—The article 50 was triggered yesterday. Is the Scottish plebiscite the only alternative to May’s ‘hard Brexit’?
—The Scottish Government is seeking a fresh independence referendum because it is the only way the Scottish people can have a direct say on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. The other 27 EU countries will get a say – why not the people of Scotland? I think even those who don’t want independence will appreciate we want to put choice in their hands.
—Do you think Theresa May will definitely rule out SNP plans for a Scottish referendum.
—I believe she is a democrat and will eventually see she cannot ignore the will of the Scottish Parliament which has voted for a new referendum. In last year’s Scottish Parliament elections the SNP won a mandate from voters to call a second referendum in the event of Brexit. That time has now come.
—May said “now is not the time for a second referendum”. Will the date of the plebiscite be the more heated point during the negotiations? Why is the SNP willing to hold it before Spring 2019?
—We will not know the outcome of the Brexit negotiations till late 2018. There will then be around 6 months for the EU member states and the EU Parliament to accept or reject the deal. It is during this window between the autumn of 2018 and March 2019 – after we know the terms of divorce – that we want to hold the referendum. At that point, Scotland will still be inside the EU. We want a Yes vote for independence and to remain an EU member. If we we get a Yes – and I am sure we will – the Scottish Government can argue it is de facto still a member. Any negotiations with the European Commission will then take place against a background of continuing membership.
—What are Sturgeon’s options to ensure the new referendum is held on her timescale? Would the SNP consider a ‘Catalan-style’ (consultative) referendum?
—A consultative referendum runs the risk that the non-independence parties will call for a boycott. Of course, it might be useful as a test of public support for independence in order to pressure Mrs May to accept a binding, legal referendum. But I hope we will persuade the British government to accept that the Scottish government already has an overwhelming mandate for a legal referendum.
—How will be the SNP campaign for a second Scottish referendum? Will you opt for the EU?
—There are already some divergent voices, like Jim Sillars, who say that would vote NO in independence referendum if Scotland was forces to rejoin the EU… We will argue strongly for an independent Scotland inside the European Union as the best way to protect jobs and give Scotland a strong vice in the world.
—Is the Scottish government worried about a possible Spanish veto to an independent Scotland?
—The Scottish government does not intervene in Spanish and Catalan affairs and I would not expect Spain to interfere in UK and Scottish affairs. Spain is a modern European democracy committed to building Europe. Why would it be in Spain’s interests to punish Scotland because its own internal, domestic issues? We should deal with political questions through dialogue and the ballot box. That is the European way.
—Is a ‘yes vote’ any more likely now than in 2014?
—We started the 2014 Scottish referendum with Yes support at around 25% and we finished at 45%. We start the second referendum on Yes support at 46%! I am very confident we will get a Yes vote after the Brexit disaster. Many of those who voted No to independence in 2014 did so because they thought it would guarantee EU membership. Now they know that Scotland’s place in Europe can only be guaranteed through independence.
—What are UK’s views on the Spanish Government’s block to a Catalan referendum?
—There has been much coverage in the British media regarding the indictments of leading Catalan politicians by the Spanish Constitutional Court merely for discussing holding a referendum. People are very disturbed that such an undemocratic move can be happening in modern Europe. Most people I speak to think Madrid should engage in dialogue and not resort to legal measures. This is very bad for Spain’s reputation as a democracy.
—Former Catalan Minister for Presidency, Francesc Homs, left his seat in the Spanish Parliament yesterday in compliance with the Spanish Supreme Court sentence which bans him from public office for 18 months. The magistrates found him guilty of disobedience for allowing a symbolic vote on independence to take place on November 9. Furthermore, Barcelona’s High Court has also barred Former Catalan President Artur Mas from holding public office and Former Vice president Joana Ortega and former Education Minister Irene Rigau. What is your opinion on that?
—As an elected politician I urge the Spanish authorities to avoid resorting to the law courts in order to stifle debate. It is perfectly possible under the Spanish constitution to pass to Catalonia- even temporarily- the right to hold a referendum. Let the voters decide. That’s democracy.
—The Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) MP Mark Durkan, Plaid Cymru’s Hwyel Williams and yourself presented an ‘Early Day Motion’ to the House of Commons calling on the Government “to declare its adherence” to the right of “democratically elected parliamentarians to hold a referendum”. What has been the support so far?
—There is a wide interest in the British parliament across all parties in watching developments in Catalonia. As the Catalan process unfolds, it is likely there will be more debates and discussion.
—Last December, a group of 15 MPs from the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Plaid Cymru and the Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) tabled an ‘Early Day Motion’ to the House of Commons expressing concern over the prosecution of the Catalan Parliament’s President, Carme Forcadell. What was the support back then?
—The importance of the EDM was that MPs from 6 parties supported it. That is very unusual and shows the breadth of interest and concern.
—What is the main goal of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Catalonia in the Chamber of Commons? How did the initiative begin? What will its functioning be like?
—Our aim is to learn more about the political process in Catalonia. We will be taking a delegation of MPs to Barcelona later this year.
—Scotland has already held a referendum and it is likely to hold another one. Do you believe a second referendum could pave the way for a vote in Catalonia or quite the opposite?
—I think the process leading to the Catalan and Scottish referendums is a general European one. It is based on the need for greater decentralisation, opposition to austerity, and the preservation of local culture and language. A new Europe is be born – a People’s Europe based on small nations and regions.
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