EDINBURGH, Scotland – If Scotland votes for independence in next month’s referendum, then Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, will be on track to become one of the most important people in a newly sovereign nation. And now she says she is willing to go a step further and replace Alex Salmond as leader of the Scottish National Party when the opportunity arises.
Depending on the referendum result and its effect on Salmond’s position, this could either see her picking up the pieces of a political party that has suffered defeat on its defining issue, or taking over as a leader of a country that has broken free after three centuries of Westminster rule.
“There is nothing wrong in politics with being ambitious, and if the opportunity presents itself, thinking you might like to do the top job,” said Sturgeon, currently the SNP’s deputy leader, when asked whether she’d like to be leader. “But I am focused on 18 September. What happens after that… Well, we’ll see what the result is. What I hope is we have a Yes vote and Alex Salmond leading negotiations to establish Scotland as an independent country.
“Alex is leader of the SNP, and I hope he’s leader for some time to come.”
In an interview with BuzzFeed at the SNP’s Edinburgh HQ on Monday to mark one month to go before Scots vote on independence, the deputy first minister explained why she believes the pro-independence campaign can make a last-minute dash to victory, why the SNP is about more than independence, and why George Osborne could lose his job if he refuses to let an independent Scotland formally share the pound with the rest of the UK.
But first there’s the matter of the vote itself, which has been a long time coming.
“The party collectively has been working towards this for our entire lives,” she said. “This is a big moment for us. It’s a month today until polling, and people across the country are waking up to the fact it’s almost decision time. I’ve never known a public mood quite like this. The momentum is with us.”
Not that the public mood is yet where it needs to be for the Yes campaign. The most recent YouGov poll shows support for independence up at 43% of the electorate, with 57% in favour of the status quo among those certain to vote. And there’s not long left to win over undecided voters, especially since 700,000 people have registered for a postal vote and will start returning their ballots next week.
“Having been through the election in 2011, when the SNP was behind until very, very late in the day, I’ve got a great amount of confidence that we can do it,” she insisted.
“This is a massive opportunity for us in Scotland to take our future into our own hands. We’re one of the richest countries in the world, richer per head of population than the UK as whole, richer than France and Japan. The opportunity we have here is to use our wealth to benefit more people in Scotland, to put investment in childcare over investment in nuclear weapons.”
But the Yes campaign has taken a battering in recent weeks, crystallised by Alex Salmond’s performance in a televised debate against Alistair Darling, the leader of anti-independence campaign, which was widely criticised, not least by some SNP insiders.
Instead, some have suggested that Sturgeon, who has been widely praised for her performances, should be pushed to the front of the campaign.
Insisting Salmond broadly did “very well” on the television debates and “sets very high standards for himself”, Sturgeon said the first minister himself accepts he should have done more to put across the “currency position”. And it’s the currency issue – whether Scotland gets to keep the pound or not – which the No campaign want to make the central issue in the final month of the campaign.
In short, the Conservatives, Labour, and Lib Dems say Scotland won’t be allowed to formally share the pound with the remainder of the rest of the UK, and that an independent Scotland will have to use the currency unofficially or find a replacement. The SNP says the position of the three parties is nonsense, nothing more than campaign posturing that will collapse as soon as Scots vote for independence.
On this issue, Sturgeon went as far as saying that George Osborne will lose his job if he refuses to let Scotland into a currency union with Scotland.
“If George Osborne maintains an irrational position post a Yes vote, well, he won’t be chancellor of the exchequer for very much longer, because he’ll have businesses in England up in arms about the ridiculous position he’s trying to maintain.
“The position [Osborne’s] articulating now, if he were to maintain that in the light of a Yes vote … is tantamount to economic vandalism.”
The No campaign has made much of the risk of Scotland’s major financial companies, which employ thousands of people, moving to London in search of security in the event of independence. But Sturgeon said she simply doesn’t believe there’s any chance the likes of insurance company Standard Life will vanish south of the border.
“Standard Life said if Scotland ceased to be a good place to do business it would consider its options. But Scotland’s not going to cease to be a good place to do business.”
And despite suggesting a Yes vote could lead to a revival in fortunes for the Scottish Labour Party, she insisted that the SNP still has a purpose in an independent Scotland. “We’ve been the government in the devolved parliament for seven years, we’re a social democratic party with a policy platform of our own. Whatever the outcome, the SNP will be a political force, fighting and winning elections.”
Has she got a holiday booked for after the campaign? A chance to relax after two years of debate? “No… We’ll wait and see what happens.”
And would it all have been worthwhile if Scotland votes No next month?
“If I never do anything else in politics, then I wouldn’t have any regrets.”