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Last updated: September 18, 2013 11:55 pm
Scotland marked the one-year countdown to a historic referendum on independence from the UK with fierce rhetorical jousting between supporters and opponents of separation with sharply differing visions of their nation’s future.
In a debate at the Scottish parliament on Wednesday that combined high-flown rhetoric and petty party bickering, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, said voting ‘Yes’ on September 18 2014 would pave the way for a more prosperous and fairer country.
“Our most important contention is that the people who live and work in Scotland are the people who are most likely to make the right choices for Scotland,” the Scottish National party leader said.
However, pro-union politicians passionately objected to what they see as the association of independence and national pride, saying Scotland’s interests lay in continuing the three century-old union with England that is at the heart of the UK.
“It is because I am a proud Scot, not despite it, that I support Scotland remaining strong in the United Kingdom,” said Johann Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour party. “My head tells me it is right, but my heart cries out too for co-operation and not division.”
The increasingly intense campaign is fuelling a wider debate among analysts and academics over how an independent Scotland might fare.
Much debate has centred on Edinburgh’s currency options, with some economists saying that sharing the UK pound would mean having no say over monetary policy and only restricted room for freedom of fiscal policy.
An analysis published on Thursday by the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that total public spending in Scotland is around 11 per cent higher than the UK average and that declining North Sea oil revenues could put an independent nation under pressure to cut services or raise taxes.
A separate paper by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research concluded that having its own currency would give Scotland greater flexibility to respond to economic shocks.
The paper also suggested an independent Scotland could hedge risk by exchanging its future oil revenues to the UK in return for a large writedown of the debt the new state would assume.
Such a deal appears politically almost impossible, however, given the iconic status that North Sea oil has had in nationalist thinking and the SNP’s argument that the industry could be much better managed by a Scottish government than it has been from London.
While remaining within the UK enjoys a clear lead among Scottish voters, advocates of a “Yes” vote say the large number of undecided voters means the tide could easily turn in what is an extraordinarily long political campaign.
But the nationalist cause suffered a symbolic setback as secondary school pupils in northeastern Aberdeenshire voted heavily to stay in the UK.
In the educational poll result announced on Wednesday, more than 11,000 Aberdeenshire pupils voted more than three to one against independence.
However, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's deputy first minister, found encouragement in a poll of participants in a discussion on Tuesday night on the BBC’s Newsnight programme.
The audience of commentators, correspondents and voters described as previously undecided on independence ended the programme by backing it 30 to 18.
“I believe that, just as the BBC audience in Berwick did last night, the Scottish population will also come to the Yes side and vote for independence for our country,” Ms Sturgeon said.
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