Salmond To Underline His Stance On The Pound

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond will mount a defence of key plans for independence today after a weekend of pressure on whether the country could keep sterling as currency or expect a smooth transition to EU statehood.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader is expected to underline his commitment to sharing the pound with the rest of the UK despite the plan being ruled out last week by Chancellor George Osborne and all three main political parties at Westminster. 

Mr Salmond's opponents have since ramped up calls for him to set out a ``plan B'' and he has been urged by some pro-independence campaigners to at least consider an alternative, such as a new currency. 

But the First Minister is expected to stick to his ``plan A'' during a speech to business people in Aberdeen this morning. 

``The reality is the pound is as much Scotland's as the rest of the UK,'' he said before the visit. 

``By suggesting otherwise, the Westminster establishment - Tories, Labour and Lib Dems - are reaping a backlash from the ordinary people of Scotland, who feel this is an attempt to bully Scotland ahead of the democratic choice we all look forward to this September. 

``I will be deconstructing the Chancellor's ill-thought-out and misinformed intervention point by point, making clear why a currency union not only favours Scotland but is in the clear economic interests of the UK as well.'' 

Mr Osborne ruled out the plan during a whistle-stop trip to Edinburgh on Thursday, declaring: ``If Scotland walks away from the UK, it walks away from the UK pound.'' 

In a further escalation of the high-stakes refererendum debate, Mr Salmond is facing renewed attack on the Scottish Government's hope to achieve smooth transition to full EU statehood. 

The Scottish Government's formal White Paper on independence argues that negotiations can be hammered out in the 18 months between a Yes vote in the referendum on September 18 and independence day, already earmarked for March 2016. 

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU's ruling body the European Commission, said Scottish membership would be ``extremely difficult, if not impossible''. 

He said: ``We have seen Spain has been opposing even the recognition of Kosovo, for instance. 

``So it is to some extent a similar case because it's a new country and so I believe it's going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, a new member state coming out of one of our countries getting the agreement of the others.'' 

The claim was immediately dismissed by Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who called it ``preposterous'' given that the country has been inside the EU as part of the UK for about 40 years. 

``The fact of the matter is that no member state has said that it would veto Scotland's continuing membership,'' she responded. 

``We have put forward a suggested mechanism by which Scotland can make the transition from being in the European Union as part of the UK to being part of the European Union as an independent country.'' 

Ms Sturgeon will also be pushing the SNP's vision for independence during a public meeting in Dunblane, near Stirling, this afternoon. 

She will be joined by Scottish transport minister Keith Brown at the Victoria Halls. 

Unionist politicians pounced on the latest currency and EU interventions. 

Labour MP Alistair Darling, who leads the Better Together campaign to keep Scotland in the UK, said Mr Salmond is now a man without a plan. 

``On the two biggest issues for jobs and businesses in Scotland, currency and Europe, the nationalists are all over the place. We are being asked to take a huge leap into the unknown,'' he said. 

``When Alex Salmond is told Scotland won't keep the pound, he says everybody is bluffing and only he is right. When the president of the European Commission says there would be huge difficulties with EU membership, nationalists say he is talking nonsense. It isn't credible.'' 

Mr Darling will focus on the currency issue today in Edinburgh, where he is hosting a discussion in a city coffee shop this morning. 

Holyrood opposition parties said Mr Salmond should use today to spell out a fall-back plan for currency and Europe. Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: ``Instead of complaining about being told some home truths, Alex Salmond needs to tell Scotland what are his alternatives.'' 

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: ``It's almost like they've given up the ghost, and resorted to abusing anyone who questions their increasingly flimsy vision.'' 

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: ``Not only does the SNP need a plan B on the pound but now they need a plan B for the EU.''