With only one day to go until the referendum, the BBC speaks to First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond, who wants independence, and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who does not. Polls show that the vote is too close to call as Yes and Better Together campaigns surge for the very last time. What follows is not a word-for-word transcript of what each politician said, but a breakdown of how the conversations went and the points that they made. The Dimbleby interviews are available to watch here for the next six days.
The interview with Gordon Brown:
Independent Scotland will not do well as an independent nation. Think about uncertainty about currency, interest rates, shopping prices, defaulting on the debt.
Just take one example – debt. Salmond said he would default on his debts. What message does that send to the international community? People won’t lend to you, so your interest rates go up because you’ve refused to pay your debts. That’s probably the most irresponsible message of Salmond’s campaign. Or take currency – we don’t know what currency we’re going to have. Or food prices – if you’re a smaller economy, your prices will go up.
As Scots, we should be proud of our identity and our institutions, but proud also that we found a way in sharing and pooling resources across the United Kingdom. The Scottish people don’t want to lose their UK pensions or the pound, but that’s what independence will do. This proposition is too risky and Salmond has not thought this through.
Dimbleby: What is the value of a union when your side appears to be cajoling, even bribing, voters?
Sometimes people have to be reminded of what is the right kind of change and what is the wrong kind of change. If you break every single link with the UK, the results will be disastrous.
If Scots vote no, there will be more powers for the Scottish Parliament, and there will be fairness and equity between the regions and the nations. Because of the SNP’s claim that the NHS is under threat without independence, the Barnett Formula will continue but at the same time the new powers the Scottish Parliament will have means they can raise revenue spending on their NHS.
Dimbleby: When you became Prime Minister, you spotted a problem and had a period where you talked about increasing about a sense of collective Britishness. You were mocked for that proposal. This is a long standing problem in the regions that’s only gotten worse.
You have to rethink your relationships with the regions every generation. There are no four nations on earth that have managed to have the sort of sharing and equal rights that we have. We persuaded people to go for a welfare state and for public pensions. In the whole of the UK, there is a strong sense of patriotic pride. Every generation must find a way to combine the strength of shared patriotism with the desire to stay together.
Dimbleby: Why have people in your party, and the Tories, said devolution will be a slippery slope to independence? The move for independence has grown in years so that about 50% of the voters want it, why has that happened? Have those people who talked about the slippery slope been proven right?
If you took a poll on some features of the union, the vast majority want to keep the UK pound, keep UK pensions, and keep UK funding of the NHS.
Dimbleby: So the vast majority of voters will vote no in the referendum then?
A majority will vote no and I want to persuade people to do so. They want change and a strong Scottish parliament. Nobody wants to deny the Scots the right to decide matters of health, education, environment etc. In 1997 [when the Scots gained a parliament] we should have given the Scots more power, and now we will. We must keep the underlying principles of the UK while making sure Scots can make their own decisions.
Even if people think Westminster isn’t great, people have had to think long and hard about this referendum because people believe in the union.
Dimbleby: Over your lifetime, you’ve seen all of the UK drifting apart. That’s why you had to do all this stuff about Britishness. There is a tendency to drift apart, isn’t there?
There has always been a sense of Scottish independence. It’s strong everywhere – sport, culture, history. People are looking for a balance between a recognition of their distinct identity but a recognition of their ability to create great things together. You can have a strong Scottish parliament within the UK – you don’t need to break every single link. People desperate for change should want the links to remain.
Dimbleby: In a speech you’ve distinguished there between Scotland being based on strong community values and England being all about individualism. They’re conflicting principles aren’t they?
You’ve got a great coming together of two ideas in history. Take support of the NHS. 90% of both Scots and the English believe the same things. Yes, we come from different traditions, but we recognize and absorb each other’s. Scotland was authoritarian. England talked about fair play. We have come together to promote fairness and equality together. Most of the UK population agrees on the main issues.
Dimbleby: Why is it that everybody assumed the vote would be no? And why has it narrowed? What have people seen in Salmond’s argument?
People want change, but not the kind he’s offering. They’re unhappy with jobs and the prospects for their children, and they share that with people in the rest of the UK. They used to think independence was the only way to rectify it. Now they know that a strong Scottish parliament is the way.
Dimbleby: So where have you been all this time?
I’ve been speaking in Scotland for years and you’ve only come up for a day trip. I’ve been arguing that we put in print what we’ve already said to each other. We’ve made proposals in Westminster but it takes time for people to get that message. Change is coming. Let’s not lose what we’ve got, like NHS funding or UK pensions, military, air, and navy forces. People don’t want them to change. Change as part of the UK is appealing and I hope people will reject the risks of independence.
Dimbleby: What about the risks of another Tory government? Scots overwhelmingly want to see the back of the Conservatives, the bedroom tax, the poll tax. They don’t want Tories in Westminster deciding their fate.
They’re in power because they made a deal with the Lib Dems. This idea that Labour cannot win the election and that Tories will always be in power is false. Salmond appears to be saying that England is right-wing and that Labour are dead. People shouldn’t look to the SNP if they’re looking to stamp out social inequality. Their only tax proposal is to give a 3p cut to corporations. It’s the directors of the utilities who benefit from that, not the Scottish people.
The danger is that when those people take Scotland to independence, nationalist parties remain in being. Don’t believe that the SNP can offer you social justice. Don’t believe it’s impossible for Labour to win next election. But above all that, the biggest argument is that you cannot give up on the union because you don’t like one Tory government or one Tory policy. Scotland recieves a massive share of the pension scheme and the NHS funding.
Dimbleby: If Scotland were independent, 40% voted for labour in the last election. The changes of having socialism and a Scottish Labour government is infinitely greater in an independent Scotland.
If you go it alone, you lose the sharing system. You can’t achieve social equality with 5 million people instead of 63 million. The principle that I’m talking about will survive one or two Tory governments or policies. This is bigger than individuals or periods of time. But I personally do not think there will be another Tory government and I do not believe that the SNP offers the kind of social equality policies that Scotland wants. You cannot replicate the system of fairness across the UK if you lose a massive majority of your population by going it alone. It would be a shame to tell the world that after all these years of peaceful union that we’ve given up without a fight.
Dimbleby: What persuades you that home rule for Scotland [greater powers] will pass the House of Commons?
There is a movement for change in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland wants devolution and so does Wales. London’s already gone for those. There is a movement which encourages people to seek greater regional powers. No country or set of countries in the world has managed to share money based on need instead of nationality, and that is an unprecedented form of cooperation.
Dimbleby: With home rule, are you saying we have to rewrite the whole constitution of the UK in order to keep Scotland?
A debate is ongoing about the UK constitution. There is a demand for more powers in the regions. All I’m saying is that this change should not be at the expense of the regions but is something that needs to happen for the whole of the UK to move forward.
Dimbleby: Is this not a last stand? In the end, won’t Scotland inevitably become independent?
No. We’ve had to modernize and make big changes at the end of every century – 20th, 19th. The UK has an ability to evolve and adapt, and once people recognize that this unity state is at an end and devolution becomes standard, people will recognize that we’re better together so long as the regions have more powers.
The interview with Alex Salmond:
Dimbleby: No matter the outcome of the vote, haven’t you go the best of both worlds? Independence or home rule?
My feeling is that the people have the resolve to work towards independence.
Dimbleby: Isn’t there a demand for home rule?
This is not proper economic control. This is a rehash of what was offered in the spring and the Scottish people felt it was totally inadequate. It’s been rolled out again as a last minute desperate measure with very little power for us and very little substance.
Dimbleby: For nervous voters, isn’t it enough?
No. These are the same proposals as in the spring. Alistair Darling couldn’t name three powers the UK would give Scotland in the last debate. He named a work programme which would give people poverty wages. It’s insulting that they think if you roll out a last gasp desperate attempt after the vote then people will be satisfied. Labour is losing support because the key figures in the Labour party have proven themselves incapable of delivering a just and prosperous society.
The three parties have no agreed proposals. Labour proposals are that we’d have control of one fifth of the revenue base with 80% left in Westminster, and they’d allow you to increase the tax rate but not reduce it, which is just ludicrous. It’s an insult to the intelligence of the people of Scotland.
Dimbleby: If Scotland votes no, do you think it’ll be implemented or forgotten?
They’re going to have trouble. The last time Nick Clegg signed a vow, he broke it. Cameron is facing a bloodbath. The Labour party had the weakest proposals of all the three major parties, even weaker than the Conservatives. They’re all next-to-nothing last minute offers.
Dimbleby: At least the Tories are taking it seriously.
The people of Scotland aren’t so easily fooled.
Dimbleby: How do you feel when nearly 80% of the rest of the UK wants Scotland to remain in the union?
It’s an interesting statistic but once people realize that we’re not drifting off to the North Pole, they won’t be so worried. We’re going to be their best friend and best neighbour and we’re going to have a shared and common border, not with border guards or any nonsense like that.
Dimbleby: The alarm seems to be on two fronts. One is money. The other is the damage to the international standing of the United Kingdom.
That’s an argument about what makes a country great. Some people think illegal wars and nuclear weapons make greatness. I think greatness comes from compassion and your approach to other countries. England is great because it has an almost unparalleled cultural hinterland. Scotland can be that. We have modernity and a future in which we can contribute to greatly. Don’t tell the world how great you are, tell the world how useful you are.
Dimbleby: For over 300 years, Scotland has been part of the UK and has wielded huge international power and influence. Aren’t you turning your back on Scotland playing that kind of role?
The invasion of Iraq was a turning point in terms of their attitude to this question. I was staggered by this flouting of international law and participating in an illegal invasion, as well as the tragic deaths of thousands of people, as well as opening the door to further extremism by not even planning for the aftermath in the region. That was a major and dramatic illustration of why a country shouldn’t try and achieve greatness by participating in an adventure like that.
Dimbleby: Is that enough reason to leave the world stage?
We don’t want to dominate the world but we’re not without influence. There are 100 million people across the globe who associcate with Scotland, so our influence is based on the concept of Scotland and not on flouting international law. The Scots invented the modern world and that is their legacy. We can make a substantial contribution to the world without being dominating.
Dimbleby: Is independence a risky proposal?
Every country will face difficulties and make mistakes. I think the difference with independence is that it gives us the ability to overcome problems and correct mistakes. We’re not going to wake up in 2016 to a Scotland which has free taps of whisky, oil and water. We’ll have challenges, but a better mechanism to overcome then.
Dimbleby: What are the risks?
The risk is to not do something about our situation. Most of western Europe is facing a demographics problem with an ageing population and a shrinking work age population. People shouldn’t have to leave Scotland to find economic opportunity, like so many do each year. People who want to stay, who want to be educated, the country kicks them out. We’ve seen our Indian student numbers cut in half. If people like Scoltand so much that they want to use their skills here, let them come and let them work.
Dimbleby: You’ve said people who vote no are just deferred yes voters. Let’s talk about fear – what is it that holds people back from supporting independence? Loads of downsides are thrown at them by banks and businesses who say relocating will cause problems.
The RBS has been very clear about this – a re-domicile of the office would not have any impact on the economy or jobs.
Dimbleby: What about businesses? Is everybody lying about the downsides?
Well we know that David Cameron invited the big supermarkets to a meeting and asked them desperately if they’d say something hostile about independence because he knows he can’t win the vote on his own. Tesco and Aldi refused to play politics in place of the crude scare tactics that Cameron has resorted to out of desperation.
Dimbleby: Would your campaign have more affect if you were willing to admit that there were risks and take on board people’s fears?
The No campaign is presenting things as major risks that aren’t. The one that’s been effective with older people is the idea that an independent Scotland won’t be able to afford pensions. We can overcome that risk by encouraging people to come to Scotland. Once an elderly person is satisfied that pensions are secured, then the debate changes. It becomes a debate about the future. It’s important to recognize the challenge, explain how we’ll overcome it, and vote yes.
Dimbleby: Let’s go as far as Friday afternoon with a yes vote. and as many are predicting, there’s chaos in the stock markets. What would your solution be to stabilize that, and what is your responsibility?
We have a joint agreement, the Edinburgh Agreement, so it’s a joint responsibility. Both governments must accept the result and immediately act in the interests of the Scottish people and the people of the UK in general. Once the polls have closed there’s no advantage in scaring people any more so we have to go forward.
Dimbleby: There’s a problem if we have to act in the best interests of everybody when Scotland becomes a foreign nation.
In 1940, the government of Ireland became a republic in much more difficult circumstances than the democratic and peaceful referendum we’ve got. In that agreement, Ireland was specifically not regarded as a foreign nation. This has served the no campaign so ill because people have examined that bogeyman tactic and seen it for what it is – nonsense.
Dimbleby: All the banks and experts have said you can’t have an independent currency. What will you say when the markets are turbulent over this?
Clause 30 of the Edinburgh Agreement means that the two governments have to work together and act in the best interests of everybody. We also have to make it clear that the bank of England is responsible for securing everybody’s financial stability in the negotiations. And finally, we will have the pound sterling as our currency.
Dimbleby: What about the anonymous minister who came out and said that if Scotland wants a currency union it has to give something substantial in return, such as keeping Trident in Faslane?
I’ve made it very clear that trade-offs like keeping Trident won’t work. We’ve put forward a 5 and a half year time-scale for the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland which is very reasonable. As for the anonymous minister, that person also explained why this aggressive stance has been put forward about deals and trade-offs and such, and it’s because it’s all about Alistair Darling asking people to do it for the campaign.
Dimbleby: What will you do if the currency union falls through?
I believe there will be a currency union.
Dimbleby: Let’s come to negotiations. you’ve been extremely rude about Westminster politicians, calling them the most distrustful politicians ever. Do you expect the negoitations to go well?
Well they sort of proved my point because they’re all rude about each other and now suddenly they’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder when faced with Scottish independence. They say they’re so opposed to each other but can link hands and march up to Scotland to tell us what we can and cannot do.
Dimbleby: You say they’re mistrustful but you act as though all your negotiation demands will be met? Oil, Trident, breakup of resources. Isn’t it going to be hard and not always go your way?
They’ll be positive. Think of Adam Smith who talked about enlightened self-interest where people will strike deals and negotiate properly because both sides are affected. England is Scotland’s largest export partner and Scotland is England’s second largest export partner, so it’s in the enlightened self-interest of both parties to get on with each other. So this isn’t just about Scotland’s interests, it’s about mutual enlightened self-interest. Looking for a reasonable settlement is at the heart of our proposal. That’s why we’ve given a reasonable time scale for the removal of Trident from Faslane. We’re not trying to make life difficult for anybody.
On many things, Scotland and the rest of the UK agree on. Now suppose the UK doesn’t get dragged out of Europe by UKIP and the Tories, those strange dancing partners. Wouldn’t it be good to have two voices in the European parliament fighting for what we both believe in, instead of one isolated voice, which the UK so often is?
Dimbleby: There is a reluctance in the rest of the UK to see an independent Scotland. Aren’t you worried that there will be a backlash which will see all ties cut?
I will never demean the people of England towards their attitude towards an independent Scotland. I’ve made many speeches in England – my feeling about this is that whatever people’s attitude towards Scotland as an independent nation, there are active supporters of Scottish independence in the UK. The overwhelming view in England will be that they wish us well, no matter what we decide.