UK Prime Minister David Cameron has conceded that Scotland is capable of surviving if the Scottish people vote Yes in the 2014 independence referendum.
Mr Cameron made the admission as he arrived in Scotland for referendum talks with First Minister Alex Salmond.
In a change of tone from the confrontational approach that has pockmarked the debate in recent weeks, Mr Cameron said he hoped with his heart and soul that Scots would vote against independence.
“My argument is very simple, I’m not saying that Scotland couldn’t make it on her own, of course Scotland could, just as England could but I dearly hope that this doesn’t happen.” he said before adding:
“I come here today with one simple message, I hope and wish that Scotland will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom”
In what is the first major concession since the standoff between Edinburgh and London began over a month ago, the Tory leader suggested that more powers could be transferred to Scotland if Scots voted against independence.
The apparent U turn follows recent comments from Downing Street that indicated there would be no further powers devolved beyond those contained in the controversial Scotland Bill. It will also be seen as a snub to Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson who recently insisted that the current proposals contained in the Scotland Bill were “a line in the sand”.
Responding, the SNP welcomed the acknowledgement from the Prime Minister that Scottish independence was viable but urged him to define what the proposed new powers would be.
First Minister Alex Salmond welcomed the change in tone from Mr Cameron but claimed comments from the UK PM regarding the G7 or a seat on the United Nations Security Council would not help persuade those facing cuts to their disability payments or young people who were currently unemployed
Mr Salmond said: “Politics need to be about people, about people’s chances and we’re arguing the case for Scottish independence on the basis of the benefits it will have for the people of Scotland.”
Referring to the vague suggestion of extra powers if Scots rejected independence Mr Salmond said: “If the Prime Minister has an offer to make to the people of Scotland then he should make it now so that we can have a clear debate and a clear decision on the alternative futures for Scotland.
“This idea of saying – well vote no and we’ll give you something later – I don’t think is going to convince anyone in Scotland.”
Mr Salmond added: “I think that the Prime Minister, as a new tactic just adopted this morning, is on very, very shaky ground if he believes people in Scotland will be fooled again.”
The meeting ended with Mr Salmond claiming that only one issue now remained outstanding as far as the referendum was concerned, the number of questions on the ballot.
Mr Cameron described the talks with the First Minister as “frustrating”.
Commenting on the statements from Mr Cameron, Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University described them as a defensive vision of the Union that, he suggested, might not appeal to Scots.
Accusing the Tory PM of lacking a clear vision of a Scotland post referendum, Professor Curtice insisted the Unionist campaign needed to define what extra powers were on offer.
He said: “I think in truth if the unionist camp is going to argue that indeed a No vote does not mean that … Scotland couldn’t have more devolution, indeed could pave the way for more devolution, they are going to have to lay out some idea of what that further devolution is going to be.
“Not through some debate that takes place after the referendum but beforehand because if they fail to do so the danger is that those people … who want a more powerful Holyrood, will say ‘well hang on, if there isn’t really any real offer there that I can see, maybe I should vote for independence anyway’”
The offer of unspecified powers is similar to promises made to Scots before the Home Rule referendum in 1979. However, despite campaign promises of more if the Yes campaign failed, UK PM Margaret Thatcher then threw out all plans for a devolved Scottish parliament when the Yes campaign succumbed to the notorious 40 per cent rule.
Today’s visit by Mr Cameron coincided with news that bookmakers William Hill had slashed the odds against Scotland becoming independent in 2014 from 3/1 to 5/2.