The debate on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom has intensified over the summer.
A referendum is expected in autumn 2014.
The campaign for independence is being led by Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalists and First Minister of Scotland’s devolved government. Euronews spoke with him in Edinburgh:
Ali Sheikholeslami, euronews: “First Minister, by almost any standard the United Kingdom has been a massively successful project for Scotland – let’s say politically, intellectually and economically. It has brought benefits for Scotland that many countries can only dream of. So, what is so terrible about the United Kingdom that you want to walk away from it to probably a very uncertain future?”
Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland: “Well, I think the best things which are produced in these islands will continue. The social union with our other countries in these islands… England, Ireland, Wales will be our closest allies, but in terms of what Scotland can do will be much more successful as an independent country.
“Take one example: Scotland is one of the most rich, diverse countries in the world. We have the Edinburgh International Festival at the present moment where over a month, over a variety of art forms, we have a display of the greatest artistic talent on the planet. And yet Scotland, as a country which hosts that celebration of international culture, doesn’t even have its own dedicated, English language television channel, not even one and that’s a ridiculous situation and shows how Scotland is underperforming.
In economic terms, Scotland is currently, as part of the United Kingdom, the 20th most prosperous country in the world, about that. With independence we’d become the sixth most prosperous country in the world. But I think the difference culturally would also open a way for Scotland to become much more successful and contribute more to the world scene.”
Euronews: “But, let’s say, on the economic side, I understand that your campaign is saying on the first day of independence, Scotland will look pretty much the same as it does today. But oil and gas resources are diminishing, the renewable market is pretty much uncharted waters. The financial sector that is very successful in this country is probably going to be a lot smaller after independence. How can you make sure that an independent Scottish economy will be viable?”
Salmond: “I’m interested in your question. Scotland has about 90 percent of the European Union’s oil and gas reserves, worth approximately one and a half trillion, that’s one and a half trillion pounds sterling over the next 40 or 50 years. I’m sure, any other member country of the European Union would give their eye teeth to have one and a half trillion pounds of hydro-carbon reserves… and in terms of renewable energy, having a quarter – that’s 25 percent of Europe’s potential in marine energy, with one per cent of the population is a pretty substantial advantage in the modern world.
“The reason why part of Scotland’s resources, I mean Scotland has, well water, incredibly ample supplies of clean, fresh water and a highly successful company which both produces and markets these supplies. That’s in contrast, not just to other countries but friends south of the border.
“So, we’re talking about a country with massive natural resources, with a talented, ingenius population who have given the world so many of the great inventions of the modern age, including television, incidentally, and some people argue that that country couldn’t be successful or even more successful as an independent country. I think these people are living in cloud cuckoo land. I think we want to live in a world where Scotland, as an independent country contributes to itself and governing itself better.”
Euronews: “You talked about the oil and gas resources which are massive and I absolutely agree with that, however, I think the pivotal question will be, in terms of any settlement between Holyrood and Westminster, the share of basically, the UK’s national debt versus oil and gas revenues. Have you got a formula for that?”
Salmond: “It’s quite interesting actually, the UK debt by the time of independence will be around, well be certainly over a trillion pounds. The oil and gas reserves are worth about a trillion pounds.
“Of course, the difference is that Scotland will have to take a proportionate share, a population share of the UK debt, but of course they will be entitled to share of oil and gas revenues which are in Scottish waters, which are in the Scottish sector, which any other country would have, which is about 90 per cent, so Scotland would gain title over 90 per cent of these substantial resources but would have to take 10 per cent of the UK national debt. Incidentally, you know, that is not a good thing, you know: having UK debt at such a level.”
Euronews: “But there’s always this danger that, OK: is the Scottish National Party working on those values that you just pointed out or is a part of it, more to do…”
Salmond: “…Spit it out!”
Euronews: “It’s more to do with, basically anti-English sentiment, quite ugly sentiments, which have been going on for a long time. You know what I’m trying to say. For instance, look at your alternative anthem. It goes back to some barbaric works of King Edward II in 1314. That’s a long time ago.”
Salmond: “Yes, and the national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’, in one of the verses which is not often sung now, has a line saying: “God save Marshal Wade, rebellious Scots to crush”. Or the Marseillaise celebrates a necessary revolution but quite a violent one as I remember. And actually, Flower of Scotland, which you’re referring to, is an unofficial national anthem, but of course actually makes the point – to be fair to the song: “These days are past now and in the past they must remain”. That’s the point it’s making, that there is a difference between the past and the future. I think we’ve demonstrated, not just recently as a parliament and the SNP as a political party but as a country, that we have an interest in equality in Scotland and equality internationally.”
Euronews: “But are you 100 per cent committed to independence? Because many people are now arguing that because you are aware that you may not win the vote, you might move towards ‘devo max’ which will, basically keep your foreign affairs and defence within the United Kingdom.”
Salmond: “I’ve always said that I would respect the wishes of people in Scotland in terms of what they wanted to do. In 1997, I campaigned with Donald Dewar, then the Labour leader, in an alliance to have a Scottish parliament, not because I was satisfied with a Scottish parliament but because I believed that was progress for Scotland. But one thing is certain, throughout my political career I’ve articulated the case for independence for Scotland, and in two years time the opportunity for Scotland to vote for independence will be on the ballot paper, of that you can be absolutely certain, and I hope and believe that a majority of my fellow country people, men and women, will take that opportunity and vote our country into an independent state which will then contribute to Europe and the rest of the planet.”