LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron urged people in all parts of the United Kingdom on Friday to persuade their Scottish friends and family to vote “no” to independence in September’s referendum.
In an impassioned speech in London, Cameron warned there were “seven months to save the most extraordinary country in history,” ahead of the September 18 vote which threatens to break up the UK.
Only four million Scots can vote, but the British leader reached out to the 59 million people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which he said would be “deeply diminished without Scotland.”
“Get on the phone, get together, e-mail, tweet, speak let the message ring out… We want you to stay,” Cameron said.
“You don’t have a vote, but you do have a voice. Those voting are our friends, neighbors and family. You do have an influence.”
Cameron, whose Conservative party has only one member of parliament in Scotland, said his own Highland roots were an example of how family ties crossed UK borders. Polls show increasing support for the “yes” campaign, led by the Scottish National Party (SNP) in power in Edinburgh, although the “no” vote remains ahead — and Cameron said there could be “no complacency.”
He delivered his speech at the site of the London 2012 Olympic Games, on the opening day of the Sochi Winter Games, and highlighted how all parts of the UK pulled together behind “Team GB” during the sporting contest.
Citing also the global clout, the economic benefits and the shared history and values of the UK “family,” Cameron said: “We come as a brand — a powerful brand.
“If we lost Scotland, if the UK changed, we would rip the rug from under our own reputation. The plain fact is we matter more in the world together.”
The SNP accused Cameron of running scared by giving his speech in London and continuing to refuse to take part in a television debate with First Minister Alex Salmond.
“This is a cowardly speech from a prime minister who uses the Olympic Park in London to give high-handed lectures against Scotland’s independence, but hasn’t got the guts to come to Scotland or anywhere else to make his case in a head-to-head debate,” said Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Cameron said he would venture north of the border several times in the coming months but chose London because his message on Friday was aimed at people outside Scotland.
But Sturgeon said that using support for ‘Team GB’ as a reason not to back Scottish independence “betrays the extent of the jitters now running through the No campaign.”
“They see the polls closing and they are clearly rattled — but to politicize any sporting occasion is shameful,” she said.
A new YouGov survey on Friday put Scottish support for independence at 34 percent, up five points in the past six months, while the ‘no’ vote stands at 52 percent, down seven points.
“In line with polls from other companies there has been a very slight drift toward the ‘yes’ campaign since the white paper was published, but ‘no’ remains well ahead,” said a YouGov statement, referring to the blueprint for independence published by the SNP in November.
An ICM opinion poll last month found 37 percent in favor of independence — up five points since September — against 44 percent against.
Scotland has enjoyed increased autonomy since a 1997 referendum on devolution, and now looks after its own education, health, environment and justice.
But the UK Parliament in London still decides defense and foreign policy, and the SNP wants full independence.