Alex Salmond launched the campaign for Scottish independence yesterday, telling nationalists to collect the signatures of one million Scots to ensure victory in the 2014 referendum.
But the No campaign immediately hit back, warning that thousands of civil servants based in Scotland could lose their jobs if the country votes to leave the Union. More than 30,000 officials work for the UK Government. "We wouldn't keep them in a foreign country," one minister told The Independent.
The UK government staff include 9,800 at HM Revenue & Customs, 9,000 at the Department of Work and Pensions and 5,300 at the Ministry of Defence. In total they dwarf the 17,000 employed by the Scottish Government.
The pro-independence campaign will accuse opponents of scaremongering, saying that many of the posts would transfer to the Edinburgh-based Government in the event of a Yes vote. But one UK Government source insisted: "This is something that the SNP does not want to talk about. People should talk about it because, if Scotland became independent, then many civil service jobs would go."
The possible threat to jobs will form part of a cross-party anti-independence campaign to be launched shortly. Its leaders will include the former Chancellor Alistair Darling. Mr Salmond issued his challenge at a glitzy launch in Edinburgh, which included music, poetry, a message of support from Sir Sean Connery and stirring contributions from the actors Alan Cumming and Brian Cox.
The songwriter Dougie Mclean gave an emotional rendition of the unofficial nationalist anthem, Caledonia, and Scotland's national poet, Liz Lochhead, raised passions by reciting a speech from one of her plays – Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off.
Observers expressed surprise afterwards at the political tone. Instead of going for the centre ground, where many political analysts think the referendum will be won, yesterday's launch took the movement to the left.
In the absence of any speakers to represent business or enterprise, the audience was treated to declarations of old-fashioned socialist solidarity from the former Labour MP Dennis Canavan and former trade union shop-steward Tommy Brennan. The Scottish First Minister has been criticised for launching the Yes for Independence campaign so early – the referendum is likely to be held on 18 October 2014. But he has given his activists the long lead-in time to collect as many backers as possible for the cause.
The Yes Declaration is modelled partly on the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, which announced Scottish independence, and partly on the American Declaration of Independence of 1776.
The Declaration states that Scotland's future should be decided by Scots and supports the concept that Scotland should "speak with her own voice". Mr Salmond told activists that they would win the referendum if they managed to get a million Scots to sign the declaration.
He added: "We unite behind a declaration of self-evident truth. The people who live in Scotland are best placed to make the decisions that affect Scotland. We want a Scotland that's greener, fairer and more prosperous. We realise that the power of an independent Scotland is necessary to achieve these great ends."
Mr Salmond was cheered when he declared that an independent Scotland would be free of nuclear weapons, and he gave an indication of where he thought the campaign would be won by praising his party's "community of activists and online wizardry".
Mr Cumming, a Scottish-born actor who has become a Hollywood star, told the invited audience at the Edinburgh multiplex cinema where the event was held that Scotland had "blossomed" since devolution. The pro-independence movement has £2m to spend. Some of this will be spent by activists as they attempt to spread the Yes Declaration throughout the country but some of it was obviously spent on yesterday's launch – with its slick videos, chauffeur-driven limousines for the main stars, and the sort of professional razzmatazz that the SNP does so well now.
Colin and Chris Weir
Won £161m on Euromillions in 2011. Gave £1m to the Yes campaign.
Scotland's Makar – national poet – before his death in 2010. Left almost £1m to the Yes campaign in his will.
SNP leaders have already started a fund-raising drive of the party's 20,000 members which is expected to bring in another £500,000.
Other big donors
The SNP have benefited from big donations, notably from bus tycoon Brian Souter who gave the party £570,000.