Scottish independence: Both sides stress importance of reconciliation

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Alex Salmond and Douglas Alexander
Image caption,
Alex Salmond and Douglas Alexander both called on their opponents in the independence debate to work with them after the referendum

Both sides in the Scottish independence debate have stressed the importance of reconciliation whatever the result of the referendum.

First Minister Alex Salmond unveiled details of a cross-party team he plans to set up to negotiate the terms of independence if there is a "Yes" vote.

Labour said it would invite the SNP to work with it to strengthen devolution if Scotland votes "No".

The referendum on Scottish independence will be held on 18 September.

On Sunday, the Church of Scotland invited leaders from both sides of the debate to attend a "reconciliation service" three days after the vote.

The service, at Edinburgh's St Giles' Cathedral on 21 September, will focus on healing divisions and building the future together, the church said.

Mr Salmond said his so-called Team Scotland of negotiators would comprise politicians from across the political divide, as well as key experts from outside politics.

Its non-partisan membership would demonstrate "the wish of those of us on the Yes side to move forward in a consensual way once the people have spoken", he said.

The first minister said the team would begin talks with the UK government before the end of September, "marking the point at which the real negotiations will begin".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Politicians are marking the 15th anniversary of the reconvened Scottish Parliament

He said: "The independence team will secure expertise from across the political spectrum and beyond, and from Scotland and beyond, to begin talks with Westminster before the end of this September - marking the point at which the real negotiations will begin.

"I understand that people on the other side of the political debate cannot accept that at the moment, but I hope and expect that they will be fully part of the Team Scotland approach once the votes have been cast.

"It is also the case that a number of people outside party politics - but with key expertise - have already been approached and the response has been universally positive.

"More clearly than anything else this demonstrates the wish of those of us on the Yes side to move forward in a consensual way once the people have spoken."

Mr Salmond said Scotland was currently engaged in the most exciting debate in the country's democratic history, with "unparalleled levels of public engagement and participation".

He added: "Part of the process of politicians rising to the challenge of the people is to commit to continue the mood of engagement after the result. The Team Scotland approach is part of that commitment."

Meanwhile, Labour's shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said it would be important to ensure Scotland does not "divide more deeply" after the referendum, when voters will be asked the Yes/No question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

In a speech in Edinburgh to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Labour leader John Smith and the 15th anniversary of the first sitting of the reconvened Scottish Parliament, he called for a "politics of opponents, not enemies" inspired by Mr Smith's example.

He also called for a "respectful discourse of political discourse" rather than a politics that "descends into personal destruction".

Mr Alexander did not indicate if Labour would accept the first minister's offer of talks if voters backed independence.

"If we see a 'Yes' vote, contrary to all the opinion poll evidence, then there would be judgements that need to made by Johann Lamont as Scottish Labour's leader as to how our party would respond to that judgement by the Scottish people," he said.

"But there's no indication at this stage that it's the likely outcome."

Edinburgh Agreement

Earlier, Mr Alexander told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "I think feelings are running deep and inevitably, whatever the outcome of this referendum, there will be a minority - but potentially a significant minority - of the population who will feel disappointed at a very personal level, both about their sense of who they are, and also the nation to which they belong.

"In terms of what comes after the referendum, I do think there will be a very fundamental choice, almost an existential choice, facing the nationalists.

"My plea to them would be to join us in the task of making devolution work, rather than proving devolution wrong."

The Edinburgh Agreement, which was signed by Mr Salmond and UK Prime Minister David Cameron ahead of the referendum campaign, obliges both governments to "continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom."

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