Alex Salmond: Indyref2 will come right as Brexit goes wrong
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.
In an exclusive interview with the Evening News, Mr Salmond said Brexit Secretary David Davis, who is leading negotiations for the UK, 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 M 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.
“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 know 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 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.
“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.”
‘Scottish Tories have peaked’
Despite winning 13 seats north of the border at the general election, Mr Salmond believes the Scottish Tories are already in decline.
“They’re already going backwards and the next few months will demonstrate it,” he said.
“The Tories have peaked and are now going down.”
Pointing to the £1 billion deal Theresa May did with the ten-strong DUP to overcome her lack of a majority in the Commons, he said: “If each DUP MP is worth £100m, then each Scottish Tory is worth absolutely zero.
“The contrast between the effectiveness of the DUP in extorting cash and investment for Northern Ireland and the total, complete and utter ineptitude of the Scottish Conservatives in getting anything for Scotland is one which will take a bit of explaining.”
He said for the SNP, the challenge from Labour will be more serious.
“Luckily for us, Scottish Labour is the least of the challenge - but the challenge from Corbyn Labour is one which is substantial and will have to be met.”
‘Every performance will be different’
He’s turned down I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, but he’s all set for a 15-day run on the Fringe.
And more than 75 per cent of the tickets for Alex Salmond Unleashed have already been snapped up.
Mr Salmond says the lunchtime show in the ballroom of the Assembly Rooms in George Street (August 13-27) will be about “politics, sport, life, showbiz” and is promising stories from behind the scenes, but insists he is not out to “dish the dirt” on anyone.
“Every single performance will be different,” he says.
The shows will start with Mr Salmond offering his insider insights, followed by a 20-minute interview with a different special guest each day, ten minutes for the audience to ask questions, a musical interlude, a five-minute spot from a comedienne and a charity auction before Mr Salmond wraps up with a few more thoughts.
American president Donald Trump is likely to feature in some of the tales.
“There’s a fund of stories about The Donald that I haven’t told before. I don’t think people will be surprised by them in the sense that his character is now being exposed for the world to see, but they might be quite amused by them, just the extent of the man’s buffoonery.
“Before he found social media he used to send you what can only be described as poison pen letters - capital letters, green ink - which used to come rattling into Bute House on a daily basis. It was written versions of what he now does online.”
‘Corbyn would make a better Prime Minister than May’
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn would make a better prime minister than Theresa May, according to Alex Salmond.
“I’ve always had a much higher opinion of Jeremy Corbyn than other people,” he said. “I was constantly saying to people on my radio show you mustn’t under-rate this guy.
“He entered parliament the same day I did in 1987 and I’ve known him all that time. You don’t stay in parliament for 30 years if you’re a numpty.
“The picture of him as a numpty on the one hand or some vile terrorist on the other was extremely foolish because it would backfire. And it did backfire and I’m glad it backfired.”
Like Mr Salmond, Mr Corbyn is appearing at the Fringe - in a one-off show with Susan Morrison.
“I don’t think Jeremy is a natural comedy turn,” he said.
How about a natural for Number Ten?
“Jeremy Corbyn, in my view, would be a better prime minister than Theresa May,” he said.
“Now that’s not setting the bar particularly high. And I think Jeremy would find difficulties in being prime minister, not because of lack of political belief or because he’s a daft person because he’s not .
“He would come up against pretty substantial forces and he would be leading a cabinet without any substantial experience. I’ve done that in 2007 and it can be done, but he would find it tough going I think.
“But for all that I think he would make a better prime minister than Theresa May because he has a core of belief that would stand him in good stead.”