Instead, the Obama administration could use the reasonably orderly
debate in Britain about Scotland's future as an example to other
countries facing constitutional crises, said Alex Salmond, the
separatist leader who heads the Scottish National Party and who is
Scotland's first minister.
"I don't foresee pressure. I don't think that is what the United
States would want to do," Salmond told Reuters. "There are certain
principles involved here. One is the principle of self
determination. Secondly, the principle of a consented and peaceful
Pro-independence campaigners have long lagged in opinion polls
behind supporters of maintaining Scotland's 307-year-old union with
England. But Salmond's nationalists have closed the poll gap
slightly ahead of the vote in September.
A March 20 poll showed that around 40 percent of Scots plan to vote
for independence in this year's referendum while 45 percent intended
to vote against it.
Such surveys have begun to be noticed by U.S. policymakers, who had
previously presumed the unionists would win easily, said Heather
Conley, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think
tank in Washington.
Salmond said U.S. government officials had made public comments
holding up the Scottish referendum process as an example of how to
air separatist sentiment, as opposed to the abruptness of the recent
Crimean referendum held in the shadow of Russian troops.
Russia's annexation of Crimea has not been recognized by the United
"The referendum in Scotland is an agreed, consensual, democratic,
consented process," said Salmond, who was visiting New York to
promote Scottish business and culture. "Who knows? It might become a
template for how the world should conduct these matters."
Debate over Scotland has been mostly civil, and the British
government of Prime Minister David Cameron agrees with holding the
referendum but it strongly opposes the independence campaign and
warns that Salmond's idea that Scotland could keep using the British
pound after independence is badly flawed.
NATO, NUCLEAR SUBS
In the United States, government officials have started to worry
about the possible dissolution of traditional ally Britain and plans
by Salmond to throw Britain's Trident nuclear submarine fleet out of
the Faslane naval base in western Scotland.
"The main questions on the U.S. side have so far been on the
security front. On the idea of what's going to happen on the nuclear
deterrent because obviously the U.S. has a large vested interest in
the nuclear submarine capacity," said Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at
the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.
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Salmond said U.S. officials had been balanced on the Scotland issue
so far. "America, through the administration, has quite rightly
adopted a platform of studied neutrality," he said.
A veteran of the British parliament in London as well as the
devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh set up in 1999, Salmond
was a strong critic of Britain's role in the Iraq war.
He acknowledged that while the debate over Scottish independence has
been mostly constructive, there has been an explosion of online
abuse between backers of union with England and Scottish nationalist
"cyber-nats," who launched a campaign against singer David Bowie for
calling on Scotland at a music award ceremony not to break away.
Salmond urged an end to the online bitterness.
"You say, 'Right look. Everyone raise your game. Do what you should
do. Let's live up to this debate,'" he said.
He said claims that Scotland's more than 5 million people would
suffer economically under independence are "just a hotchpotch, a
ragbag of fears, smears, scare stories, some of them ridiculous,
some of them with the attempt to be credible."
Companies and business groups have warned that Scotland could lose
jobs if it splits from Britain, but Salmond's campaign received a
boost last week when The Guardian newspaper quoted an unnamed
British minister as acknowledging that London would eventually agree
to let Scotland use the sterling currency if it became independent.
(Reporting by Alistair Bell; editing by Leslie Adler)
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