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Salmond gets ball rolling as opponents put the boot in

ALEX Salmond has faced months of demands from opponents to respond to questions about independence.

The First Minister has now provided 650 answers, 670 pages of argument, a 170,000-word document and an hour of grilling by the international media at the Glasgow Science Centre.

"We are on the positive side of this argument and we will win," he insisted, before closing the event by observing: "In Glasgow parlance, you've had a fair kick o' the ba'."

What the Spaniards, Catalans and Basques made of that patois is unclear, but the international interest was evident.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon backed up the First Minister during a deftly handled media conference, where the two confidently batted back responses between them.

The build-up to the spectacle had been well handled. The venue beside the Clyde was picked to make it upbeat and forward-looking. A rainbow appeared to the north and journalists took photographs while talking about pots of gold, then the rain came in from the south and the talk was of how dreich an independent Scotland might be.

Inside, we got an upbeat video a bit like a VisitScotland advert and then the magician and his charming assistant appeared to face down the media, some of whom had been given the privilege of being locked in for an extra 45 minutes with access to the full document.

It was estimated the normal reading time for 170,000 words would be about 12 hours, so this lock-in was a bit like being given a 10-yard start on Usain Bolt, morale-boosting and of limited use, but unlikely to influence the final result.

However, access to that document and its summary version, available across all versions of the media through downloads and e-books, could be crucial to the outcome of the referendum. The 650 questions are not the end of the process. If anyone has an additional question it can be submitted online and the answer added to the online version.

Ministers fully expect to be savaged in some sections of the hostile media this morning and they now care less. A fair wind in some quarters and momentum in terms of ordinary Scots engaging is what they are after, at which point they believe momentum will come their way.

The thrust of the questioning at the White Paper launch was on the hostile side of critical, and often from the BBC's many outposts and metropolitan citadels.

Dr Who and Strictly Come Dancing raised their inevitable populist heads and Alex Salmond assured the journalists - the biggest number clearly coming from the BBC - that there would be a seamless deal to create a sister broadcaster, the SBS to continue working with the BBC.

But, as in so many areas, this was based on belief and perceived logic, not a guarantee. On a sterling zone? Nato? The EU?

In almost every case the argument was Scotland has so much to offer the world that no-one in their right mind would seek to block us joining the party. It was a very Tartan Army view, as if the fans could outperform the team.

But at every point the First Minister and his Deputy held the line, arguing a positive case why logic and why "mutual, enlightened self-interest" would prevail. Under this, the UK Treasury and Whitehall would be insane to eject Scotland and its oil reserves from the sterling zone.

It was an impressive collective performance, with Ms Sturgeon carrying through the Parliamentary statement yesterday and Mr Salmond leading the debate today.

At Holyrood, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont was first to insist the White Paper "doesn't mark the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom, but perhaps it marks the beginning of the end of the Yes campaign".

She added that it contained "670 pages of assertion and uncertainty" as she branded Ms Sturgeon's statement "a full exercise in assertion without evidence".

But her point that there is "no guarantee on the currency" of an independent Scotland made her point.

She also claimed that in the White Paper the "much-vaunted legal opinion on our EU membership" was "noticeable only by its absence".

Ms Lamont added that the "headline offer" on increased childcare could be delivered without independence but claimed the SNP ministers had "refused to do so" - a claim rejected by Ms Sturgeon who said the key was matching benefit for young families to the tax revenues that would pay for changes.

She said that meant children were being "denied the chance of proper care until their parents vote the way the SNP want them to".

The Labour leader said: "How cynical is that?"

The answer was, of course, very cynical. Every side was cynical yesterday - the titles or outlets who said that the White Paper made no sense and Scottish independence was doomed. And anyone who says all questions are answered and all guarantees are sound.

Scottish Tories' leader Ruth Davidson claimed there was "very little" in the White Paper that was new.

Ms Davidson said: "The people of Scotland have been waiting a long time to get answers on what independence might look like.

"I think people right across the country will have looked at the launch of this White Paper today and thought 'Is this it?'

"The truth is, there was very little new that we hadn't heard before. Little except that pledge on childcare."

Ms Davidson added: "For six years the Deputy First Minister has sat in a Scottish Government with full powers over childcare, and for six years the Scottish Conservatives, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have been urging her government to give more help with childcare to Scottish families.

"Now, suddenly, after six years, we get this promise."

Labour's Iain Gray questioned the Government's intention to deliver an oil fund, while colleague Malcolm Chisholm said: "Does Ms Sturgeon not realise how absurd the Government looks when the White Paper says the Bank Of England will be a lender of last resort, and does she not understand that even if there was a currency union, there would be no fiscal independence?

"Is she not leading project wish against project reality, as will become increasingly clear over the months ahead?"

Coming from Mr Chisholm, "project wish against project reality" was as tough a hit as any yesterday.

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