ALEX Salmond has said Scotland would still be part of the United Kingdom even after independence, in an effort to allay mounting criticism of his proposed question for the independence referendum.
Critics accused the First Minister of attempting to “muddy and confuse” the referendum debate in a “desperate” move to reassure voters that little would change after breaking away from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Mr Salmond’s comments came as Civic Scotland chiefs prepared to launch a campaign today urging politicians to end the “political boxing match” over the referendum and start discussing issues that matter to ordinary Scots.
The First Minister yesterday defended the question the SNP plans to ask Scots in 2014 after critics argued the wording – “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” – is skewed in favour of securing a positive response.
Mr Salmond insisted a different wording that asked voters if they want to leave the UK would “confuse the issue” because the country would retain the Queen as head of state after breaking the political union.
He said: “It is SNP policy to have the Queen as our head of state.
“That union, that United Kingdom if you like, would be maintained after Scottish political independence.
“I think that’s a real stumbling block about putting forward a question of the United Kingdom.”
Asked whether that meant Scotland could still be regarded as being in the UK after independence, Mr Salmond said: “I don’t think it’s a very good idea to confuse the issue by talking about united kingdoms when what we’re talking about is political independence.”
The Scottish and English crowns were united in 1603 by James VI of Scotland. Political union followed in 1707.
Labour’s Anas Sarwar said yesterday: “It is utterly ridiculous to suggest that Scotland would remain part of the United Kingdom if Scotland was to vote for separation.
“The Queen is head of state in countries around the world, but that doesn’t make them part of the United Kingdom. It would be like the Bahamas, Barbados or Belize suddenly waking tomorrow and claiming to be part of the United Kingdom.
“It is just daft.
“Alex Salmond seems determined to muddy and confuse what separation actually means, in a desperate attempt to kid people that nothing would change, but I am confident Scots will see through his fanciful claims.”
Mr Salmond unveiled his proposed question at the launch of the Scottish Government consultation on the referendum last Wednesday.
A spokesman for Mr Salmond issued a statement after his comments yesterday insisting Scotland and England would have a “relationship of equals” after independence.
“People understand that we are putting forward a proposition where we will continue to share a currency and a head of state, but with Scotland as an independent country, standing on our own two feet and making our own way in the world,” he said.
“In other words, a continuation of the social union.”
As well as setting a straight Yes-No question on independence, the door has been left open to another option for maximum devolved powers within the Union.
The “devo-max” option is to be considered as part of a wider look at the constitution in an independent campaign being launched by civic bodies today.
Martin Sime of the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said the coalition would be trying to “open out” the debate.
“We’ve found widespread support from amongst non-government organisations of all kinds, including business leaders and faith groups and student organisations,” Mr Sime said yesterday.
“We’re quite resolute that the debate needs opened up, rather than closed down, so we’re opposed to the proposition that there should be a decision to simply go forward with a Yes/No question.
“It seems incredible to me that we might spend the next two-and-a-half years taking about independence, but not talking about devolution. That just doesn’t seem to make sense.”
Mr Sime said the debate about the future of Scotland should be about the “challenges and aspirations that people have in their own lives – rather than just being a political boxing match”.
And Mr Salmond insisted the door remains open to a second referendum question for Holyrood – despite this being ruled out by sources close to Prime Minister David Cameron over the weekend.
He said: “What I would advise the Prime Minister to do is this: it’s to do what I’m going to do. Listen to the voices of civic Scotland that come forward to see if there’s a real demand for having a question on fiscal autonomy, on financial powers, on the ballot paper. If that demand is there I think it would only be inclusive and democratic to allow that voice to be heard.”
Mr Salmond said any vote on maximum financial powers would not need the endorsement of English voters.
But Labour again stepped up calls for the Electoral Commission to oversee the wording of the question.
Mr Sarwar said: “Every day brings another expert warning that the wording is flawed, and yet the SNP seems unwilling to listen.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said Mr Salmond is trying to offer “false hope” to those who want greater powers within the Union.
Mr Rennie again warned that a multi-option referendum might become mired in confusion if a slim majority backed independence but a huge majority backed more devolution. The SNP administration has said any majority for independence would take precedence.
Mr Rennie added: “This is not fair, it is not democratic and it is an insult to the majority of Scots who favour more powers.”
Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday rejected claims that SNP plans to keep the pound after independence meant Scotland would not have fiscal independence.
She said: “What Scotland lacks just now is the fiscal independence that we need, for example to lower corporation tax, to get our economy growing.
“With independence we get those levers of control and they are really important.
“We’re talking about this from a Scottish perspective, but there are real advantages for the rest of the UK in us remaining within a currency union.
“If you take our oil and gas revenues, for example. The revenues would go to an independent Scottish Government, but about £30 billion of export value would support sterling in terms of the balance of payments.”