Scots independence campaign begins as watchdog enters fray

30th May 2014, Comments 0 comments

Regulated campaigning for and against Scottish independence began on Friday four months before the referendum, against a backdrop of disputed economic claims.

British finance minister George Osborne said the 300-year-old union between England and Scotland was worth £1,400 (1,720 euros, $2,350) for every Scot, while the bosses of home improvement chain B&Q and drinks firm Diageo warned of the negative impact independence could have on business.

Activists on both sides of the debate have ramped up their rhetoric in recent days with only 16 weeks to go until the historic vote on Sept 18.

Remaining campaign time will now be governed by Electoral Commission rules, which sets a £1.5 million spending limit for both camps -- "Yes Scotland" and the unionist "Better Together" -- and allows access to benefits, including free delivery of campaign material to voters and referendum broadcasts.

Any donations over £7,500 will also now have to be reported for publication over the summer.

Yes Scotland kicked off formal campaigning with an attack on what it sees as unionist fear-mongering.

"As we move into the formal phase of the campaign, more and more people are tuning into the debate," said Yes Scotland Chief Executive Blair Jenkins said.

"The 'No' narrative is about sowing doubt and fear and blunting confidence in our country and communities. Their only hope is fear."

In an article published on the Treasury, or British finance ministry, website, Osborne said he agreed with independence campaigners that Scotland was a wealthy country, but said this was because of its place in the United Kingdom.

"As part of the UK, Scotland's finances are much stronger... The Treasury calculates that every year this is worth £1,400 for every person in Scotland," he said.

Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, which controls the devolved Scottish government and is the main driver behind the independence campaign, has rubbished the claim as a "bogus bonus" and said Scotland could be five billion pounds better off post-independence.

B&Q boss Ian Cheshire on Friday became the latest business leader to warn that a 'Yes' vote would "pause" his company's business plans in Scotland as the firm waits to clarify issues relating to tax, exports and currency.

"As a business, through our lens, it is clearly better to be part of the UK," he said.

Meanwhile, Diageo, the world's biggest producer of Scotch whiskey, told the Wall Street Journal it was "extremely important" for the firm that Scotland remain part of the European Union -- an outcome that would not be completely certain under independence, at least in the short-term.

Yes Scotland was not immediately available to comment on the issues raised by Diageo and B&Q.

Pro-independence campaigners in the past have expressed their certainty that an independent Scotland would be part of the EU and economically more competitive.


© 2014 AFP

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