With less than a month to go until Scotland votes on
independence, nationalists are seeking to broaden the debate
away from a difficult focus on what currency would be used
after breaking from the United Kingdom.
Health care and other social issues such as justice and
equality are likely to get a bigger airing if
pro-independence First Minister Alex Salmond has his way in a
second televised debate on August 25.
The question of whether Scotland could keep the pound if it
voted on September 18 to leave the United Kingdom has
hampered independence campaigners. The British government has
said no and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has warned
of difficulties in monetary union.
As a result, uncertainty over the currency dogged the
normally fiery Salmond in the first TV debate two weeks ago
when he was unexpectedly outshone by the more reserved head
of the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK, former finance
minister Alistair Darling.
But disappointment over Salmond's performance following the
first debate was pushed aside last weekend when two polls
showed the gap in support narrowing with a two-point swing to
the independence camp.
An ICM poll had support for independence at 38 percent versus
47 percent opposition, while a Panelbase survey put backing
for independence at 42 percent compared to 46 percent.
The pro-independence vote continues to lag in all major
polls, but Salmond has been trying to leverage the latest
swing in support by blitzing the media on topics that might
sway undecided voters.
He warned, for example, that the publicly funded free health
service might be at risk if Scotland stays in the union, but
that it could be enshrined in the constitution of an
The current devolved Scottish parliament, led by Salmond's
Scottish National Party (SNP), controls health policy. But
Salmond says the dependence of Scotland's budget on an
allowance from politicians in London makes it vulnerable.
"If we stay in our current circumstances ... we will find it
progressively more difficult to keep a health service free at
the point of need," Salmond told a public meeting this week
at Arbroath on the east coast where Scotland signed an
historic declaration of independence in 1320.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who opposes
independence, described the argument as "desperate", arguing
that UK spending on health care had been protected during the
term of his coalition government, which came to power in
Britain's three major political parties have united against a
breakaway Scotland, issuing pleas for unity and warning about
the economic costs of independence to the four million
Scottish residents over the age of 16 who can vote on Sept.
Oil-rich Scotland accounts for about one-tenth of the UK's
gross domestic product, and opponents of independence fear a
split would weaken all sides and could damage British
diplomatic clout, even raising questions over the UK's
permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
The debate over how much oil is left in the North Sea
dominated the last session of Scottish parliamentary question
time for Salmond before a break for the referendum.
He said there was plenty of the resource left after industry
expert Sir Ian Wood said the SNP was overstating the revenues
from oil that are remaining.
Salmond said that industry figures showed "the extraordinary
potential that remains in the waters around Scotland, if
indeed the policies are pursued and the stewardship is
correct to make sure that these resources work for the
Salmond, a veteran political campaigner who has driven the
SNP to be Scotland's dominant party, is banking on voter
fatigue with the political stalemate over currency to bring
new life to the debate in the final weeks before the vote.
The position on the currency has remained unchanged for
months, with UK parties ruling out a deal but Salmond
insisting they would negotiate if Scotland voted for
independence. He has also said no one could stop Scotland
using the pound informally.
But while Salmond may be trying to broaden the discussion,
the Better Together campaign led by Darling has vowed to
continuing pressing him on the issue of the currency.
Darling, a Scot who served as a finance minister in the last
British Labour government, has been on the front foot with
the currency debate and is unlikely to step back.
Other pro-unionists have chimed in.
"We urgently need clarity from the first minister about his
Plan B for currency," Scottish Conservative leader Ruth
Davidson said in a statement on Wednesday, highlighting an
admission from the "Yes" to independence campaign that any
informal currency union would be temporary.
"Scots need to know what money our wages, pensions and
benefits would be paid in," she said.
With the second debate seen as crucial in the leadup to the
vote, commentators said the pressure was mounting on Salmond
to emerge victorious and spark further movement in the polls
which currently favour the pro-UK camp.
"Maybe Darling has more experience in speaking on a national
basis, but if Alex Salmond comes from a more passionate point
of view, and changes his tactics on how to project this, that
might encourage voters to continue to switch to Yes," said
Tanya Abraham, senior research executive at pollster YouGov.