Alex Salmond appeared on Russian TV Channel RT where he was interviewed by presenter Sophie Shevardnadze on issues surrounding the independence referendum. Below, courtesy of RT, is a full transcript of the interview.
In the interview Mr Salmond speaks of oil revenue, using the pound and the dangers of England leaving the European Union and the role of the BBC in the referendum debate.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Alexander Salmond the first Scottish minister, thank-you very much for being with RT today.
Alex Salmond: A great pleasure to be here and what a delight to have you filming in Scotland.
SS: So you have said recently and this is your quote: The union does not work for Scotland anymore. It holds Scotland back and imperils our future. What is so wrong with remaining in the UK?
AS: The first argument is a democratic one. I’m 58 years old, for two thirds of my life; Scotland has not had the governments we vote for. For two thirds of my entire lifetime Scotland has voted in one direction, England has voted in a different direction and because England is so much larger than Scotland we end up with a government in Westminster which is not chosen by the Scottish people. So the first argument is essentially a democratic one: that nations, and Scotland is a nation, have a right of self determination and the second argument is about what you do with that democracy. I think it’s a pretty universal law: Any time anywhere any place, that the best people to govern a country, the best people to choose how a country should be governed are the people who live and work in that country. I think that applies everywhere and I think it certainly applies to Scotland.
SS: You are only 14 months from the referendum does it worry you a little bit that the majority of Scots do not want independence from the UK and for the last five years the polls have not changed much.
AS: Well when it comes to opinion polls, I was re-elected two years ago by an absolute majority in a proportional system, as first minister of Scotland. About 3 months before that election I was 20% behind in the opinion polls. I ended up almost 20 percent in front in the opinion polls so I think polls change and usually they change in our favour. What will change the polls? Well as people get more information about this, about the concept and about the opportunity
of independence then they’ll vote YES. How do we know this? Because if we poll the people who say they have enough information, who already understand the issues then by majority these people are voting yes. So as we get more information out to the public of Scotland then the trend will be in a YES direction. Would I love to be 20% in front? Yes I probably would. Do I think we are going to win the referendum? Yes we will.
SS: You think so?
AS: Absolutely we’ll win.
SS: Talking about the positive sides in case Scotland gets independence it would actually hold 95% of UK’s current oil and gas reserves that is of course if that’s divided geometrically by a meridian from the British Scottish line. Will the powers that are in London, the old guard, would they allow that to happen?
AS: I don’t think that is seriously contested, there’s no choice basically because the rest of the North Sea is divided on equidistance, the principle that you outlined. If you were to divide it incidentally by the current jurisdiction, the legal jurisdiction, because Scotland has its own legal jurisdiction, even more would be in Scottish waters, it would be 99% as opposed to 98%. The median line has been the line for the rest of the countries in the North Sea, for Norway, for Denmark, for Ireland etc. There is no choice but to do it on that basis. That point is no longer seriously contested. Now of course there are difficulties in terms, because y’know that’s a great asset for Scotland, an enormous asset. In wholesale terms value worth 1.5 thousand-thousand-million pounds over the next half century or so but of course there are liabilities of the United Kingdom, the UK’s enormous national debt they have accumulated. So we will have to accept, provided of course that we have a share of assets, our share of the national debt so there are pros and cons, but the balance of the advantage is overwhelmingly on the independence side.
SS: I’ve been travelling a lot around Europe lately and talking to people especially in the central part of Western Europe and the people there feel on the back of the Euro crisis that they would be so much better off alone without this EU regulations and constrictions. Does independence really make much difference for Scotland if it’s part of the EU without UK membership?
AS: I think it certainly does. I mean I’m in favour of being part of the European Union. I think independence is about control of your finances, about control of your resources, in the case of oil and gas and the renewables resources of Scotland, but also control of your revenues. If you control your revenues and therefore control your spending and how to distribute that revenue among the population then you are a genuinely independent country. With independence within the European Union, Scotland would control 100%, all of its revenue base and would decide how to spend its finances. Currently we are allowed control of less than 10% of our revenue base in the Scottish parliament. Therefore 10% is not independence. A hundred percent even independence within Europe is independence.
SS: Well you want an independent Scotland to retain the Pound Sterling but if you continue to use the currency without UK authority, would Scotland have a lender of last resort?
AS: Well our proposal is to have a joint arrangement, to have an agreed currency union. You know Sterling is as much our currency as it is England’s. The bank of England was founded by a Scot.
SS: So was the BBC
AS: Indeed, there are lots and lots of things throughout the world that were founded by Scots but the point I am making is it’s a shared currency at the present moment. It doesn’t belong to England; it doesn’t belong to George Osborne the Chancellor. It’s part of the assets of the United Kingdom. Now the point is quite simple: We are prepared to take a share of assets and a share of liabilities and the liabilities are huge, but if of course he was to argue, as he suggests he might, we can’t have a share of assets to the common currency then by definition we don’t have a share of the liabilities either and the liabilities for the United Kingdom are huge.
There are many international precedents, for example the break up of the Soviet Union, where the newly independent countries did not by negotiation, did not end up paying the national debt of the Soviet Union. So the national debt belongs to London at the moment. If they are to persuade us to accept a share, which we are willing to do, then the only basis on which we’ll do it is if we have a share of the assets aswell. You can’t have one without the other, you can’t have the bun without the penny and that is why incidentally that after a YES vote for independence there’ll be no difficulty from London about sharing a common currency.
SS: Edinburgh is the UK’s second largest city financially. In case Scotland becomes independent could you see it challenge London, is it something you would like to see?
AS: I think that would be a very real possibility if England were to leave the European Union. That is a live possibility, that England would leave the European Union. I think that the effect of England leaving the European Union after Scottish independence would be that many head-quartered companies would move to Scotland. I think it would be very unwise for England to leave the European Union but that’s a choice for the people of England to make, that’s their choice and their legitimate choice. So you could see a circumstance where a Scottish financial sector would get more headquarters under these circumstances but I should say the Scottish financial sector is very strong and very able and particularly in the things it does best.
Asset management, the long term investment trust, pension funds, the long term investment of people’s money or corporate money as opposed the much more frenetic, market driven financial dealings of the city of London. So, to a great extent I think that Scotland should continue to do what we do best and that is to manage peoples’ money carefully in long term investments and build up that specialism in asset management which is proving so enormously successful. Just now we have companies emerging and growing like Aberdeen Asset Management for example.
SS: But any major political transformation such as becoming independent from the UK in your case really needs a lot of spending. How much would it cost Scotland to be independent? How much would it cost one Scot to become independent?
AS: Well there will be benefits for Scotland becoming independent, let’s take the last five years, for example. In the last five years Scotland has contributed more by 8 thousand million pounds Sterling relative to London than we’ve received back again. That is the relative surplus between Scotland and London. Now, eight thousand million pounds is, that’s about one thousand six hundred pounds for every Scot. So if Scotland had been independent over the last five years, every Scot would be one thousand six hundred pounds richer. Now it’s not just about finance of course. The reason for Scotland becoming independent is not that we’d be richer. The reason for Scotland becoming independent is that Scotland is a nation and nations should be self governing. They govern their own affairs better than allowing someone else to do it for them, but if it was a balance sheet calculation then it’s very much in favour of Scottish independence.
SS: But can you tell me what exactly is the difference between the Devo max and the Indy light that you are proposing. As far as I’m concerned most of the Scots are saying: we’re fine as long as there are more powers to the Scottish parliament within the UK plus we need control over taxation and welfare. Why go through so much trouble for much of the same outcome?
AS: Because Westminster won’t cede control over our economy and welfare, they’ve said no to that, they’ve rejected that. They say: This far and no further. They will not concede control over Scottish oil and gas or major natural resources, over how to pursue the licensing of renewables which is, you know, we’ve got a quarter of the potential marine renewable energy of the whole continent of Europe in Scotland and we don’t have control over the licensing provisions for that amazing natural resource. London will not concede that. That’s why we’ve got a democratic opportunity to refashion our relationship with London. Now, look, many things we’re going to keep: We want to control our economy, we want to decide on our own government but we’re perfectly happy with the union of the crowns for example, we want to keep the royal family with the Queen as head of state but then her majesty the queen is head of state of sixteen countries at the present moment. When Scotland is independent she will be head of state of seventeen countries.
If we think about the history of Scotland: Scotland and England shared the same monarch when the Scottish king became King of England for a hundred years while Scotland and England were independent countries. For all of the seventeenth century, Scotland and England were independent countries that shared the same monarch. So that’s a perfectly easy thing to do in the modern world. Australia and New Zealand have her majesty the Queen as head of state as will an independent Scotland. So we’ll continue to share what is valuable and important. The social union between Scotland and England so that people can travel freely between the countries, can visit their friends and family, that people from London can come and work in Shetland and people from Scotland can go and work in Newcastle. Of course all of that will stay and remain as it should but we’ll have control over who elects our government and we’ll have control over our finances and spending. These things are essential.
Sophie Shevardnadze: We are talking to Alexander Salmond, the First Scottish Minister, here in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. We’re talking about why Scotland should get independence.
Talking about traveling freely – if you become independent, as integral part of EU, you would actually have to open your university doors to every British student, who are now paying 9,000 pounds (US$13,800) a year. Does this worry you? It could be costly for Scotland.
Alex Salmond: We believe we can manage the current arrangements, and we were legally advised to that effect. But I don’t understand why more students coming to Scotland is a bad thing. This year, due to the policies of the Scottish government, we have a record number of Scottish students studying in Scottish higher education, a record number of English students fleeing the high fees and studying in Scottish higher education, and a record number of international students, studying in Scottish colleges and universities. So we’ve got three records all in one year. That’s a great thing for Scotland and for the Scottish reputation, it’s a great thing for the Scottish economy. I’m not worrying about having more students studying in Scotland, but we can maintain the current arrangements, which are apparently fair, that’s the advice we’ve got.
SS: What do you make of the recent claims that the UK Defence Ministry may simply designate their nuclear naval base in Faslane as a sovereign UK territory in case of the ‘yes’ vote?
AS: Of all of the exercises and Project Fear of the scaremongering campaign, that was probably the least successful, and it only lasted for two hours. So the Ministry of Defence briefed the Guardian newspaper, and then Downing Street denied it in two hours after the paper being printed. That was the scare story which lived for two hours only, and of all the scare stories and ridiculous nonsense that the Project Fear has produced, that was one of the least successful, indeed probably one of the most spectacularly unsuccessful pieces of nonsense. Why would they then drop it in two hours? Of course, they know the reaction of Scotland to the suggestion that they would try to annex part of Scotland to make it part of England…even the most fervent NO-voter in Scotland – if there’s such a thing – will find it objectionable, the idea that you could annex part of the land of Scotland. That’s why its lifecycle was only two hours as a scare story.
SS: Well, then what you are going to do with it – you don’t want nuclear weapons, and even if you wanted it, it’s not yours to use, so – what are you going to do with that part?
AS: We will ask for it to be removed, and as quickly and safely as possible. And the emphasis is on both – we want it to be moved, we want the timetable to be quick, but we want to do it safely. We don’t want to have any risk to anyone by doing so. There are plenty of berths in Stanley and English ports in the south of England for Vanguard submarines. The difficulty is not berthing the submarines, the difficulty is to resupply them with the nuclear missiles, but of course that resupply capability is in North America and France.
I think it is extremely unwise instead; extremely ridiculous for the country of five-and-a-quarter million people to have nuclear weapons. I think it would be unhelpful for the world community. It’s not going to be the case that Scotland would host someone else’s nuclear weapons, very few countries do that and it’s also unwise to do that. Trident will have to be removed; it’s up to the people of England, the people of Westminster, to decide if they want to continue with the nuclear deterrent. In my view that would be very unwise to do so, I think it is the most phenomenal waste of money, but I agree if that’s their decision.
Of course if they make that decision, then of course they will have to accept the consequences, which is to find somewhere to put it. It is well known that we want Trident submarines as far as you could think of from the centers of population. Scotland is a peace-loving country, we want to cooperate with our neighbors, and we’re in favor of NATO membership, because our neighbors are in NATO, but 25 or 28 countries in NATO are non-nuclear countries. And so we’ll be a non-nuclear country within NATO.
SS: Most countries actually strive for nuclear status – that’s why I’m asking. If you become a world leader in case of independence, then you will have to face countries like Iran or North Korea who may tomorrow have the nuclear weapon – and Scotland not.
AS: I have to say I don’t think Iran or North Korea have ambitions to try to threaten or attack Scotland. The world has 200 countries almost in it. One hundred and ninety of them DO NOT have nuclear weapons. And depending on how you calculate these things, almost 10 probably have – some openly, some secretly. I think I’d rather be one of the 190 without nuclear weapons than one of the handful with nuclear weapons. And there is absolutely no reason on Earth that a country of 5 million people should possess nuclear weapons. That would not be a good thing for proliferation, for the safety of the planet. Nobody seriously argues for that position.
I don’t really want to enter the debate about England and nuclear weapons, all I want to say is this: if you are actually justifying a nuclear deterrent on the basis of an Iranian missile to come, they you wouldn’t want a Trident system. The Trident is a Rolls Royce nuclear system that was designed by the British government to penetrate the defenses of Moscow. That’s what it was designed for. It’s not a deterrent against a rogue state like Iran or, for that matter, it is no deterrent against a terrorist organization. If you want to persuade it in England on the argument of having a deterrent against Iran, then what you would choose is a deterrent of that sort of scale, go back to an old Vulcan bomber or some sort of that. You certainly wouldn’t have a nuclear weapon system that would cost 100,000 million pounds ($153 billion) over its lifecycle. That would not be the deterrent that you would choose. And certainly Scotland doesn’t want to engage in that sort of nuclear politics.
SS: So the UK recently placed top of the global soft power survey – do you worry that you are going to be left out because you won’t be part of these UK institutions that are actually tributing to that.
AS: I think we’ll do far better projecting our own image of Scotland, we already do this in the investment, and we top the lead table, not just the UK but for the Europe, as far as people coming in to invest in our country, and we promote ourselves as Scotland. In terms of soft power, well, we don’t claim to have hard power; we don’t have a vast army, or navy or bombs, or whatever. That’s not where we are. But in terms of soft power, in terms of influence, Scotland is incredibly well-placed. We’re a country of five-and-a-quarter million people, but there are not far off a hundred million people across this planet which either are of Scottish descent or have an affinity with Scotland, or have a connection with Scotland.
In terms of influence on this planet, Scotland has a great deal of influence, which hopefully will be used for good, for promoting positively the case of Scotland, but also for doing what we can in the way that some of the Scandinavian countries have done, like Norway for example, in terms of being an honest broker, to help solve difficult situations. We’d like to do that, we are willing to do that, and of course to restart the obligations towards those on planet who actually have nothing.
We already have built up an international development portfolio in Scotland, and, in modest proportions now, something that we would like to do more of, specializing, perhaps, in renewable energy, which we have such expertise in, and water, which we have a lot of in Scotland. Therefore, we look to be welcomed into the community of nations as a responsible world citizen, and that world citizen will have a great deal of influence, but in terms of hard power – not very much.
If I was offered the choice between the country with great influence or great military power, than I would choose being a country with a great influence.
SS: What do you make of the BBC coverage of your campaign? Them having two places: the BBC Scotland and a London-based operation?
AS: I think the chairman of the BBC trust, Lord Patten, recently said he thought covering the referendum was the biggest challenge the BBC had ever faced. I think it was a difficult challenge, not sure they are getting through it right at the present moment. Broadcasters by their nature are usually more balanced than newspapers – newspapers don’t have to be balanced, nor should be. But broadcasters have to be very careful and balanced. But the BBC finds Scotland a challenge because so much of what they report, for example in the network news, it goes across the UK and is broadcasted internationally. They report, for example, scandals in the health service in England as if they were the Scottish health services, which are run quite separately, education difficulties in England as if they were in Scottish education system which is run separately too. So they find it very difficult, and really feel the challenge to date of trying to differentiate the debate and the position of Scotland from the position of England. Maybe that is understandable, because they are covering a country where more than 85 percent of the people stay in one country, and the other 15 percent stay in another. Perhaps they find that too difficult for challenge. So Lord Patten, it was a challenge that’s not repeating each year.
SS: Finally, have you considered and thought about what your position would be in case of the ‘no’ vote? Would you resign? Would you stay? Continue fighting for freedom?
AS: I’ve been in politics for 25 years or so. And although I won personal elections, I never won national elections, until I realized that I was doing it wrong – maybe that’s a secret for politicians everywhere. When you are in opposition and when I became a member of parliament of Westminster we had three MPs – three! – out of the parliament of 650, that is very easy to be a member of the opposition, to jump up and down to be noticed, because if you didn’t jump up and down, nobody will pay any attention to you whatsoever. But you have to learn, when you want to lead a country, you have to learn to be positive, to talk about the future, to say what you’re going to do, not what the others haven’t done. You have to put the accent on the positive, and you have to absolutely believe it with the every fiber of your being.
Since I learned that lesson – well, before I learned that lesson, I never won a national election – since I learned that lesson, I have won every national election. And that way of thinking, they of looking at the world, of approaching the people, I’ll take into the referendum campaign. And one of the things you have to believe, you have to believe you’re going to win. And you have to believe it with every fiber of your being, because if you are to persuade the people, to have a conversation about the future, you have to do it from the basis – to believe you’re going to win this referendum, and Scotland will become an independent country.