SCOTTISH independence will open the door to greater political power for England’s great northern industrial cities, Alex Salmond said in a keynote speech in Liverpool.
And he said that the English will not want to “punish the Scots” in the event of a Yes vote in the referendum by adopting a hardline approach to “divorce talks”, such as stopping Scotland from sharing the pound.
The SNP leader yesterday made his last campaigning foray south of the Border before the vote in September and held out the prospect of greater political and business ties after a Yes vote.
But the First Minister came under fire from Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, who claimed to have more in common with Glaswegians through a shared working-class heritage than the SNP leader.
Speaking at Liverpool’s St George’s Hall as part of the International Festival for Business 2014, Mr Salmond said: “For northern England, for this city, Scottish independence offers a catalyst to secure real political power, to allow determination of the future, not the long wait for belated scraps from the Westminster table.
“Scotland is keen to establish closer links across these islands. The Scottish Government has a national economic forum which meets twice a year. It brings together government, business, the third sector, the wider public sector and the trade unions. We have promised that the first forum to be held after the referendum in September will focus on rebalancinng the economy, including co-operation with the north of England.
“We are inviting representatives from local authorities and business organisations in the north of England to participate.”
The prospect of a direct rail link between Scotland and Liverpool was also set out by Mr Salmond, who said talks are already under way with the UK government on the issue.
“Scottish Government officials are working closely with Merseyrail,” he said. “We are trying to persuade the Department for Transport that when the Transpennine Express services are refranchised in 2016, they include direct rail travel between Liverpool and Scotland.”
The Scottish Government has already embarked on initiatives for closer working with English councils and businesses in Cumbria and Northumberland.
An independent Scotland would act as an “economic counterweight to London and the south-east”, the First Minister said, suggesting that this would change the “economic centre of gravity of these islands”. Mr Salmond said: “Since 2007 London’s economy has grown approximately twice as fast as the rest of the UK’s. Nothing the UK government is belatedly proposing even comes close to addressing the scale of this problem.”
But his appeal met with short shrift from Liverpool mayor Mr Anderson, who was part of a Labour pro-Union group which gathered outside the hall where Mr Salmond was speaking.
Mr Anderson said: “People in Liverpool have more in common with, for instance, the people in Glasgow, than Alex Salmond does. We want the whole of Scotland, not just Glasgow, to stay connected with England.
“The debate should not be about taking powers from Westminster and giving them to Holyrood, but taking power from Westminster and giving them to cities, so cities can develop and do things for themselves.
“Alex Salmond’s message is losing traction because he’s not able to convince people that these are the right things for the regeneration of cities. It’s all a parochial attempt to create a debate of them against us, rather than what we can all do working together.”
He added: “I will be proud to stand with the No campaign as it visits Liverpool.”
The prospect of a messy split between Scotland and the UK if the UK government adopts a hardline approach over issues such as currency and debt, were also played down by Mr Salmond yesterday.
It follows claims this week by leading academic Professor Tony King that there will not be a “velvet divorce” between the countries, as each seeks to secure the best deal possible on contentious issues like the share of North Sea oil and national debt after a Yes vote.
Both the current Coalition Government and Labour opposition have ruled out the prospect of Scotland sharing the pound in a currency union with the UK after a Yes vote, although the SNP Government insist this will eventually be agreed.
Mr Salmond referred to the Adam Smith doctrine of nations acting in their “enlightened self interest” when it comes to the talks which would follow a Yes vote.
“People act in their best interests,” Mr Salmond said.
“It’s in the enlightened self interest of both Scotland and England to have a happy partnership after Scottish independence. It’s not in anyone’s interest to have the sort of relationship that Tony King suggests.
“He suggested it would be in the interest somehow of the Westminster Government and the people of England to sort of punish the Scots for their temerity - and then Scotland when it’s independent would find some reason to have a grievance against Westminster. That’s not how it’s going to work.”
He added: “I’m not saying there won’’t be negotiation or hard bargaining. What you see now is the smoke of battle and campaign rhetoric. Once decisions are made, people sit down and get on with it and they operate in enlightened self-interest.
“Any government in the UK which adopted that attitude would get short shrift from the population here. Why? Because it’s against the interests of business, it’s against the interest of the people. It’s against the democratic expression of people in Scotland.”
Mr Salmond told his audience there was no “grievance” among the people of England about the debate going on in Scotland.