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With year to go, Scotland divided over independence

19 september 2013, 17:03
0
Scotland's First Minister and Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond. ©Reuters/Russell Cheyne
Scotland's First Minister and Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond. ©Reuters/Russell Cheyne
Voting for Scottish independence is "common sense", the leader of the movement to break away from the United Kingdom insisted a year to the day before Scotland votes in a referendum, AFP reports.

First Minister Alex Salmond told the Scottish parliament on Wednesday that independence offered the best route to a more prosperous country -- but a new opinion poll showed he is currently losing the argument, with the "No" camp holding a commanding 52 percent to 32 percent lead.

As Salmond spoke on a crisp autumn day in Edinburgh, the "No" camp unveiled two electronic billboards mounted on vans, one reading "the strength of being part of a United Kingdom" and the other on the city's Calton Hill vowing "a successful parliament delivering for Scotland".

In parliament, Salmond said his Scottish National Party (SNP) government offered a clear choice.

"This government's argument -- our most important contention -- is that the people who live and work in Scotland are the people who are most likely to make the right choices for Scotland," he said.

"It is not an argument that is subject to statistical manipulation, it is not an argument for a day's headlines, it is not an argument born of fear. It is a common sense position based on experience."

The mainstream parties, who are campaigning hard for Scotland's 5.3 million people to remain within the United Kingdom, warned Salmond he faced a battle over the next 12 months.

The leader of the opposition Labour party in Scotland, Johann Lamont, complained that the "Yes" campaign was obsessing Salmond's government to the detriment of developing policies to address issues such as an ageing population.

It was "not a government, but a campaign", she said to heckles from SNP lawmakers, claiming the independence campaign had put the country "on pause".

Back on Calton Hill, surveying the electronic slogans and the spectacular views of Edinburgh and the coast, Alistair Darling, Britain's former finance minister who is spearheading the "No" campaign, said he rejected Salmond's arguments.

"If you look at people in Scotland and people in England, I don't believe they're that different. I don't believe that somehow you cross the border into England and suddenly people believe in unfairness and inequality," the Labour politician said.

Darling said he was convinced that when they cast their ballot on September 18, 2014, Scots would bear in mind the advantages of belonging to the rest of the United Kingdom.

"We're part of one of the oldest social, political and economic unions in the world -- why break that up?

"There's the opportunities that come from being part of a larger United Kingdom, there's the jobs that depend on trade with the UK, there's the influence that we have in bodies like the European Union and the United Nations, and there's the cultural ties."

Darling claimed that the SNP's economic model would leave an independent Scotland "very dependent" on North Sea oil revenues.

"So if oil prices fall, or -- as will happen one day -- the oil reserves run out, you leave yourself terribly exposed."

As the debate raged inside the Holyrood parliament building, Liz Jones, a retired tobacco sales representative visiting an exhibition outside, said she would vote against independence for "practical, economic and emotional" reasons.

Like many people, she fears what will happen to Britain's submarine-mounted Trident nuclear deterrent, which is based in Scotland.

"There's too many ifs and buts -- we don't know what would happen to the pound, to Trident. I don't think we've got enough money to survive.

"I'm happy with the way things are at the moment, and I think Alex Salmond's been good for Scotland, although he's getting too big for his boots -- and too big for his suits," she added, in a reference to the rotund SNP leader.

But Elaine, a physiotherapist, said she would be ticking the "Yes" box.

"We've got a lot to give -- I think history shows that we're a very entrepreneurial race. And I think we have very different values from England -- I like the idea that an independent Scotland could be more equal."

Think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) on Thursday released a report which warned a "yes" vote could result in an independent Scottish government facing spending cuts of up to £5.9 billion ($9.5 billion, 7 billion euros).

But if oil receipts beat current forecasts, Scotland could find itself in a stronger fiscal position than the rest of Britain, the report found.

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