Brexit 'may trigger vote on Scottish independence'

Referendum possible if Britain opts to exit EU but Scottish voters want in: Separatist leader

LONDON • If Britain votes to leave the European Union (EU) in a referendum next month, it could trigger a second ballot on Scottish independence within two years, said senior Scottish separatist Alex Salmond.

Mr Salmond, 61, who led the Scottish National Party and was first minister of Scotland before resigning in 2014 - when the motion for independence was defeated 45 per cent to 55 per cent - is campaigning against a so-called Brexit.

Opinion polls show Britons are divided on whether to remain in the 28-member European bloc or not. Britons will vote in a referendum on June 23 on whether or not to stay in the EU.

Mr Salmond, who is now a lawmaker in Parliament in London, said it could come down to the wire.

"I think the referendum will be a damn close-run thing," he told Agence France-Presse. He also criticised the way Prime Minister David Cameron is campaigning to remain within the EU as "negative".

"The approach of the Prime Minister... is to make, essentially, a negative case, a scaremongering case," Mr Salmond said. "The problem with that case is, essentially, it's a lie. Yes, of course, leaving the EU will cause economic difficulty, trouble, tribulations, but it's not a disaster. And it doesn't signal the end of international trade," he said.

"The right campaign, in order to engender the enthusiasm of Europe, is to say, This is what we think Europe should be doing. This is the Europe we can build, the Europe we can seek."

Mr Salmond warned that it could all come down to differences in opinion between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

If the majority of Scottish voters opt on June 23 to stay in the 28-member bloc but the weight of ballots in the rest of Britain means the pro-Brexit side prevails, that would be a mandate for a new independence referendum, he argued.

Scotland would not be pulled out of Europe against its will.

"If you say to Scotland, look, we can be independent, and within this European firmament or we can drift off into the North Atlantic with a Tory government, I think they'll choose independence," Mr Salmond said.

Either way, Mr Salmond said he is not optimistic about the future prospects for Mr Cameron, saying "he will be out on his ear, regardless of the result of the referendum".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline 'Brexit 'may trigger vote on Scottish independence''. Print Edition | Subscribe