Scotland ready to make history: independence leader

11th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

Scotland's pro-independence leader Alex Salmond said the "eyes of the world" were on a momentous referendum next week that could break a 307-year-old union with England.

Salmond said the September 18 vote would be "a process of national empowerment", as new figures came out showing a record 4.3 million people had registered to vote -- higher than for any previous elections in Scotland.

"Scotland is on the cusp of making history. The eyes of the world are upon Scotland," Salmond said in Edinburgh, a day after British Prime Minister David Cameron also visited the Scottish capital to plead for the preservation of "a family of nations".

"Scotland will vote 'Yes' next Thursday because last-minute... promises from the 'No' campaign will not fool anyone," said First Minister Salmond, who heads up Scotland's current devolved government.

"As a country we are rediscovering self-confidence, as a nation we are finding our voice.... On September 18, we the people hold our destiny in our own hands," he added.

- 'Huge pressure on Madrid' -

Polls show Scottish voters are almost evenly divided between the "Yes" and the "No" although one survey so far has put the pro-independence camp just ahead of the unionists.

The most recent one, published on Wednesday by Scotland's Daily Record newspaper, showed 53 percent against independence and 47 percent in favour, without counting undecideds.

British media said new figures meant 97 percent of the electorate had now registered to vote, including many 16 and 17-year-olds who are allowed to take part under referendum rules.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown meanwhile accused Salmond of putting out "lies", particularly over risks to the public health service if the independence vote fails.

The vote would bring to an abrupt end a 307-year-old union between England and Scotland and create the newest state in Europe since the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Around 100 journalists from around the world were present at Thursday's press conference, with many asking about what Scotland's relation to their country would be.

Many nations with separatist movements are following the campaign closely including Spain, where the government has ruled out a referendum for Catalan independence or devolution.

"People in Catalonia don't necessarily want independence but they want to have the right to vote. And they see that here it's possible," said Carles Costa from TV3 public television in Catalonia, who was at Salmond's press conference.

"A 'Yes' vote would put a huge pressure on Madrid. Scotland is not a remote country somewhere in the world. It's just next door," he said.

"Even with a 'No', people in Catalonia will say, 'Why is this not possible in Spain?'"

But Shuhei Nakayama from Japanese broadcaster NHK said most people in Japan had "a confused idea of the situation".

"Most don't know Scotland is already a region with many powers. Some think it's a country already as they have a football team," he said.

"It's very interesting to see a nation that might break away without any violence," he said.

The campaign -- and the promise of greater devolution if the "No" camp wins the vote -- has also bolstered demands from local authorities for greater powers within England and Wales.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is on Friday expected to launch a report calling for a major programme of devolution within England after the next general election in May 2015.

- 'Responsible and prudent' -

As Salmond spoke, the Royal Bank of Scotland warned it would relocate its registered offices in case of a "Yes" vote, saying this was the "responsible and prudent thing to do," but underlining this would not mean shifting jobs.

RBS was bailed out by the British government following the 2008 financial crisis and its announcement came after London-based Lloyds Banking Group also said it had plans on possibly switching key operations from Scotland to England.

Edinburgh-based RBS is 81 percent owned by the British state, which also retains a 25 percent stake in bailed-out Lloyds.

Big business leaders have mostly lined up against independence, although the chief executive of Scotland's largest fund manager, Aberdeen Asset Management, has said that an independent Scotland would be "a big success".

© 2014 AFP

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