Alex Salmond: poll lead for yes shows disintegration of pro-union campaign

Alex Salmond at Press Conference

Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, was in a buoyant mood in Edinburgh on Tuesday, lifted by polls and what he called the "disintegration" of the no campaign.

He even compared scenes of people in Scotland queueing up to register to vote to the joy and emotion 20 years ago that led to Nelson Mandela's election in South Africa's first free polls.

After two days when Salmond kept a surprisingly low profile after the sensational first poll lead for independence, the Scottish National party leader made a raucous return at a campaign event in Edinburgh's Parliament Square – the location of the Scottish parliament before it was dissolved in 1707 as Scots became part of the union.

The yes campaign sees the poll putting it ahead and a second one showing it neck and neck with no as a sign that momentum is building towards independence.

Responding to promises from Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats of increased devolution after the referendum, Salmond declared himself to be unimpressed. He said former Tory prime minister Alec Douglas-Home promised improvements during the failed 1979 referendum bid, and instead Scotland ended up with the Thatcher government.

Salmond said of the increased attention from Westminster politicians: "Our opponents are helping us enormously and their total disintegration is a helpful part. Contempt for Westminster is our major asset. What is winning it for yes is the mobilisation of a grassroots campaign."

The media scrum surrounding Salmond was the biggest since campaigning began last year. Caught in the middle of the mob, protected by security , he fielded questions for about an hour, seemingly enjoying it, with a near-permanent smile. Salmond refused to address reports that the Queen is worried about the breakup of the UK.

But he added: "I think Her Majesty the Queen, who has seen so many events in the course of her long reign, will be proud to be queen of Scots as indeed we have been proud to have her as the monarch."

Salmond posed with EU citizens living in Scotland and holding up placards saying "yes" in several languages at the event. And while he is well aware of the dangers of displays of triumphalism a week before the referendum, he could not hide the increasing sense of confidence.

Speaking to the Guardian, he said people were being empowered as forecasts showed an expected voter turnout of around 80% on 18 September.

"Last Monday … I saw people queueing up – and it was not a short queue, a long queue – in Dundee to register to vote, almost reminiscent of the scenes in South Africa when some of a certain age remember 20 years or so ago people queued to vote in the first free elections.

"I saw people were queuing up to put in their registration forms to vote, people who frankly could not give a stuff about political parties or any politicians and are engaged joyfully in this process. And just for the absence of any doubt, … they weren't queueing up to vote no. They were queueing up to vote yes."

He added there were still a lot of undecideds. "We think there are so many people in Scotland who are still to be convinced of a yes vote but are prepared to be convinced."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ewen MacAskill, for The Guardian on Tuesday 9th September 2014 18.11 Europe/London

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