Scottish leader: Thatcher spurred independence drive

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond on Tuesday suggested that Margaret Thatcher gave a bigger boost to the Scottish independence movement than even Mel Gibson's 1995 film "Braveheart."

"I don't think it would be unfair to say her legacy in Scotland was to vastly increase support for a Scottish parliament," Salmond said, in response to a question about the late British prime minister, who died on Monday.

Thatcher's former Conservative government held a majority of English seats in the joint United Kingdom parliament, and forced through unpopular policies despite have very little representation north of the border in Scotland.

"That sort of vigorous move by Westminster governments concentrated the minds of Scotland greatly in terms of the advantages of controlling their own destiny," Salmond said, during a visit to Washington.

When a reporter suggested that the 1995 Oscar-winning film "Braveheart" -- a biopic of medieval Scottish nationalist hero William Wallace -- might have played a role in a surge of separatist sentiment, Salmond demurred.

"While 'Braveheart' I think was a grand film, well worthy of its Academy Awards, in my opinion, I don't think that's the essence of what's happening in Scotland at present," he said.

After the Labour Party ousted the Conservatives in the British parliament it granted Scotland greater autonomy and its own national parliament, one in which Salmond's Scottish Nationalist won a majority 2011.

Hoping to build on this triumph, Salmond has scheduled a referendum for September 18, 2014 on whether Scotland should become fully independent.

Salmond, who was in the United States to celebrate "Scotland Week", said Scotland would seek to remain in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) while keeping the British pound as its currency.

He expressed great confidence that the referendum would pass, pointing to his party's recent electoral victories and polls showing that the Scottish government is more popular than the British one in Westminster.

London-based political parties, including Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives, want Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom, arguing that its 5.3 million people are better off within the Union.

Those opposed to independence say the referendum is unlikely to pass, and recent polls indicate that, while support for independence has risen recently, the "no" vote still outnumbers the "yes" by a comfortable margin.

A Sunday Times/Real Radio Scotland poll in late March found that 46 percent of Scots are opposed to independence while just 36 percent are in favor and 18 percent are undecided.

By holding the vote in September 2014, the SNP will be hoping to ride a wave of Scottish pride, as the Commonwealth Games take place in the city of Glasgow in July and August of that year.

2014 is also the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a medieval Scottish victory over English forces.