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Better Together was the principal campaign for a No vote in the Scottish independence referendum, 2014, advocating Scotland continuing to be part of the United Kingdom. The organisation was formed in June 2012, operating until winning the vote on the referendum's polling day on 18 September 2014 with 2,001,926 (55.3%) voting against independence and 1,617,989 (44.7%) voting in favour. In June 2014, the campaign adopted a No Thanks branding, in relation to the referendum question.

Better Together
Logo of Better Together 2012 Limited.png
Formation1 June 2012
TypeCompany limited by guarantee
Registration no.SC425421
FocusScottish independence referendum, 2014
Headquarters5 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4AD
Edinburgh Quay, 133 Fountainbridge, Edinburgh EH3 9AG
Area served
Key people
Alistair Darling MP, Chair
Blair McDougall, Campaign Director
WebsiteOfficial website (

Better Together was formed with the support of the three main pro-union political parties in Scotland: Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservative Party, and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, with each represented on its management board. It also represented a range of organisations and individuals who supported a No vote. From its commencement, it was chaired by former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling and the Campaign Director was the Scottish Labour adviser and activist Blair McDougall.

The group's main opponent in the referendum campaign was the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign.



Alistair Darling MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Gordon Brown's government, officially launched the campaign on 25 June 2012 at Edinburgh Napier University alongside representatives of the three political parties – Annabel Goldie, Willie Rennie and Kezia Dugdale – and a number of supporters.[1]

Darling stated in May 2013 that his side needs to "win well" in order to prevent another independence referendum within just a few years, to head off calls for another poll, the so-called "neverendum". He contrasted his campaign's position with that of Yes Scotland, saying they had to win only "by one vote" to achieve their ultimate aim. Although Darling did not say what percentage of the vote "win well" would entail, his colleagues had earlier said that the Yes vote would need to be pushed under 40% in order to answer the independence question for "a generation".[2]

In line with the requirements of legislation relating to the referendum, Better Together was formally designated by the UK Electoral Commission on 23 April 2014 as the lead campaign organisation in the referendum supporting a No vote. The Electoral Commission recognised that the two designated campaign groups were "seen by both the public and the media as the lead campaigners before they had been officially designed as such".[3]

In March 2014 the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats ruled out a currency union between the UK and an independent Scotland. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne stated that ""If Scotland walks away from the UK, it walks away from the pound."

On 16 June, Darling was joined by three Scottish party leaders – Ruth Davidson, Johann Lamont and Willie Rennie – on Edinburgh's Calton Hill, marking cross-party support for more powers for the Scottish Parliament in the event of a No vote. On 15 September, the three UK party leaders – Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband – signed a joint statement headlined "The Vow" and published on the front page of the Daily Record newspaper. The statement indicated joint agreement that the Scottish Parliament was a permanent institution, would gain "extensive new powers", that the Barnett Formula for funding would continue and that there was a strong case for "staying together in the UK".[4] Following the referendum, the Smith Commission was established on further powers for the Scottish Parliament, with its recommendations passed in legislation by the Scotland Act 2016.

Following consistent leads in the polls for a No vote, on 7 September a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times showed a narrow lead for a Yes vote.[5]

On the eve of the poll, 17 September, Better Together held a televised event at the Community Central Hall in the Glasgow district of Maryhill. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was the main speaker, joined by the leaders of the three Scottish political parties in Better Together. Brown addressed the audience without notes, with the Scottish media reporting positively on speech.[6]

The campaign held its referendum night event at the Marriott Hotel in Glasgow, where the victory was celebrated with cheers and ceilidh dancing. [7] In his speech, Alistair Darling announced:

"The people of Scotland have spoken. We have chosen unity over division and positive change rather than needless separation. It is a momentous result for Scotland and also for the United Kingdom as a whole."[8]

No Thanks brandingEdit

Better Together campaigners in Kinross with No Thanks branding.

In June 2014, Better Together adopted the slogan "No Thanks" in its campaign publicity.[9] BBC political correspondent Iain Watson commented that "Better Together" had been intended to sound positive, but it was felt that it lacked meaning.[9] "No Thanks" was adopted after testing with focus groups, although Better Together remained the formal name of the campaign group itself.[9] It was inspired by Non Merci ("No Thanks") the slogan used in the 1980 referendum on Quebec's separation from Canada.[10]

Political party campaignsEdit

Political parties were granted a separate campaign status to the designated organisations during the referendum. In May 2013, Scottish Labour launched its own campaign called United with Labour.[11] Its co-ordinator, Labour MP Anas Sarwar, stated that the Labour movement had a different vision of Scotland's future from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, but would also work with Better Together.[11] In March 2012, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson launched Conservative Friends of the Union, the party's campaign group.[12]

Although the UK Independence Party (UKIP) also favoured Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom, Better Together has refused to work with them on the grounds that "they are not a Scottish party".[13] UKIP in return accused Better Together of being "petty and small minded".[13]


The campaign was officially incorporated on 1 June 2012 as Better Together 2012 Limited and its initial registered office was located in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh.[14] It was formally dissolved on 31 May 2016.[15]

Board of directorsEdit

Alistair Darling chaired the board of Better Together alongside its directors, initially Conservative MSP David McLetchie (died August 2013); Craig Harrow, convener of the Scottish Liberal Democrats; and Labour MSP Richard Baker.

In October 2012, Labour MSP Jackie Baillie was added as a further director, followed in March 2013 by businessman Phil Anderton. In November 2013, four additional directors were added: Nosheena Mobarik, who was formerly chair of CBI Scotland and later a Scottish Conservative member of the House of Lords; Scottish Conservative Director Mark McInnes, Katrina Laidlaw Murray and Mairi Thornton.[16]

Campaign staffEdit

The campaign director Blair McDougall was a former special adviser to Ian McCartney (2004–2007) and James Purnell (2007–2008) during the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He was national director of the Labour Party's Movement for Change organisation from 2011 and also ran David Miliband's campaign for the Labour Party leadership[17] before joining Better Together.[18] Other staff members included former Scottish Government adviser and Strathclyde Police press chief Rob Shorthouse as Director of Communications, Kate Watson as Director of Operations, Gordon Aikman as Director of Research, David Ross as Deputy Director of Communications, Rob Murray as Deputy Director of Grassroots Campaigns and Ross MacRae as Head of Broadcasting.

In January 2016, the campaign group was fined £2,000 for failing to account for £57,000 of campaign spending.[19]

Stakeholder groupsEdit

A number of associated groups representing different sectors were established within the Better Together campaign, including-

  • Academics Together. Launched by Professor Hugh Pennington consisting of those from an academic and scientific background.[20][21]
  • Business Together.[22]
  • Forces Together.[23] Launched on 8 June 2013, consisting of active and veteran service personnel as well as their family members, with a goal of emphasising the importance of the British Armed Forces.[24]
  • Lawyers Together. A group focused on addressing the legal implications of separation.[25]
  • LGBT Together. A group for members of the LGBT community.[26]
  • NHS Together. Involving NHS workers and specialists.[27]
  • Rural Better Together.[28] Launched by Alistair Darling at the Royal Highland Show on 21 June 2013, chaired by Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon who said farmers had given the group a "great response".[29]
  • Women Together.[30]
  • Work Together. A network of trade unionists.[31]

Supporters and donorsEdit

Labour MP Jim Murphy campaigning for Better Together in Glasgow.

The campaign gained a range of endorsers from politics, the media, business, trade unions, celebrities and individuals in Scotland. The pro-union campaign disclosed its donor list on 6 April 2013[32][33] and donations of more than £1.1 million (US$1,866,000) had been received from approximately 9,500 donors.[32] The Herald commented that "The preponderance of business people is a blow to Alex Salmond, who has made a stronger economy a cornerstone of the SNP's case for independence".[33]

Among the major donors was Douglas Flint CBE, the Glasgow-born chairman of transnational bank HSBC, while the largest single donation was £500,000 (US$848,000)—almost "half the total"[32]—which came from Ian Taylor, an international oil trader with a major stake in the Harris Tweed industry; Taylor made the donation after a meeting with Darling, Better Together chairman and former Labour Chancellor.[33]

Other donors of more than £7,500 (US$12,700) included Edinburgh-born crime writer C. J. Sansom, who gave £161,000 (US$273,000), and engineering entrepreneur Alan Savage, who handed over £100,000 (US$170,000).[32] In June 2014, Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling, who is a friend and former neighbour of Darling, made a £1,000,000 (US$1,694,000) donation to Better Together.[34][35]

The Yes Scotland campaign criticised a number of Better Together's donors for being located "outside Scotland". [36] The campaign's acceptance of the £500,000 donation from Taylor was also criticised by the pro-independence organisation National Collective, who pointed to "serious incidents [...] linked to Ian Taylor's business background".[37] The Yes campaign also criticised C.J. Sansom for describing the SNP as "dangerous" in a note appended to his novel Dominion.[36]

The Herald also highlighted Taylor's links with "dubious deals in Serbia, Iraq, Iran and Libya", as well as UK tax avoidance behaviour. Taylor responded by threatening the Herald, National Collective and another pro-independence website, Wings Over Scotland,[38] with legal action for defamation. National Collective closed its website down for several days, before replacing the article in question with a slightly edited version that included responses from Vitol. On 16 April 2013, the Herald published a response from Vitol's public relations (PR) firm to the allegations as an appendix to its original article.[39] Wings Over Scotland ignored the initial threat, but then challenged a second letter without amending its piece.[40]

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie defended the use of Taylor's money, saying: "If it's good enough for Harris tweed, it should be good enough for Better Together."[41] A YouGov poll undertaken on behalf of the SNP in May 2013 suggested that 43% of Scots surveyed wanted the donation money to be returned; compared to 34%, who believed the money did not need to be returned.[42]


Better Together ran a range of paid advertisements in cinemas before cinema chains opted to ban referendum advertising, billboard advertising and paid newspaper advertising. Advertising agency M&C Saatchi were used by the campaign.

The campaign's social media and engagement strategy was arranged with Blue State Digital.[43]

Campaigning activityEdit

On 30 June, the campaign stated that it was the "largest grassroots movement in Scottish political history". It observed that over 280 local groups had been involved in over 2,000 campaign events, more than 4.5 million leaflets had been delivered and more than 370,000 doors had been directly canvassed – imploring work to continue. [44]

Labour MP Jim Murphy pursued a "100 Streets in 100 Days" tour around Scotland, speaking on a mobile stage of two Irn-Bru crates.[45] Following an incident where Murphy was attacked with eggs in Kirkcaldy, he suspended his tour citing "co-ordinated abuse" from Yes supporters on 29 August. It resumed on 2 September with engagements in Edinburgh, with Murphy stating that the "noisy tap of mob mentality" had been turned-off.[46][47]

Television debatesEdit

Two televised debates were organised between the lead campaigns in the closing weeks of the campaign. Split between the BBC and STV channels, both debates featured Alistair Darling for Better Together and Alex Salmond for Yes Scotland.

The first debate, STV's Salmond & Darling: The Debate was held over two hours on 5 August 2014, broadcast from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. Post-debate polling by ICM Research indicated the public believed the debate had been won by Darling.[48]

The BBC debate, Scotland Decides: Salmond versus Darling, broadcast from Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on 25 August 2014. Research indicated public opinion believed Salmond had won this second debate.[49]

Accusations of negativityEdit

Better Together was frequently accused of "scaremongering", not just by the Yes side[50][51] but also by its own allies and the media. The Scottish Sun and Sunday Herald both complained about use of "scare stories" and negative nature of their campaign.[52][53] These arguments were rejected by Better Together, who contended that the Yes campaign had used accusations of scaremongering to obscure some of the practical issues surrounding independence.[54]

On 23 June 2013, in an article marking the campaign's first anniversary, the Sunday Herald claimed that "Privately, some inside Better Together even refer to the organisation as Project Fear".[55] The name "Project Fear" subsequently appeared in other news outlets[56][57] and was co-opted by pro-independence campaigners.[58] The following line of the Sunday Herald's article said that "[Blair] McDougall is unrepentant about the tactics", but on the following day's edition of Scotland Tonight McDougall denied ever hearing anyone use the term "Project Fear".[59]

Criticism of the negativity of the No campaign by pro-Union newspapers was frequent and strong. On 18 January 2013, journalist Joyce McMillan wrote in the Scotsman: "The truth is that the tone of the No camp’s response to the independence debate has – in too many cases – been so reactionary, so negative, and so fundamentally disrespectful of the Scottish Parliament as an institution, that I now find it hard to think of voting with them, no matter what my views on the constitution. And this, for me, is a new experience in politics – to enter a debate with a strongish view on one side of the argument, and to find myself so repelled by the tone and attitudes of those who should be my allies that I am gradually forced into the other camp" [60]

In January 2013, a column[61] in the Observer by Scottish Daily Mail executive editor Kevin McKenna, who had begun the campaign firmly on the Unionist side,[62] said: "Surely there is a limit on how long otherwise proud Scots, night after night, can stomach [Better Together's] own narrative: that Scotland is too wee to go it alone; that we can't make our economy work; that we must have a babysitter sometimes; that at other times we must be back before midnight. Months of telling people that, unlike Ireland, Denmark and Luxembourg, Scotland is simply not strong enough may exact a toll on Better Together volunteers well before it takes a toll on the voters."[63]

On 17 February 2013, an editorial column in the Sunday Mail said "The No campaign needs to start explaining why the Union can make Scotland better not why independence will be a terrible thing as Scots, mired in a swamp of endless negotiations, wander between our mud huts borrowing cups of woad. If, as their campaign claims, we will be better together, they need to start telling us why."[64]

In February 2014, pro-Union columnist Alex Massie wrote in the Spectator: “Insulting or threatening the electorate is a bold move and one that causes more trouble, really, than it is worth. Indeed, it is juvenile and hackle-raising stuff. The kind of thing liable to provoke a sod-you backlash just as much as it is likely to scare folk into voting No. Worse still it reveals the extent to which Whitehall and Westminster still cannot grasp that this is an argument about a concept or an idea much more than it is a question of dismal accountancy. Better Together needs a story about the future as well as the past and that narrative needs to be based on something good, not on gloomy predictions of mass unemployment after independence. I have plenty of issues with the Yes campaign and the SNP and they offer us plenty of guff too but at least their imbecilities, most of the time, look to a sunny future rather than endless drizzle. Between them, Westminster and Labour are making an almighty hash of this campaign.“[65]

In April 2014 a piece in the Huffington Post by Will Black said: “The ‘No’ campaign’s approach to discouraging Scottish independence is akin to an abusive bully threatening a fleeing partner. It has been so shamelessly threatening that at times I have wondered if it is part of a covert plot to drive Scotland away. As we have got closer to the September vote, the arguments against independence have got more desperate and apocalyptic. It is highly insulting to Scotland, therefore, when politicians and others with a vested interest try to manipulate voters in a way that wouldn’t even work on drunk cartoon socialites in a ‘reality’ TV show."[66]

In the same month, an editorial leader in the New Statesman said: “Rather than making the positive case for the Union, Better Together has run a negative campaign characterised by dry and technocratic attacks on the SNP over the currency, North Sea oil and EU membership. In so doing, it has only enhanced its opponents’ appeal as an optimistic, anti-establishment force."[67]

Also in April 2014, a piece in the Independent by Matthew Norman said: “In the entire global history of the political campaign, has any been more misconceived, wretchedly executed and potentially self-defeating than the one designed to keep Scotland within the United Kingdom? Until proof is found of a Eugene Terre’Blanche run for mayor of Soweto on the Apartheid Now And Forever platform, the assumption must be not. With every week that passes, the No campaign’s once lavish and seemingly impregnable lead evaporates. And as it dwindles, its scare stories continue to deluge the debate in the curious belief a) that Scotland, a proud and bellicose nation, is a wee, timorous beastie; and b) that if you double down on a tactic of transparently counterproductive idiocy for long enough, it will metamorphose into one of purest genius.”[68]

And again in the same month, the Economist criticised the negativity of the campaign: “After the speeches were done, at a recent rally in Calderglen High School for “Better Together”—the cross-party campaign to keep Scotland British—there was time for questions. They were mostly the same. The inquisitors, typically retired and articulate, asked the assembled politicians—including a Conservative cabinet minister and a serving and former Labour MP—to make a “positive case” for keeping the 307-year-old union intact. “Why are we better together?” said one. This was awkward. It was bad enough that the venue, in East Kilbride, on the southern edge of Glasgow, was cavernous and the audience small. But what was most dismal was the lack of a good answer to the question.”[69]

Still in April 2014, Guardian columnist Owen Jones wrote: “As well as losing the pound, Scots are told they will be stripped of everything from the BBC to EU membership. It’s like a loveless relationship in which a partner is told that, if they walk out, they will have their clothes and DVDs taken away, lose all their friends, and be kicked out on the streets. This establishment campaign is self-defeating, and has left many Scots feeling as though the choice is between hope and fear.”[70]

During the 2012 Olympics in London, Better Together were criticised for attempting to use the games as political propaganda, in particular the participation of Scottish athletes in Team GB which was taken to imply that supporters of independence weren't interested in the Olympics.[71] In November 2012 Alistair Darling suggested Scottish independence would threaten the continuation of British culture in Scotland.[72] National Collective responded to Alistair Darling's comments by stating that it was entirely for individuals to determine their own identity and not politicians.[73] In September 2013 during a Labour Party Conference, the party's Scottish Leader Johann Lamont described Scottish nationalism as "a virus."[74] Co-convenor of the Scottish Greens and Advisory Board Member of Yes Scotland, Patrick Harvie has challenged the notion that supporters of independence are all nationalists, stating "National identity is not at the heart of my politics. In fact, it’s not really relevant to my politics at all. People can reach a view in favour of independence without being motivated by Scottish nationalism, just as people can reach a view in favour of staying in the UK without being driven by the identity politics of “Britishness”".[75]


At the formation of Better Together in June 2012, the No campaign had led in most polls by around 25 points (or around 30 points excluding don't-know responses, the measure commonly used by the media). From the point it took over as lead campaigner until the actual vote, the lead shrank to 10 points. Campaign head Blair McDougall gave an interview to Buzzfeed a few days after the referendum which the website summarised and headlined as "Better Together Campaign Chief: We Would Have Struggled To Win Without 'Scaremongering'"[76]

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit