign-killer (as the Yes to AV campaign ably demonstrated). But with polls suggesting a healthy lead for the Unionists it’s hard to see what grounds there could possibly be for trying to sack Darling now.

It’s also true that there should be a distinct Tory voice in the referendum debate. But it is best used speaking to those voters who see themselves as Conservatives, as seen in the excellent Conservative Friends of the Union project, rather than trying to paint the whole campaign as a Cameron enterprise.

If the diagnosis is off the mark, the proposed remedies could not be more quackish if they were prescribed by Donald Duck.

The idea that we should send an English emissary (good as Jeremy Hunt is) to preach to the Scots would be playing right into the SNP’s hands.

The 2004 campaign for a Regional Assembly in the North East grasped at every chance to paint the No side as “RATS” (which drearily stood for “Rather Arrogant Toff Southerners”). The attack got no cut-through, and ended in farce, because the No campaigners were from the North East. Why do the opposite in Scotland?

And as for the image of Tories lobbying for the worst Prime Minister of modern times to front the whole thing – well, that’s beyond a joke.

As I’ve laid out before, there are good reasons why the English might justifiably be quite relaxed about the Scots leaving the Union. But these attacks aren’t from saboteurs, they are apparently from people who actually want Scotland to stay as part of the UK.

If that’s the case, it seems they must have missed the experience of just about any referendum – or political campaign – ever.

Here is a quick guide to fill them in:

First rule: Don’t pick someone whose very involvement proves the other side’s scaremongering right.

Second rule: You might see yourself as a swashbuckler, but in a long No campaign a sensible voice raising reasonable questions tends to win out.

Third rule: Being ahead in the polls is a good sign that things aren’t going too badly.

Fourth rule: Don’t put Gordon Brown in charge of things. Ever. At all.

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52 comments for: What are Alistair Darling’s critics smoking?

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