Scottish independence: Salmond invokes Bruce

ALEX Salmond has unveiled his own Declaration of Arbroath, seeking to “invoke the spirit of Robert the Bruce”, as he urged Scots to back independence.

First Minister Alex Salmond visits Abbey Bowling Club in Arbroath. Picture: Hemedia

Both sides in the campaign launched a push for votes as the countdown to the referendum reached its final month.

The First Minister unveiled his “Declaration of Opportunity” in the Angus town, echoing the 1320 pledge of Scottish independence, which he viewed on a visit to Arbroath Abbey.

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He pledged to end the “assault on the most vulnerable” through Westminster welfare cuts and to protect the NHS in Scotland, amid concerns over growing privatisation south of the Border.

But Prime Minister David Cameron branded the SNP leader a “desperate man” over his attempts to drag Scotland’s NHS into the independence debate, as it is fully controlled by Holyrood.

Voters go to the polls on 18 September, and the one-month countdown comes almost two years after Mr Salmond and Mr Cameron signed the Edinburgh Agreement, which paved the way for the referendum to be held.

Mr Salmond yesterday took his team of ministers to Arbroath for a Cabinet meeting. He had earlier viewed a copy of the Declaration of Arbroath, believed to have been penned in the abbey during the first Scottish war of independence, setting out Scotland’s sovereignty and resistance to “English rule”.

The First Minister said: “The Arbroath Declaration didn’t simply help to ensure Scotland’s survival as an independent nation. It said that the wider community of Scotland could choose a government to protect their interests.”

He said next month’s referendum would allow Scots to “take power off the hands of a Westminster elite and into the hands of the people of Scotland”. He went on: “So, here in Arbroath, I am setting out a Declaration of Opportunity. The first opportunity is the chance to protect our National Health Service. In Scotland, because we control health policy, we have been able to resist the Westminster privatisation drive. But we don’t control Scotland’s budget.

“So when the Tory-led Westminster government privatises services and cuts state provision, those cuts are passed directly on to Scotland. So the only guarantee – the only certain way of protecting our precious, publicly funded NHS – is independence.”

Mr Salmond said it would also mean the chance to create a “fairer Scotland, ending the assault on the most vulnerable members of our society,” including the spiralling use of food banks.

The First Minister said more than 70,000 Scots were leaving the country every year – more than half of them aged 16 to 34 – and he claimed independence could end this exodus and let young people scale their career heights in Scotland.

But Mr Cameron rounded on the SNP attempt to drag the NHS into the independence debate.

The UK government says healthcare funding hit £12 billion in 2014-15, up £138.1 million on the previous year.

The Prime Minister said: “Health is a devolved issue. The only person who could, if they wanted to, introduce more private provision into the NHS in Scotland is Alex Salmond.

“I think this is a desperate man recognising the argument is going away from him making a pretty desperate argument.

“Because of the protection on NHS spending that the UK government has given – that we would not cut NHS spending while we have had to make difficult decisions elsewhere – that has actually made sure under the Barnett formula that money is available for Scotland as well.”

Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, Neil Findlay, joined the attack, accusing the First Minister of “flat-out lying” to Scots over the NHS.

He said: “A No vote poses no threat to our NHS, which has been fully devolved since 1999. The biggest threat to our health service is the apathy of the current Scottish Government who are solely responsible for funding decisions on health. Under their watch, almost £400 million has been spent on private health care, which has gone up by 37 per cent.”

However, the Yes campaign is determined to place the NHS at the centre of the independence debate, as polling suggests it could be a big vote winner among women.

Health secretary Alex Neil will make a Holyrood statement on the issue this afternoon, and he insisted yesterday that only a Yes vote could protect the NHS’s “founding principles”.

He warned that the “very real” prospect of charging for services south of the Border would, by definition, replace public money with private money – meaning there would be a knock-on effect on Scotland’s budget.

He said: “The impact of the privatisation and cuts agenda of the Westminster government will have severe consequences in Scotland – and as the referendum approaches, people are waking up to this threat, and to the opportunity in the referendum for Scotland to chart a different course.

“With independence, we have the golden opportunity to enshrine Nye Bevan’s founding principles for our NHS in the written constitution for Scotland – publicly owned, clinically driven, and freely delivered equally for all – a guarantee that not only will the NHS be kept in public hands, but that the services that are free to access today will be free to access in the future.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie dismissed Mr Salmond’s attempts to stoke up Scotland’s wars of independence with his new Arbroath declaration, warning that it wouldn’t win any new votes for the nationalist cause.

“Invoking the spirit of Robert the Bruce and the Declaration of Arbroath is something that is likely to hit home with hard-line supporters of independence,” Mr Rennie said.

“But preaching to the Nationalist choir like this is a clear sign that he is losing the big arguments. Harking back to a very different world fails to address the needs of a modern, forward-looking nation. Partnership, not past divisions, is something that people in Scotland want.”

Mr Rennie added: “With one month to go until the referendum, the First Minister has given up on giving people the answers they need about what independence would mean for them. Instead, we are seeing photo opportunities heavy on historical symbolism but light on substance.”

The Scottish Government held a town hall meeting last night, where Mr Salmond made a speech before taking questions.

He told his audience: “Every single one of us will have the future of our country in our own hands. It’s not a decision which will be dictated by me or the media, politicians or the press, by campaign groups or coalition government; by the elites in Edinburgh or Westminster. We will all be equal, before the ballot box. True popular sovereignty will come to Scotland. This will be our moment – our time.”