Thursday 5th January 2017
Alex Salmond, Scottish National Party MP for Gordon, talks with Dr Marcus Papadopoulos about Scotland’s historic ties with Europe and how these can be protected and maintained following the Brexit vote
Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom has become a major talking point at Westminster ever since the Scottish National Party formed the Government of Scotland in 2007. And following the landslide victory of the SNP at the 2015 General Election, many commentators believe that it is now inevitable that Scotland will gain its independence. The question is not if but when.
The momentum for an independent Scotland has received a significant boost as a result of the Brexit vote this June, which could be the turning-point in the quest for Scottish independence. In contrast to most English people, Scottish people hold a favourable opinion of the European Union, regarding the economic bloc as crucial to the Scottish economy. It is also the case that many Scots opine that the EU is an internationalist organisation which reflects their internationalist outlook.
With chaos at Westminster concerning Brexit, the SNP is warning Prime Minister Theresa May that there are red lines for Scotland and that it will not allow Westminster to cross these. In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is manoeuvring to fight for Scotland to remain in the European single market, while at Westminster this task has fallen to Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader. However, a pivotal figure in the campaign for Scottish independence has inevitably taken on the fight for Scotland’s place in the single market: Alex Salmond.
Should Scotland one day become independent, Alex would, undoubtedly, be considered as having played a crucial role in achieving this. A stalwart and charismatic figure, Alex has, through his tireless endeavour, made the SNP the powerhouse that it is today and has made independence for Scotland a distinct possibility, defying many at Westminster who often said that Scottish independence was fantasy talk.
Dismayed at the potential consequences for the Scottish economy should the UK leave the single market, Alex is making the case, in his customary passionate manner, that Scotland’s future must not be jeopardised by the Conservative Government, who he regards as having an “indifferent attitude” towards the Scottish people.
In this exclusive interview, Alex talks about Scotland’s historic links to Europe, the attitude of Scots towards immigration, how Scotland can remain in the single market, and discusses the UK Government’s idea for special deals in the context of Brexit.
Q Why do you think Scotland voted to stay in the European Union?
Well, first of all, Scotland is a European nation with a 1,000 year history and has always considered itself more European in its outlook than what England does. William Wallace, who is Scotland’s greatest hero, and together with Andrew de Moray, unexpectedly won the Battle of Stirling Bridge, in 1297, against the Kingdom of England, and in the immediate aftermath of this stunning victory, the two newly installed guardians of Scotland wrote to the Hanseatic League saying that Scotland would like to start trading again with Europe, as Scots had regained control over their country. So Scotland having a presence in the European single marketplace, in its medieval context, was uppermost in the minds of Scottish independence fighters. Scotland’s relationship with Europe, therefore, has a long, evolved history.
Now, another factor which is much more immediate in accounting for why Scotland voted to remain in the EU is because while the campaign in England turned on immigration, which motivated many English people to turn against Europe, in Scotland, the attitude towards immigration is very different. Scotland has experienced the terrible, destructive effects of emigration on a very substantial scale. My contention is this: no country which understands the damage which emigration inflicts on society can resent and fear immigration because emigration destroys communities and empties countries of talent and ability. So countries which have experienced the edge of emigration simply do not fear immigration.
Q Can you elaborate on why you think England voted to leave the EU.
In addition to the underlining resentment towards immigrants, which was played upon by Conservative MPs and the right-wing media, there was a ham-fisted campaign by David Cameron and George Osborne, especially the latter, at Project Fear, which blundered and rebounded very badly for the pair of them in England. I think I understand the everyday person in England much better than what Messrs Cameron and Osborne do, and the English, like any other people in the world, do not like being bullied and bludgeoned in the way that the former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer were confident they could do. And on top of that, Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne turned a perfectly credible analysis by the Treasury, on the impact of Brexit over the medium-term, into saying that there would be an economic Armageddon within minutes of a Brexit. While it is likely that there will be a 20 per cent decline in investment and trade from hard Brexit, and while it is likely that there will be a loss of 7.5 per cent in GDP, you simply cannot translate this forecast into saying that there will be an immediate recession. There is an old phrase which the Conservatives should have considered before making Mr Osborne as their Chancellor: too clever by half.
Q Can you explain the economic links between Scotland and the EU.
In short, they are substantial. And we can both highlight and quantify them. So approximately 45 per cent of Scottish exports go to the EU, and being outside of the single market could result, over the medium-term, in 80,000 jobs being lost in Scotland. Now, the threat facing Scotland and, indeed, the rest of the UK, is being made all the worse because of utter confusion within the Conservative Government over what Brexit will entail. The Conservatives simply do not have a strategy for dealing with a situation which affects the lives of millions of ordinary people in the UK as a whole. It is a total disgrace and the Conservatives should be ashamed of themselves.
Q Is independence for Scotland the only realistic way for the country to remain in the EU?
Well, to remain in the EU, I would answer yes because Brexit will happen. But Nicola Sturgeon has drawn a red line by saying that Scotland must remain in the single market. However, achieving the First Minister’s objective will be very difficult because Prime Minister Theresa May wants to control immigration, and a country will not be in the single market if it does not accept what is one of the four freedoms of the EU – it simply will not be possible. The idea being put forward by the Conservatives of special deals for the car manufacturing industry and the city will not work, either, as you cannot have free movement for car workers and bankers but for no one else. That idea is, frankly speaking, pie in the sky stuff. And the idea that the other 27 EU countries will sign up to it is nonsensical. Nobody will sign up to make the UK more competitive against their own industry. It is ludicrous and shows how desperate the Conservatives are.
Further to that, there are three red lines for Scotland. As I have mentioned, one of them is to stay in the single market. The other two are equality of treatment for other Europeans and protection of social employment rights of Scots, which are currently protected by EU legislation. Now, can Nicola Sturgeon achieve all of those? Well, technically speaking, it is possible that Scotland’s wishes could be acceded to. But the question is will they be acceded to, or will the UK Government just work to pursue its special deals for the car industry and the city and not for the nation of Scotland. If Scotland’s wishes are not respected, then I am certain that Nicola Sturegon will hold an independence referendum in about two years’ time, as, logically speaking, this would be before Brexit takes effect.
Q Finally, and you have already touched on this, do you think the UK will actually leave the EU?
Yes, I do. And the only way Brexit can be averted is an early general election in which a party comes to power with a mandate of not leaving the EU. Now, will the UK leave the single market? I think the likelihood is yes because I do not see how the circle can be squared, as long as the Prime Minister commits herself to the idea of opposing free movement of labour. Conversely, of course, if Theresa May would agree to free movement of labour, then this would be a different matter; however, there is no sign of this happening at present. Theresa May is a Prime Minister with no mandate, who is struggling on policies and struggling in maintaining discipline within the Conservative Party, and who is facing huge challenges ahead. And the only anchor she takes is discharging a mandate on immigration; well, if this is her high priority then she and the whole country are going to pay a very high price.