English 'free of Scots MPs with independence'

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AN INDEPENDENT Scotland would free the people of England from being "bossed around" by Scottish MPs, Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, said yesterday.

Using an interview on the BBC's Today show to take the independence argument to a UK audience, Mr Salmond dismissed as "ridiculous" fears over separate currency, passports and border controls.

He said: "I think a lot of people in England can see the advantages of being able to decide on things like foundation hospitals or top-up fees without being bossed around by Scottish Labour MPs, who seem intent on forcing unwanted policies down the throats of the people of England."

However, David Cairns, the Scotland Officer minister, said the argument was "palpable nonsense". And he asked: "Why does Salmond want to turn Scotland's biggest market into our chief competitor?"

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said it was useful for Mr Salmond to win the "hearts and minds" of people in England, so Westminster is less likely to stand in the way of independence.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, council tax returned as the main election issue, with the SNP launching a poll claiming 70 per cent of people support replacing the levy with a local income tax.

Mr Salmond claimed general taxpayers on low and middle incomes would benefit, on average, by between 260 to 350 a year on local income tax; a single pensioner would on average be 300 a year better off, while pensioner couples would save an average of 540.

Mr Salmond admitted it might take an SNP government up to four years to bring in legislation for the tax reforms, but he said the SNP intended to freeze council tax bills "at their current rates" until that time.

Jack McConnell, the First Minister, said SNP plans for a local tax were just part of an economic policy "full of holes" that would increase bills for households.