terça-feira, 19 de abril de 2016
Alex Salmond: Donald Trump let Scotland down, he’ll let America down
Alex Salmond: Donald Trump let Scotland down, he’ll let America down
The independence diehard talks Europe, Cameron and what went wrong on the golf course near Aberdeen.
By JULES JOHNSTON 4/20/16, 5:33 AM CET
LONDON — A lot has changed for Alex Salmond since Scotland tried to secure its independence.
For a quarter century leading up to the 2014 referendum, he was the face and voice of the Scottish independence movement, and served as first minister from 2007 to 2014. Less than a month after Scotland voted to stay in the U.K., he had been replaced by his second-in-command in the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon.
He’s gone, but not forgotten: Appearing as a witness before a recent session of the U.K. Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss EU membership and U.K. foreign policy, Salmond still exudes the kind of charisma that helps explain how he managed to convince half of Scotland to vote to break with the rest of Britain.
And he’s as unafraid of a fight as ever. Salmond’s year began with a war of words with former friend and U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump, in which the true-born Scot and the not-so-true-born Scot traded public insults that started with golf and ended with accusations of lying and incompetence.
The question now is, can Salmond bring his powers of persuasion to bear on the Brexit debate, where the 61-year-old, who did his damnedest to break up the three-century-old Union, finds himself an unlikely and uncomfortable ally of David Cameron.
“I find myself, for the first time in my life, surrounded by Conservatives, an impossible thing in Scotland,” he tells the room full of Westminster politicians, who break into laughter.
“You are one of the only two Conservative friends I have in this place,” he says to Conservative committee member Daniel Kawczynski. “Who’s the other?” asks Malcolm Rifkind, another Tory. “Well, you,” replies Salmond, to more laughter.
The topic being discussed by the committee is Brexit, with Salmond poised to defend the “imperfect” European Union that’s “a bit like the weather; everyone moans about it, but you don’t want to abolish it.”
Britain’s June 23 referendum on whether to stay in the bloc has blurred parliamentary lines, with the inherently incompatible SNP and Conservatives on the same side, but running very separate campaigns.
“The prime minister’s attitude is ‘the less Europe does, the better”’ — Alex Salmond
“The things he [Cameron] wants to stop are the things I want to happen,” Salmond told POLITICO in an interview in London’s Portcullis House, where MPs have their offices. “I want Europe that works in solidarity on the refugee crisis.… I want a Europe which pursues infrastructure to inspire the Continent. The prime minister’s attitude is ‘the less Europe does, the better.’”
Applying the same strategy that it used in the eventually unsuccessful Scottish independence referendum, the SNP favors a positive campaign against Brexit.
“You can fight a dull, dispiriting, negative campaign, and you might win it with that,” Salmond says. “But what you inherit might not be to your liking.”
Salmond sees Cameron’s argument as taking Europe and saying “‘I’ve made it less dreadful due to my superb negotiations’ — it’s not really the most inspiring case I’ve ever heard.”
Salmond believes the U.K. will vote to remain in the EU, but he adds: “I think it might be a damn close run.”
Salmond is a divisive figure in Scottish politics. As part of the SNP breakaway ’79 group, he was briefly expelled from his own party in 1982 for his part in the group’s fight to set up a “Scottish socialist republic” with policies well to the left of the traditional SNP. During the 2014 referendum campaign, half of Scotland backed him to the hilt, while the “silent majority” hoped he would fail.
He invited accusations of vanity last November by choosing to attend the unveiling of his portrait instead of a parliamentary debate on Syria. “If Alex Salmond was chocolate he would eat himself,” a Scottish Labour spokesman said at the time.
“He’s paid — twice over — to be a parliamentarian, not an art critic,” sniped Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives.
Salmond sees his role as being a mentor to the surge of Scottish MPs who arrived in Westminster following the SNP’s landslide success in last year’s general election, as well as making sure the party has a voice in London. He argues that it’s good for the party and his successor Sturgeon that he remains far from Holyrood, the Edinburgh seat of the Scottish Parliament.
As a former first minister, anything of importance you say in Edinburgh “gets cast up to your successor in a way you wouldn’t want.”
He describes Sturgeon as someone with “all of the ingredients to be a successful leader: natural ability and a long experience at the center of power.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that his own focus has changed — it remains on Scotland, albeit within a European context.
“Scottish independence is a much higher priority to me than the European dimension,” he says.
To this end, Salmond has no time for those looking for a short cut to another Scottish independence referendum, such as nationalist extremists who have suggested a tactical pro-Brexit vote. Their logic is that a British exit from the EU would make Scottish voters — broadly much more Europhile than their southern neighbors — much more likely to break away from the rest of Britain than many of them were in 2014.
“You’re best letting the cards fall as they will, campaign for what you believe in and let the cards fall,” says Salmond.
The Donald vs. The Salmond
The European dimension isn’t the only thing on Salmond’s mind in his sojourn south of the border: The U.S. presidential campaign has re-ignited an old feud related to golf — a Scottish invention for which Salmond and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump share a passion.
The game brought them together — and drove them apart.
When the half-Scottish U.S. billionaire, whose impression of Scotland seems to resemble the picture of a tin of shortbread, announced back in 2006 that he wanted to build a golf resort in Salmond’s native Aberdeenshire — to be called the Trump International Links — local politicians and business leaders jumped at the promise of 6,000 new jobs.
They called it “the second coming of oil,” an answer to their prayers for alternative sources of income as North Sea reserves were drying up. Salmond was the first in line to help Trump make his dream a reality.
Now, nearly a decade on from their initial conversations, Salmond says: “I like… love… the golf course. I mean, it’s not the greatest golf course in the world by some distance, but it’s a very fine course. I was happy to welcome the investment.”
He supported the development despite environmentalists’ arguments that it would destroy areas designated of special scientific interest. Arguing that the gains for the local community outweighed such concerns, Salmond’s cabinet got the development the green light within a year. It was only after Trump began trying to derail plans to build a wind farm near the estate that the relationship soured, though the development went ahead.
Salmond finds it difficult to forgive Trump for what he sees as the mogul’s failure to keep his promises to the local community, including thousands of new jobs.
“He’s got all sorts of reasons that this didn’t happen,” said Salmond. “It’s the fault of the crofter, it’s the fault of the demonstrators, it’s the fault of me, or the weather. No! It’s Donald’s responsibility that he didn’t deliver on his commitments.”
The pair make no effort to hide their mutual dislike, with Trump’s outbursts often “so comic in their effect that you begin to wonder if he is the greatest deadpan exponent of the lot,” said Salmond.
Asked if he had a message for Americans who may be pondering a vote for Trump if he secures the Republican nomination, the former first minister responded: “Just as he didn’t deliver on his commitments to Scotland, in the hopefully fantastical possibility that he might get near the Oval office, he wouldn’t deliver on his commitments to America either.”