Independent Scotland would remain in EU, says leader

Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, told a business crowd Monday that he believes an independent Scotland could retain the British currency and join the European Union.

Alex Salmond derides British chancellor's reluctance to share use of pound

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond attends the opening day of salmon fishing season on the river Tay at Dunkeld in Scotland Jan. 15. In a speech Monday he struck back at critics in Britain and the EU who dismissed plans for an independent Scotland that uses the British pound. (Russell Cheyne/Reuters)

Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, told a business crowd Monday that he believes an independent Scotland could retain the British currency and join the European Union.

He downplayed remarks from European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on Sunday that it would be difficult for an independent Scotland to gain EU membership.

And he criticized British Chancellor George Osborne, who said last week that "if Scotland walks away from the U.K., it walks away from the pound."

All three leaders of U.K. political parties have backed Osborne's contention that Britain wouldn't share the pound. Osborne also said an independent Scotland would be given no opportunity to walk away from its share of the U.K.’s national debt.

Salmond defends plan for currency

Salmond defended the plan to retain the pound, saying the currency belongs as much to Scotland as the rest of the U.K.

"No one with a semblance of understanding of Scottish history and, indeed, the Scottish character would have made a speech such as the one the chancellor delivered last week," Salmond said in his speech Monday.

"To be told that we have no rights to assets jointly built up is as insulting as it is demeaning. To be told there are things we can't do will certainly elicit a Scottish response that is as resolute as it is uncomfortable to the 'No' campaign. It is 'Yes, we can.'"

The Scottish National Party leader called Osborne’s remarks a campaign tactic and said British businesses would pay a price if Scotland does not adopt the pound.

He said no British politician would be able to "sell to English business" the idea that they might be charged "for the privilege of exporting goods to Scotland."

A British Treasury analysis published last week concluded that such a currency deal would be difficult for both countries, pointing to the travails of the euro. It also would mean British taxpayers having to underwrite Scotland’s banks.

Barroso says not so easy to get into EU

Barroso waded into the debate Sunday, telling the BBC that an independent Scotland would have to apply for membership in the EU and get the approval of all current member states.

"In case there is a new country, a new state, coming out of a current member state, it will have to apply," he said.

He compared Scotland’s status to Kosovo, which is not recognized by a number of EU states, saying it would be "difficult, but not impossible" to get EU membership.

Salmond dismissed the comparison, though he agreed the decisions was up to member states.

"Now, the decision is one for member states. But not to recognize the democratic will of Scotland would run counter to the entire European Union ideal of democratic expression and inclusion," he said.

"It would pose a challenge to the integrity of the European Union even greater and more fundamental than the threat of British withdrawal. That is why, of course, no member state has suggested that it would seek to block Scottish membership."

Salmond says the EU needs Scottish business as much as Scotland needs the EU.

Scottish residents are scheduled to vote in a referendum on independence on Sept. 18.

At this point, polls show they are leaning to the "No" side in the question over dissolving their 307-year-old union with England. Polls show a lead of eight percentage points or more for the"No" side.

Yet the vote could go either way, as more than one third of the four million voters say they are undecided.

Salmond said tactics such as the remarks from Barrosso and Osborne are likely to push more Scots to support independence.

With files from Reuters


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