Alex Salmond rubbishes claim he pushed Nicola Sturgeon to call for second independence referendum

Rachel Roberts
Alex Salmond poured scorn on suggestions he pushed Nicola Sturgeon into calling a second Scottish independence referendum: PA

Alex Salmond has denied he pushed Nicola Sturgeon into calling for a second Scottish independence referendum, deriding the the suggestion as “complete and utter piffle”.

Sources close to Scotland's First Minister and her predecessor, reportedly told Sky News that Mr Salmond was the driving force behind Ms Sturgeon’s speech, in which she confirmed she will seek approval from Holyrood for a second referendum in 2018 or 2019.

A second independence vote is something Ms Sturgeon "doesn't want and does not believe she can win", they were said to have told the broadcaster.

Mr Salmond, who was leader of the party when it lost the independence referendum in 2014, took to Twitter to say: “Complete. Utter. Piffle. UK Gov caught flat footed. Obvious Downing Street briefing, Sky news silly enough to repeat it.”

Ms Sturgeon, has indicated she could call for a second independence vote ever since the UK's shock decision to leave the European Union.

She said this represented a “material change” in circumstances which justified going to the polls again.

Ms Sturgeon was formerly Mr Salmond’s deputy, taking over when he quit in the aftermath of the 2014 independence referendum, which the nationalists lost with just under 45 per cent of the vote compared to just over 55 per cent who voted to remain with the UK.

“He won’t be a back seat driver," Ms Sturgeon said when she succeeded him. "I’ll be in charge and I don’t think he’s in any doubt of that.”

Mr Salmond, who is currently serving in Westminster as MP for his Aberdeen constituency, said last year that he was expecting Ms Sturgeon to call a second referendum “within two years” of the Brexit vote.

He told Russia Today last September that the option of a second referendum was “on the table”.

“I would expect Nicola Sturgeon to fulfil her mandate to keep Scotland within the single market place," he said. “I would expect her to give Theresa May the opportunity to embed Scotland within the negotiations that are about to happen.

“I fully expect, my reading of the situation is, the UK will not be flexible or wise enough to do that, and therefore there’ll be a Scottish referendum in roughly two years’ time.”

Before to the first referendum, Mr Salmond called it “a once in a generation opportunity”, but like Ms Sturgeon, he said the shock decision by the UK to leave the EU was a game-changer.

Ms Sturgeon said that a second independence referendum would allow Scottish voters to choose between remaining in the EU as an independent country or to remain as part of the UK outside of it.

Although a clear majority of Scots (62 per cent) voted to remain in the EU, polls do not indicate a great appetite for a second independence referendum, with some suggesting the country is suffering from “referendum fatigue”.

A recent survey carried out by BNG Research found that 51 per cent are opposed to holding another independence vote ahead before the terms of the UK’s Brexit negotiations are agreed.

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) said they were uncertain, while only 25 per cent were in favour.

Prime Minister Theresa May has not ruled out allowing another independence referendum for Scotland, but criticised Ms Sturgeon’s demand.

“Instead of playing politics with the future of our country the Scottish Government should focus on delivering good government and public services for the people of Scotland," she said. "Politics is not a game.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said there is “no appetite for another referendum” on Scottish independence, but that Labour MPs would not block a “democratic decision” by the Scottish Parliament to call one.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I believe that it would be wrong for Scotland to be taken down a path that it has no control over regardless of the consequences for our economy, for our society, for our place in the world, for our very sense of who we are as a country. That would be wrong, and therefore my judgement is that we should have that choice."

”I believe that in a referendum the Scottish people will opt for independence, but that will be the choice of the Scottish people and I’ve been very clear that that will be an informed choice."