New British PM vows fresh start with Scotland

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Britain's new Prime Minister David Cameron vowed a "fresh start" in relations with Scotland on Friday, three days after taking power in London.

Cameron pledged to respect Scotland in talks with First Minister Alex Salmond, who has tense ties with London due to his Scottish Nationalist Party's wish for independence from the United Kingdom.

"I promised that if I became prime minister, I would come to Scotland within a week in order to come to the Scottish Parliament to show my respect for the devolved institutions," he said.

"I also want to see a fresh start in the relationship between the British Prime Minister and the Scottish First Minister. This relationship is important," he added.

Cameron's Conservative party is still viewed with suspicion by many Scots due to the unpopularity of former premier Margaret Thatcher in Scotland in the 1980s. The Tories have only one Scottish lawmaker at Westminster.

Cameron, who took office on Tuesday leading a coalition between his Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, avoided a noisy demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament by entering via an underground carpark.

The parliament, which has devolved powers from London, opened in 1999 after reforms introduced by the Labour government of then British premier Tony Blair, whose successor Gordon Brown lost last week's general election.

The SNP, which currently rules in Edinburgh in a minority administration, wants a referendum on independence this year, and Salmond was highly critical of the Brown government in London.

Cameron said he wanted Scottish ministers to be able to appear in the House of Commons in London, and that, "if the Scottish Parliament would wish it, I shall appear every year at the Scottish Parliament to answer questions."

"I truly meant what I said in the election campaign about wanting to pursue a respect agenda. I want to make the devolved institutions in Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland work, and work well," he added.

Salmond said after the talks with the British premier that he welcomed the meeting, even if they disagree fundamentally on Scotland's future within the United Kingdom.

Cameron's Conservatives want Scotland to stay part of Britain.

"I was impressed by the prime minister's awareness of the issues," Salmond said, adding that there "was an extremely positive hearing (by Cameron) and we're hoping for positive results."

"It was a more substantive meeting than perhaps I'd expected... the prime minister is to be commended for that," he added.

© 2010 AFP

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