BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 22.09.02

Interview: JOHN SWINNEY, SNP Leader.

On whether the high priority the party is giving to independence is holding them back.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well the leader John Swinney is our Dundee studio. Mr Swinney your problem is that you are putting too much emphasis on independence, and most people in Scotland don't want independence. JOHN SWINNEY: Well, sometimes I get criticised for not putting enough emphasis on independence. I'm glad that we've registered that independence remains the central purpose of the Scottish National Party. What our election strategy is about is saying to people in Scotland an SNP administration in the Scottish parliament will use the powers of the Scottish parliament effectively to create a better Scotland. But if we want to create Scotland as the best country that can be we must have the normal powers of independence, because what we're finding just now, is there are many limitations of the powers of the Scottish parliament and what we're about is completing those powers and making sure we can tackle many of the social and economic problems that still exist within Scotland. HUMPHRYS: Well, but the real reason you're doing it is it not, that your party is on your back. You can't do anything else. Given a choice you wouldn't choose to put this degree of emphasis on an unpopular issue. SWINNEY: Well, I came into politics to win Scottish independence and my leadership, when I became leader of the SNP I made it quite clear I was determined to win Scottish independence so the fact that I'm fighting, and going to fight at the elections in May of next year a campaign that will set out to people exactly why independence is relevant to their lives should be no surprise to anybody at all. Now what I'll do in that process is illustrate why there are some things we can do within devolution, but in tackling many of the major problems in Scotland such as the fact that our economic growth trails the rest of the United Kingdom, or the fact that one in three children are still living in poverty within Scotland, the fact that we can only tackle these issues if we have the normal powers of independence, so it's about giving people a meaningful solution to the problems that exist in their daily lives, and in my view, having the full powers of a normal independent parliament is the route to do that. HUMPHRYS: A vote for the SNP then is a vote for Scottish independence. It's as simple as that is it? SWINNEY: To go back to what I said to you in my first answer what I will do at the elections next year, is set out to people what the SNP will do within the existing powers of the Scottish parliament but I'll... HUMPHRYS: You are not answering my question are you? SWINNEY: I'll come to that in a second. HUMPHRYS: Alright. SWINNEY: But there are limitations to what the parliament can do, and I believe the solution to many of the problems in Scotland can only come from the normality of independence, so that's the message I'll give to people in the election. And as part of that independence message I will say to them that once the SNP leads Scotland, we will give the people in a referendum the simple choice of deciding if our country should become an independent country, so the issue, the hard issue of whether Scotland becomes an independent country comes from the referendum that we put forward to the public once we're running Scotland. HUMPHRYS: Indeed, but if people do not want independence or indeed they don't want to vote on it, which amounts to the same thing of course because otherwise we have the status quo, we don't have to have a referendum to keep the status quo do we. If they do not want independence they should not vote for the SNP. SWINNEY: Well, I want people to vote for the Scottish National Party for whatever motivation they happen to have. I've set out exactly why we'll put the independence message centre stage in our election campaign next year because it gives us the chance to address the real problems that exist in people's lives and to set out a vision of how we can make Scotland a prosperous, a socially just and a sustainable country. And that's what our election message will be all about, and it will be set out to people in a persuasive way and a way that excites them about the ambitions that we have for Scotland and the ambitions that they should have for their country as well. HUMPHRYS: Well I don't know whether it will excite them or not, to know as we've been told quite clearly today and on many many other occasions that if you have independence you have less money to spend. The Scottish parliament in an independent Scotland, a Scottish government would have less money to spend so therefore this makes nonsense of your other basic claim doesn't it, the big claim which is - vote for us and you have better public services, vote for you, get independence one way or the other and there would be less money to spend on the public services. SWINNEY: Well you see, if you look back at the facts about this John, you'll find that over the last twenty-five years Scotland has contributed more to the United Kingdom than we have had back in return, and you don't need to take my view for that, that's the official conclusion of Her Majesty's Treasury in parliamentary answers that Scotland's actually subsidised the rest of the United Kingdom over the last twenty-five years. HUMPHRYS: What about the Constitution Unit and what it says? SWINNEY: Well, the Constitution Unit confirms that point that I've just made. HUMPHRYS: It says that you'd have between five hundred million and one-point-five billion less to spend. That's what it says. SWINNEY: Well, the Constitution Unit says that. It also confirms what I've just said to you that Scotland has paid more to the UK than we've had back, and also the Constitution Unit says that Scotland would be entitled to what they characterised as an independence dividend of over eight billion pounds in resources. Now what that tells me is that Scotland is getting short-changed within the United Kingdom because there's a concentration of government activity and government headquarters and government spending in and around London and the South-east of England, a well proven fact, and once Scotland becomes an independent country, we'll have access to that independence dividend that we don't currently have so when you look at the accounting systems of all of that, it shows definitely that Scotland has prosperity at its fingertips with independence and the challenge for us is to persuade enough people to support that, and then to create a dynamic economy as a result of it. HUMPHRYS: Well you've been trying to persuade people to support that notion for a very, very long time, and the fact is you have been less rather than more successful. Only thirty per cent want independence if we are to believe the polls of course, and they've been pretty accurate on this issue over the years. You're not getting anywhere, you're going in the wrong direction. SWINNEY: Well, not at all. People in Scotland are canny. They wanted to see what a bit of government would be like and they've now got that through devolution. And the challenge for the SNP now is to complete that argument, to set out a positive and a powerful case as to why we should have the normal powers of independence at our disposal. That's exactly what we'll do in the elections next May and I'm very buoyant about our prospects as we go into those elections, and our position just now is we are higher in the opinion polls than we achieved in the 1999 elections and I'm determined to make sure over the next seven to eight months that we close the gap in the Labour Party and win political leadership in Scotland and that is what we're focussed on. HUMPHRYS: But let's be realistic, you're obviously because of the PR system in part, you're obviously not going to get a majority in the next parliament. You therefore would need a coalition. You cannot form a coalition with anybody because nobody else supports your independence. SWINNEY: Well let's just see what the electoral arithmetic shows up after the elections next year. I'm very optimistic about the SNP's prospects, I'm going to lead the SNP into a campaign that's going to be concentrated on presenting the relevance of independence to people in their daily lives and demonstrating how on health, on education, on crime, on issues of jobs, the SNP has the right answers and why taking responsibility for these issues within Scotland will deliver the type of quality public services and prosperity that we are entitled to. That's the beast of the election and that's why I think we'll win it. HUMPHRYS: John Swinney, many thanks. SWINNEY: Thank you.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.