* Blueprint spells out Scotland's case for independence
* Says nuclear missiles would be removed
* Separatists lagging in opinion polls
By Belinda Goldsmith
GLASGOW, Scotland, Nov 26 The Scottish
government unveiled its long-awaited vision for independence on
Tuesday, promising Scots they could forge their own prosperity
but keep the pound and the queen if they vote next year to end a
306-year-old union with England.
With separatists lagging in opinion polls, First Minister
Alex Salmond said an independent Scotland would take charge of
its own finances, raising taxes and spending revenues from North
Sea oil and gas reserves as it sees fit.
Launching a 670-page blueprint for independence, he said the
country would also run its own defence force, expelling nuclear
submarines from Scotland, while a new publicly funded
broadcaster would form a joint venture on content with the BBC.
But it would also seek to preserve major bonds with the
United Kingdom, including the British pound and the monarchy,
and remain a member of the European Union and NATO.
"We know we have the people, the skills and resources to
make Scotland a more successful country," Salmond told a news
conference at the Glasgow Science Centre on the bank of the
River Clyde, once home to a booming shipbuilding industry.
"Scotland's future in now in Scotland's hands."
The "landmark paper" was released 10 months before the
single vote on independence for Scotland's five million people,
and after a weekend opinion poll suggested the gap in support
between the 'Yes' and 'No' camps is narrowing.
The poll for the Sunday Times newspaper showed 38 percent of
Scots backed quitting the UK, with 47 percent opposing it and 15
percent undecided. With so many Scots yet to make up their
minds, pro-union leaders have warned against complacency.
The weighty prospectus immediately came under fire for being
big on political promises but short on detail, with important
elements needing approval from outside Scotland and no
alternatives given for if Scotland did not get its own way.
Salmond, feisty leader of the Scottish National Party, which
dominates the devolved Scottish parliament, has put economic
gains at the heart of his case for independence - to start on
March 24, 2016, the anniversary of the 1707 Act of Union.
He promised to cut corporation tax by up to 3 percentage
points to boost investment and industry and help create jobs.
"NOT IN SCOTLAND'S HANDS"
Salmond brushed off a report released by the UK Treasury on
Tuesday that said independence would cost Scottish taxpayers an
extra 1,000 pounds a year by the end of this decade, saying
there would be no need to raise taxes to fund current spending.
He also downplayed risks that the rest of the UK would
refuse to let Scotland share the pound, with the currency
becoming a major issue as the independence debate heats up.
Politicians from both sides had agreed that if Scotland
seceded, any joint assets and liabilities would be handled in
the interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK, Salmond said
-including the Bank of England and the pound.
"A sterling area is not just in the best interests of
Scotland but in the best interests of the rest of the UK," he
added, emphasising their strong trading relationship.
"There would be a massive hole in the sterling balance of
payments ... if Scottish oil and gas is not part of exports."
But the British government, which has toughened up its
language in recent weeks, said the SNP's plan to keep the pound
and retain the services of the Bank of England as part of a
"currency union" with the rest of the UK would not work.
"As the government has consistently said, in the event of
independence, a currency union is highly unlikely," said a
spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron after the launch.
Britain's three main UK-wide political parties have argued
against independence, saying Scotland would be worse off
economically on its own and unable to defend itself or project
power on the global stage as well as it can as part of the UK.
Pro-union campaigners were quick to point out the final
decision on whether Scotland keeps the pound was just one of
many plans in the report that were not in Scotland's control.
But Salmond dismissed suggestions that an independent
Scotland would struggle to join NATO if it removed the UK's
Trident nuclear deterrent from Scotland as planned by 2021, or
would be refused membership of the EU.
He said stopping spending "billions of dollars on weapons of
mass destruction" would free up funds for other spending,
pledging to extend free childcare to pre-school children and cut
an unpopular "bedroom tax" on those deemed to have spare rooms.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's deputy first minister, described
the document as "the most comprehensive and detailed blueprint
ever drawn up for a prospective independent country".
Scotland's bid for independence is being watched closely
internationally, particularly in Catalonia where 80 percent of
people favour a vote for independence from Spain.
But the UK's Scotland secretary Alistair Carmichael
described the paper as "a wish with no price list".
"The big day has finally arrived and we have 670 pages that
leaves us none the wiser on crucial questions such as currency,
pensions and the cost of independence," Carmichael said.