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Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Sunday, 21 November 2010

Transcript of Alex Salmond interview

On Sunday 21st November Andrew Marr interviewed First Minister for Scotland Alex Salmond.

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

ANDREW MARR:

Now everybody's talking about cuts and tough times. Nobody yet knows quite what it's going to mean, but in Scotland, with a big public sector and its own relatively high spending parliament, the choices are tougher still. Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party Leader and the First Minister, has recently laid out his spending plans, but they don't involve cuts as deep as many people expected. And he joins us, lucky man, from his constituency up in Banff and Buchan. Good morning, Mr Salmond. Can I start by asking …

ALEX SALMOND:

Where it isn't too mild, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

It's not mild. (laughter) But beautiful. Can I start by asking you about the spending plans that you've just announced. You seem to be pretty determined to try to hang onto the more generous welfare state that exists in Scotland - things like you know the free medicines, the free care for the elderly, all the tuition help that Scottish students get that English students don't. Is this sustainable?

ALEX SALMOND:

Well, Andrew, firstly can I correct you? I mean the budget that we've announced is extremely difficult and extremely challenging. We've had to manage a 6% decline in Scottish public spending in a single year. That's what's been handed down to us by Westminster. And the way to do that, in my opinion, it has to be done by huge efficiencies across the public sector, which we've announced, and it has to be done by pay restraint - by effectively a pay freeze for anybody earning over £21,000 across the Scottish public sector. Very difficult choices, very challenging indeed. And the way I believe you do that is by offering people a social contract. You say look, we need sacrifices in terms of people's wage restraint, but in return there are aspects of the social contract which we are determined to maintain - for example, the freeze in council tax, so that household bills are under less pressure; for example removing prescription charges, so that 600,000 people earning less than £18,000 don't have to pay for their medicine. That's part of a social contract, but you can't get one without the other, Andrew. If you want the pay restraint to manage this difficult situation, you've got to offer people the other part of the social contract.

ANDREW MARR:

And can you do it all through pay restraint because some of your opponents - Labour's Iain Grey and others - are saying that you've dodged some of the really hard spending decisions until after the Scottish Elections; that this is simply something to get you through to the Elections?

ALEX SALMOND:

Yeah, well if we take the Labour Leader in Scotland, for example, he was for pay restraint and then he was demonstrating against it. And now, apparently, he's for it again. So you know far from facing difficult choices, he's had three positions on wage policy in the space of a few weeks. That's just not credible. Wage restraint is a very difficult choice for families to make. I think public sector workers will make that choice and I think they'll make it because they know there's a social contract in place, and of course it's a method of protecting jobs in the public services which we value very, very highly.

ANDREW MARR:

As I said earlier on, you do have a larger, proportionally a larger public sector in Scotland than in other parts of the UK, so to that extent you're more vulnerable. I'm just wondering whether what's going on in Ireland has made you rethink the economics of smaller countries in the Eurozone, looking at particularly smaller countries with big banks?

ALEX SALMOND:

Well I mean Ireland's having very substantial economic problems just now, Andrew. Of that, there is no doubt at all. I mean their output is down 15% over the last two years. That's a very, very difficult position. It should be remembered of course they were starting from a position of 30% per head higher than the United Kingdom. That doesn't make the fall any easier to handle, but puts matters into context. And I noticed incidentally the United Nations this month in their Human Development Index had Ireland at number 5 and the UK at number 26, so I think we should be a wee bit careful about how we address and look at Ireland's economic difficulties. I think it's far better to have been supportive of Ireland and the people of Ireland.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But, nonetheless, the whole Celtic Tiger ark of prosperity.

ALEX SALMOND:

Well remember, of course, there's a range of countries that we could compare ourselves with in Europe. We could compare ourselves with Norway, which has almost breezed through recession untouched. Why? Because it's got massive natural resources in oil and gas. So has Scotland, Andrew. Or we could compare ourselves with the Scandinavian countries who are currently after undergoing (like we did) a substantial recession are the countries, along with Germany, which are recovering faster than Europe. So you know the recession has hit countries large and small, Andrew. Some countries, like Germany and France, have done better than the UK as far as big countries are concerned. Other big countries like Italy and Spain have done much worse.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

ALEX SALMOND:

Small countries, large countries - all have been hit by recession.

ANDREW MARR:

What's your private feelings now about the future for the independence referendum because you've been obliged to kick it into the long grass a bit and it's unclear to a lot of people when, if ever, this is going to happen?

ALEX SALMOND:

Well we're going into an election now, Andrew. You're quite right, I couldn't get it through this parliament because although we're the government, we're a minority government and the Unionist parties, Labour, Tory, Liberals ganged up against the right of people in Scotland to decide. But then the people have their say next May in the Scottish Elections, so our plan is as follows. One, we've addressed the tough choices in the budget. Secondly, we've devised a means of getting more capital spending, which is one of the biggest impacts of the budget handed down by Westminster. Thirdly, we're trying to get social consensus in terms of the restructuring of public services in Scotland in a form that is necessary through the Christie Commissioner, and to do it in a way that keeps society together. But fourthly, and crucially, the big argument next May is how do we revive the Scottish economy? How do we get the economic powers that'll lift the Scottish growth rate, so as we're not set for ten years of Westminster led cuts - that we can grow the economy, grow revenue and get a better future? That is what is going to dominate next May's election in Scotland.

ANDREW MARR:

Do you think you're into years now of sort of year by year trench warfare with Clegg and Cameron over economic policy?

ALEX SALMOND:

Well I think the Scottish people have the opportunity next May to make a decisive statement on that. I mean I said to David Cameron when he came into office, look why not allow Scotland to have the economic powers, why not give us the economic powers? We'll deal with the issues in the Scottish economy, we'll growth economy so as we're not just looking at £40 billion of cuts over the next 12 to 15 years; we can grow revenue and income to ensure prosperity. Rather than Westminster handing down cuts in Scotland, wouldn't it be better to allow Scots to have the responsibility to grow our economy? Now initially at least …

ANDREW MARR:

Right.

ALEX SALMOND:

… there seemed to be some interest in that idea. Unfortunately Westminster has reverted to an old policy that they know best and they're going to hand down hard medicine to Scotland. People in Scotland next May…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) We will watch that election with great interest.

ALEX SALMOND:

… have a decision to make to do things differently.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright. Thank you very much indeed, Alex Salmond.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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