Scottish leader says energy and fisheries make Scotland key to Europe

LONDON Sat Apr 26, 2014 7:19pm EDT

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond delivers his speech at the Scottish National Party (SNP) Spring Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland April 12, 2014. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond delivers his speech at the Scottish National Party (SNP) Spring Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland April 12, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Russell Cheyne

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LONDON (Reuters) - Scotland's energy reserves and fishing grounds will make it a crucial member of the European Union (EU) if it votes to leave the United Kingdom in an independence referendum, Scottish leader Alex Salmond will say on Monday.

Salmond wants Scotland to stay in the EU if there is a "Yes" vote on September 18, hoping to agree a "smooth transition" to a renewal of membership before the country declares independence in March 2016.

In February European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said an independent Scotland would have to reapply to the EU as a new state.

Opponents of ending Scotland's 307-year-old tie to England argue that EU entry would be far from guaranteed as all 28 member states would have to approve - and some, fighting their own secessionist movements, might be reluctant to recognize a new state.

Salmond, head of the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), is expected in a speech in Bruges, Belgium, to say Scotland's natural resources, human talent and financial contributions make it a linchpin of the EU.

He will argue that Scotland is vital for energy security in Europe with 25 percent of its offshore wind and tidal potential, 10 percent of the EU's wave potential, and 60 percent of the EU's oil reserves.

"We have a key role to play in providing energy security for Europe, and in developing the low-carbon technologies the world will need for the future," he is expected to tell the College of Europe, according to speech notes released ahead of the event.

"We have one of the largest national shares of Europe's total fishing grounds and 12 national fleets fish in our waters. The EU's fisheries policy would unravel without Scotland."

The speech comes as polls show the gap between the two sides narrowing to a few percentage points, with pro-independence campaigners still behind but gaining ground, prompting pro-union politicians to warn against complacency.

Salmond has said that even members like Spain, which opposes an independence referendum in Catalonia, could not object to a democratic vote sanctioned by the UK parliament.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to renegotiate ties with the EU and hold an in/out referendum on membership by the end of 2017 if his Conservatives win a general election next year.

Salmond says in his speech 160,000 people from other EU states live in Scotland, which has a population of 5.3 million.

"Scotland shares and promotes the values of solidarity, freedom and democracy that are the heart of the European project," he says.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; editing by Andrew Roche)

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