Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond predicted on Monday (9 May) that Scotland could be independent within two years of a Brexit vote.
Salmond, Scotland’s first nationalist premier and now the Scottish National Party’s foreign affairs spokesman in Westminster, went far further than his party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, in predicting a second referendum.
Scotland voted 55%-45% against independence in a referendum in 2014, but the prospect of a vote to leave the EU in the UK-wide plebiscite on 23 June has galvanised the prospect of a second referendum.
A British exit from the EU would have “unforeseeable consequences” for European cooperation, European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker has warned in an interview with German media.
Speaking at an event in Brussels on the future of Scotland in regards to the in/out referendum, Salmond said an ‘out’ vote next month would start a “two-year clock” ticking under the Lisbon Treaty, and that he was confident of getting legislation for a referendum through the Scottish parliament, and winning the vote.
That stands in contrast to the position of SNP Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who fought – and won – last week’s election to the Scottish parliament on the basis of holding another referendum “if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will”.
Sturgeon has been careful not to put a deadline on that scenario.
In fact, although the SNP won a historic third term last week, they lost their majority, and now govern as the largest minority party. Only the smaller Scottish Greens party are also in favour of independence.
Appearing at a European Policy Centre event on Monday, Salmond told an audience of around 200 that he would like to see a referendum called, and won, within two years of 23 June, if the ‘leave’ campaign wins.
He said, “In terms of the Scottish response [to a Brexit vote], I think we’ve got a two year clock on the Lisbon Treaty, so the Scottish referendum would have to be within that two year period.
“People say ‘well, would that go through the Scottish parliament?’ I forecast that would go through the Scottish parliament substantially and very easily – with some surprising support.
“There was a wonderful moment during the Scottish election campaign, ruthlessly exploited by the Conservative party – standing as the standard-bearers of the union and achieving, for them, an impressive 22% of the vote – and that was when the leader of the Labour party in Scotland allowed herself to muse on what her approach to independence would be as a unionist and said basically to Prospect magazine ‘well, of course if there was a Brexit vote…under these circumstances I might be persuaded to vote for independence.
“She quickly recanted, because, obviously, it was an awkward thing to say in the campaign, but I think to be fair it would be an insight into the thinking of many people I know, for example, certainly in the Labour party but I also know some Conservatives who were not unwise enough to say that during the election campaign but nonetheless have that opinion.
“So, I think there would be a substantial majority in the Scottish parliament, I think there would be an immediate response [to an ‘out’ vote] and I think if there was a Scottish referendum under these circumstances over the next two years, then the referendum would be won.
“And I think the advantages of negotiating ‘no change’ [ie, Scotland staying in the EU by voting for independence, then being readmitted to the EU], from a Scottish position in terms of ‘Acquis Communautaire’ [EU treaties and law] would be very substantial indeed, and I think the enthusiasm elsewhere in Europe for that position would be substantial.”
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Earlier in his speech, the former first minister of Scotland had described a ‘leave’ vote as being “a democratic decision [which] becomes a constitutional conundrum”, and predicted that – whatever the result – “Scotland’s place in Europe will endure.”
Pointing to the 2% vote for UKIP in last week’s Scottish parliament elections, he described Scotland as a country “largely free of Europhobia”, and attacked the current ‘remain’ campaign as “soulless.”
He also had harsh words for the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, saying “I would recommend ‘panic’ to the PM,” considering that the leave/remain campaign were currently almost even in opinion polls, whilst the independence campaign had come from 28% at the start of the campaign to 45% at the time of the final vote.
Salmond also predicted that turnout in the UK-wide referendum would be “nothing like” the 85% seen in Scotland, but suspected it would be “quite high”.
Remain’ campaigners fear that anything below 60% turnout next month will help the ‘leave’ campaign, whose supporters are in general more fired up by their cause, than those supporting the status quo.
And he condemned the standard of debate so far as “at best puerile, and worst outlandish scare-mongering.”
The pro-independence Scottish National Party are the largest single party within the 129-seat Scottish parliament, holding 63 seats under First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, two short of a majority.
Along with the Scottish Greens, who have six seats, they have a theoretical majority for holding a second referendum on Scottish independence, after the first was defeated 55%-45% in the 2014 referendum.
The SNP's position on a second referendum, in their manifesto, was "We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will."
The other parties in the Scottish parliament are all, officially, pro-EU, whilst Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are also pro-Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- 23 June: UK referendum on whether to 'remain/leave' the EU
- Second-half 2017: UK hold rotating presidency of European Council