Cameron will fight to keep UK intact

2012-02-16 22:09

Edinburgh - Prime Minister David Cameron vowed in a speech in the Scottish capital on Thursday to fight to keep the United Kingdom intact as Scotland's leaders push for a referendum on independence in 2014.

In an impassioned address made against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, the British leader said he believed with his "head, heart and soul" that the 300-year-old union should remain whole.

"I believe in the United Kingdom, I am a Unionist head, heart and soul. I believe that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are stronger together than they would ever be apart," he said.

Cameron said it would be "deeply, deeply sad" if Scotland broke away, adding: "I'm ready to fight for the life of this country."

He also offered to consider allowing Scotland to have more powers if Scots vote against independence.

The United Kingdom was stronger "because Scotland's five million people are part of an economy of 60 million with no boundaries, borders or customs," he said.

He also suggested breaking away would have implications for the UK's membership of the European Union and Nato.

Cameron was speaking ahead of his first talks about the referendum with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which strongly supports independence.

Cameron irrelevant

But in a sign of the divisions between the two leaders, Salmond rejected Cameron's arguments as "threadbare" and said many of the British premier's arguments were irrelevant to most Scots.

The Scottish and UK governments disagree on a number of referendum issues, including who has the legal authority to organise a vote.

The Edinburgh government is open to including a second question on the ballot paper, asking people if they want more powers for the Scottish parliament but stopping short of independence, but London opposes this.

In his speech, Cameron conceded that Scotland could go it alone.

"I'm not going to stand here and suggest Scotland couldn't make a go of being on its own, if that's what people decide," he said.

"There are plenty of small, independent nation states of a similar size or even smaller.

"Scotland could make its way alongside countries like these."

But he said his argument was simple - while Scotland could govern itself, it was stronger and more able to face the challenges of the future as part of the UK.

He challenged Scots: "Could you explain to someone in America, or France, or Australia what was so intolerable about Great Britain that we decided to build artificial barriers between our nations?

Fairer society

"I don't believe that the people of Scotland, any more than the people of any other part of the United Kingdom, want to turn inward and away from each other at this time."

Cameron also repeated his calls that the referendum should be held as soon as possible because the uncertainty was damaging for the economy. The SNP wants to hold the vote in the final quarter of 2014.

Salmond laid out his arguments in a speech in London on Wednesday, saying independence was the key to Scotland's future economic growth.

He said the "critical measures" required to boost the economy "and build a fairer society" can only be taken "when we have full financial control resting in Edinburgh rather than at Westminster".

Opinion polls show that only a third of Scots currently back independence.

Salmond has pushed for a referendum since 2010, when the SNP won the first majority in the Edinburgh parliament since the assembly was formed in 1999.

The Scottish government already has powers over some policy areas, but defence and foreign affairs remain under London's control.

Read more on:    alex salmond  |  david cameron  |  uk  |  scottish independence
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