Cameron heads north, Salmond heads south and Mervyn’s living in the future

Ed Jacobs reports on Cameron's attempts to save the union, and Salmond's attempts to scupper it


The head to head battle over Scottish independence between David Cameron and Alex Salmond will begin in earnest today as the prime minister travels to Edinburgh to outline what he hopes to be seen as a positive case for Scotland remaining within the Union.

Previewing a speech he will give in the Scottish capital today, the Prime Minister today writes in the Scotsman:

“When we unite and help each other we are safer, richer and have a fairer society. We should not undo that…

“The fight is now under way for something really precious: the future of our United Kingdom. I am 100 per cent clear that I will fight with everything I have to keep our United Kingdom together.

“To me, this is not some issue of policy or strategy or calculation – it matters head, heart and soul. Our shared home is under threat and everyone who cares about it needs to speak out.

“My argument is not that Scotland couldn’t make a go of being on its own, if that’s what Scots decide. Of course Scotland could. They are plenty of small, independent nation states of a similar size or even smaller.

“There are arguments that can be made about the volatility of dependence on oil, or the problems of debt and a big banking system. But that’s not the point. The best case for the United Kingdom is entirely positive: We are better off together.

Turning his attention to the accusations meanwhile that intervention by a Conservative prime minister serves only to help the SNP’s cause, Cameron continued:

“A Conservative leader joining this debate is accused of everything from interference to irrelevance. I accept my party’s presence in Scotland is small. I know there are some who even argue we would do better politically without Scotland. My response to all these points is the same: I am not interested.

“This matters too much – to me personally, and to the future of our country. I’m not coming to Scotland today to make a case on behalf of my party, its interests or its approach to office. I am coming as the Prime Minister of the whole United Kingdom to stand up and speak out for what I believe in.

“The strengths that have served us within the United Kingdom through the centuries are precisely the ones we most need today. So let’s have this debate, set out the arguments – and settle the question.”

As the prime minister travels to Scotland to outline the benefits of Scotland remaining part of the union, Alex Salmond yesterday headed south, using a speech to the London School of Economics last night, to pledge to establish an oil fund in an independent Scotland, which he argued could be worth as much as £30 billion. Speaking to the BBC ahead of his speech Salmond argued:

“The only finance department that hasn’t done it really as a major oil and gas producer is the United Kingdom Treasury.

“If you look at every other, just about every other, major oil producing country – whether it’s Abu Dhabi, Norway, or the states of Canada – all of them have built up an investment fund for the future of their state or the future of their country.

“Westminster is the exception in this regard and I think most people looking at the management of oil and gas resources would rather follow the Norwegian example than follow the example of the Treasury in London.”

His remarks however met with short shrift from experts and political opponents alike, with Professor John McLaren, from Glasgow University’s Centre for Public Policy and the Regions responding by asking the question:

“The country has a £20bn deficit without oil. Why would you set up an oil fund when you are massively in debt?”

Scottish Labour’s shadow finance secretary, Ken McIntosh, argued:

If Scotland started an oil fund in the same year as Norway, the current balance would be zero, because we spend more on public services than we raise in tax. If Alex Salmond wants to change that, he needs to spell out what further cuts he is proposing because you can’t spend the same money twice.”

Meanwhile, as the SNP continue to maintain their policy of retaining the pound and the Bank of England as Scotland’s central bank, the Governor of the Bank, Mervyn King yesterday indicated that he would be saying more on the subject as the debate over independence develops. Speaking at yesterday’s press conference on the Bank’s quarterly inflation report he explained:

“I’m in no doubt that the debate about the possibility of Scottish independence is one that will feature significantly – the economic aspect, and in particular the currency aspect, lender of last resort and so on. Obviously that’s got not a lot to do with the February Inflation Report.

“It’s a very important question and I hope those issues will feature prominently in the debate, but I don’t want to say anything about it today. Those are things we can return to in the future.”

See also:

Polls apart? The news for the SNP might not be as good as it looksEd Jacobs, February 6th 2012

Scottish independence would leave Trident dead – and the MoD don’t careKate Hudson, February 1st 2012

The Week Outside Westminster – Answering the West Lothian questionEd Jacobs, January 21st 2012

Cameron got it wrong on Scotland, and he probably knows itEd Jacobs, January 10th 2012

SNP: Cam’s “economic uncertainty” argument is nonsense; we’ll stick to our timetableHumza Yousaf MSP, January 9th 2012

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