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Salmond: I'm Scottish...and British

ALEX Salmond has said Scottish independence would not solve all the country's problems.

TALKS: James Naughtie was in conversation with First Minister Alex Salmond at the Mitchell Library theatre in Glasgow last night. Picture: Jamie Simpson
TALKS: James Naughtie was in conversation with First Minister Alex Salmond at the Mitchell Library theatre in Glasgow last night. Picture: Jamie Simpson

In a frank and wide-ranging interview last night, the First Minister also said he regarded himself as British, as part of his "multi-layered" identity.

Mr Salmond's comments came during a conversation with the BBC's James Naughtie, part of a series of public discussions and question-and-answer sessions organised by the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) charity and the Fraser of Allander Institute, in association with The Herald.

He told an audience at the Mitchell Library theatre in ­Glasgow that independence would not lead to homes being fitted with "three taps, for oil, whisky and water".

He said: "I've never argued that. I suspect we'll never have no problems, but I'm certain we can do better than we are doing now."

Asked what voters should focus on in the moments before they cast their ballot, he added: "This country, while not perfect, is as able to chart its affairs as any other country is."

In another rare admission, Mr Salmond also acknowledged he was British as well as Scottish. The First Minister - who prefers to call Britain "these islands" - insisted identity was not an issue in September's independence referendum.

He said: "I have Scottish identity, British identity, I've multi-layers of identity."

He argued, based on DNA studies of the population, Scotland was "proudly a mongrel nation", suggesting Scots were welcoming towards immigrants and enthusiastic about the European Union as a result.

Mr Salmond used the event, which featured questions posed by HeraldScotland readers, to defend his claims an independent Scotland would be fast-tracked into the EU.

He also repeated the SNP's pledge that Scotland would not adopt the euro single currency in the event of a Yes vote.

Insisting membership of the euro was voluntary, he insisted: "We would not join the euro in the foreseeable future and no-one can force us to join the euro."

He again claimed the UK Government would agree to establish a currency union with an independent Scotland, despite hints to the contrary by Chancellor George Osborne.

"Once the decision [to become independent] is taken, people will do what is in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the people of the UK. A sterling area is in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the UK," he said.

On the SNP's decision to reverse its opposition to Nato, he said: "We have to present our case for independence in a way that does not present problems for our friends and allies."

He said he remained completely confident of victory, despite the No campaign's continued lead in the polls. He said: "We'll win the referendum. One thing the polls do wrong is ask people how they would vote tomorrow. The referendum is not tomorrow; it's in September.

"Just like a horse race, it doesn't matter who is leading at the home bend, it is who leading when you get to the post."

He said a "fundamentally positive" campaign would always beat a "fundamentally negative" campaign, adding: "At the end of the day, people want to vote for something, not against something."

He said the Yes camp would fight a "head and heart campaign".

He added: "There has to be aspiration and emotion and sentiment in politics. There has to be an aspirational element as well as a purely intellectual element.

"There is a belief I have in this campaign. People want to do the right thing. People are taking a huge amount of time, whichever way they are leaning, because they want to do the right thing.

"All these things I read in the papers about people not being engaged, it's rubbish."

Mr Salmond reiterated his wish to take part in a debate ahead of the referendum with David Cameron, saying that given the Prime Minister's resistance perhaps surprise was the best tactic.

He joked: "I need the INSP to lure the Prime Minister onto a platform and then I'll walk on and say, 'Let's set aboot it, David.'"

Mr Salmond said he would debate with Alistair Darling, head of the Better Together campaign, only after Mr Cameron agreed to do the same.

During the question and answer session a secondary school student suggested that Mr Salmond might himself be having a negative effect on the Yes campaign as some people, he said, "can't stand him".

He asked the First Minister: "With all due respect, do you think the Yes campaign might do better if you weren't so strongly associated with it, and have you managed to put across that a vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP and Alex Salmond?"

Mr Salmond responded: "I think it would be quite difficult for the First Minister of Scotland to disassociate himself from the campaign - that might be quite tricky.

"But what we're trying to do with the White Paper and what we're trying to do with the campaign is to make the point absolutely clear: it's not voting for Alex Salmond, it's not voting for the SNP, this is a vote about independence for Scotland.

"It is legitimate to vote for independence regardless of your political persuasion, regardless if you think I'm the best thing since sliced bread or I'm the worst thing since the devil incarnate, it doesn't matter.

"The real point about independence is that in 2016 people will get a choice, and they will get a choice about which government and which first minister should lead the country.

"That people can vote yes without endorsing Alex Salmond or the SNP is an absolutely fundamental point and you've put your finger right on it."

* The second event in the INSP conversation series, on March 13, will feature Alistair Darling, the head of the Better Together campaign.

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