ALEX Salmond has unveiled plans to forge closer links with the north of England, claiming the area often feels more “ignored” by the government in Westminster than Scotland.
• Alex Salmond launches attack on Westminster’s EU in/out referendum as he promotes “interdependence” between Scotland and the rest of the UK and Europe
• First Minister concedes that independence could pose difficulties for north of England but talks up opportunities for partnership with region
• Scottish Secretary Michael Moore criticises Mr Salmond for not outlining reality of independence in Borders visit
Council chiefs on the southern side of the Border want to cash in on the boom they believe will follow independence and have signed a deal securing ties with Scotland in areas like economic and transport initiatives.
The First Minister says growing anger over the “imbalance” in the UK economy, where London and the south-east prosper at the expense of other areas, is behind the move.
But he faced accusations that he was ignoring the upheaval independence would mean for the lives of those in the Borders.
The remarks came as the SNP leader said Scotland would have a “bright and prosperous” future in the European Union (EU) after independence, insisting only an in-out referendum on UK membership as planned by Conservatives at Westminster threatens Scotland’s position.
He also claimed that, over the next six years, Scotland will lose out on £850 million in rural funding which it could have got as an independent EU member.
The plans for greater cross-Border co-operation were unveiled yesterday as the Scottish Cabinet visited Hawick as part of its summer tour.
The plan follows last month’s publication of the Borderlands report by councils in the north of England, which said that the prospect of Scottish independence was stimulating a mood of greater co-operation.
“Quite often, they feel not just neglected but totally ignored – but with no defence mechanism like we have now with our own parliament,” said Mr Salmond.
He added: “It’s quite important to have a look at why the north of England authorities are so interested. They postulate that increased autonomy or independence for Scotland is going to result in increased economic prosperity in Scotland.”
Scotland gaining control over air passenger duty, for example, would see it cut or abolished to encourage more long-haul flights direct from Scotland, instead of going through Heathrow, Mr Salmond said. But this has prompted fears in the north of England that it could lose out.
He added: “They have taken the view they can either see it as a huge challenge or a huge opportunity, because if there’s increased growth and prosperity in Scotland, we can associate with that in terms of the centre of gravity of economics within these islands.”
Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Northumberland and Cumbria and Carlisle City Councils are now to meet the Scottish Government to forge new alliances to improve business, tourism and transport links and opportunities.
But Scottish Secretary Michael Moore accused Mr Salmond of ignoring “shared priorities over trade, free movement of people, transport links, jobs or broadband connections”.
He added: “I am disappointed that the First Minister didn’t have the courage of his convictions to tell the people of Hawick what independence would mean for so many aspects of day-to-day life not just for those who live in the Borders but for those across the length and breadth of Scotland.”
Paul Watson, chair of the Association of North East Councils, which brings together the twelve authorities in the North East of England, said: “What the Borderlands report highlights is real scope for collaboration across borders at a time of heightened focus on new ways of working and a desire to deliver tangible economic and social benefits for our areas.”
Independent Scotland ‘could be split between power blocs’
ALEX Salmond’s plan for an independent Scotland to join the European Union and share the pound with London could collapse if the remainder of the UK opted to leave the EU, a leading academic has warned.
Fabian Zuleeg, the head of think-tank the European Policy Centre, said it was “difficult to envisage” how Scotland could straddle ties with both the UK and Brussels if they came into conflict.
He was speaking about the possibility that Scotland and the UK could form a “sterling zone” within the EU after next year’s vote – only for the UK then to leave Scotland and the EU’s 27 other member states behind. David Cameron has promised a referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the EU if he is returned to power after the 2015 general election.
Were the UK to leave, and an independent Scotland had joined the EU, it would face the prospect of being joined at the hip to two different power blocs. Dr Zuleeg said that, with commitments to two sets of rules, the legal complexity of which one took precedence made it “difficult to see how it would work”.
He added: “It is difficult to envisage such an arrangement, as a clash between two sets of rules could occur, creating legal uncertainty.”