21st-century 'Braveheart'
Geoff Metcalf interviews Scottish pro-independence leader Alex Salmond

By Geoff Metcalf

Moviegoers remember Mel Gibson' epic portrayal of legendary Scottish freedom-fighter Sir William Wallace, valiantly leading his nation to independence in the early 1300s in "Braveheart." Today, using the ballot box instead of a sword, a new leader named Alex Salmond is determined once again to win self-determination for the Scots. As a member of both the Scottish Parliament and the House of Commons, Salmond -- leader of the immensely popular Scottish National Party -- is optimistic about securing Scottish independence within a few years. WorldNetDaily staff writer and talk show host Geoff Metcalf recently interviewed Salmond about his dream of a free Scotland.

Question: What is the Scottish National Party?

Answer: The SNP is the Scottish Independence Party, the party campaigning for full Scottish independence. It's making a lot of progress at the present moment. We've got a mini-parliament that was set up last year, and we're hoping to have a real parliament.

Q: In the last few years, there have been two movies that grabbed the attention of many Americans. The first was "Rob Roy," and the second, obviously, was Mel Gibson' s "Braveheart." At the conclusion of "Braveheart" with William Wallace's great sacrifice, Robert the Bruce comes back and gains Scottish independence. At what point, historically, did Scotland lose its independence?

A: Because of William Wallace's sacrifice and Bruce's victory, Scotland maintained its independence. That was in 1314 -- the victory at the Battle of Bannockburn that secured that -- and Scotland was independent for another 400 years after that until 1707. In 1707, independence was traded -- not by conquest, but by bribery. Since then, Scotland has been governed from London until last year, when we had the Scottish Parliament re-established, or reconvened, for the first time in 300 years. Scotland has had a thousand years as an independent country, but the last 300 years has been, to a greater or lesser extent, governed from London -- currently to a lesser extent, and that's all to the good.

Q: Back during our War for Independence, there were only about 7 percent of the populace who actually supported and fought for what our framers put together. Everybody else was more or less content to sit back and let inertia moves things along. Those who were not directly supporting King George were sort of passive observers. Currently in Scotland, how much popular support is there for independence, and how many are saying, "Ah, everything is OK. Let's not muck things up."?

A: In last year's election, the Labor Party -- that's the governing party in London and in Scotland -- got 39 percent of the vote. The SNP, the independence party, got 30 percent of the vote. So, the SNP is the second party in Scotland and, in the words of the old advertising slogan, is trying hard to become the first.

Q: Who is involved in this independence movement?

A: It's a democratic political party. It has 35 MPs [members of Parliament] in the Scots Parliament of 129. We have MPs in Westminster, including myself, and also in the European Parliament. It's a people's party. It isn't controlled by big business or the trade unions. Its money comes from subscriptions of individual members. Interestingly, and probably amazingly, it's not backed by a single national newspaper in the whole of Scotland, which is a most extraordinary thing. But it makes a lot more sense when you consider that most of these newspaper titles are run from London and the editors from Scotland, therefore, are not allowed to support the SNP.

So, despite all of these disadvantages, and despite the fact that the Labor Party is funded heavily from London, it's still giving Labor a run for its money and currently is ahead of Labor in the latest Scottish polls. So things look good for the SNP and, more important, good for independence and for Scotland.

Q: Do you still write a weekly column for The Herald?

A: I write a weekly column on horse racing for The Herald. But I also write political columns for a number of newspapers as well. I don't spend my entire time giving racing tips.

Q: I was curious if the newspapers that are controlled from London are reluctant to give you a forum to talk about this independence movement.

A: No. There really isn't a difficulty in getting things like columns in papers. The difficulty is much more when it comes to election time. It's not just a question of the newspapers backing the other parties. It may be different in California or the United States but, in Scotland, people don't spend much time reading the editorials in newspapers in terms of political support. What is much more of a problem is the newspaper coverage at election time. It becomes itself a part of the political bias.

Q: Welcome to the club. We are going through that exact same thing right now.

A: That's unfortunate. I think most people would say two things: First, that newspapers should take a position if they so choose, but it shouldn't affect how they cover things. It should affect their opinions and how they put forward the polls. And second, it would be a good thing to have a variety of newspapers in terms of a variety of political points of view. We don't have that in Scotland. During last year's elections in Scotland -- when I was leading the SNP to the 30 percent -- the best result in our history -- I sometimes got the impression that if I had saved a child from the River Clyde in Scotland, the newspapers would have written the headline, "Salmond grabs baby!" or something similar.

So we were fighting against some very uneven odds. But, then, so were William Wallace and Robert the Bruce -- so there is no point in moaning about it. I'd rather do something about it.

Q: One of the unfortunate realities you have to come to grips with -- and we most certainly suffer the same problem here -- is what I consider the complicity between the mainstream media and anything that contradicts their preconceived opinion. I get the impression you run into the exact same thing in Scotland.

A: Yes. A couple of things about American media. I'm not claiming to be an expert, but we do get the American networks in Scotland. I was watching the presidential elections and, I must say, I watched it all night, watching the networks getting humiliated in terms of calling the results. I thought that was quite funny. Also, I tend to think, looking at the networks -- and this is just an observation from somebody visiting -- it seems to me that the networks seem to be a bit favorable to the Democrats and somewhat hostile to the Republicans.

Q: I would say that is a tad modest and overly polite.

A: I'm an observer, so I am choosing my words carefully. In Scotland, there was not a single newspaper in Scotland that backed the SNP last year, and that was very much a result of obstruction and where the newspapers are controlled from. It doesn't make any commercial sense -- and it is obviously nonsense for a very popular political party to have no newspaper support. About 90 percent of political broadcasting comes from London. Therefore, it is very difficult for a party like the SNP to get a fair crack. So what you have to do is compensate for your lack of ability to control the airwaves, or even get a presence on the airwaves in terms of your support on the ground. To a great extent, the SNP managed to do that very well and, hopefully, we will continue to do so.

Q: How many seats in the House of Commons come from Scotland?

A: Seventy-two.

Q: How many of those members are allies of the independence movement?

A: There are six SNP members in the House of Commons in London, out of a Parliament with 72 from Scotland and 650 overall. We have a number of allies in terms of MPs from Wales and a variety of others. Probably, if I had a proposition in the House of Commons, I could count on a dozen votes if I were lucky. However, much more important now than having a few MPs in a Parliament in London, is the fact that in our own parliament -- the one set up last year -- the SNP is now the main opposition party with 35 seats out of a parliament of 129. So the setting up of the Scots' Parliament has had an impact, in the parliamentary sense, moving the SNP from the fringe into the center stage of politics.

Q: Does the Scottish Parliament work subordinate to the London Parliament? Just how does that work?

A: The Scottish Parliament has been established as a subordinate parliament. It is still controlled financially from Westminster. But it had the effect of galvanizing Scottish politics because it is a fair parliament in the sense it is elected by a proportional system. It means the SNP has become the major opposition party in the Parliament. It also means that minority parties in the Scottish contest -- like the conservatives, who are a very small party in Scotland -- are still represented in the Scottish Parliament -- although they are not represented at all from Scotland in the House of Commons in London. So it's a much fairer parliament and it has become the great debating forum in Scotland. It dominates the politics of Scotland even though, in power, it is still subordinate to the Parliament in Westminster.

Q: The awkward thing -- and I mean no offense by this -- but it sounds as if it really is more form than substance. The Scottish Parliament seems a venue where you can itch and moan and scream and shout and debate, but that there is really no clout to it.

A: That precisely is our argument. I am not at all offended by it. On the contrary, that is the exact argument that we have put forward. We say, OK, so we have a parliament. Now let's have a real parliament, a grown-up parliament, something that can actually get things done for Scotland as well as talk about it. I think talking can be important in politics. I wouldn't underrate the importance of debate and discussion and controversy, but it's best if you can actually do something as well as moan about it. And soon, hopefully, we'll be able to do something about it.

Q: You laughed oddly at a recent commercial you heard.

A: Yes. You had a commercial about gasoline prices and how to improve mileage. In Scotland today, the price of a gallon of gas is $6, three times what it is in the United States. Yet Scotland is the major oil and gas producer in Europe, by far. Some 80 percent of the European Union 's oil and gas is produced in Scotland. So there is an example of an issue that is of huge burning concern in Scotland -- to be paying the highest gas prices in the developed world, yet to be one of the major oil and gas producers in Europe. The Scots' Parliament, which has been moaning about that pretty constantly over the last year, hasn't the ability to do anything about it.

Q: Another unrequited debate?

A: Of course, because the gas prices in terms of taxation are set from London, from the Treasury in London. It is a great example of a lot of moaning but not much action. It's an argument for having the power to do something about it.

Q: How would one go about empowering a Scottish Parliament that could actually control Scotland?

A: The move to independence, in terms of how it could be done, is pretty much agreed upon. What has to happen is the Scottish National Party has to become the administration -- the government of the mini-parliament in Edinburgh. They then put to the people in a referendum the proposition that Scotland should become an independent country. If they get majority support for that -- and we win that referendum -- then Scotland will become independent.

Q: How long before the dream could become reality?

A: The timescale for achieving this is now, I think, very short.

Q: How short?

A: Scotland is likely to be independent in a few years. You can argue about whether it will be five years or 10 years or 15 years. But I would say the destination is pretty well set.

Q: Wait a minute. How can you be so optimistic when you only have 35 of 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament?

A: Last year, with all the forces ranged against us -- the media, the new Labor Party, a very powerful new Labor government at the peak of its power -- the Labor Party in Scotland only beat the SNP by 10 percentage points. In two-and-a-half years' time, when we have the next Scottish Parliament elections, Labor will be less powerful, I suspect. The press will be less firm against the SNP just for commercial reasons, and the SNP will be in a much stronger position. And that is now reflected in the Scottish opinion polls where the SNP has moved some 14 points ahead of Labor. Now opinion polls don't determine elections -- as Bush and Gore just found out recently. Nonetheless, it is a good indication that SNP is well in the running.

Q: Of those 35 of the 129 seats that you control, what kind of coalitions have you established? I know you guys have more parties than pigeons over there. What other parties are sympathetic to you or can you count on for votes?

A: Interestingly, the Greens in Scotland only have one member in the Scots' Parliament, but they are pro-independence. There is a Socialist Party that only has one member as well, but they are also pro-independence. So you have a situation where there are six parties in the Parliament, and three of them are pro-independence. Two of them only have one member each, but nonetheless, it does indicate there is support for the idea for independence that goes beyond the independence party, the SNP. And there are some people in the Labor Party who, I suspect, in a situation where Scotland was moving toward independence, would move out of their shells and probably come out as independence supporters. However, for now, they are being held down for fear of being found out.

Q: One of our greatest problems under the Clinton regime has been abuse of power under the color of authority. How pervasive is that with Prime Minister Tony Blair's government or with Parliament?

A: Very substantial. I don't know what $50,000 can buy you in America, but £50,000 can probably buy you peerage from Blair of some kind. The correlation between the donors to the Labor Party and people who end up as peers or in the UK honor system is absolutely staggering. I don't think any prime minister since Lloyd George has had such a clear correlation between the honor system and donors to his political party.

Q: If or when the Scottish Parliament were to have a vote and call for Scottish independence, then what?

A: Then Scotland would become a normal country, in the same way that America became independent some 200 years ago.

Q: We had a little more difficulty separating ourselves from King George. There was some shooting involved.

A: Times have changed, and we have a ballot box available to us. Interestingly enough, not a single person in the last hundred years has lost a life arguing for or against Scottish independence. No one has had even so much as a nosebleed. And we're actually very proud of that. I would think it would be a good thing for the world community if the good guys and gals were to win for a change and we could actually progress to Scottish independence in an entirely peaceful and constitutional way with not a single broken bone on either side. That's the way it has been -- and that's the way I think it is going to be in Scotland. I think that type of approach to politics is meriting support.

Q: How many Americans claim Scottish descent?

A: Interestingly, there are some 20 million people in America who claim Scottish descent of one kind or another. The U.S. Census Bureau says there are only 5 million Scottish-Americans. So we take this as an enormous compliment -- that there are millions of people around this country who claim Scottish descent who may or may not be entitled to it. We are very pleased that Scotland is such a popular concept that so many people across America regard themselves as being from Scottish ancestry.

Q: I have a very dear friend in San Francisco who, at the drop of a hat, if the moon is in a certain phase or the wind is blowing in a certain fashion, will use that as an excuse to wear his kilt.

A: The moon phases are very important in kilt wearing.

We just want to be a normal, independent, equal, free nation. We don't ask for anything special. We don't ask for a handout from anyone. We don't think that anyone in this world owes us a living. We just want to be to be a normal country that has the normal democratic routes open to it and contributes to world affairs in a position of equality.

Interestingly enough, you were saying there may not be too strong an analogy between Scottish independence and American freedom 200 years ago. Mario Cuomo, the ex-governor of New York, was just recently arguing very favorably about that very aspect, saying there was one similarity -- that just as in America, people had to decide in their own minds that this was the right thing to do and then go for it. That it is exactly the same thing in Scotland. It is interesting that American politicians across the political spectrum are paying some attention to the independence cause in Scotland. And for a can-do sort of society like America, the idea that Scotland couldn't be independent, I think, is quite difficult to grasp. Therefore, we think more and more Scots are coming to that conclusion.

Q: Academically, it seems like a no-brainer. It seems like a relatively simple thing. But when you say you have 72 members of Parliament from Scotland and only six are from the Scottish National Party, it raises the question if, procedurally, you can overcome the obstacles.

A: We can if we get the majority in the Scots' Parliament to hold the referendum. And to be fair to English politicians, most of them ...

Q: Why bother being fair to English politicians?

A: Because, basically, we are a nice party -- the SNP -- we're fair to everyone, even when they are not fair to us. But what I was going to point out is that even Baroness Thatcher, who was a huge opponent of Scotland and Scottish independence, has accepted a Scottish vote for independence -- and independence we will get. So, procedurally, the way to do it is to have control of the Scots' Parliament, put it to the people and, if the people vote for independence, that is exactly what we will get. The task is, of course, to persuade more and more people in Scotland that independence is the way forward.

The SNP now dominates young people in Scotland. Younger Scots, Scots under 25, support independence in huge numbers. It tends to be the older people, people who grew up in the society where there was only Labor and Tory, that tend to hold on to the older parties and the older voting patterns. I think apart from anything else, time is on our side. Although I would like to see independence as quick as possible, nonetheless, that is the way things are moving. I think Scotland is in a process of independence.

Q: Where can people get more information on what you guys are trying to do?

A: There are a couple of websites, http://www.snp.org and http://www.snpusa.org, where folks can find the SNP point of view. There are plenty of websites with real information about the SNP.

Scotland is now in the process of gaining independence. We are now in a position where I think we've got more than half the job done by the achievement of the subsidiary Scottish Parliament. We now have the mechanism that can take us through to freedom. Unlike Mel Gibson as William Wallace, we don't have to do it by the clashing of swords. We can do it by the clashing of ideas and progress peacefully through that Parliament into an independent and free Scotland.

Q: You mentioned that Scotland is one of the largest manufacturers of petroleum. Won't London be a bit reluctant to lose that resource and that taxable income?

A: It is certainly true that Westminster Treasury will hang onto Scotland as long as they possibly can -- Scotland is a nice little prize for the London government. But, on the other hand, although the oil revenues are pretty substantial on a Scottish scale, we're talking something like 6 or 7 million dollars annually in terms of the entire UK government. That's only about 1 or 2 percent of total income. In a Scottish context, because Scotland is only one-tenth the size of the United Kingdom, that's more like a boost of about 20 percent of Scottish income. And if you put Scotland with its natural resources at a table of world economies, we'd be about the sixth or seventh most prosperous country in the world in terms of wealth per head. So economically, independence for Scotland is an extremely good bet.

But this is really not about economics. It's about a nation and self-determination and its right to be independent. This is about the rights of Scotland as a nation and Scotland's right to be a free and independent people and not to be subservient to London in any shape or form. When Mel Gibson painted his face blue and spoke as William Wallace, "So long as 100 of us remain alive, we shall not submit to the domination of the English," that means also the English Parliament and Tony Blair.