ALEX Salmond today welcomed the visit to Scotland by the three main UK party leaders – and said it was a good opportunity for David Cameron to have a debate with him on independence.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly declined invitations to go head-to-head with Mr Salmond ahead of next week’s referendum.
But as Mr Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband all abandoned Prime Minister’s Questions at Westminster and headed north to press the case for Scotland staying in the UK, the First Minister issued a last challenge.
He said: “Now that David Cameron is paying a panicked visit to Scotland, it is high time he found the courage of his convictions and agreed to debate the issues with me. The No side have lost their poll lead, and people are switching directly over to Yes – if David Cameron thinks he is the answer to the No campaign’s disintegration disarray, let him put his case to the test in a head-to-head debate.”
Today’s hastily-arranged visit by the three UK leaders – who are pursuing separate itineraries – comes after the weekend YouGov poll, which showed Yes in the lead for the first time by 51 per cent to 49, and a TNS survey which found the two sides tied on 50 per cent.
Mr Salmond said: ‘I relish David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg coming to Scotland – collectively, they are the least trusted Westminster leaders ever, and this day trip will galvanise the Yes vote.
“No-one believes their panicked pledges – it is a phoney timetable for measly powers. A Yes vote delivers a real timetable for the full powers that Scotland needs.
“More and more people in Scotland are waking up to the fact only with the powers of independence can we secure real job creating powers and ensure that our National Health Service is fully protected.”
The Yes campaign also published a new advert on the “chaos” of the No campaign parties’ more powers proposals.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, the Tories’ Ruth Davidson and Lib Dem Willie Rennie stood together outside Our Dynamic Earth yesterday to endorse a timetable for delivering more powers for Holyrood after a No vote – even though they have not agreed a package of what those extra powers should be.
The timetable includes a white paper drawn up by the end of November and a draft new law published in January ready for whichever government is elected at the UK elections in May next year. Former Chancellor Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign, said Scotland could have more devolution within months of a No vote, or years of wrangling with the UK and Europe if there is a Yes vote,
He said: “I don’t want to see that turbulence, all that risk, all that uncertainty. I want to make sure we can improve the quality of people’s lives within the UK, within Scotland.”
In a newspaper article today, the Prime Minister pleaded with Scotland not to rip apart the Union and claimed independence would be “a lucky dip”.
He wrote: “The United Kingdom is a precious and special country. That is what is at stake. So let no-one in Scotland be in any doubt: we desperately want you to stay; we do not want this family of nations to be ripped apart.”
In another newspaper piece, former Labour deputy prime minister Lord Prescott urged voters not to end the union because they did not like the Conservatives.
He wrote: “Now I know it’s galling to see a bunch of jumped up clueless English public school boys running the UK Government when you didn’t vote for them. But leaving a union that has delivered huge cultural, social and economic benefits for millions of people for centuries because you don’t like Cameron and Osborne is like walking away from a fight with Lord Snooty and his Posh Pals.”
Meanwhile, calls for the Queen to intervene in the debate were rejected. A Royal spokesman said the referendum was “a matter for the Scottish people”.