Alex Salmond has dug in over the question of what currency an independent Scotland would use, insisting that it would continue to share the pound sterling despite all three UK political parties categorically ruling that option out.
Support for the pro-independence cause fell according to one poll after a televised debate between the campaign leaders last week. During the event Mr Salmond was repeatedly attacked on the currency question and drew boos from the audience when he failed to come up with a Plan B for Scotland’s money.
But rather than cede to demands to explain what he would do in the event that London refused an independent Scotland the right to use the pound, Mr Salmond appears to have decided to double down on his position.
Writing in the Sunday Herald newspaper, Scotland’s first minister said: “Having spent my entire political career fighting for what I regard as being in the best interests of Scotland, I am not going to settle for second-best on currency or anything else . . . it’s our pound and we’re keeping it.”
Mr Salmond insists that Westminster politicians are bluffing when they say they will block a formal currency union.
His comments come as the pro-union Better Together group prepares to focus relentlessly on the question of the currency for the final few weeks of the campaign, seeing it as Mr Salmond’s weak spot.
Activists brought out a poster over the weekend featuring Alex Salmond’s head on a pound coin under the slogan: “Is this your Plan B, Alex? No thanks.”
A Survation poll for the Scottish Daily Mail said the lead for the “No” campaign had jumped from six points to 14 after the televised debate, following months of very little change. Alistair Darling, the leader of the “No” campaign, emerged as the clear winner of the debate, it said.
“The Scottish public were clearly not impressed with Salmond in the debate,” Survation said on its website. “The adjectives most used to describe his performance were ‘Weak’ (18%), ‘Uninformed’ (13%), and ‘Dishonest’ (11%).”
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, last week tried to capitalise on Mr Darling’s strong debate performance, saying Labour would include a commitment not to share the pound in its 2015 manifesto.
But Mr Salmond’s weekend article stated that he would go ahead with using the pound even if London did not agree. He wrote: “There is literally nothing anyone can do to stop an independent Scotland using sterling, which is an internationally tradeable currency.”
The option of adopting another country’s currency without its agreement has been tried by some small Latin American countries such as Ecuador and Panama.
But many economists think it is a risky option as it would leave Scots without any say on how their own currency is managed. It would also leave Scotland without a lender of last resort to provide a guaranteed flow of money to its outsize financial services sector.
Mr Darling repeatedly forced Mr Salmond on the defensive during the television debate over the currency issue, and the first minister faced further criticism at a session of the Scottish parliament on Thursday.
While Mr Salmond reiterated his currency arguments, his finance secretary John Swinney tried to set out a grander vision for Scotland’s economy, arguing that the country should aim for full employment. Mr Swinney said: “For the first time ever, Scotland will benefit from an economic policy that will put job creation in Scotland first.”