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Scotland would be better EU member than Britain ‘Exit could hurt London position’

BRUGES, Belgium, April 29, (RTRS): An independent Scotland would be a more constructive member of the European Union than a reluctant Britain, Scottish first minister Alex Salmond said on Monday. He believed EU members would welcome an “enthusiastic” Scotland into the bloc should it vote to end the 307-year-old union with England in a referendum on Sept. 18, he said. Remaining part of the EU is fundamental to the nationalists’ vision of an economically viable independent Scotland. However, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said Scotland would have to reapply to the EU as a new state. Spain, which faces Basque and Catalan separatist movements, also opposes automatic membership to the 28-nation bloc. Salmond took his campaign to Bruges in Belgium on Monday, seeking to persuade Europeans that keeping Scotland within the EU fold was very much in their own interest. In a speech, he said Scotland’s energy reserves and fishing grounds would make it a crucial EU member. Speaking later to Reuters, he pointed out that while S c o t l a n d wanted to stay part of the EU, British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to renegotiate ties with the EU and hold a referendum on Britain’s membership if his Conservatives win a general election next year. “The difference in Westminster, is that there is lots and lots of people who see the abolition of Europe, drifting off into the mid Atlantic, as a viable option,” Salmond said in an interview.

Threat “The real threat to Scotland in Europe is not from an independent Scotland. It’s from the inout referendum that Westminster are proposing.” Speaking of his concern that Scotland “could be dragged out of the European Union against our will”, he said his country’s stance was more constructive. “People welcome the attitude that we have...we are not talking about taking our toys and stomping off.” Salmond, who heads the ruling Scottish National Party, said that should Scots choose to break away from the United Kingdom, he expected it would be possible to negotiate EU membership before a formal declaration of independence in March 2016. But he said Scotland would not join the euro currency zone. All new EU member states are required to sign up to joining the common currency at some future date. “You cannot be forced compulsorily to be in the euro,” Salmond said. “It’s a voluntary thing. Because England is our biggest market, we should stick with sterling.” The British government and the three main UK political parties have insisted that an independent Scotland could not retain the pound or use the Bank of England as its central bank. His speech, at the same venue where former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher criticised centralisation of power in Brussels in 1988, was made as opinion polls show the gap between the two sides narrowing to a few percentage points. The polls suggest Scotland, home to 5.3 million of the United Kingdom’s 63 million people, will vote narrowly in favour of the status quo. But the independence campaign is gaining ground.

Vital Salmond argued in his speech that Scotland is vital for energy security in Europe with 25 percent of its offshore wind and tidal potential and 60 percent of the EU’s oil reserves. “We have one of the largest national shares of Europe’s total fishing grounds and 12 national fleets fish in our waters. The EU’s fisheries policy would unravel without Scotland,” he said. Meanwhile, British exit from the European Union could wreck London’s position as the only financial centre to rival New York and isolate the country’s economy, research ordered by a lobby group for banks and money managers showed. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership and hold an “in-out” referendum by the end of 2017 if his Conservatives win a 2015 national election. But many of the most powerful banks, insurers and money managers in the City of London are increasingly concerned that Cameron’s gamble could allow the country’s $2.5 trillion economy, the world’s sixth largest, to slip out of the EU.

Warned TheCityUK, whose members include asset managers, banks, insurance and accountancy firms, warned that Britain outside the EU would be shorn of influence, less attractive to investors and vulnerable to regulations over which London had no influence. “This is yet more powerful evidence that the UK pulling out of the EU is the very last thing our country needs. It will kill our hard earned recovery ... We will be left isolated in the margins and our future prosperity will be limited for generations,” Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander say in a speech on Monday, according to advance extracts. “This rigorous and in depth work clearly shows that leaving the EU will lead to higher prices, higher unemployment, lower growth and lower real wages,” Alexander, a member of pro-EU junior coalition party the Liberal Democrats, will say. London dominates the $5-trillion-a-day foreign exchange market, trading twice as many dollars as the United States and more than twice as many euros as the entire euro zone, according to the lobby group. “Continued EU membership is essential to this country’s economic wellbeing,” said Gerry Grimstone, Chairman of TheCityUK group. “Our research clearly shows that leaving the EU would seriously damage economic growth and jobs in the UK.”

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