Former Scottish Secretary Michael Moore has warned that a combative style may not win votes for the Better Together campaign to keep the country as part of the United Kingdom.
In a cabinet reshuffle at Westminster on Monday, the Borders MP was replaced as Secretary of State for Scotland by Liberal Democrat chief whip Alistair Carmichael.
Mr Moore said in his departing statement: “It has been a huge privilege to serve as Secretary of State for Scotland for the past three years. The constitutional debate is at a critical point and I am proud of the part I have played in it so far.
“Delivering more powers for the Scottish Parliament through the Scotland Act and negotiating the Edinburgh Agreement to secure a legal, fair and decisive referendum are two particular highlights.”
In his letter, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg praised Mr Moore’s “great skill and effectiveness” in the negotiations. But the Deputy Prime Minister saw Orkney and Shetland MP Mr Carmichael as a more robust political fighter, capable of inflicting damage on SNP leader Alex Salmond.
“I believe we now need to draw on different experience in the final year running up to the independence referendum itself,” Mr Clegg wrote, “and I am keen that just as we have benefited from your formidable skills over the past three years that we take advantage of other experience within our ranks during this period.”
The Southern asked Mr Moore if he believed he hadn’t been aggressive enough in the campaign.
The Borders MP explained: “I said to Nick [Clegg], ‘Look, we’re not going to agree on the reasons why Alistair is in a better position to lead than I am’. Alistair is a long-time friend of mine, with whom I agree nine times out of 10, but we are different styles of politician.
“If we send a signal to people that only by shouting we’ll win votes, I think that’s a bad turn of events.”
The axe came out the blue, he said. Mr Moore had returned home on Friday from a family holiday in Florida when he took the call from Mr Clegg at 9pm, still “slightly bleary-eyed”, to break the disappointing news.
Mr Moore added: “I had the weekend privately with my family to go through the emotional reaction, so Monday morning I was ready for it. But being the only cabinet minister to go was a more isolating moment than I anticipated.
“I’ve been genuinely touched by the strength and volume of reaction locally. It has really brought home to me that, on the human level, we’re a family, a community, in the Borders.”
Many praised the former Scottish Secretary’s achievements this week.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “Whenever cabinet level support was appropriate, he was invariably right there with us. We thank him for all his efforts on our behalf and we will be sad to see him go.”
Jack Clark, convener of the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce, said: “Everyone in the Borders will be disappointed. Michael has been an effective and intelligent Scottish Secretary. I have always been struck by his passion for people and his kindness.
“It is not surprising that he is liked and respected across the political divide.”
Mr Moore added: “I had a very good innings. I’m proud of what I achieved, laying out the case for Scotland staying in the Union. Unlike many people I still have a job.
“I’m still very much part of the Liberal Democrat team and I want to continue to represent my constituents as best I can. Both before and during my time as Secretary of State, what was most important to me was to do a good job on behalf of my constituents, and I strive to continue doing that.”