Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond increased pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to share a public platform to debate the U.K.’s future as a poll showed more people are warming to independence for Scotland.
Salmond said that televised debates between Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party, an anti-European Union grouping that has little support in Scotland, showed it was time for Cameron to rise to his challenge. The debate could take place any time before the referendum on independence on Sept. 18, though he said bring it on, the sooner the better.
“There is surely no defense or argument against holding a debate between myself within the first party of Scotland and the prime minister leading the government of the United Kingdom,” Salmond said in an interview in New York on April 4. “If the prime minister still refuses to have this debate after his deputy has debated with Mr. Farage, then people will draw their own conclusions as to why his refusal stands.”
Salmond, 59, and his Scottish National Party government in Edinburgh have defied the weight of Britain’s main political parties to close the gap in opinion polls even after their plans for a currency union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the U.K. were rejected. Cameron told Scots his warnings over the pound and being denied automatic EU membership were statements of reality not threats.
Yet while polls show more Scots want to retain the 307-year-old U.K. than leave it, they also consistently show enough voters remain undecided to sway the referendum. The difference between those who say they will vote “Yes” and those for “No” narrowed to five percentage points in a survey published yesterday.
Panelbase found 41 percent in favor of independence, reported in the Sunday Times newspaper as a record, with 46 percent of respondents planning to vote against and 14 percent undecided, according to results on the pollster’s website. Numbers were rounded and the sample of 1,025 people was taken March 28-April 4. No margin of error was given.
“Our strategy is to keep doing what we’re doing,” Salmond said. “We keep pursuing a positive message. So we are campaigning on a platform of substance saying this is our message, what these powers can do for the betterment of the Scottish future. We hope the No campaign will continue to do what they’re doing -- a series of ridiculous scare stories.”
Salmond’s SNP took over running the semi-autonomous government in Edinburgh after winning Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2007 before going on to grab an unprecedented majority four years later and tabling the referendum.
Scotland’s constitutional future has since moved to the forefront of British politics, with the currency, North Sea oil revenue, EU membership and defense forming key areas of the debate. Salmond said the next stage of the pro-independence campaign will involve a series of town-hall meetings.
“We have been having many meetings a night with hundreds of people,” he said. “Of course in the new age of communications these meetings are now amplified thousands of times over because everybody immediately tweets.”
Speaking in New York during a trip to mark a week of Scotland-themed events in the city, Salmond ruled out the need to consider an alternative currency for an independent Scotland because the U.K. faces being saddled with more debt by continuing to refuse a currency union.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, backed by other British political parties, dismissed the idea of sharing the pound with the new state. Opponents of full autonomy for Scotland have said Salmond now needs a Plan B, such as joining the euro or setting up a new currency.
Osborne “doesn’t have the right to dismiss our right to sterling unless of course he’s prepared to say we’re taking the assets but we are also taking the liabilities,” Salmond said. “And he won’t say that because no sane person is going to take on another $180 billion of debt.”
Salmond reiterated his view that the position on the pound is a temporary negotiating position and a bluff.
“There is no way, no way on earth that the chancellor of the exchequer or the shadow chancellor would want to end up in that position,” said Salmond. “The problem is they’re sitting with a busted flush.”