AFP – If Britain votes to leave the European Union in a referendum next month it could trigger a second ballot on Scottish independence within two years, senior Scottish separatist Alex Salmond told AFP.
Salmond, 61, who led the Scottish National Party and was first minister of Scotland before resigning when independence was defeated 45% to 55% in a 2014 vote, is campaigning against a so-called Brexit.
Opinion polls show Britons are divided on whether to remain in the 28-member European bloc or not.
Salmond, who is now a lawmaker in the London parliament, said it could come down to the wire.
“I think the referendum will be a damn close-run thing,” he told AFP, criticising Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign to remain within the EU as “negative”.
“The approach of the Prime Minister… is to make essentially a negative case, a scaremongering case,” Salmond said.
“The problem with that case is essentially it’s a lie. Yes, of course, leaving the EU will cause economic difficulty, trouble, tribulations, but it’s not a disaster. And it doesn’t signal the end of international trade.”
“The right campaign in order to engender the enthusiasm of Europe is to say: this is what we think Europe should be doing. This is the Europe we can build, the Europe we can seek.”
Salmond warned that it could all come down to differences in opinion between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
– ‘We can be independent’ –
If the majority of Scottish voters opt on June 23 to stay in the 28-member bloc but the weight of ballots in the rest of Britain means the pro-Brexit side prevails, that would be a mandate for a new independence referendum, he argued.
Scotland would not be pulled out of Europe against its will.
“Nicola Sturgeon said if we get dragged out of Europe against our will that would be the change in material circumstances that could lead to another referendum,” Salmond said.
“So I think if that circumstance came about there will be an out referendum, it will occur within the two years period.”
“If you say to Scotland look, we can be independent, and within this European firmament or we can drift off into the North Atlantic with a Tory government. I think they’ll choose independence,” he said.
Either way, he is not optimistic about the future prospects of Cameron.
“I think if he will be out on his ear, regardless of the result of the referendum,” Salmond said.
“If there’s an in-vote, I think he’s finished as well. And the reason for that is… he said he’s not going to contest the next election. So what’s the point in staying on?”
Cameron’s Conservatives are deeply split on the issue of Brexit. The campaign has been damaging, Salmond argued.
“There will be a huge amount of resentment that has been built up about the nature of the campaign, about the people who were bullied and blackmailed and threatened,” he said.
“You have a referendum because you want to make a change, you want to do something, achieve something,” Salmond said. “You don’t have a referendum when you don’t want a change.”
As for Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum? An “extraordinary circumstance where you gamble so much for so little”.