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Scottish independence: Salmond’s new debate demand

David Cameron and Alex Salmond at the signing of the referendum agreement in October 2012. Picture: Ian Georgeson

David Cameron and Alex Salmond at the signing of the referendum agreement in October 2012. Picture: Ian Georgeson

  • by DAVID MADDOX
 

FIRST Minister Alex Salmond has renewed his demand for a televised debate with David Cameron, saying the case is “unanswerable”.

After he was snubbed by the Prime Minister last week, the SNP First Minister has angrily reacted to the suggestion that he should instead go head-to-head with former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, who chairs the cross-party Better Together campaign.

Mr Cameron told him last week that he “does not get to choose the other side’s captain” and argued that the referendum was not a Westminster versus Holyrood issue but one between Mr Salmond and Scotland.

But in a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Salmond argued that the claims made by Mr Cameron over key referendum issues such as the currency and defence undermined his argument to stay out of the debates.

Mr Salmond said people in Scotland expected a direct debate between the leaders of the two governments and suggested that Mr Darling should instead debate with former Falkirk MP Dennis Canavan, who chairs Yes Scotland.

In his latest challenge to Mr Cameron, Mr Salmond wrote: “Your arguments for not debating Scotland’s future are undermined by the highly political nature of your letter.

“You are attempting to place yourself in the position of trying to dictate the terms of the debate on Scotland’s future without being willing to publicly defend your arguments in debate. You seek power without responsibility and that is unacceptable.”

Mr Salmond argued that, as the principle signatories of the Edinburgh Agreement, he and Mr Cameron should debate the future of Scotland.

Mr Salmond went on: “The government which you lead is central to the entire referendum debate from the perspective of the No campaign. The reality is your government continues to make decisions affecting Scotland, such as the implementation of the bedroom tax and the deeply unpopular privatisation of the Royal Mail, despite the fact an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland didn’t vote for the Conservative Party. The fundamental argument at the heart of the case for independence is that decisions affecting Scotland should be taken by those who choose to work and live here. Your argument is that many should be taken at Westminster.”

Mr Salmond also alleged that senior Tories want to cut Scotland’s funding by changing the Barnett Formula.

He said: “This is deeply concerning and I believe that a debate on such a crucial issue should take place so you can spell out your government’s plans to cut public spending in Scotland in the event there is a No vote.”

Mr Salmond said that a TV debate would give Mr Cameron the opportunity to set out what further powers could be devolved to Scotland.

The challenge from the First Minister came as a senior UK government source suggested that Holyrood could end up with control over housing benefit, allowing it to tackle the bedroom tax, which has become a key referendum issue.

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron yesterday made it clear he is willing to take part in general election TV debates but wants the 2010 format to be tweaked.

“I want the debates to take place,” he said. “They were good in the last election.”

But he added: “I thought they took up too much of the campaign, so I think we could start them a bit earlier.”

The letter

Dear David,

I write in response to your letter of 26 September in which you say that you are unwilling to debate the future of Scotland with me.

The government which you lead is central to the entire referendum debate from the perspective of the No campaign. The reality is your government continues to make decisions affecting Scotland … despite the fact an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland didn’t vote for the Conservative Party. The fundamental argument at the heart of the case for independence is that decisions affecting Scotland should be taken by those who choose to work and live here. Your argument is that many should be taken at Westminster.

There is worrying evidence that under the current constitutional arrangements your government intends to cut spending in Scotland. Senior Tory figures, including Ruth Davidson, have called for the current Barnett Formula to be abolished. I believe that a debate on such a crucial issue should take place so you can spell out your government’s plans to cut public spending in Scotland in the event there is a No vote.

You suggested in Scotland last year that you had an alternative constitutional position to independence. People have the right to know what it is before the referendum takes place.

Finally, you suggest I should debate with the chairman of the No campaign Alistair Darling. I’m sure that other debates will take place in due course but for the reasons I have made clear the key debate has to be between the head of the Scottish Government – the First Minister of Scotland – and the head of the Westminster government – the Prime Minister.

The case for a head-to-head debate between us is unanswerable. You should reconsider.

ELSEWHERE

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