Salmond Says Independent Scotland to Be Engaged EU Member

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said an independent Scotland would be a fully engaged member of the European Union, unlike the current U.K. government.

In a speech in the Belgian city of Bruges today, Salmond set out his vision for Scotland’s role in the EU in contrast to what he called “often sullen, disengaged voices” from the U.K. government of Prime Minister David Cameron that are “distorted by the dreams of an old empire.”

“Not being at the top table in Europe has harmed Scotland’s interests for four decades,” Salmond said, according to excerpts from the speech e-mailed by the Scottish government in Edinburgh. “Within the U.K., we are occasionally consulted. With independence, we would contribute as equals.”

Less than five months before a Sept. 18 referendum in Scotland on quitting the U.K. after 307 years of union, Salmond is taking his nationalist message outside the country. Last week, he sought to reassure people in the north of England that independence would be more beneficial than disruptive.

In a letter to Salmond, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said he should use the trip to the heart of the EU to clarify Scotland’s financial commitments on pensions and agriculture, and whether it could afford to lose current U.K. opt-outs such as not having to join the euro.

Cameron, whose Conservatives are being challenged by the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party, has pledged a referendum on Britain’s membership of the bloc by the end of 2017 if he wins next year’s general election.

18 Months

Salmond, whose Scottish National Party once campaigned on the platform “independence in Europe,” said that he expected to have to negotiate with other states on the specific terms of Scotland’s continuing EU membership. Talks would be completed within the 18-month timeframe in which he is planning to create the new sovereign state, he said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a February interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for Scotland to gain swift entry to the EU after leaving the U.K.

While voters in Scotland say they prefer the status quo over independence, a string of polls this month suggested public support for the U.K. government-backed campaign to preserve the U.K. was losing ground. A survey by ICM Research published in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper on April 20 showed support dropped to 42 percent from 46 percent, while the proportion of voters saying they would opt for independence was unchanged at 39 percent.

‘Over-Optimistic’

The independence debate intensified after the three main U.K. political parties united to say on Feb. 13 that they would block Salmond’s plan for a currency union with the rest of Britain. They also have said Scotland’s place in the EU was at risk, with the new sovereign state having to embark on lengthy renegotiations with the 28 member countries.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander will this week challenge the nationalists over their “over-optimistic assumptions” on North Sea oil revenue and how Scotland would pay for its aging population.

The speech in Edinburgh scheduled for April 30 follows a trip north by opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who led two days of events to campaign for the union at the weekend.

Labour, which holds a majority of the U.K. parliamentary seats in Scotland, has supported Cameron’s rejection of plans by the Scottish nationalists to share the pound should they win the vote and reinforced warnings on debt and the economy.

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