'Yes Scotland': Independence Campaign Launches Ahead Of 2014 Vote

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A major drive to persuade people Scots to vote for independence begins on Friday.

The cross-party body Yes Scotland will kick-start its campaign to leave the United Kingdom.

Organisers have vowed to stage the "biggest community-based campaign in Scotland's history" in the run-up to the independence referendum, which could take place in October 2014.

They aim to convince voters that "the people who care most about Scotland are the people that should be running Scotland".

Alex Salmond, the First Minister and Scottish National Party leader, will be one of the key figures at today's launch.

Former Labour MP Dennis Canavan, who later became an independent MSP, has been named as another of the supporters at Friday's event.

A host of celebrities and public figures have been lined up but their identities are secret until today's launch at Edinburgh's Cineworld Cinema.

A Yes Scotland spokesman said: "We have a 550-seat venue full to capacity and we could have filled it again with the level of interest we have received.

"We will have 100 journalists from all corners of the world, from China to the United States, from Spain to Germany, reflecting the interest generated not only in Scotland but internationally.

"We chose a cinema because it's a place where real people go, in contrast to a conference centre or other traditional venues, and we wanted to send a signal that this is about people not politicians.

"For us, this has to be the biggest community-based campaign in Scotland's history."

But it comes as a poll commissioned by former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling found 33% of people agree that Scotland should become independent, with 57% opposed and 10% undecided.

Yes Scotland has also faced accusations that it is an SNP sideshow, with two former SNP special advisers, a party lawyer and several prominent SNP supporters taking key roles.

Former SNP adviser Stephen Noon, a life-long independence activist, is now handling publicity for the campaign. Jennifer Dempsie, another former SNP adviser, is helping to co-ordinate events.

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A company called Yes Scotland Limited has been established with SNP legal adviser Scott Martin as its sole director. Its registered office is in Saint Colme Street, just yards from the First Minister's official residence in Bute House on Charlotte Square, although Noon insists this was unintentional.

The spokesman said critics would be left in no doubt that the campaign is about more than just the SNP.

But Scottish Green party co-convener Patrick Harvie said the campaign must be a genuine cross-party bid for independence rather than the SNP's "bland vision of politics-as-usual".

He said: "Most Greens support independence but there are many others who have concerns about the SNP's middle-of-the-road strategy."

Darling, who is co-ordinating the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK, said the findings of his poll showed that on the issue of independence Salmond "doesn't speak for Scotland".

The former chancellor commissioned a poll of more than 1,000 voters to coincide with the Yes Scotland launch.

Nearly half (47%) thought an independent Scotland would be financially worse off, against just over a quarter (27%) who thought it would be better off.

Of those who voted for the SNP in the last Scottish elections, 58% said they would vote for independence in the referendum, while 28% said they would vote against.

Darling said: "The Nationalists are entitled to their view but the majority of us simply aren't buying the independence policy they're selling.

"At today's launch, they'll try and suggest they have the momentum, but over five years, indeed for more than 40 years, the numbers on independence haven't really shifted.

"Even after winning two Scottish election victories, raising a war chest of millions and deploying the full resources of the Scottish Government, Alex Salmond has failed to convince Scots that they should leave the UK."

He added: "The Nationalists will go to great lengths to try to prove there is a groundswell towards leaving the UK, but the truth is that their campaign has stalled. Independence is as unpopular as it ever has been."

Meanwhile, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: "Alex Salmond is expected to pull out the stops for his big launch, but all the razzmatazz in the world can't hide the fact that the majority of Scots have no wish to be separated from the rest of the UK.

"The First Minister knows he is in trouble when more than a quarter of his own voters don't share his vision for a separate Scottish state.

"Scotland is better off in Britain and in the months ahead the Scottish Conservatives will be playing a full part in making this positive case for the Union."

Dennis Canavan, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, said he was a "convert" to the independence cause.

He told the Good Morning Scotland programme: "My conversion stems from my experience of 25 years as a Westminster MP and eight years as an MSP.

"That experience forced me to come to the conclusion that the Westminster Parliament is completely out of touch with the people of Scotland whereas the Scottish Parliament does respond more readily to the values, the needs and the aspirations of the people of Scotland."

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