Salmond ratchets up rhetoric amid doubts over currency and EU

Fight to sway undecided in Scotland’s independence vote is getting more aggressive

Alex Salmond: London has “misread the nature of Scotland and the character of the Scottish people”. Photograph: Getty Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Alex Salmond: London has “misread the nature of Scotland and the character of the Scottish people”. Photograph: Getty Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images


The BBC series The Great British Bake-Off has been accused of many things, but even its detractors would not see it as part of perfidious Albion’s campaign to keep the Scots downtrodden.

Last weekend, however, it featured in a list created by pro-independence campaigners, who have long argued that the BBC is playing on the side of those who want to see the United Kingdom remaining intact. The BBC, argued website Newsnet Scotland, produced just 25 programmes with the words “British” or “Britain” in their title in the year before the Scottish National Party took power in 2011, but it made 516 of them in the year from January 2013.

The figures would “fuel speculation” that the BBC was “trying to subliminally promote the idea of ‘Britishness’ in the run-up” to the September 18th referendum on Scottish independence, it said, pointing to The Great British Bake-Off ’s prominent display of the
Union flag.

Sterling and European Union
The accusations are illustrative. With seven months to go, the temperature in the referendum battle has suddenly escalated following a series of confrontations over Scotland’s right to use sterling; and its ability to be part of the EU.

In Aberdeen yesterday, Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, ridiculed the declaration supported by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats that Scotland could not be part of a currency union with the rest of the UK.

Warning that attempts by London-based politicians to “dictate from on high” would backfire, he declared they had “badly misread the nature of Scotland and the character of the Scottish people”.

So far, the campaign led by the Scottish National Party has struggled on bread-and-butter issues: the currency, EU membership, and the impact that independence could have on pensions and benefits.

A 600-page White Paper was supposed to answer the doubters. It did not, leading Salmond’s enemies to argue that the Yes campaign cannot answer the questions because no answers exist – a charge strongly rejected.

For months, the anti-independence argument has struggled, partly because the very nature of the campaign requires it to counter proposals put forward by those favouring independence, so it inevitably sounds as if it is carping.

Equally, the pro-union “Better Together” campaign is not as active as its “Yes, Scotland” opponent – which includes people whose life’s ambition is wrapped up in the outcome of the referendum.

Earlier this month, British prime minister David Cameron tried love, saying the rest of the UK would be seriously “diminished” if the Scots quit. Chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne then played hardball, ruling out sterling being available to the Scots if they go.

In essence, Salmond is arguing a currency union with the rest of the UK could work, even though Scotland would not have to get the agreement of the others for its tax or spending plans. That argument was holed, if in diplomatic terms, by the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who pointed out the euro zone came a cropper precisely because it did not set down agreed fiscal rules from the off.

So far, his speech has had less impact than some thought it would: 55 per cent of those questioned by polling company Survation said the currency issue made no difference; one-fifth said it made them less likely to back independence: and 16 per cent said it would have the opposite effect.

On Sunday, the SNP once more reacted in fury after European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said it would “be extremely difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to become part of the EU.

The SNP has form. In December, it launched a vitriolic campaign against the Scotsman after the paper accurately reported Barroso’s belief an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership.

Scotland would not be at risk of not becoming a member of the EU because it would never leave, the SNP argues, since its membership terms would be decided after the referendum vote, but before independence would begin in 2016.

Contagion fears
The argument has merit. Equally, the SNP insists the EU has done nothing other than expand since the first of the treaties that led to its creation was established nearly 60 years ago. Such is true, but this is not about expansion. The SNP refuses to acknowledge that there are other EU countries that would fear the impact of Scottish independence on secessionist movements in their countries. And those fears do exist.

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