UKIP leader Nigel Farage has challenged First Minister Alex Salmond to a televised debate ahead of the independence referendum.
Following recent successes in televised debates on the UK’s future in Europe with Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Mr Farage told The Scotsman that “real independence” is from the European Union, rather than the UK.
He said he is the best placed of the pro-UK leaders to take on Mr Salmond over an independent Scotland’s place in Europe.
Mr Farage said: “The other pro-UK parties have dropped the ball on this because they all want us to stay in the EU as well.
“But Alex Salmond is not offering true independence. Most of our laws and regulations now come from the EU.”
Mr Farage called for a televised debate with the First Minister to take place before next month’s European elections.
He said: “I want to challenge Alex Salmond to a debate. It should happen during the European elections, but it absolutely must happen before the referendum so that Scottish voters can get all the facts.” Mr Farage has said Scotland should hold a referendum on whether to remain in the EU if the country votes to leave the UK in September.
He said he intends to return to Scotland in the first week of May for the European elections campaign. On a previous visit to the country, he had to leave a press conference in an Edinburgh pub after the building was besieged by opponents.
Mr Farage said “euroscepticism is strong in Scotland”, although he admitted that it is “still not as high as it is in England and nowhere near what it is in Northern Ireland”.
He added: “I am confident that we will win a European seat in Scotland in this year’s election and I think that once the referendum is out of the way then we will win even more support.
“Our internal polling shows that euroscepticism is at 40 per cent in Scotland and it is increasing.”
He said that it was “unacceptable” that the SNP policy in the independence white paper was for Scotland to become a new EU member without offering the people of Scotland a referendum on membership.
Many observers believe Scotland will have to renegotiate its way back into the EU and its terms as a new member state. The UK government has claimed that Scotland would lose its share of the UK rebate.
Mr Farage, who has said he wants Scotland to remain in the UK but backs more devolution, said that, whatever the conditions, Scotland cannot offer true independence unless it is out of the EU as well.
A spokeswoman for the SNP, which is pressing for a televised debate between Mr Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron, dismissed Mr Farage’s challenge, describing Ukip as “an irrelevance in Scotland”.
The spokeswoman added: “Ukip support a No vote in September’s referendum, and one of the reasons why a Yes vote is essential is so that Scotland does not risk getting dragged out of the European Union against our will in a Westminster in/out referendum.”