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Scottish independence: Obama ‘asked to intervene’

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  • by SCOTT MACNAB
 

Barack Obama made his dramatic intervention in the Scottish independence debate last week after being asked to do so by Prime Minister David Cameron, it has been claimed.

The president said he wanted to see the UK remain “strong, robust and united” during a joint news conference with Mr Cameron at the G7 in Brussels last Friday. Yes campaigners said claims that Mr Cameron was involved showed the “growing desperation” of the pro-Union campaign.

Mr Obama’s comments were widely interpreted as an endorsement of Scotland remaining part of the UK.

They marked the most high- profile outside intervention in the constitutional debate so far.

According to reports yesterday, “a very senior source” in the Scottish Government claimed one of the president’s aides confirmed that Mr Obama’s comments followed a direct request from the UK government.

Nationalists have previously raised questions about the UK government lobbying foreign governments for support in the debate.

Last night they seized on the suggestion that Mr Cameron had instigated the presidential intervention.

First Minister Alex Salmond said: “We know that Downing Street, and David Cameron in particular, have been pleading with people internationally to say anything to help them. I would have thought that it is a sign of weakness that there is now this lobbying effort from Westminster.”

A spokesman for Yes Scotland added: “This rather betrays the No campaign’s growing desperation and worry that Yes is on the winning path.

“David Cameron repeatedly states that the decision about Scotland’s future is for the people of Scotland but now we know that he secretly pleaded for help from America to bolster his anti-independence stance.”

Most foreign political leaders have shied away from taking a stand on Scottish independence and politely intimated it was a matter for the Scots when asked.

Mr Obama told reporters last week that the outcome of the referendum is “up to the people of Scotland”.

But he added: “The United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner to us. From the outside at least, it looks like things have worked pretty well.

“And we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner.

“But ultimately these are decisions that are to be made by the folks there.”

No campaigners seized on the president’s comments as evidence that the UK is better off staying together.

However, the First Minister also responded to Mr Obama’s remarks last week by insisting independence would in fact give the US “two great friends” and make Scotland a land of opportunity.

The SNP leader admitted at the weekend that he was “surprised” that the US president had decided to get involved in the debate.

A spokesman for Mr Cameron declined to be drawn into claims that the UK government was behind Mr Obama’s comments.

“The president was asked a question and he answered it,” the spokesman said.

The SNP has previously demanded full disclosure on briefings undertaken by the UK government’s Scotland Office at embassies all over the world.

Scotland Office official Chris Flatt told MSPs at Holyrood earlier this year that he had briefed officials from dozens of embassies on Westminster’s position on independence, but did so on an “objective” basis.

The official went on to list the countries involved, stating: “I’ve had that conversation with Russian officials, American, Canadian, Belgian, Philippines, Kurdistan, Italians. I mean it goes on…”

When asked by MSPs on Holyrood’s European and external affairs committee to expand on what was discussed at the briefings, Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael intervened.

The Liberal Democrat minister later said: “This is one of my officials. He is answerable to me.”

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