NEW YORK –- Alex Salmond took his increasingly buoyant campaign for an independent Scotland across the Atlantic this week, extolling the economic and political virtues of a 'yes' vote in September’s referendum to a sympathetic crowd in New York.
Giving the inaugural lecture at the New York campus of Glasgow Caledonian University on Monday evening, Scotland's first minister eulogised on the strong links between Scotland and the US, while alluding to both countries’ shared determination to be free, before quickly returning to the more pressing business of the fight between the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns.
"I think their campaign is embarrassing," he told HuffPost UK after the lecture. "The closer the polls get the more vehement the 'no' campaign is becoming. The problem for them [the 'no' campaign] is that the more anxious they’re getting about the result the more hysterical their scaremongering."
For those hoping to retain the union, anxious is a good word. The momentum has seemingly shifted in recent months with those in favour of independence growing every time a new poll is taken. The latest figures have the 'yes' campaign hitting 47% - a figure Salmond joked was very close to recently published numbers about Obamacare approval in the US.
"I think they [the 'no' campaign] thought for a long time that the referendum was in the bag and now it’s clearly not. As such they’re getting extremely worried about their position."
Salmond dismissed recent claims by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who in February said it would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" for an independent Scotland to join the European Union, and the "bullying" from George Osborne in his dismissal of a proposed currency union with an independent Scotland.
"They only help strengthen the 'yes' campaign’s position," he said, hinting that talking down to those in Scotland, whether by Brussels or London, was likely to have an adverse effect.
However, the groundswell around Salmond and his allies is more than just a negative reaction to the increased intensity of the campaign emanating from Westminster and some sections of the British press. According to Salmond the positions of Barroso and Osborne do not withstand serious scrutiny, and his countrymen have "seen through that".
"Scotland’s is fully compatible with all EU regulations," he said on the thorny issue of Europe. Should the 'yes' campaign win in September, there would be 18 months before Scotland became an independent nation, "but it wouldn’t take 18 months to reconcile Scotland’s position within the EU," he added. "The reason accession countries take such a long time is because they have to adjust all of their law and all of their systems. Scotland has a membership stretching back 40 years."
The First Minister continued: "Which negotiations are more likely to succeed – the negotiations of a country that wants to be part of the European firmament, that’s just had a democratic vote that everyone has agreed to respect and is an enthusiastic European partner… or the negotiations that take place perhaps in London after the general election for an in out referendum of where people are extremely reluctant Europeans? I would have thought our negotiations stand a much better chance of success."
Salmond was equally dismissive of Osborne’s stance on the currency union, calling it "campaigning" rather than actual policy.
"It’s bluff and bluster," he said. "The no campaign’s tactic is to create uncertainty then blame the 'yes' campaign for not being able to dispel the uncertainly they have created."
To bolster his claim, Salmond referred to a recent article in the Guardian, in which the newspaper quoted a UK government minister who said a deal could be done to allow an independent Scotland to use sterling. Although Osborne and Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander subsequently refuted that report, the SNP leader insisted that line against a currency union had been drawn "not for an economic reason but for politics". He added: "The strength of our argument is that we arguing for something that’s in the best interest of Scotland but also the rest of the UK.”
Despite being only six months away from the vote with defeat likely to end the question of an independent Scotland for at least a generation, Salmond said he felt no pressure campaigning.
"Obviously this is a very important constitutional matter for Scotland and I treat it as a very important opportunity,” he said, adding: "I’m fully engaged and enjoying every minute. The politics of extolling an argument you believe in… that’s not pressure, it’s a privilege."
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