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David Cameron has dismissed Alex Salmond’s claim that growing Westminster euroscepticism is an argument for Scottish independence, saying the majority of Scots back his promise of a referendum on EU membership.
The prime minister said he was right to push for EU reform and to offer voters a chance to decide on EU membership, during a visit to a naval equipment manufacturer in the Midlothian town of Loanhead on Friday.
The real danger for Scotland would be a vote for independence, which would mean Scotland being ejected from the EU and forced to “join a queue” to re-enter, Mr Cameron said.
“My strategy on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom to negotiate a
better deal in Europe but then have a referendum . . . is supported according to opinion polls by a majority of Scots and also by quite a big majority of SNP [Scottish National party] voters,” he said.
Scotland’s future in Europe is a central battleground in the referendum debate. On Friday Mr Salmond, first minister, seized on the defection of Conservative MP Douglas Carswell to the UK Independence party as evidence of growing hostility to the EU.
“The politics of euroscepticism that we see in Westminster are deeply damaging for Scotland and could be even more damaging if we were dragged out of Europe,” Mr Salmond told BBC Scotland radio.
“I think we should get on with building a constructive relationship with the rest of our partners across the European continent – that’s very much the trend of the outward-looking, internationalist approach of the people who believe in an independent Scotland,” the first minister said.
Mr Salmond received a further boost as a Survation poll for the Scottish Daily Mail found the Yes camp’s support had surged since his strong showing in Monday’s TV debate with Alistair Darling, leader of the pro-union Better Together campaign. The poll found that, when undecided voters were excluded, support for a Yes vote had risen by 4 percentage points to 47 per cent since its previous poll shortly after their first debate.
Independence campaigners say Scotland would be able to negotiate continued EU membership if it won independence and that the greatest threat to its place in Europe stems from Mr Cameron’s promise of a UK in-out referendum on membership in 2017.
On Thursday night, the prime minister endured a pointed rebuke from Sir Mike Rake, president of the CBI employers’ lobby, who accused him of creating uncertainty with his referendum plans that was “increasingly causing real concern for businesses”.
Aides to Mr Cameron cited an Ipsos Mori poll in February that found 58 per cent of people in Scotland thought there should be a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
However, Ipsos Mori also offered support to SNP claims that Scotland is more enthusiastic about the EU than counterparts in England, with only a third of people saying they would vote to leave compared with half of voters south of the border.
The pro-EU European Movement in Scotland said that if Scotland voted to stay in the UK but a 2017 referendum resulted in the UK deciding to leave the EU, then there would be grounds to hold another referendum on Scottish independence.
Mr Salmond has moved to kill speculation that he might step down if Scotland voted against independence, saying he intended to serve out his term as first minister. “I will discharge my responsibility,” he told a BBC phone-in programme.