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'Brexit' Results Revive Talk Of Scotland's Bid For Independence

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Scotland wants to remain in the European Union even if the United Kingdom leaves, as it voted to do. You may have heard that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the trading bloc. It was English votes that took the country another way, a way that Scottish leaders would now rather avoid. We've reached Alex Salmond. He's a member of the British House of Commons and a former first minister of Scotland. He led the push for Scottish independence back in 2014, by the way. Welcome to the program.

ALEX SALMOND: A great pleasure.

INSKEEP: So what can you do now?

SALMOND: Well, we've got a great advantage in Scotland just now. We've got inspiring leadership from our new first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who has taken the nation forward very determinedly. And you wouldn't appreciate it in this way, of course, across the Atlantic, but it's quite a contrast seeing the steady leadership from Nicola compared to the chaos and confusion which is surrounding Westminster and London at the present moment, where people are resigning by the minute.

INSKEEP: She's been clear about what she wants. But what can she do?

SALMOND: Well, she's opened discussions as we speak with a - I know that she's meeting the Irish president, uachtaran, today. But she's opening discussions with European leaders, with European institutions to work at ways in which Scotland can maintain its access and membership of the European marketplace. And after these discussions are finished, if it comes out, as it might do, that the only way we can do that is by being an independent country then, of course, it's at that point that it should be put to the Scottish people.

INSKEEP: Well, now, that's interesting. Is that really the endgame here? You see leverage here that would force a separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

SALMOND: Well, I wouldn't put it like that. I mean, you've got to remember two things - one, that last month Nicola Sturgeon stood for election as first minister of Scotland and won an election on an express manifesto commitment which said, look, if there is a situation where Scotland is threatened with being dragged out of Europe on English votes, then of course the issue of Scottish independence would have to come back to the people of Scotland in the referendum. And on that manifesto, she won 47 percent of the vote. That's the biggest mandate of any governing party in Western Europe just now.

And secondly, of course, as you've mentioned in your run-up there, in the referendum last Thursday that Scotland voted overwhelmingly - not just overwhelmingly, but every single area of Scotland voted to keep our European connections. So the first minister is armed with a dual mandate and a greater mandate than any other politician in the country, and she'll take it forward.

INSKEEP: There was some talk over the weekend that Scottish leaders might find some way, or at least seek some way, to veto Britain's exit from the European Union. Is there any legal way to do that?

SALMOND: Well, that was a bit of press talk. I mean, the words veto never came from Nicola Sturgeon. What she pointed out, quite rightly, is that the Scottish Parliament can withhold letters of consent and effectively block the bill. But Nicola also knows that the Westminster Parliament can override that blocking. So although the Scottish Parliament can delay things, it can't veto things, which is why Nicola never mentioned the word veto.

Because you would expect that the Scottish parliamentarians not to approve of a bill withdrawing Scotland from Europe, given that every single one of them is - represents an electorate who have just voted decisively in the other direction. So Scottish parliamentarians, whether in the Scottish Parliament at Edinburgh or in the London Parliament down here like myself, will follow the instruction of the Scottish people as a good democrat should.

INSKEEP: One other thing I want to ask about - over the weekend, there was much talk of people in Britain who regretted their votes, said they'd cast a protest vote, didn't actually expect for the Leave side to win, people who felt they didn't really understand what leaving meant and also a petition drive for a do-over, a second vote. Do you see any chance of a second vote on this?

SALMOND: Well, you know, I think politicians have to follow the electorate. And, you know, despite the fact, you're right. I mean, I think there's now 4 million signatures on this petition, which is an extraordinary level of discontent. I think - you know, if I were an English member of Parliament, I would think I would be duty-bound to follow the instruction in our referendum.

The only way I can see - and some politicians are raising this - if there were another general election, as there might be later this year now, given the chaos and confusion that Westminster is in - if there were to be another general election and the political party stood for that general election on express mandate to say, look, this issue has to be looked at again, then that might be a different matter.

But as things stand, I would expect MPs to follow their constituents. And always, I would expect English MPs to go ahead with the instruction of the people, at least most of them, to vote out. And I would expect Scottish MPs to follow the instruction of the Scottish people and vote to remain in.

INSKEEP: Alex Salmond, former first minister of Scotland, thanks very much.

SALMOND: A great pleasure, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.