Sturgeon 'will not pick up phone to Salmond' even if he holds independence whip hand at Holyrood

Simon Johnson
·5-min read
Nicola Sturgeon campaigning on Thursday -  Andrew Milligan/PA
Nicola Sturgeon campaigning on Thursday - Andrew Milligan/PA

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she would not pick up the phone to Alex Salmond even if she needed his new party's support to get an independence referendum after next month's Holyrood election.

The First Minister gave a definitive "no" when pressed whether she would reach out to her former mentor if the parliamentary arithmetic meant she needed the backing of Alba Party MSPs to press her demand for another separation vote.

Despite Mr Salmond stating he would be willing to put aside their personal feud to work together on independence, she insisted that he would also be reluctant to speak to her "any time soon."

Ms Sturgeon said she had "no plans, no intention of having any kind of arrangement with Alex Salmond" and noted that opinions polls predicting an SNP majority would mean "this is not something I’m going to have to contend with after the election."

Former First Minister Alex Salmond speaks during the Alba Party campaign launch on April 6 - Jeff J Mitchell/ Getty Images Europe
Former First Minister Alex Salmond speaks during the Alba Party campaign launch on April 6 - Jeff J Mitchell/ Getty Images Europe

The pair last spoke in July 2018 at the conclusion of a series of secret and unminuted discussions about her government's unlawful investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against him. She said she broke off contact after refusing to intervene.

Speaking the day after he refused three times to say whether he believed Russia was responsible for the 2018 Salisbury nerve agent attack, an emotional Ms Sturgeon said: “I look at him now and won’t always recognise the person I was close to all these years ago."

She also poured scorn on his alternative route map to independence, unveiled this week, in which he said she must open immediate secession negotiations with the UK if the May 6 election results in a nationalist "super-majority."

Mr Salmond claimed a 2014-style referendum was only one of the ways by which independence could be achieved, but Ms Sturgeon accused him of "misleading" nationalists as none of the other supposed methods would be recognised by the UK or foreign governments.

But Mr Salmond last night accused her of an "apparent lack of urgency towards independence" after she said she would delay a referendum beyond her preferred 2023 deadline if Scotland was still "grappling" with a global pandemic.

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Speaking to the Holyrood press gallery, she confirmed she plans to press ahead with her own Referendum Bill if the Prime Minister refuses to hand her the powers for a legal vote, forcing the UK Government to try and block it in the courts.

She expressed confidence that Boris Johnson would cave in, claiming she had already heard rumours in Whitehall that discussions have started over the question and the franchise. This was rubbished by Tory sources.

Her intervention came as one opinion poll predicted the SNP will narrowly miss out on a majority thanks to the Alba Party, and a second claimed she is on course for a huge 13-seat majority.

The latter survey, conducted by Opinium for Sky News, found only 15 per cent of voters thought a coalition between the SNP and the Alba Party would be good for Scotland, while 63 per cent thought it would be bad.

Mr Salmond insisted this week that Ms Sturgeon would put aside their civil war, which has seen him accuse her husband of trying to imprison him, and work with him to deliver separation.

But Ms Sturgeon, who was his deputy for a decade, retorted that she was "no longer accountable or answerable to Alex Salmond" and she had "no plans to work with Alba."

Nicola Sturgeon (right), speaks with members of the public in Queen's Park, Glasgow, during campaigning  - Jeff Mitchell/PA
Nicola Sturgeon (right), speaks with members of the public in Queen's Park, Glasgow, during campaigning - Jeff Mitchell/PA

She noted that she could not stop other parties voting for or against SNP proposals for another referendum but made clear she would not seek discussions with Mr Salmond if she needed Alba votes.

Asked if she would take a call from Mr Salmond if he wanted to discuss independence tactics after the election, she said: "I have a feeling that Alex won't be keen to pick up the phone to me any time soon."

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants to stage another separation vote by the end of 2023, after world leaders have stopped announcing mass Covid deaths on a daily basis but during Scotland's recovery from the pandemic.

However, she said if "we were still grappling with in a way similar to now a global pandemic then I don’t think it would be appropriate to have a referendum at that point."

Ms Sturgeon also warned Scots who vote SNP because they approve of her handling of Covid that their support will contribute to her mandate for a second independence referendum by the end of 2023, whether they want one or not.

But Mr Salmond said: "Independence supporters who are already underwhelmed at the lack of progress towards independence over the last five years, despite there being a majority in the parliament in favour of it, will be taken aback at the apparent lack of urgency towards independence in the next Parliament.

“As Scotland recovers from Covid we will need the full powers of independence to renew our economy and society, which is why the drive to independence should be a priority, not something to be delayed."

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said: "This is yet more confirmation from Nicola Sturgeon that if the SNP win a majority, they will hold another divisive independence referendum, regardless of what the UK Government says."