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Scotland to make case for independence

26 november 2013, 16:15
0
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond. ©AFP
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond. ©AFP
The Scottish government on Tuesday unveils its legal argument for independence from the United Kingdom, but nationalist leaders face an uphill battle in convincing voters to end the 300-year union, AFP reports.

The Scottish regional government will publish its "white paper" in Edinburgh, detailing how the country will be run if voters choose independence in a historic referendum to be held next September.

But the pro-independence campaign, led by Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), must first overhaul a nine point deficit, according to a poll published in last week's Sunday Times newspaper.

Salmond insists he has time to convince voters that an independent Scotland will be richer due to its North Sea oil reserves, but also more egalitarian and pro-European than Britain.

However, his economic case was undermined last week by a study from independent research group the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which predicted that even under its most optimistic assessment of independence, Scotland would have to find public spending cuts or tax rises equivalent to 1.9 percent of its GDP.

Britain's Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander on Tuesday told Salmond warning him that this would mean the average basic rate taxpayer in Scotland facing a £1,000 (1,200 euros, $1,600) a year tax increase by the end of the decade.

"This is a very stark reminder of why it is in the interest of Scotland to pool these risks, not go it alone," he wrote in a letter.

Liberal Democrat Alexander is part of Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led government, which is pushing hard for a "no" vote.

Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon believes that the government document released Tuesday will convince sceptical voters that a "yes" vote will lead to "a wealthier and fairer Scotland".

"This is a document for the people of Scotland; it is their guide to independence, and it will provide both a vision for Scotland's future and the answers on independence that people have been seeking," she said before its release.

"The guide and the answers it provides will show clearly and simply the difference that we can make in Scotland if decisions on Scotland's future are taken by those who care most about Scotland, that is the people of Scotland.

"Our message to the people of Scotland is simple: read this guide, compare it with any alternative future for Scotland and make up your own mind."

Former Labour finance minister and pro-union campaigner Alistair Darling said the paper "will try to force Scots into a risky choice that we don't need to make."

"We simply don't have to choose between having a strong Scottish Parliament and the strength and security of being part of the United Kingdom," he argued. "We can have both."

Scots will be able to request a hard copy of the 670-page tome, and its 170,000 words will also be available to read online.

The document plans for Scotland to celebrate its independence day on March 24, 2016 and hold its first parliamentary elections in May 2016.

March 24 has a symbolic importance because it marks the anniversary of the signing of the Acts of Union in 1707, which joined Scotland and England into a single kingdom.

Scotland's devolved government currently has control over a range of policies including health and education, but other big policy areas -- including defence, foreign policy and welfare -- are still controlled by London.

Salmond's critics warn that a "yes" vote would throw up huge headaches for Edinburgh and London, on issues ranging from how to split the army to how to separate their tax systems.

Oil could prove another major sticking point.

Up to 24 billion barrels still lie off Britain in the North Sea, mostly in Scottish territory. London and Edinburgh have yet to discuss how they would divide the revenues, while experts say an independent Scotland could be over-reliant on the volatile energy market.

Rejoining the European Union and NATO could also be problematic, the "no" camp claims.

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