Scottish nationalist leader dismisses claim of sinister campaign tactics

By William James
Reuters
Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, addresses Members of the Scottish Parliament, during First Minister's Question Time, in Edinburgh
Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond (R), addresses Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), during First Minister's Question Time, the last before Scotland votes in a referendum on independence, in Edinburgh August 21, 2014. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

By William James

LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of Scotland's pro-independence campaign Alex Salmond on Sunday dismissed an accusation that grassroots supporters had used "organized street mobbery" to try to silence a series of street debates hosted by an opposition lawmaker.

The two sides in debate over Scotland's future have been trading barbs ahead of a Sept. 18 vote on whether to become an independent state, or to keep the country's 307-year-old union with England and Wales intact.

A poll last week showed that support for independence had risen after a televised debate, although surveys still show a lead for the 'Better Together' anti-independence campaign.

The accusations of intimidation came from Jim Murphy, a member of the British parliament who last week suspended a tour of Scottish towns designed to promote the case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Murphy, who was pelted by eggs during one debate, said he had been the victim of a sinister and coordinated effort by local-level campaigners to drown out his events.

"There are always hecklers. That's absolutely fine. But what's happened over the past fortnight or so is organized street mobbery, and that's unacceptable," Murphy told Sky News.

But Scottish nationalist leader Salmond dismissed the idea that there had been a co-ordinated attempt to undermine Murphy's events, writing such things off as the actions of a lone few.

"I condemn egg throwing or any intimidation from any side... Let's condemn the odd idiot, because there are idiots on all sides," he said, accusing Murphy of "ridiculous" attention-seeking.

Salmond insisted that bickering should not be allowed to overshadow the independence debate during its final days, saying that the referendum had engaged hundreds of thousands of Scots in a political debate for the first time.

"This is the most empowering story in history - certainly Scottish history," he said.

However, not all Scots have engaged with the debate. Scottish police said that a 28-year-old man had been arrested for allegedly trying to sell his vote in the referendum through the online auctions site eBay.

(Editing by Hugh Lawson)