Alex Salmond: EU trade links '˜key battleground' for indyref2

Scotland's trade links with the European Union could be a 'key battleground' in a second independence referendum, former first minister Alex Salmond had predicted.

Alex Salmond believes EU trade will be a key issue during a second independence campaign. Picture: John Devlin

The SNP MP insisted that leaving the UK would allow Scotland to have “access to trade and access to markets”, adding that this could be a “winning argument” if there is another vote on independence.

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Scotland voted by 55% to 45% to stay part of the UK when a referendum was held in September 2014.

But the result of the 2016 referendum on EU membership - which saw Scots vote to remain while the UK as a whole opted to leave - has put the continuing future of the Union in doubt.

Within hours of the Brexit result being declared, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned another independence ballot was “highly likely”.

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Theresa May braces for indyref2 in August 2018

And while her administration has put forward “compromise proposals” aimed at keeping Scotland in the single market, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has made clear her intention to leave the trading bloc.

Mr Salmond said if Mrs May rejected the solution being put forward by his successor “then we will know that they (the UK Government) are not interested in the voice of Scotland and as Nicola Sturgeon has said it is very likely there will be another independence referendum”.

The likely timing for such a ballot “would be the autumn of next year”, he added, meaning a second referendum could potentially be held four years after the 2014 vote.

The former SNP leader, speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme, said: “The key battleground in terms of economics of any future independence referendum is not going to be like last time the currency, but is going to be trade and access to trade and access to markets, because that is what the UK Government is jeopardising and that is what an independent Scotland could secure.”

He stated: “The key argument I see coming in this referendum, if that’s what happens, in terms of economics is going to be what secures Scotland’s trade, our access to markets.

“I think independence has a winning argument on that framework and I expect to see it expertly deployed by Nicola Sturgeon.”

While the SNP position is for Scotland to be an independent member of the EU, a Scottish Government paper published in December 2016 proposing retaining membership of the single market, even if the rest of the UK opts out of this.

Mr Salmond said: “The key matter, as was enunciated in the compromise proposal, in terms of protecting the Scottish economy, saving Scottish jobs and saving Scottish investment is for continued, uninterrupted membership of the European Economic Area. That could be secured by membership of the European Union, but there are other ways to secure it as well.

“So the SNP’s position will be for Scotland as an independent member of the European Union, but the key negotiating priority, as Nicola Sturgeon has outlined in her proposal to the UK Government is to stay within that European Economic Area.”

If there were to be another referendum, Mr Salmond said he was “very confident that the progress we’re seeing in support for independence can continue if the campaign is pitched in the right way”.

He stated: “I don’t share the view that the (previous Yes) campaign was a failure - we didn’t win the vote, but we put on 15% for the Yes vote during the campaign. If we put on another 15% the result would be overwhelming.”

Labour business manager James Kelly said: “It’s a case of Alex in wonderland if the SNP think they can try and convince Scots that the pound in their pocket doesn’t matter.

“Alex Salmond’s approach on currency is to ignore and hope nobody notices. It won’t wash.

“His failure to answer the most basic questions on currency was one of the key reasons he lost the referendum in 2014. Two and bit years on he still has no answers.

“Scotland is divided enough, the SNP should rule out another divisive independence referendum and focus on improving our schools and hospitals. Labour believes that together we’re stronger, and that is why we oppose a second independence referendum.”