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SOPHY RIDGE: At the SNP Conference this weekend there’s been a lot of talk once again about Scottish independence but could another referendum be on the cards? Well let’s find out shall we from Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who joins us from Aberdeen, hello to you.
NICOLA STURGEON: Hi there.
SR: We were just saying weren’t we about the increased talk about Scottish independence, can you say for definite one way or another, that there will or will not be a second referendum while you’re First Minister.
NICOLA STURGEON: I think there will be, I think Scotland will become independent, my view is that that is the direction of travel but on the question of timing, for the last 12 months I’ve been saying very clearly that I don't think it’s right to consider that decision while things are so unclear and uncertain around Brexit so as First Minister I won’t give consideration to the timing until we’ve got some Brexit clarity. The message I was giving to my party at conference yesterday is that that gives us an opportunity not to worry all the time about when we might vote again on independence but instead to engage in the substance of the arguments and to address people in Scotland to still ask why we should be independent and I think that debate is timely because there’s going to be change, most people think that’s inevitable, most people think Brexit will make the country poorer so this is an opportunity to look at whether there’s a better alternative for Scotland and focus on hope and optimism and how we maximise our potential as a country, so that’s the opportunity I was encouraging my party to grasp when I spoke to them yesterday.
SR: So pretty clear then that you say there needs to be a bit more Brexit clarity until we get more clarity about a referendum on Scotland so let’s talk about Brexit shall we because in 2016, after that referendum you said you were looking at ways to keep Scotland in the single market even if the UK leaves so how’s that going?
NICOLA STURGEON: Well we are exploring all options to protect Scotland’s interests. I also said in 2016, and I still say this today, is that the best option for the whole of the UK if it’s leaving the EU, which I regret, is to stay in the single market and the customs union and I happen to think there is still a real prospect of securing that. It might not feel like that just now when the Prime Minister is always ruling it out but we just have to look at …
SR: You think that can [inaudible] … ?
NICOLA STURGEON: I do, yes, and we’ll see how the votes go in the House of Commons this week but even beyond that, I do think that is still a reasonable prospect because the Prime Minister’s position is I think just undeliverable and unsustainable. She is trying to reconcile all sorts of things which are irreconcilable and the common sense solution, as well as I guess the best democratic compromise given the divisions of opinion around Brexit, is to stay in the single market and the customs union so I don’t think there is any reason to give up on that argument right now.
SR: Well that seems remarkably optimistic given that both the Conservative party and Labour are saying that they are not looking for single market membership. Do you think that something could be on the cards like what is happening with the Irish situation? The EU has said that they are looking into a bespoke agreement to solve the problem of the border with Northern Ireland, is that something that you could envisage happening for Scotland, a bespoke solution?
NICOLA STURGEON: Well one of the reasons why I don't think we should give up on customs union and single market membership is that that is the simplest way to resolve the issues in Northern Ireland and resolve the issues around the border between the North and the Republic of Ireland so that’s one of the main reasons why …
SR: I understand that that’s your ideal scenario but I’m just trying to get to the reality of the situation, could you be arguing for something bespoke for Scotland?
NICOLA STURGEON: Well if there is a bespoke arrangement for Northern Ireland, and again I’ve said this all along, that keeps Northern Ireland in or effectively in the single market, then I do think it becomes all the more important that those options are open to Scotland because if we find ourselves outside the single market, which would be damaging in a whole host of ways anyway, but Northern Ireland is still in, then Scotland would find itself economically at a competitive disadvantage and that would have implications for jobs and investment in Scotland so I think it stands to reason that as First Minister I would be arguing for similar options for Scotland but I come back to my original point, I think it’s right for the whole of the UK to remain in the single market and the customs union. Jobs depend on that, investment depends on that, living standards depend on that and I don't think we should simply accept the meltdown that is coming, to use the Foreign Secretary’s language, if the Prime Minister and the government continue to argue a position that is not deliverable. Theresa May is spending all of her time trying to keep her Cabinet together, talking about options that unite them – I’m not sure if she is going to succeed even in that – but the options they’re talking about have already effectively been ruled out by the EU. We need to see some realism emerge in these discussions and that’s why I do think we’ve seen Labour shift I think on the customs union, I think we may see them shift more on single market membership, I think this is a moment for those of us who believe in these outcomes to continue to argue the case for them.
SR: You were very critical there about Theresa May’s stance, do you ever look at the other people around the Cabinet table and feel a degree of relief that it’s her doing the negotiations rather than, for example, Boris Johnson or David Davis?
NICOLA STURGEON: I don't think Boris Johnson should be anywhere near a government office, he must be one of the least fit people to hold a high office of state that we’ve ever seen and I thought that before his comments at the end of last week. He’s entirely playing to a hard Brexiteer gallery, it sounds as if Boris Johnson, in fact it sounds as if none of the members of the Tory Cabinet actually care about jobs and living standards and prospects for people the length and breadth of the UK and that’s got to change and if the Cabinet, the Prime Minister, are not prepared to change and argue for a more realistic and sensible position, then I hope we see the House of Commons force them into that position. Now we’ll wait and see what happens this week, I’m not saying I’m holding my breath or being overly optimistic, but sooner or later there has to be an outbreak of common sense and I hope we see that sooner rather than later.
SR: Talking about those comments that Boris Johnson made, one of them was that Donald Trump might make a better job of the Brexit negotiations. He of course has been ripping up every piece of diplomatic protocol at the G7, will you be welcoming him to Scotland when he comes to visit?
NICOLA STURGEON: Well we don’t know his plans yet. I think everybody knows that I don’t see eye to eye with Donald Trump on very many things but of course if the President of the United States comes to Scotland and there’s an opportunity to engage with him as First Minister, of course I will do that but I’ll make very clear the values and principles that are important to me, to my government, I think to many people across Scotland and I think in this uncertain world we live in right now it’s important to speak up for those progressive principles, those values of social democracy and I think the more politicians we hear doing that the better.
SR: Now before you go, I’ve got to ask you, the World Cup is starting next week, unfortunately Scotland not playing a part in it, so are you going to be cheering anyone?
NICOLA STURGEON: I wish England well in the World Cup, maybe if they win this World Cup we can stop talking about 1966 at long last but as I was saying in another interview at the end of the week, I drew Iceland in my office sweepstakes so I’ll be keeping an eye out on their scores as well.
SR: Okay, very diplomatically answered. Nicola Sturgeon, thanks very much.