When Quebec Premier Pauline Marois travels to Europe this week for a series of events on economics and culture, she also plans an intriguing stopover in Scotland.
In Edinburgh Ms. Marois will meet Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond in what some are calling a “separatist summit.” Ms. Marois has said she’s inspired by Scotland’s quest for independence and she’ll no doubt have many questions for Mr. Salmond about his strategy heading into a referendum on Scottish sovereignty next year.
The two face a similar task, convincing an uneasy population about the merits of separation. Polls show about 50 per cent of Scots reject the idea, roughly the same as in Quebec.
Mr. Salmond, whose Scottish National Party has been advocating independence for nearly 70 years, offered some new insights on his path to sovereignty in a meeting with foreign journalists last week.
If all goes well, he said, Scots will vote ‘yes’ in the fall of 2014, spend 18 months negotiating a split with Britain, elect a new government and draft a constitution enshrining principles such as free education, the right to housing and a ban on nuclear weapons. Scotland would also keep the Queen as head of state, join NATO, join the European Union and encourage Scots from all over to become citizens.
Would Scottish people living abroad be eligible to become citizens?
Scotland is a country of five and a quarter million people. We have a reach internationally across the world. We want the maximum entitlement to citizenship.
Will an independent Scotland cover its share of Britain’s deficit?
Our attitude is that as a responsible government we’ll be prepared to negotiate on the basis of accepting our share of both the liabilities and indeed the assets of the previous state. And normally that’s [based on] population, which in Scotland’s case would be just over 8 per cent.... In terms of Scotland’s ability to discharge these obligations, I’ve got figures here stretching over the last 32 years which demonstrate that over that period of time Scotland is in a stronger fiscal position than the UK as a whole.
What about Scotland’s reliance on dwindling North Sea oil reserves?
We know that the likelihood is that a greater quantity of oil and gas and hydrocarbons has been extracted from the Scottish sector of the North Sea. However, equally, the likelihood is that although that is true in terms of quantity, it’s not true in terms of value. And the reason for that is obvious. The value of oil and gas has appreciated considerably over the last 40 years. … In terms of total value of total oil and gas that has been extracted, it has been around 1 trillion pounds. A reasonable estimate over the next 40 years, based on UK oil and gas estimates …would be 1.5 trillion pounds to come. So we can reasonably estimate that the bulk of the value of hydrocarbons from the waters around Scotland have still to be extracted.
You have said Scotland wants to join the EU. Is that likely?
The European Union was founded on democratic principles. The idea that the European Union is going to ignore a legitimate, accepted, consented democratic expression, I think, is an unrealistic proposition. The question of the rest of Europe not wishing to see an oil-rich, fishing-rich, renewable-energy rich country as part of that European structure, when it wishes to be part of that European structure, does a great injustice to other member states in the European Union.
Won’t all this be too complicated to do very quickly?
Following a ‘yes’ decision there will be 18 months of negotiation both with Westminster and with the European Union conducted from within the UK and indeed within the European Union and that gives us ample time within that context to settle the details [and] of the 30 countries that have become independent following a referendum, the average time scale between referendum and the date of the transfer of sovereignty for independence has been 15 months.
Can Scots around the world vote in the referendum?
The Scottish diaspora stretches across the planet and of course seek to mobilize that diaspora. But in terms of the decision making in this referendum, this is a residentially based decision. So to vote in the referendum you have to your main residence in Scotland.
Any lessons from Quebec where two referendums have failed?
Scotland’s democratic pursuit of self-determination. This is something which is universal in application but certainly we don’t look for any exact parallels between Scotland and other nations or other regions or other states.
What will relations with Britain be like after a ‘yes’ vote?
The rest of the United Kingdom will be Scotland’s nearest neighbour and best friend. We’re looking for independence for Scotland, we don’t want to sever family ties. Her majesty the Queen will continue as head of state for an independent Scotland. The United Kingdom in that sense, the kingdom itself, will continue but there will be political independence for Scotland.
Will Scotland get rid of the Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane and join NATO?
We don’t like nuclear weapons. We see Scotland as a country which renounces nuclear weapons. … And therefore one of the key gains of Scottish independence will be to remove the Trident nuclear missile system from Scotland.
Recently the SNP conference … voted in favour of NATO membership on a non-nuclear basis – that is, NATO membership conditional on being a non-nuclear state within the NATO alliance.
What are Scots being asked?
“Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”
When is the referendum?
No firm date has been set but it will be in autumn 2014.
How did this come about?
The Scottish National Party won a minority government in 2007, its first victory, followed by a majority in 2011. Mr. Salmond viewed that win as an endorsement for a referendum. Last October he and British Prime Minister David Cameron signed the Edinburgh Agreement giving Scotland the power to hold the vote.
Who is leading the Yes side?
Called “Yes Scotland”, led by Dennis Canavan, former Labour MP and former Independent member of the Scottish parliament.
Who is leading the No side?
Called “Better Together”, led by Alistair Darling, former Labour MP and former Chancellor of the Exchequer
Who runs the vote?
Britain’s Electoral Commission
Who can vote?
Scottish residents only. Mr. Salmond also wants the voting age lowered to 16 from 18.