David Cameron is “playing a game of European roulette with Scotland’s future”, according to Alex Salmond.
Describing the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to the presidency of the European Commission as an "utter fiasco" for the prime minister, who had opposed it, Salmond says: “The handling of the whole affair now puts the UK on the fast track out of Europe, with the danger for us in Scotland that we could be dragged to the exit door too unless we take our destiny in our own hands this September.”
Writing in the Independent today, the first minister argues that Junker's appointment is an indication of the influence that smaller EU members can wield. Rounding on the no camp's default position that an independent Scotland will be forced out of the EU while it applies for membership, which has been dismissed by academics, Salmond suggests that the bigger threat to Scotland's future in the EU stems not from September's independence referendum, but from Cameron's pledge to allow a UK vote in 2017 on whether to remain an EU member.
Salmond insists that only a yes vote can “secure a seat and a voice at the top table internationally for Scotland, protecting and promoting our vital national interests in Europe and beyond.”
Support for membership of the European Union is consistently higher in Scotland, with some polls suggesting that some voters are more likely to favour independence if they feel that the UK's future in Europe is under threat.
Whilst the view among policymakers in Brussels is that Scotland would not automatically become an EU member, but would have to apply to join as a newly independent country, academics believe that in reality negotiations would be based on the premise that the EU would be very keen to keep Scotland within the union, given its position as an expansionist organisation that believes in pan-European integration.
This morning a report published by the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee accuses the Scottish government of making uncosted promises on pensions and welfare that would leave ordinary voters paying the price in the event of independence.
The committee's chair, Ian Davidson MP, said that what the Scottish government was offering pensioners amounted to “the biggest mis-selling scandal in history.”
The Labour-dominated committee, which has been taking evidence from expert witnesses in an ongoing inquiry into all aspects of independence, found that the Scottish Government's plans to consider delaying the increase in the pension age to 67 and to pay a proposed higher starting-rate than the rest of the UK were almost entirely uncosted, while it could take years to disentangle Scottish and UK-wide public sector pensions.
The report said evidence to the Committee also cast serious doubt over the possibility of a independent Scotland establishing up a new benefits system by the 2018 deadline set by the Scottish Government.
Ian Davidson MP said: "The only thing definite about the Scottish government's welfare policies is uncertainty.”
"They cannot say what their pensions bill would be. They have no credible plans to cope with the rising costs of Scotland's ageing population. They don't know what their own promises would cost. Without any Scottish Government plan, no Scot is able to plan for their pension after separation.”
“The UK and Scottish Governments have guaranteed that pensions will continue to be paid whatever the result of the referendum and the Scottish Government has confirmed pensions will be set at a minimum of £160 a week in 2016-17. Instead of trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes Labour and the UK Government should set out their position on the future of the state pension.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said the White Paper on Scotland’s Future had already set out proposals for an affordable, fair and efficient pensions system in an independent Scotland.
“As this report acknowledges the proposals from the Scottish Government would provide a more “generous” pension in Scotland, helping Scotland’s pensioners with a guaranteed pension of £160 a week from 2016-17, a triple lock and the continuation of savings credit.
“Scotland’s pensioners are being short-changed. If we stay tied to the Westminster pension and welfare system, and the state pension age rises at the same pace in Scotland as in the rest of the UK, the risk is that this problem will be compounded. That is why it is right for Scotland to consider a state pension age relatively lower than the rest of the UK.”
But polling published yesterday for businessman Sir Tom Hunter’s scotlandseptember18.com website found voters frustrated by the competing claims of both camps in the independence referendum debate.
Conducted by TNS BMRB, it found 73% agreed, the majority strongly, with the statement “because both sides make different claims its hard to know who to believe”.
This is the latest poll to show support for the pro-union campaign on the increase, with 46% intending to vote no in September's referendum, up by four points since the end of May, and 32% intending to vote yes, up by two points. The proportion of undecided voters has slipped by six points, to 22%, but significantly this did not the relative proportions of yes and no voters, suggesting that the pro-independence campaign are failing to make inroads into the vital undecided voters.
Pro-union campaigners yesterday distanced themselves further from the Orange Order after violence flared at the annual parade of lodges and loyalist flute bands in Glasgow on Saturday. A 12-year-old girl received a serious head wound and eighteen people were arrested. The Grand Lodge of Scotland is planning a British Together parade and rally in Edinburgh on September 13, just five days ahead of the referendum.
Senior figures in the pro-UK Better Together campaign have said they fear a direct link between the Orange Order and the anti-independence cause could provoke an unwelcome backlash among liberal, leftwing voters at a crucial stage in the campaign.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Morning Call this morning, grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, Eddie Hyde, denied the parades were provocative and claimed sectarianism was a "myth", adding: "Sectarianism doesn't exist in Scotland. Sectarianism exists in Helmand Province where our brave soldiers are dying to defend civil and religious liberties over there".
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