Scotland already preparing for new independence vote - Alex Salmond (RT EXCLUSIVE)
Brexit is threatening to split not just the EU but also the UK itself. Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union and is now refusing to give up its place in the bloc. The Scottish leadership is now pushing for a new independence referendum from the UK. Is a separation vote just around the corner? And does it have a better chance of succeeding this time around? We ask the man who was the driving force behind the independence referendum in Scotland in 2014, former First Minister of Scotland - Alex Salmond is on Sophie&Co today.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Alex Salmond former First Minister of Scotland and a long-time leader of the Scottish National Party, welcome to the show one more time - great to have you, always. Now, mr. Salmond, second Scottish Independence referendum is now officially on the table; what exactly is your plan of action this time around?
Alex Salmond: It's great to be back, Sophie, but Nicola Sturgeon laid this out very clearly over the last two days. In fact, she's the only political leader across the UK who gives any semblance of knowing what she's doing and she's been giving very clear direction. And what she said is - look, we've got a mandate from the Scottish people, 62% of the vote, who want to remain in the context of the EU. Therefore, to carry forward that mandate, we're going to engage in direct talks with European leaders to try and protect Scotland's interests, and that may well involve another independence referendum and this time, I think, most people are now confident that the result from Scotland would be "YES" to independence.
SS: We'll talk about that separately, but as far as staying in the EU and Scottish referendum, what kind of resistance can you expect from the central government, this time?
AS: Well - we don't know who the central government is! The PM's gone, the leader of the opposition is going, the Chancellor is in hiding or maybe he has been kidnapped - we haven't seen him for a few days. If he's kidnapped, nobody will be paying the ransom. There doesn't seem to be any leaders left. Not just the ruling party, the Conservatives, but the Labour party is now in turmoil. We have most of the Shadow Cabinet resigning, and Jeremy Corbyn limping on, and wanting to stay, but the Labour party... So, it has left both the government and the opposition at Westminster in total turmoil and the only political leader in these islands who is coming forward with a clear and worked out and organized plan of action is Nicola Sturgeon. I can see people in England, all over England, regardless of their views on Europe, regardless of whether they are Labour or Tory, all wishing that Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister was actually in charge of their party. So, we've got a leader who's in charge, we've got a government in Scotland which is governing, and that government wants to open direct negotiations with the European leaders in order to protect Scotland's position within the context of the EU and community, and that vital single-market place which means so much for the Scottish workers and Scottish families.
SS: I still wonder if you can take advantage of everything that has happened, because the SNP campaigned against Brexit, but could it be a blessing in disguise for the party, now that it is a reality?
AS: Well, of course, we argued and successfully, as far as Scotland's concerned, because the only decisive vote in this whole affair was a decisive vote in favor of Europe from Scotland. We argued that it was best that Scotland and England and Northern Ireland - who also voted to remain, incidentally - and Wales stay within the EU. But the English people have spoken and they've spoken by a majority of some 6%, that they want out of Europe. The Scottish people have also spoken, by a majority of 24%, and the Scottish people want to stay in Europe. So, we now have a circumstance where the First Minister of Scotland, as the only leader who's still in position, unchallenged, and is working out her plan, is opening these direct negotiations with Europe. Now, that's not "taking advantage" because that's just accepting the democratic wishes of the people of England, but also being instructed by the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland.
SS: Now, you have said that Scotland may be dragged out of the EU against its will. Scotland is still part of the UK, and you voted in this referendum, and you knew the Remain could lose. Isn't is as democratic as it gets? Isn't this democracy in action?
AS: Of course, what you have to understand - I know that you will, Sophie - that the UK isn't one nation. There are four component nations of the UK: that's England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Now, clearly England and Wales voted to Brexit, they voted to come out of Europe, that's what their people decided. Both in the case of Scotland and Northern Ireland, the people voted to stay in Europe. Therefore, you would expect both politicians in Scotland and Northern Ireland to try and implement the people's will. Now, many people, myself included, believe that that will make an Independence referendum either very-very likely or perhaps, inevitable. Therefore, that is very much on the table, as the First Minister of Scotland has put it.
SS: So this possible next Scottish Independence campaign, will it be more on remaining in the EU, as opposed to leaving the UK? What do you think? Does it have a better chance of winning that way?
AS: You remember, because I know that you've covered, and if I may say so, covered extremely well the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, and you remember that one of the arguments that was deployed against Scottish independence - it sounds ridiculous now, but nonetheless - in their version of "Project Fear" as it was called, they said: "Look, if you vote for independence, then you'll be jeopardizing Scotland's position within Europe" - and now, of course, we didn't vote for independence, and we find that Westminster is threatening to pull Scotland out of Europe! So, you can hardly be surprised that many people in Scotland who were sold a pup, who were so deceived back in 2014 are now changing their minds, and we had a very significant change of minds - I mean, for example, one of my predecessors as First Minister, Labour First Minister, Henry McLeish, is now already saying, he has changed his mind, he thinks Scottish Independence is now the way the forward, and that's been reflected of course in the opinion polls, with one poll showing 59% of the population in Scotland now in favor of independence, including 75% of young people in Scotland, which of course, are the people who are most pro-independence and most pro-European, so therefore, the context in which the independence argument was played out in 2014 has now changed decisively. I would hope and believe that that momentum will both secure the Scottish independence and Scotland's position within Europe.
SS: As you've said, Scotland is now seeking to enter immediate discussions with Brussels, and European leaders have been invited to a summit in Edinburgh to discuss Scotland's options to remain in the EU. Now, who do you think will come to this summit?
AS: I can tell you that I've already seen tweets from key personalities within the European structure, for example, the former PM of Belgium, 10 years PM of Belgium, leader of the ALDE group, the liberal group in the European Parliament is already saying that he wants to discuss it and think it has been entirely unfair for Scotland to be dragged out of Europe against our will, so there's a number of key European figures already surfacing. I know, from my own conversations, because I am a member of the Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is not the EU, but the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, that many significant European figures are entirely sympathetic to Scotland's case. So, I think we'll have an entirely different perspective. You see, two things are changing - firstly, the mood in Scotland is changing, that's the most important thing, but also the mood across Europe, because in 2014 the sympathizers of Scotland, of which there are many, were by and large unwilling to break cover, because the European institutions were in the pocket of PM David Cameron. Of course, PM David Cameron who is now gone, or going, was unable to deliver, and these institutions, that institutional force will now swing to a different direction and that means that many of Scotland's sympathizers, people who understand the Scottish case, will now be far more willing to speak their mind. And I think the reluctance, you've seen previously, to come out in Scotland's favor, it will be swept away, and that's going to be one of the results of basically the English and Westminster politicians effectively thumbing their nose at the rest of Europe.
SS: I wonder, how Europe is going to react to Scotland. I remember the previous EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, he said that it would be difficult, if not impossible for the independent Scotland to join the EU. Now, that was in 2014, but with the UK on the verge of leaving the EU, will Brussels welcome Scotland back with open arms? What do you think?
AS: You've just encapsulated the change in circumstance. Now, the UK is leaving. Therefore, the previous arguments that were held... You know, Sinor Barroso is as much political history as David Cameron is becoming, so let's not dwell too much on what he had to say, because he had his own motivations, as most people in Europe understand, for that particular unwise statement. Now we've got different leaders in Europe, but more importantly, a different context. We're now in the context of the UK leaving, we're now in the context of Brexit, and therefore those in Europe, in key positions, positions of seniority, who previously were unable to speak their minds on the Scottish case, are now much freer to do so. That natural sympathy towards Scotland, I think will prevail, and I think you'll find that major European leaders will speak out very strongly in Scotland's favor. Of course, you have the position where Scotland is not trying to get out, we're trying to remain in Europe. It's the rest of the UK which would be the bit of these islands which is leaving. I can tell you, one law of negotiations is that it is much easier to negotiate no change, staying in, than to negotiate leaving and going out.
SS: You want to hold Scotland's independence referendum in the next two years, before Brexit is actually finalized. However, senior European officials want the UK to speed up this process, to minimize the impact. Is there a danger that you won't have time to hold the referendum? What's your plan if that's the case?
AS: The European officials actually want to speed up the firing of the gun - that is the implementation of the Clause 50 which has to be started by the initiative of the UK government, by the state that's leaving. Still, I don't think anyone in Europe believes that the process of negotiations will take less than 2 years. I mean, all previous precedents would tell you that two years is a very very tight timetable indeed. Certainly, what they've said is: "we don't want any shilly shallying in firing of the Brexit gun. We want the Clause 50 implemented so that you can start the 2 year process." Because, only after that gun is fired, the two year clock starts ticking, and certainly this impatience that we've seen that they want that to happen - I think understandably, because after all, David Cameron as PM, previously said that if there was an "Out" vote, that he would start the Clause 50 the following day and now he's saying he's going to wait till the autumn, until there's a new conservative leader and PM. So you can understand, there's a bit of impatience in other European leaders, but there's going to be a lot of impatience with Westminster government in a whole variety of ways, given what's happened over the last few days.
SS: But, is there a danger you won't have time to hold the referendum?
AS: No. Nicola Sturgeon, I think, very wisely - and this is why I think she's coming across as the outstanding politician across the UK at the present moment - she's already made the preparations. If you look at the last few days, I know that viewers across Europe and elsewhere won't necessarily have seen all of this, but I can't overstate the chaos, the confusion, the headless chickens running about with no sense of direction whatsoever, that has engulfed all of the political establishment of London, of the major parties, and the one figure, the solitary figure, the only figure who has been speaking clearly, concisely, with total command of the facts and circumstances, has been the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon quite clearly she's been the only one who has thought this plan out. So therefore, she's already prepared the legislation that's necessary in the Scottish Parliament in order to provide for the calling of the referendum. That process is already underway. So, basically, she's got what we would say, her ducks in a row, and therefore, she's been the only politician who's been able to come across as being in command of events. Every other politician: David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, all sorts of people who disappeared and most of them have gone into hiding, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. I have no idea what they're doing at the present moment! That's why she stands alone head and shoulders above the other politicians in the UK, and usually, the man, or in this case, the woman, with a plan - is the one that prevails.
SS: Okay, but also there's of course a difficult economic situation to take into account, and the Scottish economy is on the brink of recession. I mean, oil is cheap, and no longer profitable. Won't the Scottish public be scared of the independence in this situation?
AS: I think I can speak to all of people who are feeling feeling the effects of a low price of oil at the present moment: all oil producers, whether that be Scotland or Russia or the Middle East or Canada or America, are feeling the impact of the oil recession at the present moment. That is just a part and parcel, I am afraid, of being one of the major oil producers. However, there are 50 major oil and gas producers in the world, Scotland is one of them. And none of these 50 countries would rather not have oil and gas - it is still a huge advantage to the economy. For example, in Scotland's case we've got twice sale sufficiency in gas for the next 50 years. That is still an advantage for any economy, even if you're in position when revenues are much less. Remember, of course, Scotland has much much more to it, as an economy, rather than just being a major oil and gas producer. For example, among the world universities, we've got about five out of top 100. We've got some of the highest international reputation in the world. We have a great and deserved reputation for innovation, we've got skilled engineering, we've got a buoyant tourist industry at the present moment in one of the most beautiful countries on Earth! Therefore, these inventive, people in this beautiful country of 5.5 million, with a higher export record than the UK as a whole, and even without oil, only marginally less of the GDP than UK as a whole - this country is well able to look after itself in good times and in tough times.
SS: So, you know, right, that the very next day, after Brexit was announced, over a million Brits signed a petition calling for a second referendum, requiring 60% majority and a higher turnout - now, due to the amount of signatures, the idea now must be discussed in Parliament. Is there any chance the vote will be overturned? Will this petition be taken seriously in Westminster?
AS: I think it deserves to be taken seriously, but I think there's no chance it will be overturned. When Parliaments decide to call referendum - and they did that against my wishes and the wishes of the SNP, but they've called a referendum and once you've call the referendum, you're bound by the result. English politicians are bound by the result in England just as Nicola Sturgeon feels herself bound by the result in Scotland. Once you've called a referendum, you've got to accept it, unless there's a significant, material change in circumstances some years later - as we now see in Scotland. What Nicola Sturgeon has said and went to the people last month and was re-elected as First Minister on this position, she said: "Look, if there's a significant material change in circumstances, for example, Scotland being threatened of being dragged out of Europe against the wishes of the Scottish people - if that prevails, then there's a case for the Scottish parliament holding a second referendum." But without a material change in circumstances, and you don't have one as far as the UK is concerned, then a Parliament who calls a referendum shall implement the wishes of the people. They're duty bound to do that, unless there was a material change in circumstances, I don't think the petitioners who deserve to be taken seriously, because there was a great deal wrong with Cameron's referendum campaign and the context of the referendum, they deserve to be taken seriously. But I don't consider there'll be a majority in the Westminster Parliament to have a rerun of the referendum.
SS: I know Cameron may not be your favorite person, but he's resigning from his post just like you resigned after your narrow defeat in the Scottish referendum. Do you understand his feelings right now? What do you think? Does he deserve respect for keeping his promise of holding this vote, or would he have been better off never promising anything in the first place?
AS: I know that even David Cameron now realizes he shouldn't have committed himself to the referendum. The reason he did that, of course, was to hold the Conservative Party together against the threat of the UKIP. That was the reason he did, it was for party management reasons, not for Constitutional reasons. A central difficulty in Cameron's referendum was you should have a referendum when you're trying to achieve something, trying to achieve independence for your country, trying to achieve a change in the voting system, or even, in case of some countries, a new national anthem. So, whether it is a huge issue or a smaller issue, you should only hold a referendum if you're asking the people's backing to make change. Common central difficulty in this referendum is he was asking the people to make no substantial change. He was campaigning for no change despite the fact he had called a referendum. That is a huge difficulty in terms of putting forward a coherent and positive case for the people. So, he ended up fighting a "Project Fear", a negative, disparaging, nasty campaign, and basically, under these circumstances, got what negative campaigns often get - and that is a comeuppance.
SS: Now, Boris Johnson has a serious chance of becoming PM. You previously expressed some concern about the former Mayor of London moving into 10 Downing St. What are you worried about exactly?
AS: Well, it's not me that is concerned and doesn't like Boris - it's the population of Scotland, for which, of course, the prospect of the Boris' government is yet another argument for independence. I've got no personal animosity against Boris Johnson, but nonetheless, everybody out here knows that the only reason that Boris campaigned for out of the EU was because he wanted to come in as leader of the conservative party and PM. So it was the ambition of Boris Johnson that was the demise of David Cameron, but much more importantly, has jeopardize the UK's position within Europe as a whole. The trouble with people in that position, the trouble with people who wield the knife in politics is that sometimes they don't get the crown, so although his odds are favorite at the present moment, I don't think it will be plain sailing for Boris either just in getting to be Prime Minister, but even more importantly, if he does get to be the PM, then the situation that he inherits might be very much a poisoned chalice.
SS: Just really quickly - I know that you've campaigned to remain, but 17 million Brits voted out. Do you think that EU should take this as a wake-up call? Will they see the shortcomings of the block that contributed to this result?
AS: Yes, I do. I think there already are indications of that from various European leaders, to understand that this is not just a question of the people of England feeling resentful about immigration - although I have to say that was the major issue that the Leave campaign brought forward - it is also about the workings of the EU and the uncertainty in terms of who decides what, the declined bureaucracy, the slow decision-taking, the remoteness of government - all matters which the EU needs to address, and they actually have the basis of doing that in the theories of Proportionality and Subsidiarity. Proportionality being that the EU should concentrate on the big stuff, the environment, the economy across Europe, the major policies where Europe has to face the world as one, which are international in their tone and content, and get out of the hair of individual countries on other things which are much much less important and where the EU has had the propensity to interfere - that is Proportionality. Second, subsidiarity is what backs that up by saying: Look, where you can take decisions at a local, national level, then you should take decisions at that level", and if the EU leaders take this up as a wake-up call and say: "Let's actually go forward with Subsidiarity and Proportionality" - then that will be a good thing for the whole Western Europe. That will be actually a bit like Perestroyka, and Glasnost' some time ago in the Soviet Union.
SS: Alright. Mr. Salmond, it's great talking to you - as usual. Good luck with everything, we were speaking with Alex Salmond, long-time leader of the Scottish Independence movement, former First Minister of Scotland; talking about the consequences of Brexit vote in the UK and the chance of the Scottish succession in its aftermath. That's it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you next time.