By JILL LAWLESS
2014-03-05 06:42 AM
LONDON (AP) -- Scotland's leader took his call for independence to the heart of opposition territory in London on Tuesday, arguing that a separate Scotland would not be a foreign country to England.
First Minister Alex Salmond told an audience in London's political district that U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne had made a "monumental error" when he said an independent Scotland could not keep the pound as its currency.
Scots will vote in an independence referendum on Sept. 18. Salmond says a "yes" will mean a country with its own passports, taxes and policies -- including an end to unpopular welfare cuts.
But he wants to retain Britain's currency and its queen, as well as European Union membership.
"Scotland will not be a foreign country after independence, any more than Ireland, Northern Ireland, England or Wales can ever be foreign countries to Scotland," Salmond said.
He said Osborne's "sermon on the pound" would come to be seen as a big mistake, and ejecting Scotland from the currency would leave the remainder of Britain holding the country's entire debt of more than 1 billion pounds ($1.67 trillion).
Most polls suggest a majority of Scottish voters oppose independence, but Salmond said the gap was narrowing.
"If you've got a positive message up against a negative message, then you will win," he told an enthusiastic audience at the event, sponsored by the left-leaning New Statesman magazine.
But not everyone was convinced.
University researcher Anne Laybourne wondered what Salmond would do for her home region of Caithness in the far north of Scotland, which has a rickety railway and a hospital threatened with closure.
"If I had a vote, I would probably vote no," said Laybourne, who can't vote because she lives in England. "Maybe I'm just scared. I think there is fear there -- but I like being part of the U.K."