Sturgeon – It is ‘premature’ to set a date for second independence referendum
The SNP are rounding off this year’s party conference season in Glasgow, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is eager to keep the dream of independence alive. Recent weeks have seen votes in Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan, but the chances are that any ‘indyref2’ in Scotland will take place later rather than sooner. ITV’s Robert Peston asked Sturgeon about whether she had made a mistake in pushing for a second referendum so soon after the first:
RP: There are some in your party who do believe that one of the reasons you did rather badly or worse than many people expected in the last general election is that you pushed too hard for an early vote. Did you personally make a mistake on that?
NS: When I became SNP leader, the SNP had 6 MPs in the House of Commons. Today we’ve got 35 MPs, so I think it’s important to have that sense of perspective. My feeling during the General Election was that, whatever people thought about independence – for or against it or undecided – there is a sense that because of the uncertainty of Brexit, because so many things feel to be up in the air right now, that it is premature to effectively set a date right now. We need to let the dust settle and that’s effectively what I’ve accepted…
RP: So you made a misjudgment initially then?
NS: You can characterize it in any way you want. Remember, Brexit is not a circumstance that I want to be in. I think the whole thing is a disaster and I think it’s going to get worse. So I’ve tried to judge things as best I can based on the best interests of Scotland. So in that respect, without the benefit of hindsight I would continue to do these things. I’ve listened to that view.
RP: When you think we’ll know the nature of Brexit, such that you can then you can then make a judgment..?
NS: I think we will have to have some clarity towards the end of next year because the exit point is March 2019 and Europe says, and I think Theresa May accepts this, there will be a period of ratification of whatever has been agreed. I think that’s the point to take a fresh look at it and say do we have that clarity… That does not mean that I won’t make the case for Scotland to be independent. The case for independence doesn’t rest of Brexit, you don’t have to be against Brexit to support Scottish independence. But what it is is a really stark illustration of what can happen to a country when we don’t take the big decisions over our future ourselves and instead we let them be taken elsewhere. And we’re been taken down a path now that we didn’t want to go down and it’s potentially deeply damaging to jobs and to living standards and to all sorts of other aspects of our life here.
Sturgeon also said that she had not received a formal reply from Theresa May after she previously requested a second independence vote before the election, to which she remarked ‘I think that reflects rather badly on her’. She also accused the Prime Minister of ‘clutching at straws’ at her claims last week that the Conservatives had saved the Union.
Sturgeon – How can Catalans express their view?
The First Minister also spoke to Andrew Marr about the referendum in Catalonia, where an illegal vote on independence appeared to be brutally suppressed by the police, attracting international condemnation. The First Minister suggested that the denial of a legal vote was incompatible with democracy :
AM: If the leader of Catalonia announces independence next week, will you recognise Catalonia as a free independent state?
NS: What I think has to be recognised is the strength of feeling in Catalonia. I think it’s now time for dialogue to replace confrontation. The scenes we saw last Sunday were unacceptable and should be condemned by everybody. But what now has to happen is my view is the Spanish government – which of course wants to uphold its constitution – and the Catalan government sitting down to find a way forward. One that complies with the rule of law, but one that also respects democracy and the right of the people of Catalonia to choose their own future. You cannot simply say that the right of a people to choose their own future is illegal in all circumstances.
AM: Would you recognise Catalonia as an independent country – yes or no?
NS: We’d recognise the decision and the statements that were made, but I’ not going to speculate here on what will happen in Catalonia before it happens. I’m not in control of that. It’s not for me to decide what is the right future for Catalonia… The question here is how is it resolved. My view is it shouldn’t be resolved by both sides going further to extreme positions. It should be resolved by both sides coming together to find a way a way forward that respects the rule of law, democracy, and the right to choose.
AM: Was it a legitimate referendum do you think?
NS: It was a referendum that lots of people voted in. Lots didn’t, but lots of people voted. Spain maintains it was an illegal referendum. I understand that and that’s the position that the Spanish government takes. The point I’m making is that how can there be a legal way for people in Catalonia to express their view, because you can’t simply say in a democracy that there is no legal and legitimate way for people to decide what their want their future to be. That would be an absurd position.
AM: Would you urge the Spanish to facilitate that – a different referendum?
NS: I think there is a duty on Spain and Catalonia to have that discussion.
Elsewhere in the interview, Sturgeon also claimed that the Scottish government would be prepared to pay ‘settled status’ fees for EU citizens if the UK government tried to make this compulsory after Brexit. She stated ‘We will pay that for workers in the public sector. Why? Because it helps individuals, it helps us keep vital workers in the NHS and public services and it sends a message to EU nationals that we want them to stay here because we welcome them’.
Ruth Davidson – ‘I am not looking past 2021’
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, has also been touring the studios. Andrew Marr quizzed Davidson on whether she had a higher calling now that her party appears to be in serious turmoil:
AM: Can a Scot ever again lead the British Conservative party?
RD: Absolutely. Without a doubt. Michael Gove even tried!
AM: Can anybody who is not sitting in the House of Commons leading the British Conservative party?
RD: Not under the current constitution, no.
AM: So are there any circumstances at all ever in which you would sit for a Westminster seat?
RD: Well actually I tried in 2010. I stood in Glasgow and came fourth, so maybe that’s an indication of where we lie.
AM: It is, but it’s not an answer to my question.
RD: I’ve got a job at the moment and I’m not looking past 2021. I’m trying to build a party that was third – in some cases, fourth – when I became leader, to build it up to be an incredible government of Scotland. I’ve come a long way in that. I’ve got a long way still to go. I’ve built a really good team that I’m immensely proud of. So I know what my job is and this is my job right now. I’m looking to 2021 and I’m not looking past it, because there’s quite a few things in the in-tray now Andrew.
When asked about Boris Johnson’s fate in an upcoming reshuffle, Davidson replied ‘He’s a big intellect, he’s a big figure in the party. If the prime minister believes he’s the right person to be foreign secretary then she has my full support’. Davidson did add a qualifier however: ‘He’s come out this week to say he’s behind every dot, comma, ‘t’ and word of the Florence speech. I want to see the prime minister hold him to that …
Emily Thornberry – Theresa May should resign
The Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has called on Theresa May to step down, claiming that the Prime Minister has ‘no authority’ to lead her party. Her remarks came after Sky commissioned a poll which showed that despite a sharp drop in the Prime Minister’s popularity, 42% of people believed that May’s resignation would be a setback for the Brexit negotiations:
NP: Theresa May resigning would be bad for Brexit. I suspect I know the answer to this question but do you agree?
ET: I think she should resign. I think there should be a Labour government. There’s a surprise! I think it would be in our interests to have a government that could reset our relationship with Europe and that would be a Labour government. I think the Tories are in all sorts of trouble here. And the basic problem is, it doesn’t really matter who their leader is. They don’t know which way they’re going, they don’t know what it is they want to achieve. There’s definitely a chunk of them that want to have no deal at all, which would be definitely contrary to British interests, and then there’s another lot who think ‘We’re not quite sure’ and want to spend their time fighting over who should be the next leader. She doesn’t have enough authority. She can’t lead her party. It probably would be better if we got another leader who has some authority who can drive through the Brexit negotiations. In my view that’s Jeremy Corbyn.
NP: Perhaps fresh blood is required at the top of the Conservative party? If that happens, the person likeliest to take over, in the polls at least, is Boris Johnson. What’s your assessment of what a Boris Johnson premiership would look like?
ET: I don’t know, because I don’t know what their ideas are. I’m sorry… but that’s what politics ought to be about. You can have a fresh face, but if you don’t know where you’re going then it doesn’t really matter who it is that’s in charge.
NP: This has been by all accounts a pretty disastrous week for the Conservatives. [Looking at] the latest YouGov polling, as things stand, despite that catastrophic speech to the Conservative conference, despite all the infighting – who would make the best Prime Minister? Theresa May is still in front of Jeremy Corbyn. That must be concerning.
ET: We’re going from a bad place. We’ve had two terrible years. I think that things have definitely turned around since the general election, or even during the general election. We had a fantastic conference. It was really enjoyable, it was very energising. I think that we’re moving forwards so everything is to play for. I think that as time goes on, Jeremy’s leadership will become increasingly clear and increasingly important for the country.
When asked about how she would deal with President Trump, Thornberry answered that ‘I wouldn’t ever change my tone with Donald Trump. I would make it completely clear the way in which I disagree with him. We [will] make it clear to Donald Trump that some of his utterances are utterly unacceptable and totally different to our values’.
Dominic Raab – ‘It’s self indulgent, rude and unprofessional’
And the Justice Minister Dominic Raab has poured scorn on those who indulge their leadership ambitions in the cold light of day. When asked by the Sunday Politics’ Sarah Smith about his own chances of becoming PM, Raab was quick to shut the subject down:
— Daily&SundayPolitics (@daily_politics) October 8, 2017
SS: With all this talk of a leadership contest around, your name does come up quite a lot. Is it a job you’d be interested in?
DR: This is all tittle-tattle. I don’t talk about leadership contests, past or present. We’re focused on the one thing that your viewers would expect. Getting behind the Prime Minister as the overwhelming majority of Conservative MPs are. Keeping the economy firing on all cylinders, raising standards in our public services and of course, making the best of Brexit.
SS: You know she won’t hang on forever. Do you see yourself as a future Prime Minister one day?
DR: Do you know what? When you come on shows like this, I think it is totally self indulgent and frankly rude and unprofessional to even get drawn on any of that stuff. I’m afraid Sarah, I don’t touch it.
When asked about the possibility of a ‘no deal’ scenario after Brexit, Raab replied ‘It’s not the optimum result. We want to see us get the best deal’, but added ‘There are advantages to it.. in terms of the early repatriation of the money, things like the external EU tariffs, something like £8 billion that would come to the chancellor’s coffers if we had those arrangements.’