GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – An independent Scotland would keep the pound and the British monarchy but establish its own defense force, First Minister Alex Salmond said Tuesday as he unveiled detailed proposals ahead of next year’s referendum.
Launching his regional government’s long-awaited blueprint for leaving the United Kingdom, the nationalist leader promised a “wealthier and fairer nation” if Scots vote to dissolve the 300-year-old union with England on Sept. 18.
“We’d become independent in more promising circumstances than virtually any other nation in history,” Salmond told a news conference in Glasgow.
“Ultimately at the heart of this debate there is only one question and one choice. Do we, the people who live and work in Scotland, believe that we are the best people to take decisions about Scotland’s future?”
The leader of the political campaign to keep Scotland in the union, Alistair Darling, condemned the blueprint as “thick with false promises and meaningless assertions.”
“Instead of a credible and costed plan, we have a wish list of political promises without any answers on how Alex Salmond would pay for them,” said the former British finance minister.
The Scottish National Party’s prospectus tackles 650 questions on the practicalities of going it alone.
The white paper also sets out policies the SNP would introduce after independence in areas such as corporate taxation, pensions, child care, education, defense and welfare.
In a key commitment, the blueprint says an independent Scotland would no longer host Britain’s Trident nuclear missile deterrent.
Scotland would remain part of the European Union and NATO, it says, although pro-unionists say this is not as straightforward as Salmond makes out.
A major source of income would come from North Sea oil and gas — the SNP says more than 90 percent of revenues come from fields that would lie within an independent Scotland’s waters.
The blueprint argues that London-centric policies have left Scotland’s 5.3 million population with a “legacy of debt, low growth and social inequality,” but proposes to “share” the British national debt to start with.
Scotland would keep the pound as its currency, assuming a share in Britain’s central bank, the Bank of England, while Queen Elizabeth II would remain head of state.
Salmond was in jovial form as he fielded questions about a proposed new Scottish Broadcasting Service, assuring Scottish viewers they would still be able to watch their favourite BBC programs.
Salmond hopes the blueprint will swing undecided voters.
Some 38 percent currently favor independence, according to a Panelbase survey for the Sunday Times newspaper, while 47 would vote against.
But Darling said it was “complete fantasy to believe that you can leave the U.K. but keep all the benefits.”
“With so much uncertainty and unanswered questions about the cost of independence, leaving the U.K. would be a huge leap in the dark,” he said.
Darling leads the Better Together campaign comprising British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives, his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the opposition Labour Party.
Cameron’s spokesman said the white paper “doesn’t really answer the big questions around the currency, fiscal sustainability and Europe, just to take three very important major issues.”
Alan, 56, an unemployed man cycling past the television trucks gathered for Salmond’s speech, said he too was not convinced by the prospectus.
“It’s probably as full of fantasy as the last Harry Potter book,” he said.
“I’m not totally against independence. I love Scotland. But why try to fix something that’s not broke? I think Mr. Salmond’s policies have yet to be proven.”
But Tom Smith, 74, a retired doctor strolling over the River Clyde, said he would like to see an independent Scotland.
“The vote depends on whether you think this is a small thing about taxes and what’s happening now in politics or a big thing about the whole future of Scotland for generations to come,” he said.
The SNP proposes celebrating independence day on March 24, 2016 — the anniversary of the signing of the 1707 Acts of Union joining England and Scotland — and hold its first parliamentary elections two months later.
Scotland’s devolved government currently controls a range of policies including health and education, but taxation, defense, foreign policy and welfare are dictated by London.