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Cameron tells Scots he will fight to keep UK intact

Update: February, 17/2012 - 11:35

EDINBURGH – Prime Minister David Cameron vowed in a speech in the Scottish capital on Thursday to fight to keep the United Kingdom intact as Scotland's leaders push for a referendum in 2014 on independence.

In an impassioned address made against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, the British premier said he believed with his "head, heart and soul" that the 300-year-old union should continue.

Cameron also offered to consider allowing Scotland to have more devolved powers if voters reject independence.

"I believe in the United Kingdom. I am a Unionist head, heart and soul. I believe that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are stronger together than they would ever be apart," he said.

"I'm ready to fight for the life of this country."

Later, Cameron held his first talks about the referendum with Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), but the British premier said they had made little progress.

Cameron described the discussions as "constructive," but told BBC television: "On the issue of independence, separating Scotland, leaving the United Kingdom, I am afraid there wasn't much progress."

In his speech, Cameron said the UK was stronger "because Scotland's five million people are part of an economy of 60 million with no boundaries, borders or customs".

But in a sign of the divisions between the two leaders, Salmond rejected Cameron's arguments as "threadbare" and said many of the British premier's arguments were irrelevant to most Scots.

The Scottish and UK governments disagree on a number of referendum issues, including who has the legal authority to organise a vote.

The Edinburgh government is open to including a second question on the ballot paper, asking people if they want more powers for the Scottish parliament but stopping short of independence.

In his speech, Cameron conceded that Scotland could go it alone if its people so wished.

"There are plenty of small, independent nation states of a similar size or even smaller," he said.

"Scotland could make its way alongside countries like these."

But he said while Scotland could govern itself, it was stronger and more able to face the challenges of the future as part of the UK.

"I don't believe that the people of Scotland, any more than the people of any other part of the United Kingdom, want to turn inward and away from each other at this time," he said.

Cameron also repeated his calls that the referendum should be held as soon as possible because the uncertainty was damaging for the economy. The SNP wants to hold the vote in the final quarter of 2014.-- AFP

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