LONDON // Prime Minister David Cameron made an impassioned appeal to Scots yesterday not to abandon their "shared home" with the rest of the United Kingdom by voting in favour of independence.
Launching what appeared to be a two-year "hearts and minds" battle before a referendum on Scottish independence, Mr Cameron said in a speech in Edinburgh: "The fight is now under way for something really precious - the future of our United Kingdom."
The antagonists over independence are, on one side, the Scottish National Party (SNP), whose charismatic leader, Alex Salmond, already heads the quasi-independent Scottish government. On the other side, opposing any break-up, is every other major political party in Britain.
Speaking shortly before meeting Mr Salmond to try to resolve differences over how and when the referendum should be held, Mr Cameron said: "I am 100 per cent clear that I will fight with everything I have to keep our United Kingdom together.
"To me, this is not some issue of policy or strategy or calculation. It matters head, heart and soul. Our shared home is under threat and everyone who cares about it needs to speak out.
"Of course, there are arguments that can be made about the volatility of dependence on oil, or the problems of debt and a big banking system. But that's not the point. The best case for the United Kingdom is entirely positive. We are better off together."
The meeting between Mr Cameron and Mr Salmond late yesterday centred on an impasse between the two sides over arrangements for the referendum. The SNP wants to hold it in August 2014; wants to allow 16- and 17- year-olds to vote; and to include a second question to allow for enhanced devolution.
This would fall short of full independence in matters such as defence and foreign policy. UK parties are opposed to all of this, especially the so-called "devo max" question if only because opinion polls indicate a majority of Scots would favour such a move while only about a third would, at the moment, vote for full independence.
Setting out the theme for the anti-independence campaign, Mr Cameron argued that Scotland was "stronger, safer, richer and fairer" as part of the United Kingdom.
But Mr Salmond's deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, told BBC Radio Scotland yesterday: "I think there is a wealth of evidence that says Scotland would be better off as an independent country, able to put our resources to work for the people of Scotland."
In a speech to the London School of Economics on Wednesday evening, Mr Salmond had said that leaving the UK would allow Scotland to "make the best use of our unparalleled energy resources" and enable the nation to build up a fund worth almost £30 billion (Dh173bn) within 20 years.
However, Mr Cameron argued yesterday that Scotland's five million people were richer within the UK because they were "part of an economy of 60 million, the seventh-richest economy on the planet and one of the world's biggest trading powers".