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Draft EU referendum Bill 'fundamentally changes' independence debate

Prime Minister brings bringing a draft Bill for a UK referendum on European Union membership.

Referendum: Scots will go to the polls in September.
© STV

David Cameron has "fundamentally" changed the debate about Scotland's future by bringing forward a draft Bill for a referendum on European Union membership, the First Minister has said.

The plan for a vote on Britain's membership of the EU is "the wrong move and is taking us down the wrong path", according to Alex Salmond.

This means that the "real uncertainty on Scotland's future is coming from Westminster", he said.

The Prime Minister's actions "now threaten to hole the No campaign in the Scottish independence referendum below the waterline".

Mr Salmond spoke out as the Conservatives unveiled the question which will be posed in a referendum on Britain's EU future if the Tories win the next general election.

Voters will be asked the yes-or-no question: "Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?"

The wording has been published in a draft Bill amid a row within the coalition Government about Europe.

Opponents of the Scottish Government have questioned what terms would be attached to Scotland's membership of the EU if the country leaves the UK.

Earlier this year Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the Scottish Government "does not take the process of EU membership for granted".

But SNP ministers say they believe that Scotland's relative wealth, abundant natural resources such as oil and wind and its vast fishing waters will give it a strong hand in membership negotiations.

As the wording of the Tories' proposed referendum question was revealed, Mr Salmond said: "The Prime Minister's move to bring forward a draft Bill on an in-out EU referendum fundamentally changes the terms of the discussion on Scotland's future.

"It means the No campaign's scare stories on an independent Scotland's continued EU membership have now gone the same way as their triple-A scare stories. Both have now crumbled and it is now clearer than ever that on the European issue, the argument has been completely turned on its head.

"The UK Government and the rest of the No campaign began the debate on Scotland's referendum by claiming independence would threaten Scotland's place in Europe. But the Prime Minister's actions have made that claim look absurd.

"The Prime Minister should reflect that those whom the gods seek to destroy, they first render ridiculous."

Mr Salmond insisted the Prime Minister was "bounced into" publishing the Bill by the rise in electoral support for Ukip which the First Minister branded as being "almost a complete irrelevance in Scotland".

Mr Cameron denied he was panicked into bringing forward a referendum Bill in an attempt to quell Tory unrest and said that he was showing "leadership" on Europe and acting in the national interest by demanding better terms for Britain.

But the SNP leader argued: "The EU referendum policy is the wrong move, and is taking us down the wrong path. It means that the real uncertainty on Scotland's future in Europe is coming from Westminster.

"That uncertainty threatens Scottish jobs and the Scottish economy, especially in terms of being able to continue to attract valuable inward investment and company headquarters. The only way to avoid that uncertainty is a Yes vote in next year's referendum.

"A Yes vote means Scotland will remain in the EU as an independent member and a seat at the top table. That means that, while we won't always agree with our European neighbours and partners and will continue to seek reform, we will have our own voice and will always be able to help shape discussions in our own interests and on our own terms.

"The alternative is Scotland being dragged to the EU exit door against our will as Westminster descends into a right-wing debating society that threatens jobs and prosperity in the real world."

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