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UK Politics

Scottish independence: Alex Salmond hits out at George Osborne over 'ill-informed' comments in row over keeping the pound

First Minister describes attacks by Westminster and Brussels as 'attempts to dictate from on high' what Scotland can and cannot do

Alex Salmond and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon mounted a joint salvage operation today to try and rescue two key planks of the Scottish independence campaign. 

Following sustained attacks by London and Brussels on the nationalists’ assurances that Scotland would retain the pound and be granted continuing EU membership, the First Minister said the “ill-informed” comments made by George Osborne in Edinburgh last week had “back-fired”.  He claimed it would impossible for the Treasury to sell  a “George tax” that would add £500m a year to English businesses in transaction costs with Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon,  speaking to the BBC just before Mr Salmond addressed a group of pro-independence business leaders in Aberdeen, rejected the warning on Sunday from the European Commission president, Jose Manuel  Barroso, that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to be granted EU membership.

The deputy first minister said no EU state had indicated they would veto Scotland as a full member. She insisted that such action was against the founding principles of the EU, and denied that EU membership would come with a linked demand that Scotland adopt the euro.

The stark question marks now hanging over an independent Scotland’s currency and whether or not it would be  left stuck in a long queue for EU membership are seen by the ‘Yes’ campaign as potentially damaging  issues than cannot be allowed to drift between now and the September 18 referendum.

Left with little choice but to go on the offensive, Mr Salmond described the attacks by Westminster and Brussels as “attempts to dictate from on high” what Scotland can and cannot do.

In response, he  hinted that the “Yes we can” slogan adopted by Barack Obama in the 2008 US presidential race, could soon be recycled in Scotland.

He told the Aberdeen audience that the chancellor had not offered an economic assessment of Scotland forming a currency union with England, but had instead indulged simply in a “campaign tactic”. He forecast that this would “differ greatly from the reality of life” once the referendum votes were counted.

The leader of the ‘No’ campaign, Alistair Darling, accused Mr Salmond of “pretending the last week [of attacks] never happened”.  The former chancellor said: “The wheels are now falling off the independence wagon” and added that Mr Salmond now had a duty to tell those voting on independence what would replace the pound.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said the SNP were now left advocating leaving the union without a precise political map and without a destination. He said it “beggars belief” that Mr Salmond  had  “no plan B” and was continuing to hide the uncertainty over the issue of  Scotland’s future currency.

Although Mr Salmond said he believed the EU would find a “pragmatic way” to accommodate Scotland’s membership  and that “democratic  logic” would prevail,  he offered no parallel optimism for the negotiations with the UK government that would follow a majority Yes vote in September.

In Aberdeen he repeated the threat that if Scotland was denied a share of the pound and the Bank of England, then there would no legal obligation for Scotland accepting a share of the UK’s  £1.25 trillion national debt.

Regardless of this threat, negotiations between Whitehall and Holyrood on the carve up of UK debt are still expected to dominate the immediate  18 month timeframe after a Yes campaign triumph. Ms Sturgeon also told the BBC that parallel talks with the EU, ending in Scotland joining the EU,  would also be concluded within  the same time period.

However Sir David Edward, a former judge of European Court of Justice between 1992 and 2004, has openly questioned such certainty.

Other legal advice to the UK government, which has been shared with Holyrood, has also expressed the difficulties of separation. 

Sir David said that in the 18 month period after September “there is no entity called Scotland that can negotiate with the EU” and that  it was “grossly optimistic” to suggest negotiations with Brussels could be concluded before March 2016.