Cameron invited to Scotland talks

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Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has invited David Cameron to hold discussions over a referendum on whether it should become an independent nation.

Mr Salmond said he would meet the Prime Minister “in Edinburgh, in London or wherever” to discuss the way forward on the vote which has led to a bitter political row in recent days.

His offer came as he met Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg for a summit of the British-Irish Council in Dublin and just hours after he accused the UK Government of “bullying” Scotland over independence.

Mr Clegg rejected the accusation but said he wanted want direct talks with the Scottish Government.

The invitation came as Defra Secretary Caroline Spelman told Scottish farmers seceding from the United Kingdom would weaken their position in Europe and that they stood a much better chance of getting a good deal in forthcoming Common Agricultural Policy negotiations with the weight of the UK Government behind them.

She also highlighted the importance of the Scottish food and farming sector to the UK economy, thought to be worth as much as £10bn.

“Scotland’s produce is becoming the envy of the world thanks to the hard work of fishermen, farmers and everyone else involved in food and drink production” she said.

“The success that the industry achieved in 2011 was phenomenal and brought enormous benefits to the economy of not just Scotland but the whole of the UK.”

Mr Salmond said he would publish his proposals for a 2014 independence referendum on January 25 and said he would be happy to meet Mr Cameron after that.

He told journalists: “We believe, we know, and I think it’s generally acknowledged that we have got an unanswerable political mandate – that is an absolute majority in a proportional parliamentary system - to conduct a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future.

“What I have said to the Deputy Prime Minister, which I think is similar to what the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons, is that, once we’ve published the Scottish Government’s consultation document, I am very happy to meet the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister in Edinburgh, in London or wherever to talk through these things in a positive way.

“Far better, whatever our views on events of recent days, that we can come to a constructive dialogue. I think that’s what the people would expect and I think that can take us forward.”

The offer of talks follows the UK Government’s launch earlier this week of a consultation on proposals for devolving new powers to Holyrood to allow it to call a referendum – something Mr Cameron insists it does not currently have the legal power to do.

Mr Cameron called on Wednesday for direct talks between the two governments as part of the consultation process.

Following the First Minister’s comments, Mr Clegg’s spokesman said: “If this means that Alex Salmond is saying he is going to engage constructively and join the conversation, then we welcome that.”

Under the proposals put forward, a referendum could be held within 18 months on the single yes-or-no question of whether Scotland should become independent of the United Kingdom.

No date has been suggested for the poll, though Ministers are prepared to set a deadline once the consultation ends on March 9.

Earlier in the week Chancellor George Osborne said the Scottish economy would “lose out” under independence and warned against it joining the euro, which he said he would not want to join “at a time like this”.