LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron accused Scottish leader Alex Salmond on Friday of dithering over an independence referendum, mocking Salmond’s performance as being more like the movie “Chicken Run” than Scottish nationalist epic “Braveheart”.
Cameron launched a spirited attack on Salmond, leader of Scotland’s nationalist government who wants to hold a referendum on Scottish independence from Britain, saying Salmond had become the “big road-block” standing in the way of a referendum.
Cameron, who wants to keep the United Kingdom intact, has conceded that Salmond has the right to call a referendum on whether to dissolve the 300-year-old union with England.
But he disagrees with Salmond’s devolved administration in Edinburgh over the timing of a referendum and the wording of the ballot-box question to be put to voters.
Cameron says the referendum should be held as soon as possible to dispel what he says is damaging uncertainty for the Scottish economy, while Salmond wants a vote in late 2014.
“I’ve offered him his referendum, but now he won’t take it,” Cameron told supporters of his centre-right Conservative Party at a conference in Troon, Scotland.
“First he wanted a referendum in 2010. Now he says he needs 1,000 days. First he said he wanted one question. Now he’s flirting with two,” he said.
“I thought we were meant to be watching the movie ‘Braveheart’. It turns out it’s ‘Chicken Run,’” Cameron said, to laughter and applause from his supporters.
Hollywood blockbuster “Braveheart” portrays Scottish hero William Wallace’s struggles against the English in the 13th century whereas “Chicken Run” is an animated film about chickens escaping from a farm.
Cameron said his message to Salmond was: “Stop dithering and start delivering.”
Cameron wants to put one yes-or-no question to Scottish voters on independence while Salmond is open to having a second question on further devolution of powers from London, known as “Devo-Max”.
Polls suggest between 30 and 40 percent of Scots support independence. Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) hopes it can increase that by 2014, when national pride may be boosted by the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a famous victory over the English.
A law currently making its way through the British and Scottish parliaments will extend the Scottish government’s tax-raising and borrowing powers.
Cameron said he was “open-minded” about transferring more powers, “as long as those powers are truly about improving the lives of people in Scotland, not just bargaining chips in some endless game of constitutional poker.”
In response, Chic Brodie, an SNP member of the Scottish parliament, said all Cameron had to offer was “a vague promise of ‘something else’ if people vote ‘no’ to independence - which will only succeed in encouraging more people to vote ‘yes’.”
Accusing Cameron of desperately trying to dictate the terms of the referendum, Brodie said Scotland was “firmly on the road to independence”.
All major British parties want to keep the union intact, but Cameron faces a dilemma over how to handle the pro-union campaign because his Conservative Party is unpopular north of the border, where it has just one member of parliament.
Independence would lead to complex negotiations on issues such as dividing up North Sea oil revenues, the national debt and the future of Britain’s nuclear-armed submarines, which are based in Scotland.
Editing by Susan Fenton