First Minister Alex Salmond told a packed audience at Portlethen Parish Church to look to Norway for a vision of Scotland’s future.
Mr Salmond, joined by Scottish Cabinet colleagues at the village hall meeting on Monday (February 24), said a Norwegian style oil investment fund could provide a blueprint for an independent Scotland.
The First Minister, responding to Prime Ministers David Cameron’s assertion that the broad-based UK economy was better able to regulate and invest in the North Sea oil fields, said the Norwegian pension fund backed by oil money totalled £100,000 per head of population in the Scandinavian country.
The Aberdeenshire East MSP gave a half hour speech before he and his ministers answered questions from the audience.
In it he also addressed Chancellor George Osbourne’s “sermon on the pound”, repeating his position that it was as much Scotland’s currency as the rest of the UK’s and pointed out that the Bank of England was set up by a Scottish man.
He slammed the austerity policies of the UK Government: “Two years ago there were no food banks in the North- east of Scotland, now there are three in Aberdeen, Inverurie and Banchory.
“In the midst of plenty we have poverty”
Questions came thick and fast with issues like defence, currency and education raised by the audience.
With David Cameron’s UK cabinet meeting less than ten miles away in Aberdeen a day of drama was guaranteed.
And so it proved with a Better Together campaign van (pictured) showing up before Mr Salmond and his colleagues had even arrived.
On arrival the Cabinet adjourned to the nearby community hall for their private meeting.
A number of local funding announcements were made following the meeting including a £60,000 investment in the Portlethen Jubilee Hall, a £1.2 million expansion for Portlethen’s fire and rescue training centre and £10.6 million for a new “centre for excellence” for the oil and gas industry.
Speaking to the Leader after the event Mr Salmond said the meeting was “fantastic”: “I don’t think there’s any better way to conduct a democratic campaign than in this (local meetings) format.
“It’s great for the people who get to come along and ask questions and great for the politicians... there’s no substitute, no substitute whatsoever... You can have all the advisors in the world but they’ll never give you the same insight.”
He pointed to the fact that the UK cabinet had not held a public discussion: “I thought David Cameron was frightened of debating with me but it turns out he’s frightened of debating with the people as well.
“It’s a fundamental difference between our style of politics... I think there is also a debate about two futures for our country... In my opinion this is the way to conduct this campaign and it is the way we’ll continue to conduct our campaign.
“I’ve written to David Cameron on many occasions asking for this debate and he writes back saying ‘no’... When we wrote the White Paper last October it was my assumption that this debate would take place... initially the Prime Minister’s answer was that he wasn’t part of the debate and it was a matter for the people of Scotland but then of course, more recently, we’ve had not only his own entry into the debate but also dispatching William Hague and George Osbourne up to issue edicts from on high... my point is that you can’t be part of the debate and stand above it.”
On the issue of the oil industry he said he had been an oil and gas economist while Mr Cameron was “still fooling about on the playing fields of Eton.”
“All we have to do in the North- east of Scotland is look across the North Sea where a country smaller than Scotland population wise (Norway), by any estimation, has handled its oil and gas resource fundamentally better than Scotland has through Westminster.
“Its worker’s terms and conditions, in terms of safety, are significantly better in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea...”
When quizzed on whether the £500 million transaction fees he highlighted as a reason English businesses would not want Scotland to leave the pound were small comparatively he said: “Well you can say that but it isn’t George Osbourne who would be paying them it would be the businesses in England who would be paying them. I wouldn’t think the businesses would think it was a small thing...”
David Bowie’s intervention into the debate also came up with the First Minister saying with a smile: “I’m sure David Bowie would be the first to say that we can all be heroes just for the day... everybody is entitled to their opinions and we want to hear them.”
Mr Cameron visited the Etap oil platform 150 miles east of Aberdeen tweeting: “As I was shown around- I could see how the UK’s broad shoulders provide stability for the industry to invest.”
A recent poll in our flagship paper The Scotsman found 49% opposed to independence.
The Independence Referendum will be held on September 18 this year.