Justice Minister sparks fury by breaking ranks on monarch’s future in independent Scotland.
A senior SNP minister has sparked controversy by claiming voters will decide the Queen’s future in an independent Scotland. He also branded the UK Government “xenophobic”.
The Scottish government’s policy is for Her Majesty to remain as head of state if Scots vote Yes in September’s referendum.
But Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has broken ranks by suggesting “it will be for the people of Scotland to decide” on the Queen’s role if Scotland is no longer in the UK. The comment will cheer republican SNP supporters, which includes a number of ministers, but throws open an issue which Alex Salmond was hoping had been closed down.
Speaking at a public meeting on Wednesday last week, Mr MacAskill also hit out at the UK Government’s immigration policy and its attitude to Europe, claiming the Tory/Lib Dem coalition is “begrudging and xenophobic in many ways”.
The comments sparked a furious response from the pro-Union supporters who said the SNP minister was out of touch. Speaking at the meeting in Midlothian, the Justice Secretary was asked if Scotland could ever become a republic.
He said: “The position of the Scottish government is that we will inherit the situation we have with the Queen as the head of State in the ceremonial capacity that she has. She will not interfere with the government of the day, which she doesn’t do to her credit. But it will be for the people of Scotland to decide.
“If and when that would occur, if they wished to have a referendum, and we would hope we would become the government post-2016, it will be for whoever is in office then.“
A string of SNP ministers have now raised the prospect of a referendum on ditching the Queen as head of state including Culture and External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Children’s Minister Aileen Campbell.
Speaking last year, Mrs Hyslop said: “It will be up to the people of Scotland to decide but our policy is that the Queen would continue as the monarch in an independent Scotland.” Other key figures in the SNP, such as Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham and Justice committee convenor Christine Grahame, are known republicans.
And last year the chairman of the Yes Scotland pro-independence campaign Dennis Canavan, said Prince William and Kate’s son George should never become Scotland’s ruler. However, opinion polls suggest the majority of Scots are in favour of the monarchy.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “You have to wonder whether there is truly anyone in Yes Scotland’s leadership or the SNP, other than the First
Minister, who is in tune with the Scottish public’s continuing affection and support for the monarchy?
“There is surely little doubt that whatever promises and assertions are made before the referendum they would count for nothing if Scotland were to be seduced into voting yes.
“This motley alliance, including Kenny MacAskill, would then be doing all they could to pursue their minority republican views and it would be a tiger whose tail even Alex Salmond would struggle to hold.”
At the Scottish government-organised public meeting on independence, Mr MacAskill was also asked about an independent Scotland’s place in the EU.
The SNP minister claimed the biggest threat to membership came from a “UKIP-driven agenda pursued by the coalition government”.
He added: “We are citizens of the European Union, it is on our passports. The motif will doubtlessly change in an independent Scotland. The only change will be that there will be a Scottish government representing our interests in Brussels, and not a UK Government, that positively wants to work towards the change that there needs to be as opposed to a UK Government that is begrudging, xenophobic in many ways and is actually threatening to damage our interests. It is in the EU’s interests to embrace us.”
A spokesman for Better Together said: “Rather than this petty name calling, SNP ministers need to be honest with the people of Scotland about the consequences of leaving the UK on our EU membership.”
Asked about the impact the 2015 General Election will have on an ambitious timescale to conclude any post-yes vote negotiations in 18 months, Mr MacAskill made the surprising claim that most of the crunch talks would be between civil servants of the two governments.
He said: “Negotiations will be ongoing by bodies representing Scotland and the rest of the UK, and only some of these decisions are political decisions. For example, the Bank of England is a stand-alone institution. The discussions will be between the relevant Scottish official and [governor] Mark Carney and his staff. The discussions won’t be between Alex Salmond, Ed Miliband and David Cameron but government officials on both sides.”
Labour’s Margaret Curran, Shadow Scottish Secretary, said: “Kenny MacAskill has let the cat out of the bag. It’s clear that what the SNP assert in the White Paper is nothing more than platitudes to try to get enough people to vote yes in September, knowing that all of it could be ditched.
“The writing is now on the wall. No matter what Alex Salmond promises, we know that a separate Scotland will be totally different from what we are being told it may look like. Every time the mask slips, the true face of nationalism shows. You simply can’t trust a word that Alex Salmond says.”