Scottish leader says independence could benefit northern England

LONDON Tue Apr 22, 2014 7:03pm EDT

A Scottish Saltire flag (L) and a Union flag of the United Kingdom fly above Standard Life House in Edinburgh, Scotland February 27, 2014. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

A Scottish Saltire flag (L) and a Union flag of the United Kingdom fly above Standard Life House in Edinburgh, Scotland February 27, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Russell Cheyne

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LONDON (Reuters) - An independent Scotland would work closely with northern England to boost its economy and job opportunities, Scottish leader Alex Salmond will say on Wednesday in a bid to allay concerns south of the border about Scotland quitting the United Kingdom.

Salmond is expected to use a speech marking St. George's Day, England's national day, to stress that ties and friendship between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom would continue if Scots voted to go it alone in a September 18 referendum.

Brushing aside a refusal by the main British parties to share the pound if Scotland breaks away, Salmond will insist to business leaders in Carlisle, 10 miles south of the border, that trade and transport links would stay strong and the currency stay the same if Scotland did become independent.

He will say that an independent Scotland will be an economic counterweight to London and the southeast of England, tapping into feelings among some in northern England as well as Scotland that they get a raw deal from distant, London-based lawmakers.

"In this very spirit, I can therefore confirm that following a Yes vote in the referendum, the Scottish Government will host a series of special forums on economic co-operation with the north of England," Salmond will pledge, according to extracts of his speech released in advance by his office.

"It is a practical demonstration of co-operation and partnership between us - a partnership which will be strengthened by an outward looking, prosperous, independent Scotland."

His appeal to northern England comes as the battle over independence heats up, with opinion polls showing the campaign against independence still in the lead but support for the Yes campaign climbing, narrowing the gap significantly.

Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) that dominates Scotland's devolved parliament, argues independence would give oil-rich Scotland the right to decide its own path rather than have policies imposed by London lawmakers.

But the rest of the United Kingdom - England, Wales and Northern Ireland - opposes Scottish independence, saying the union that dates back 307 years is stronger together.

Prime Minister David Cameron used a St. George's Day message to highlight what he described as one of England's greatest achievements - its role in the global success story of the United Kingdom - and to urge a No vote in September.

Cameron has to tread carefully in the increasingly bitter debate, well aware of the unpopularity of his Conservative party in Scotland and the image of him played up by Salmond as an upper-class, out-of-touch politician.

His main foray into the debate was in February when he made an emotional plea to the whole country to urge Scotland to vote No in September in a speech described by commentators as a "love-bombing".

On Wednesday, Cameron continued in this vein.

"Let's prove that we can be proud of our individual nations and be committed to our union of nations. Because no matter how great we are alone, we will always be greater together," he said.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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