Sir Menzies Campbell has accused Alex Salmond of being “out of order” after the former Scottish first minister suggested that Charles Kennedy was not wholly committed to the pro-UK side in the Scottish independence referendum campaign.
The former Liberal Democrat leader, who succeeded Kennedy in 2006, described Kennedy as a “classic Liberal home ruler” who believed Scotland should remain within a federal UK.
Campbell spoke out after Salmond, whose party unseated Kennedy in last month’s general election, suggested that the former Lib Dem leader was an unenthusiastic supporter of the Better Together campaign in the referendum.
Salmond told the BBC: “Yes, he was an extremely generous human being. I have had one or two, but not many, people who had a bad word to say about Charles, and that’s very rare in politics.
“In terms of the independence referendum, I don’t think his heart was in the Better Together campaign. His heart would have been in a pro-European campaign, that’s a campaign that Charles would have engaged in heart and soul. That is something he absolutely believed in. He was an interesting, complex character, but above all an outstanding communicator. But a fine human being.”
Kennedy did make appearances on behalf of the anti-independence side although he did not take on a high profile role even when there were calls to inject more passion into the Better Together campaign run by the former chancellor Alistair Darling.
Senior Lib Dems said at the time that Kennedy’s health, largely related to his drink problems, explained why the Better Together campaign did not rely on him more heavily.
Campbell said: “Mr Salmond’s intervention is ill judged. Today is a day for fond memories and respect. Anything else today is out of order.”
Asked whether Kennedy supported Scotland’s continued membership of the UK, Campbell said: “Of course Charles did. He was a federalist. The important thing to remember is that federalism necessarily involves being part of the UK. You can’t be a federalist and want independence at the same time. Charles was a classic Liberal home ruler within the UK. Federalism necessarily involves being within a whole.”
Campbell criticised Salmond hours after his family announced the sudden death of Kennedy at the age of 55 at his home in Fort William on Monday.
Kennedy’s body was found by Carole Macdonald, the widow of his old friend Murdo, according to Alastair Campbell. Tony Blair’s former director of communications, who became good friends with Kennedy, tweeted: “To media inquiries to family, can confirm Charles was found by good friend Carole Macdonald, widow of Charles’ lifelong best friend Murdo. Murdo was godfather to Charles’ son Donald. Family would appreciate that their earlier appeal re privacy applies to Carole and family too.”
Macdonald and Kennedy’s friendship dated back to their days running the Glasgow university students’ union in the early 1980s.
Kennedy lost his Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency to the Scottish National party in last month’s general election. He stood down as party leader in 2006 after disclosing he was an alcoholic.
This article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 2nd June 2015 18.45 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010