Scotland 'will be welcomed with open arms in EU', Salmond tells MSPs

Scotland would be welcomed with open arms into the European Union, the First Minister has insisted.

Alex Salmond made the claim after coming under pressure over his insistence that Scotland would enjoy a smooth transition as a new member state rather than being forced to join the queue with other aspiring EU members.

The Scottish Government admitted last week that it had not sought specific advice on the country's place in the EU if it became independent, despite initially going to court to keep that information from the public.

As the row continued at Holyrood, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont accused her SNP rival of making assertions over what would happen after independence without any evidence to back them up.

Ms Lamont told Mr Salmond: "The charge at his door is that he asserts things for which he has no evidence. And it is about time that the First Minister got serious about the future of Scotland. According to the First Minister, we will be in the EU without having to apply and we know that without asking any other member state or anyone for legal advice.

"We know we don't need to have the euro and we don't need to ask anyone about that either. And we'll keep the pound and we don't need to ask anyone about that too."

Mr Salmond responded by attacking the "scaremongering campaign of Labour and their unionist colleagues in the Conservative party". He insisted that "oil-rich, gas-rich, energy-rich Scotland, fishing-rich Scotland, will be welcomed with open arms in the European Union".

At First Minister's Questions, Ms Lamont pressed Mr Salmond on an independent Scotland's possible future. First she challenged him on his position that the country would keep the pound as its currency if it left the UK.

Citing a spokesman for Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who said last week that there was a "cast-iron position" on the currency issue, Ms Lamont congratulated Mr Salmond on "gaining such an equivocal agreement" before asking: "Can I ask when this agreement with the Treasury and the Bank of England was reached? When and where was it signed? And when did negotiations start?"

Mr Salmond told her that Scottish Secretary Michael Moore "pointed out there was no legal bar on Scotland having sterling as its currency".

He also insisted: "The proposition we put forward for a sterling zone is an extremely reasonable one. We think it suits the interests of Scotland and suits the interest of the rest of the UK to have a sterling zone."

The clash came the day after an editorial in the Washington Post claimed that Scottish independence could lead to "a less stable world". The paper also said that independence could destabilise the pound and that the UK would be able to veto Scotland's entry to the European Union.

Ms Lamont hit out: "The Washington Post, the newspaper that exposed Richard Nixon's corruption, knows a chancer when it sees one. These are serious matters being addressed by serious people. If the Post can see that from Washington, why can't the First Minister see that from here?"

Mr Salmond argued that the Washington Post editorial contained "almost as many mistakes as Johann Lamont makes in the week".

He said he welcomed the contribution of US newspapers to the debate on Scotland's future. The Los Angeles Times said last week that the "most important difference" is that independence would make Scotland "master of its economy and natural resources", he told Ms Lamont. “I very much agree with that."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said political agreement from all 27 other European member states, rather than legal opinion, will be needed to allow a smooth transition to EU statehood for Scotland.

He said: "It's hard to believe the First Minister doesn't have one single agreement. He clearly thinks all 27 will just sign up to whatever he wants.

"This is not just about the specific legal advice he asked for, or not, or the academic opinion he prefers to cite, or ignores. This is about the politics, the domestic politics of other countries too.

"The First Minister might not like this but other people now doubt what he says and they want to know for sure they might lose before they vote in any referendum."

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