CARLISLE (Reuters) - An independent Scotland would rebalance the UK's economy and bring prosperity to northern England, Scottish leader Alex Salmond said on Wednesday in a bid to dispel concerns south of the border about Scotland quitting the United Kingdom.
In a speech marking St. George's Day, England's national day, Salmond stressed that historic links between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom would continue if Scots voted to go it alone in a September 18 referendum.
"The ties that bind the nations of these islands will continue and flourish after Scotland becomes independent," he said. "Scottish independence wouldn't just be good for Scotland... it would create opportunities for co-operation and partnership which would benefit the north of England more than anywhere else."
Speaking beneath the red-brick walls of Carlisle Cathedral, in the historic town of Carlisle just 10 miles (16 km) south of the Scottish border, Salmond said a Yes vote in September would change very few aspects of day-to-day life in Scotland and the other UK countries.
Scotland would keep the Queen as head of state, as in commonwealth countries such as Australia, he said, and called the UK government's threat not to share the pound as a joint currency just a stunt by the No campaign.
Salmond said that an independent Scotland would be an economic counterweight to London and the southeast of England, tapping into feelings among some in northern England as well as Scotland that they get a raw deal from distant, London-based MPs.
"The real danger for both Scotland and the regions of the UK lies with the current system. We're part of a UK which has become profoundly imbalanced," he said.
"SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS"
His appeal to northern England comes as the battle over independence heats up, with opinion polls showing the campaign against independence still in the lead but support for the Yes campaign climbing, narrowing the gap significantly.
Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) that dominates Scotland's devolved parliament, argues independence would give oil-rich Scotland the right to decide its own path rather than have policies imposed by London MPs.
But the rest of the United Kingdom - England, Wales and Northern Ireland - opposes Scottish independence, saying the union that dates back 307 years is stronger together.
"The north of England has nothing to lose, and much to gain, from the establishment of a successful independent Scotland," said Salmond in his speech in Carlisle, a town that knows much of the historically rocky relationship between the two countries, having changed hands three times in the Middle Ages.
"We don't have to grow at the expense of the north of England, both areas can grow together. Success breeds success," he said.
But local businessmen are concerned that the economics of Scottish independence don't stack up.
David Stevenson, former chairman of Scottish textiles and fashion company Edinburgh Woollen Mill, said there were still too many uncertainties.
"When running a business, you never invest in a company that doesn't produce financial forecasts," he said. "Why would you take that risk here?"
Announcing a study into cross-border high-speed rail links, Salmond said he would improve public transport to better connect Scotland and the north of England and support economic growth.
Rob Johnston, chief executive of the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said that northern England had already seen significant economic growth in the city of Manchester, but the benefits had been very localised despite good transport links.
"Any prosperity in an independent Scotland will remain centred around the large cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen," he said.
LET HIS COUNTRY DOWN
Prime Minister David Cameron used a St. George's Day message to urge a No vote in September, saying one of England's greatest achievements was its role in the global success story of the United Kingdom.
Cameron has to tread carefully in the increasingly bitter debate, well aware of the unpopularity of his Conservative party in Scotland and the image of him played up by Salmond as an upper-class, out-of-touch politician.
His main foray into the debate was in February when he made an emotional plea to the entire country to urge Scotland to vote No in September in a speech described by commentators as a "love-bombing".
On Wednesday, Cameron continued in this vein.
"Let's prove that we can be proud of our individual nations and be committed to our union of nations. Because no matter how great we are alone, we will always be greater together," he said.
Waving a copy of Cameron's six-paragraph statement, Salmond said that the British prime minister had let his country down on its national day.
"The English people... should look for a proper celebration and acknowledgement of what is an extremely important day for this nation," he said.
(Reporting by Jack Stubbs in Carlisle and Belinda Goldsmith in London; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Gunna Dickson)