Alastair Campbell lifts the lid on the turmoil behind the scenes of the desperate campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom – and revealed Brexit and Boris Johnson as Prime Minister has made him more understanding of the independence cause.
In an exclusive look at his diaries between 2010 and 2015, we can reveal how Tony Blair’s former spin chief often despaired at his side’s attempts to win the argument.
With Brexit now steering the UK’s fortunes, Mr Campbell admits he is “now less certain”.
His remarkable insights and changing attitudes take in the freefall of Scottish Labour, the incredible 2011 SNP landslide that ushered in a referendum, and surprising offers from Alex Salmond.
The Alastair Campbell Diaries
Writing in his diaries, the veteran of the unionist campaign takes stock of a tumultuous five-year period. And with the book coming out this month, Mr Campbell reflects on the extra long-term legacies of Brexit and Boris Johnson’s rule.
Nationalism and populism
“I suspect I am not alone in feeling that English nationalism and global populism are a big part of what fuelled both Brexit and Johnson, which in turn has helped the SNP’s cause too,” Mr Campbell writes.
“It is not at all fanciful to imagine that in ‘taking back control’ through Brexit, Johnson will break the union in at least two parts, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
And on the future of the UK, Mr Campbell keeps the surprises coming.
“From being a full-on ‘No’ campaigner in 2014, it’s fair to say I am now less certain,” he adds in the introduction to his diaries.
Campbell, proud of his Scottish roots, describes in vivid colour what the key players were doing – and failing to do – in a chaotic time for British politics.
Former Tory prime minister David Cameron comes in for particular condemnation, ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband’s perceived weaknesses are exposed during his failed attempt to beat the Tories.
The buzz from Scotland was really not good.”
The unionist coalition of Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had its clear drawbacks as the background politics frequently undermined what aimed to be a united front.
There’s also a unique look at the battle-hardened relationship with Mr Salmond, the man who came so close to breaking up Britain – and is now caught up in a political fight with his successor, Nicola Sturgeon.
Football, Blair and Brown
We also get glimpses at Campbell’s other love – football – including an attempt to head-hunt him for a role with the SFA.
He has much to reveal on Brexit, party political intrigue and the backdrop of a UK dealing with a financial mess and austerity. But Scotland, the referendum and the seismic shift facing Labour loom large in the new edition of his diaries.
Starting with extracts from November 2010, we reveal how Mr Campbell was picking up on Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray’s fears of electoral defeat and what the SNP might do next. He also suggests there was already a lack of confidence in Labour’s ability to put up a campaigning fight.
There are hints of what’s to come with UK Labour leader Ed Miliband struggling to get on the front foot despite Tory leader David Cameron’s coalition government problems.
And, of course, there are observations about the relationships with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
In one short remark, Mr Campbell sets the tone ahead of the 2011 Holyrood election and Alternative Vote (AV) referendum.
“The buzz from Scotland was really not good…” he notes.