Alex Salmond: An independent Scotland should not immediately pursue full EU membership

Dan Sanderson
·4-min read
The Alba leader wants his new party to establish a Holyrood ‘supermajority’ for independence after May’s election - Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
The Alba leader wants his new party to establish a Holyrood ‘supermajority’ for independence after May’s election - Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Alex Salmond has said that an independent Scotland should not immediately pursue full EU membership and must establish its own currency “immediately”, in a fresh attack on Nicola Sturgeon’s constitutional strategy.

The former First Minister claimed the SNP case for separation was “frozen in aspic” and had not taken account of drastic changes since he led the Yes campaign to defeat in 2014.

He suggested that an independent Scotland should initially have a Norway-style relationship with Europe, as a member of European Free Trade Association (EFTA), saying this would allow Scotland to maintain access to the UK internal market and British common travel area.

Ms Sturgeon remains determined to rejoin the EU, even though this would likely mean a land border with England and trade barriers with the UK, with which Scottish firms do the majority of their business.

The Alba leader, who wants his new party to establish a Holyrood “supermajority” for independence after May’s election, also criticised the SNP’s currency stance.

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Under Ms Sturgeon's current plans, a Scottish state would continue to use the pound for an indefinite period, before an eventual transition to its own currency.

Instead, Mr Salmond floated the idea of operating a “dual currency”, which would see Sterling used while the Scottish currency is introduced. He said while a Scottish currency may not be ready on day one of independence, it should be set up urgently.

“The world has changed since 2014 and changed utterly,” Mr Salmond told an Alba policy conference, citing Brexit and the pandemic. “The geopolitical context of Scottish independence has been transformed in the seven years since the first independence referendum.

“However, one thing which remains unchanged, is SNP policy and the framework for independence which remains static, frozen in aspic. The admission in the last few days by the First Minister, that the SNP’s economic plans for independence had been overtaken by events is as revealing as it is disturbing.”

He claimed that his much-derided position on currency in 2014 - insisting the UK would agree to a currency union even after all major parties had ruled this out - had been correct at the time.

However, he claimed that low interest rates and borrowing costs meant there was now ”great urgency” in setting up a Scottish currency.

“You may have to have a period of transition, you may have to have a dual currency operating because of assets and liabilities which are still in Sterling,” Mr Salmond said.

On Europe, he said the transition to full EU membership would take “years” but that gaining membership of EFTA, which would mean access to the European single market, would take just months.

“As an interim proposal at least, it will be beneficial to stay within a customs union of the UK nations and certainly within the single travel area across the British Isles,” he said.

“In due course, Scotland could then take a judgement on the best permanent route forward having secured the tradeable economic base of the country.”

However, Ms Sturgeon accused Mr Salmond of damaging the independence cause by putting off undecided voters. She maintained she would not work with him if he wins election to Holyrood.

“When I listen to people who talk about supermajorities, they sound as if they think we can just bulldoze our way to independence, which is almost contemptuous towards those that we need to persuade,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“I’m not particularly interested in an arm-wrestling contest with other people about who supports independence the most. I’m interested in persuading those who are open-minded but need still to be persuaded.”

Alistair Carmichael, the LibDem MP and former Scottish Secretary, criticised Mr Salmond's plan to scrap the pound, but said Ms Sturgeon did not have any better solutions to the currency issue.

"Alex Salmond’s push for independence in 2014 eventually foundered on the rocks of the currency argument," he said. "Seven years later nothing has changed. He still has no answers but wants to game the system to bulldoze past real problems like currency."