By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON, March 4 Scottish leader Alex Salmond
called on all Britons on Tuesday to back his campaign for an
independent Scotland to help create a northern economic
counterweight to stop London from sucking the life out of the
rest of the country.
In his first speech in London this year, Salmond said life
in the United Kingdom had become increasingly unbalanced with
regional centres suffering as London dominated the economic
landscape and rising numbers of people relying on food handouts.
Salmond is battling a concerted effort by London to prevent
a "yes" vote at a Sept. 18 referendum by undermining his
Scottish National Party's central case that oil-producing
Scotland could be a prosperous nation.
In an appeal to Britons, Salmond said there was a growing
realisation that wealth and opportunities were too concentrated
geographically and socially and an independent Scotland could
help by building its economy and keeping strong ties in the UK.
"After Scottish independence, the growth of a strong
economic power in the north of these islands would benefit
everyone - our closest neighbours in the north of England more
than anyone," Salmond told a packed New Statesman event in a
hall in Westminster, the heart of UK politics.
"There would be a 'Northern Light' to redress the influence
of the 'dark star' - rebalancing the economic centre of gravity
of these islands."
The debate over independence has focused largely on the
financial impact of Scotland ending a 307-year tie to England
although both sides have started to make more emotional appeals
as opinion polls show the trailing nationalists gaining ground.
An Ipsos-Mori poll this week showed 32 percent support for
independence, 57 percent against and 11 percent undecided.
British Prime Minister David Cameron last month in a speech
dubbed a "love-bombing" urged residents of England, Wales and
Northern Ireland to lean on Scottish friends and family to stick
with the UK as they were best and strongest together.
Salmond used his London platform to stress that Scotland,
with 8 percent of the UK's population and 9.5 percent of its
GDP, could be a prosperous, independent country but it would
still retain close ties with the rest of the United Kingdom.
He wants Scotland to keep the pound in a currency union with
the rest of the UK, continue to have Queen Elizabeth as monarch,
and retain its membership of the European Union.
"Scotland will not be a foreign country after independence,
any more than Ireland, Northern Ireland, England or Wales could
ever be foreign countries to Scotland," said Salmond, sporting a
tie with small motifs of Scotland's white-and-blue Saltire flag.
"We share ties of family and friendship, trade and commerce,
history and culture, which have never depended on a parliament
here at Westminster, and will endure and flourish long after
But a row over Scotland using the pound has taken centre
stage in the escalating debate, with the three main UK parties
joining forces to rule out a currency union, saying if Scotland
walks away from the UK, it walks away from the pound.
Salmond has refused to outline a Plan B, accusing the UK
government of bluffing, but this has led to some financial
heavyweights such as Standard Life and Royal Bank of
Scotland voicing concerns about uncertainties over the
currency, regulation and tax in the event of independence.
By contrast, the heads of airlines British Airways
and Ryanair say independence would be good for business
as Scotland would cut air passenger tax.
Despite lagging in polls, Salmond said he believed a "yes"
vote was possible, refusing to speculate otherwise and
predicting Scots who did not usually vote would show up.
"This referendum is not about politicians ... the best
people to make decisions about Scotland's future are the people
who live and work in Scotland," Salmond said.