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1997 Onwards - Sir John Major’s Interview with Christiane Amanpour

Below is the text of the interview with Sir John Major and Christiane Amanpour broadcast on CNN on 16th September 2014.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

John Major was the Conservative Party's Prime Minister here in Britain from 1990 to 1997 and he's a veteran of this particular political war and he's joining me now live in the studio. Welcome to the program.

SIR JOHN MAJOR

Thank you.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

So what of Nicola Sturgeon? The Scottish Nationalist saying that this vow is a bribe and it's a day late and a dollar short. Do you agree?

SIR JOHN MAJOR

As a matter of fact, there's nothing that anyone could say that would satisfy the Scottish Nationalists. Their aim is independence, a separate Scotland. They're perfectly prepared to throw away 300 years of history and the gains we've made in unity. So whatever was said, the SNP would turn it away and would disavow it. That's been their tactic right the way through this debate.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

Do you believe, though, that this vow is the right way to go?

Can it keep the union together?

And is it offering something that you believe in?

SIR JOHN MAJOR

This vow is something quite special and quite new. It offers Scotland a great deal more self-dependence in terms of the powers given to the Scottish Parliament; it keeps the United Kingdom together. It stops many of the risks that would otherwise take place both in the United Kingdom and in Scotland because – be in no doubt about this – were there to be separation, both the United Kingdom and Scotland, in my judgment, would suffer and suffer seriously.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

Let's first talk about Scotland. They are obviously full of the desire to move inevitably and inexorably from devolution to their own Parliament to independence. And they say we can run our own economy; we'll be able to talk about jobs and govern those crucial economic areas ourselves.

SIR JOHN MAJOR

No-one has denied that the Scots are an intelligent nation who could run their own country. That's not the issue. Whenever the realities are placed before the SNP, they say people are lying. They say we can get straight into the European Union. Well, the European Union say they can't. But they say the European Union is lying.

The SNP think they can enter into NATO. I think that's extremely unlikely. They say they can manage without having their own currency. They can't use sterling. They're two days away from the vote and they do not yet know what currency they're going to use in the long term. Now that is just absurd.

One could stretch that list to points put to the SNP that they've denied. And they're not points put to them by advocates of the No campaign; they're points put to them by senior businessmen, by senior politicians outside the country, people who have studied what's happened and knows the impact upon Scotland and a Scottish nation have, frankly - and I don't say this lightly - have been fed a load of pap by the Scottish nationalists in the belief that everything will be all right on the night. Well, it won't. There are very serious problems that Scotland will face if they go down this route.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

What about the wealth of the nation, so to speak? They talk a lot about the oil wealth. There they have it in waters off Scotland. Why should that not keep them afloat?

SIR JOHN MAJOR

Well, it's UK oil, it isn't all Scottish oil. Let me make that point first. Second, it's a diminishing asset. The oil is reducing. It's not going to be there forever. It might be there for 30 years. It might be there for 40 years. But what about the young men and women who'll be voting for the first time in this referendum and their children and grandchildren? They won't have Scottish oil to rely on. They will have to compete, and in future they'll have to compete with the rest of the United Kingdom as well as others; whereas now the United Kingdom are advocates of Scotland.

I go abroad frequently and I speak about British prospects and I include the prospect of investment in Scotland. In future, they'd be competitors if they were separate, not part of the United Kingdom.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

And what about this notion? Because everyone watching this program from around the world is worried about what this means for separatist movements elsewhere, but also what does this mean for the reliable, trusty ally and trading partner that is the UK? Is this going to lead to a totally devolved UK, one way or the other?

SIR JOHN MAJOR

Well, there are two separate points there, firstly about separatism. There's no doubt that the Scottish plans have excited separatists in Catalonia, in Bavaria, in Flanders, all over the place. They expect to join the European Union and yet they will have excited dissent and separatism in a large number of European Union countries, a point they totally overlook.

As to the impact if Scotland became separate, it would have a pretty dramatic impact on the rest of the United Kingdom as well. I don't think anything is going to break the United Kingdom's affinity and affection for its traditional allies. But they will be weaker. They will be weaker. They will have less influence. You can't have a large chunk of a country suddenly falling off and retain the same international influence that you had before.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

I mean, right now, we're in the midst of a major existential fight that the West has identified against these terrorists, barbaric terrorists, who slaughter people in public, ISIS. Britain has always been a trusted military ally. It's been a trusted voice in the United Nations Security Council. How will that be affected, boots on the ground and people under arms, Scottish contribute a lot to that?

SIR JOHN MAJOR

British military capability would be diminished if Scotland became a separate nation, no doubt about that, it’s an extraordinary time to do it. We have jihadists all over the Middle East. We have Russia misbehaving in Ukraine. We have a range of problems in different parts of the world and this is the moment that the United Kingdom, that's been together for 300 years, finds a part of it possibly breaking away, it is an extraordinary concept and a particularly extraordinary concept at this moment in time with the world as it is.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

You fought an election in 1997 and you lost to Tony Blair. But one of your platforms was to oppose the independent Scottish parliament. Now they have it. Do you agree with the idea of devo-max or whatever's been promised in this vow, even if they vote to stay in the UK?

SIR JOHN MAJOR

I think if they stay in the United Kingdom and get more powers, I'm perfectly content with that. Frankly, I'd trade almost anything for the importance of keeping the United Kingdom as a single entity.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

So why was that offer made from the beginning by Prime Minister Cameron?

SIR JOHN MAJOR

I can't answer that question. You'll have to ask Prime Minister Cameron, but I did foresee in 1992 the damage that would come about by spreading devolution. I believed it would be a stepping stone for a separatist movement and thus it has proved.

But we're now under a different circumstance. And now we're in the circumstance where there is a demand in Scotland that I think that in one way or another needs to be met. And for that reason, I think it is right to make this particular offer if it will sustain the Union.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

And finally, what about people/individuals who say they are just fed up of central government? They just don't believe in this anymore; they don't see the leadership. They don't see how it helps them.

SIR JOHN MAJOR

I think that's a feeling in the UK, but not only in the UK, I think that's true in the United States and in most of the countries of Europe as well. But there's a bigger point really in terms of the United Kingdom. Are we suddenly to wake up in two mornings' time and find that the Scots are foreigners?

whom, live in the United Kingdom, are suddenly a foreign nation? It's an alien concept, very hard to grasp. And I think people today who are advocates of separatism have not perhaps realised the sheer impact upon them, upon Scotland, upon their colleagues in the United Kingdom and upon the United Kingdom as a whole if separatism were to be agreed by the Scottish voters on Thursday.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

Sir John Major, you've made your case. Thank you very much indeed.

SIR JOHN MAJOR

Thank you.