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1997 Onwards - Sir John Major’s Interview on BBC Radio 4 - 18/06/2014

Below is the transcript of the interview with the Rt Hon Sir John Major KG CH on BBC Radio 4 “Today Programme” on Wednesday, 18 June, 2014.


INTRODUCTION

[Sir John Major has entered the debate on Scottish independence arguing for a no vote and also saying that if that is the outcome the whole of the UK would have to reach a long-term constitutional settlement. And the former Prime Minister said that the SNP Government's defence proposals would wreck the UK's ability to maintain a nuclear deterrent. James Naughtie has been speaking to him]

SIR JOHN MAJOR

If Scotland were to become a separate country that would have serious implications I believe for Scotland, and negative implications, but it would also have very negative implications for the rest of the United Kingdom as well.

JAMES NAUGHTIE

Of what kind?

SIR JOHN MAJOR

If, for example, you see a country begin to fracture, does it have greater or lesser influence, over its international bodies? In the European Union, in the United Nations, in the G7, in any of the international groupings. Self-evidently, they have less.

If you have Scotland deciding to be independent what does that actually do inside the rest of the United Kingdom? Does that inflame a greater independence demand in Wales, for example? And it has implications in every part of the UK. We would be weaker.

Of course, one of the big implications of Scotland becoming separate would be the SNP's threat to expel Trident from Faslane. That would, in effect, be the end of the serious British nuclear deterrent?

JAMES NAUGHTIE

Why?

SIR JOHN MAJOR

Because you can't just move those submarines, they need proper ports, they need proper facilities. You're talking of many, many years before they would have them. By which time Trident may no longer be as relevant as it is now.

That affects not just us, that affects every European country and NATO. How will the United States react when one of the only two countries with a credible military and nuclear capability suddenly has the nuclear capability effectively wrecked?

This affects the United Kingdom, it affects our security. There are long-term strategic questions for the whole of the United Kingdom that depend upon the result of this referendum.

JAMES NAUGHTIE

But Alex Salmond says that the reality of politics is this. If Scotland were to vote yes on September 18th then David Cameron has promised, in what Alex Salmond calls the Edinburgh Agreement, that he will enact the result of that referendum and treat it with respect. What the First Minister says is, the minute that happened, we'd be into a pragmatic argument. Politicians of good will would have to get together and they would have to solve some of these problems.

SIR JOHN MAJOR

They're soft words that mean nothing. Where is the pragmatism in deciding, and reiterating again in the last few days, that they will expel Trident? What is the likelihood of Scotland retaining Sterling? I would said the answer is nil.

It is not a question of anybody being beastly or threatening Scotland. But unless the Scottish electors are told the truth of what the SNP's programme actually means for Scotland, then they will have every reason later to say 'why didn't you tell us'?

JAMES NAUGHTIE

One of the things you have spoken about as happening if there were to be a no vote is some kind of constitutional discussion which would go on for a long time about embedding enhanced devolution. People are entitled to be a little leery about this aren't they because after all you were against devolution in the first place, in the late nineties and indeed before that, because you thought it would break up the union.

SIR JOHN MAJOR

I opposed devolution not because I thought the Scots couldn't govern themselves, of course they could. They've been a very talented nation and they have run a large part of the British Empire and been remarkably influential in building up the United Kingdom.

My opposition to devolution was that it would be a stepping stone to separation. When I look at events that are taking place at the present moment I can see precisely why I thought that. My concern then is the same as my concern now, I wish to preserve the Union. That now means that we're going to put right the defects in the Devolution Bill of the late nineties because it was a very bad Bill, it took no account of the impact upon the rest of the United Kingdom.

We are now going to have to give Scotland the power to raise its own taxes so that it can pay for its own programme, which I think is an essential democratic point. Then with this enhanced devolution we are going to need a Constitutional Conference which will involve all parties, including of course the Scottish National Party, to decide how we deal with the problems of Scottish devolution as they effect Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

JAMES NAUGHTIE

Mr. Salmond has a simple answer to that, 'don't trust the Tories, they've let you down before'.

SIR JOHN MAJOR

That's a cheap answer isn't it? And it's a silly answer.

Is he seriously suggesting that a promise publicly made by the Conservative Prime Minister, by the Labour Leader of the Opposition and by the Liberal Deputy Prime Minister could just be callously ditched after the referendum vote? It's absurd.

In the real world of politics, not the fantasy world of campaigning, it is not credible for any of the three major parties to resile upon the promises that they have made to the Scottish electors, and nor will they.

JAMES NAUGHTIE

Mr. Salmond also appeals to the people in Scotland who believe that the EU link is important and he looks south of the border and he says 'this lot are going to go sleep-walking out of Europe. If you don't want that to happen, there's only one option, vote yes'.

Now when he says that to people you could forgive them, even you, for thinking he's maybe right.

SIR JOHN MAJOR

Firstly, I have probably suffered more in the cause of Europe than most.

JAMES NAUGHTIE

No argument about that.

SIR JOHN MAJOR

Thank you, I recall it all very vividly.

I have not a shred of doubt that the future of the United Kingdom, and by that I mean our material well-being, and our international influence, is far better as a member of the European Union than outside it. I believe a decision will be reached to stay inside the European Union. I believe there are reforms that can, and will, be negotiated.

But the second point I would make to Mr. Salmond is this. How much influence would he lose in Europe as a nation of five million amongst a Europe of five hundred million? At the moment, whether he wishes to admit it or not, it is the fact that every British Government for a long time has fought for Scotland within Europe. Britain as a voice within the European Union is self-evidently a more powerful voice than any component part of Britain, whether it's Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England.

JAMES NAUGHTIE

You've alluded to the scars on your back in your European battles right through the nineties with your party, and with some other European countries. David Cameron is having the same kind of problem now. If he loses his public fight over the appointment of Mr. Juncker as Commission President, and it seems as if he may have lost that, for many people in your party the game will be up, Cameron will have laid his chips on the table and lost.

SIR JOHN MAJOR

I know Mr. Juncker of old. I have no animus against Mr. Juncker at all. I think he was a very fine Prime Minister of Luxembourg. But Luxembourg is not the European Union. For the whole of the European Union, including Britain, we need a really big political figure at the head of the European Union. That will generate a great deal of authority for the European Union that it doesn't have internationally at the moment and it should have.

I don't know how it is going to turn out with Mr. Juncker. I do not think that he is the right candidate. But it is conceivable, for the wrong reasons, that Europe might elect the wrong candidate. If that is so the way Europe often works is if it has done something which is very much not in the interests of a particular country, they often seek both subliminally and publicly to make that right in some other way.

The question is, can we get a satisfactory negotiation along the lines that Britain has been talking about. My answer to that is categorically yes, we can.

JAMES NAUGHTIE

One translation of what you have said is that if Mrs. Merkel gets Juncker, she'll give David Cameron some reform in return.

SIR JOHN MAJOR

I don't think it's a question of Mrs. Merkel, I think it's a question of the European Union as a whole.

We are not alone in seeking reforms. I often found that when I appeared to be battling on my own for some change in Europe that after the battle had been fought, whether I had won or whether I had lost, I often found I had allies I didn't know were there who hadn't always spoken out.

I think that there is sufficient common interest in terms of problems across Europe for alliances to be formed when the negotiation proper starts. And I do believe, and I genuinely believe, that David Cameron will be able to come back with a successful and significant reform package that will enable him to put that before the British nation and for Britain then to vote in a clear-cut way to stay as a member of the European Union.

JAMES NAUGHTIE

Sir John Major, thank you very much.