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September 19, 2012 7:34 pm
Alex Salmond has threatened to derail talks to agree a referendum on Scottish independence at the last minute after a row over whether an independent Scotland could afford its benefit bill.
The Scottish first minister was reacting to a speech by Iain Duncan Smith in which the work and pensions secretary said that if Mr Salmond won the referendum, he would have to raise taxes or cut spending to protect its welfare budget.
Mr Duncan Smith said: “If the unthinkable were to happen, a Scottish government would face a stark choice of raising taxes or cutting services. This is not scaremongering, it’s reality.”
Mr Salmond called the remarks “offensive, nonsensical rubbish”, adding they could “blow referendum talks off course”. He said that overall revenues from Scotland – including all North Sea oil revenues – outweighed Scotland’s grant from the Treasury.
Coalition advisers fear Mr Salmond wants an excuse to abandon the referendum, planned for 2014, with polls showing the Scottish National party making little headway in building the necessary support to win it.
But ministers from both governments insisted on Wednesday that talks were progressing after Mr Salmond met David Cameron, the prime minister, and Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP deputy leader, met Michael Moore, the Scotland secretary.
Both sides called the meetings “constructive”, but no agreement has been reached on the sticking point of whether the ballot should contain a straightforward in/out option or the third choice of further devolution without independence.
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