Alex Salmond: Brexit deal flop will spark indyref2

Indyref2 will come right because Brexit will go wrong, says Alex Salmond.

Ian Swanson interviews Alex Salmond. Picture: Greg Macvean
Ian Swanson interviews Alex Salmond. Picture: Greg Macvean

The former First Minister claims Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy for a second referendum would have succeeded if it had not been for the general election.

But he claims Theresa May has put UK negotiators in an “impossible position” because of the way she is handling withdrawal from the European Union, paving the way for Indyref2.

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In an exclusive interview with the Evening News, Mr Salmond said Brexit Secretary David Davis, was “the best of the Brexiteers by a distance” but had the cards stacked against him in the talks with European chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

“Thanks to Theresa May, they have managed to manoeuvre themselves into a position of extraordinary weakness – there is a deadline negotiation, which when the clock ticks to midnight the UK loses. When you’re in that negotiation, you effectively cannot win a good deal because every card is on Barnier’s side of the table.

“They have invoked Article 50 without having any guarantee what the safety net or the interim position will be. It’s the most foolhardy, stupid thing to do and puts any negotiator in an impossible position.

“The only way they are going to get anything is if Barnier takes pity on them.”

He said the correct strategy would have been to insist on knowing what the transitional position would be before triggering Article 50.

“Now we’ve got the Chancellor demanding a transitional position as part of the negotiations – so to get that you’re going to have to give away something.

“The only people who are enthusiastic about this are people like Michael Gove, who want to sabotage the whole thing, walk away from the table and have a hard Brexit because he has some belief everything will be all right on the night.”

Mr Salmond, who stepped down as First Minister after the 2014 independence referendum failed to produce a Yes vote, backed Ms Sturgeon over her decision in March to launch a bid for a second referendum.

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“Nicola decided they were pulling the trigger on Article 50 and she had to go for the referendum – clearly she wasn’t to know there was going to be a general election,” he said.

“If she had known there was going to be a general election, her timing would have been different. She had developed a strategy – which I think would have been successful – which was based on the period leading up to Brexit to persuade people the referendum was the right course of action to take in view of what was happening – which would have stood the test of time, which would have developed as an argument, which would have become stronger and stronger – and then found herself fighting on it much earlier than she expected.

“So the timing was very bad for the SNP, but that’s just one of these things in politics. You know the right thing to do, often, but the timing is the issue. You can predict many things in politics but the idea the PM was going to do something politically suicidal was not among Nicola’s predictions.”

But he remains optimistic. “Indyref 2 will come right because Brexit will go wrong,” he declares. “If you believe as I do that Brexit will go wrong, it’s only a question of how wrong it’s going to go and if Indyref2 comes right the only question is how right it’s going to be.

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“I like the language of describing it as an insurance policy. That seems to me a sensible way to explain why we have that key in the locker.”

After losing his seat at the general election, Mr Salmond has made clear he wants to get back into parliament – and that could be either Westminster or Holyrood.

He returned to the Commons at the 2015 general election when all the polls indicated no party would win an overall majority. “I hoped and believed in 2015 we would have a hung parliament which would have been a tremendous opportunity. If you look just now at how the Tories are having to bend the knee to the DUP for £1 billion – that’s ten DUP MPs.

“If it had been a hung parliament in 2015, you can imagine what 56 SNP MPs might have achieved for Scotland.”