Salmond ‘surprised’ by Obama’s independence intervention

Alex Salmond has expressed "surprise" at Barack Obama's intervention in the Scottish independence debate, as analysts tried to establish what effect, if any, the president's remarks will have on the campaign.

Obama used a joint press conference with David Cameron last week to say it was in the US' interests for Britain to remain "strong, robust and united", although he did stress that the decision was for the people of Scotland.

"It was certainly surprising because America the government made it very clear they were staying studiously neutral," Salmond told the Andrew Marr programme this morning.

"But of course Cameron has been begging everyone internationally to say anything.

"In the Richter scale of presidential interventions this was pretty mild.

"If Scotland becomes independent then America will have two allies on this island, not just one."

The Obama intervention is unlikely to significantly affect views on either side of the debate, although the comments did shock SNP officials, who had based much of their rhetoric and strategy on the president's fight for the White House.

Salmond's original response to the intervention even quoted Obama, saying: "Our message to the people of Scotland in the campaign in the months ahead is: 'yes we can'."

The Obama intervention may have been encouraged by concerns about the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent if an independent Scotland insists on getting Trident facilities moved out the country.

But a preference for stability and concerns about effects on separatist movements within their own states mean most world leaders are likely to err on the side of the 'no' campaign.

Presidential interventions in independence referendums rarely prove useful. Some analysts believe Bill Clinton's intervention in Quebec's 1995 referendum was a mistake, although the region in the end voted to stay part Canada by a wafer-thin margin.