Tuesday

12th Dec 2017

Interview

Former Scottish leader warns of pre-Brexit independence vote

  • "If the Scottish government's position is not accepted, a referendum becomes very likely," said Alex Salmond. (Photo: SNP/Flickr)

The Scottish nationalist government is ready to organise an independence referendum even before a Brexit deal is reached, if Scotland gets no special status to maintain links with the EU, Scotland's former first minister has said.

"If Scotland was faced with a choice of Brexiting with the UK or remaining in the European context as an independent country, then you'd want to give people that choice before Brexit taking effect," Alex Salmond told EUobserver as the Scottish government prepares to publish its strategy.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Salmond with Nicola Sturgeon, his successor as Scottish first minister. (Photo: SNP/Flickr)

Salmond, who was Scotland's leader from 2007 and 2014, organised a first referendum in 2014, in which the Yes to independence lost by 44.7 percent to 55.30 percent.

Now an MP in Westminster, and the foreign affairs spokesman for the Scottish National Party (SNP) of current first minister Nicola Sturgeon, he called for EU support to keep Scotland close to the EU.

Salmond was in Brussels on Wednesday (14 December) to receive the Maurits Coppieters award for the defence of the rights of minorities, self-determination, and democracy.

"Scotland's cause is Europe's cause," he said in his acceptance speech.

In a Europe where "the vandals are at the gate of the treaty of Rome," the former Scottish leader said, his nation's 1000-year European history could be an asset to promote a social Europe and combat anti-EU populists.

Later this week, Sturgeon will present her government's strategy to keep economic, political and cultural links with the EU.

She will make clear that "if the Scottish government's position is not accepted, a referendum becomes very likely," Salmond said in an interview ahead of the ceremony in Brussels.

"It's up to the UK government to put forward a special status for Scotland. They can do that. If they choose not to do, it's their choice, and the consequences will be theirs," he insisted.

'Friendly signals' from Brussels

While in Brussels, Salmond also met European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who, he said "has always been acutely aware of the sensitivities of small nations and is also aware of the Scottish situation."

He said that the EU so far has sent "very friendly signals" to Scotland.

Since the UK voted to exit the EU last June, the priority for the SNP and the Scottish government had been seeking "to maintain Scotland's position within the single market by persuading the UK government to drop any thought of a hard Brexit", Salmond said.

"If that is not possible, we should be looking to a special status for Scotland," he added, pointing out that Northern Ireland and Gibraltar would also get a special arrangement when the UK leaves the EU.

He noted that the car industry obtained what he called a "special status" when the British government committed in October to help Nissan have access to the EU single market "without tariffs and bureaucratic impediments" in exchange for producing a new car in Sunderland, England.

"Scotland is at least entitled to as much respect as the car industry in Sunderland," Salmond said.

'Legitimate aspiration'

To avoid a "hard" Brexit - an exit with no access to the single market - or to get a special status, the Scottish government will try to influence the British one by allying with pro-EU forces in the UK, the Scottish MP explained.

The ruling SNP will also use its power in the House of Commons, where it holds 56 of the 59 Scottish seats, as well as the informal mandate it takes from the 62 percent of Scots who voted to remain in the EU in June.

While the latest polls suggest that only a minority of Scottish voters support independence or the idea of a new referendum, Salmond said that "you must avoid interpreting Scottish opinion polls via UK media," because some of them [British media] are "not only anti-Scottish but anti-European."

The former first minister pointed out that support for independence was "roughly" the same than in the 2014 referendum, and much higher than when himself decided in 2012 to organise the vote.

"I don't think Ms Sturgeon would have any compulsion in calling a referendum with a support of 45 percent," he said.

A debate on Europe and Scotland's future would "substantially" increase support, he added, especially "with the UK government having turned down Scotland's legitimate aspirations to stay part of the European context."

May 'has lost her way'

In July, British prime minister Theresa May said after meeting Sturgeon that she would start exit talks with EU only when she would "think that we have a UK approach and objectives for negotiations," and that she was "willing to listen to options."

Six months later, "she's done nothing," Salmond noted.

"The prime minister's lost her way very quickly. What she said in her first week in office has not been honoured in any meaningful sense".

The MP admitted that May "inherited an uneasy situation."

"But she is not communicating authority of command," he added, comparing her with her distant predecessor Margaret Thatcher: "there was never any misunderstanding the authority with which she spoke. As yet, Ms May doesn't communicate anything like that."

If the Brexit talks and lack of agreement between London and Edinburgh lead to a new referendum, the former Scottish leader dismissed concerns that the fall of oil prices would undermine the economic case for independence.

He admitted that "when the price of oil is low, the Scottish economy suffers," but pointed out that "there's a lot to Scottish economy than oil."

In any case, he insisted, "since the price of oil dropped, the SNP has won elections in Westminster and in the Scottish parliament."

The art of politics

So would a hard Brexit be an opportunity, albeit a risky one, for Scottish nationalists?

"In any political difficulty, there are always opportunities," Salmond replied.

"The art of politics is to see the best possible opportunities out of a situation that was not Scotland's making. It's also part of the art of politics to offer your opponent a choice either answer to which could be a benefit to your aspirations," he observed.

On one hand, a "special Scottish position within Europe" would benefit Scotland, the UK and Europe. On the other hand, "if the UK government says No, then it makes independence much more likely."

"It's one of these questions where either answer could potentially benefit Scotland's cause," Salmond said.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Warm words in London, isolation in Brussels

British PM Theresa May found herself in not so splendid isolation at Thursday's EU summit, where Brexit garnered 20 minutes of time from EU leaders, suggesting Britain is fast approaching European political sidelines.

British PM rebukes Scottish single market plans

Theresa May labels Scottish proposals to remain part of Europe's trade area after Brexit as "impractical" and says they rely on assumptions about Scotland that cannot be accepted.

EU will not start Brexit future talks before March

Transition talks could start in January, and detailed negotiations on the future and trade relations in mid-April, as Brussels awaits for London to say what sort of relationship it wants. Last week's deal is now 'Davis-proofed', one EU official said.

News in Brief

  1. EU bank delays gas pipeline decision
  2. Hungary's leftwing parties join Jobbik in anti-Orban protest
  3. Barnier: EU will not accept UK backtracking on Brexit deal
  4. Puigdemont to return to Catalonia if elected
  5. Commission approves EasyJet partial takeover of Air Berlin
  6. EU medical command centre due next year
  7. Auditors: EU 'green' farm payments fail ecology criteria
  8. Austria gas explosion creates Italian energy 'emergency'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Latest News

  1. Last chance for Poland to return property to its rightful owners
  2. Commission attacks Tusk on 'anti-European' migrant plan
  3. Volkswagen tells EU: we will fail on our recall promise
  4. EU will not start Brexit future talks before March
  5. Bitcoin risky but 'limited phenomenon', says EU
  6. Panama Papers - start of sensible revolution in EU tax affairs?
  7. Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees
  8. New Polish PM brings same old government

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  3. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  4. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  5. EPSUStudy Finds TUNED and Employers in Central Governments Most Representative
  6. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  7. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  9. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  10. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  12. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure