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Alex Salmond MSP

Alex Salmond, First Minister for Scotland, joined us at GNHQ for a live webchat (armed with Scotch pancakes and delicious raspberry jam!) in February 2013. Born in Linlithgow in 1954, he studied at St Andrews University. He was first elected as MP for Banff and Buchan in 1987 and was elected as National Convener for the Scottish National Party in 1990, standing down from the post in 2000 and leaving the Scottish Parliament in 2001.

He was re-elected as Leader of the SNP in 2004, elected as MSP for the Gordon constituency in May 2007 and became the first ever SNP First Minister of Scotland in May 2007. MSPs re-elected him unopposed for a second term as FM four years later.

On independence

Alex SalmondQ: There was a story in the news this week where David Cameron said it's in Scotland's best interests to stay within the UK because having two governments looking after its affairs gives it "the best of both worlds".

I have never agreed with him in my life before - but perhaps he does have a point. What are your thoughts? And what's your honest opinion of David Cameron - personally and politically? Mactheknife

A: I saw the quote as well and immediately thought would someone feeling worried about prime minister Cameron's new bedroom tax which threatens to lead to widespread evictions feel that they have "the best of both worlds" simply because they have a spare room? Or is it wise for Westminster government to spend countless billions on weapons of mass destruction while public services need investment?  I don't think that most people are on the same planet as prime minister Cameron and his cabinet.

Q: There are a couple of things that concern me about independence, though I am very tempted! The politicians in Scotland often seem to me to be rather parochial and though I am not greatly impressed by Westminster at least there is a bigger pool to draw on.

Also if we become independent we could end up with a permanent Labour government here and that really worries me. I mean, Joanne Lamont running the country is a very scary thought... wisewoman

A: The absolutely key thing about independence is that we will get the government we vote for whether it be SNP, Green, Liberal, Labour or even, although it seems unlikely, Tory - or any combination of the above. I've been a member of both Parliaments and absolutely know that we have the ability in Scotland to make a good fist of running all of our affairs. The proof of the pudding is in the success of running health and education and the other devolved issues. The social attitudes survey says that Scots trust their own Parliament five times as much as the Westminister one.

Q: What is the test of success for Scottish independence? Will it be whether the population starts growing rather than declining? sneetch

A: For many years, Scotland had a declining population but since devolution this has been reversed and the census results from 2011 show a new record population in Scotland. It is one of the measures of the success in having our own parliament. However the real test for independent Scotland will be not just in numbers and prosperity but whether we can build a more equal society.

Q: We've all been part of a united kingdom for so long now. Just a look at the surnames in the phone book will tell you how much we're integrated - let alone the surnames of recent prime and cabinet ministers. If James VI/I had decided to stay in Scotland and rule from there and things had turned the other way up would the Scots be supporting an English referendum for independence? Wouldn't the Scots feel just a little bit hurt? If Scotland leaves then Wales and Northern Ireland may feel they have to follow. Whether in or out of the EU can such small nations really survive or have a voice? Nfkdumpling

A: It is fundamentally better for all of us if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people who care most about Scotland: that is, the people of Scotland. We have the greatest stake in making Scotland a success – no one else will do as good a job. The purpose of independence is to make Scotland more successful and to improve the lives of people who live in Scotland. The key difference would be that all decisions for Scotland would be taken by a Scottish Parliament and a Scottish Government. Your point about James VI and I is a good historical one and should remind people that Scotland and England shared a monarch but as independent countries. We could do so again.

Other things you might like...

Q: Do you not think it would be a better idea to improve transport links and easy access to and from Scotland to England, rather than splitting us apart? Surely becoming independent would make it a more "them and us" situation than if you were to try and link Scotland to the south-east of England? Bonsai

A: One problem with the current arrangements is that Westminster never gets round to improving the transport links between Scotland and England. As in, the "fast rail" which is planned to get to Scotland some time in the next century! I think connectivity and having the ability to increase transport links, rail and air, is one of the arguments for Scottish independence.

Q: What do you consider will be the major new opportunities that will accrue to an independent Scotland that are not available to us as part of the UK? Propulsar

A: Let's try three:

1. Having a government which follows the choices of the people of Scotland, for example, in making work pay without reducing people with a disability to humiliation and extremity.

2. Using the natural resources of the country and human resources to best effect.

3. Recognising that what makes a country great is the excellence of its education, the compassion of its social services, the contribution it makes to humanity, not the number of weapons of mass destruction it can accumulate on the River Clyde.

Q: Isn't nationalism a rather 20th century idea? Isn't the future all about alliances across borders? Do you ever worry that nationalism is just not a very progressive way of doing politics? dobby

A: At the end of the WWII, there were around 50 countries in the world - now there are pushing 200, so independence is very much with tide of history. Of course, 20th century nationalism was about some countries trying to dominate others and building up massive power blocs. Thankfully these days are largely over as nations seek to cooperate for the common good. Of course, the foundation of genuine internationalism is having self-governing nations.

Q: Is Scotland too small to be independent? If I've counted right, there are 85 member countries of the United Nations with populations less than 5 million! nainnainnain

A: Good point. In Europe alone, the most prosperous country is Luxembourg with a population about the size of Edinburgh, closely followed by Norway with a population just less than Scotland's. Of course, Norway discovered oil and gas in huge quantities. Wouldn't it have been great if Scotland had discovered oil and gas in huge quantities!

Q: I am wondering how we can afford to be independent? We won't have any money from Westminster so how will we pay for everything? Does it mean our taxes will soar thereby making life more difficult than it is now? My own preference would be to stay in the United Kingdom. The good news came through today that the bus passes are to continue - so well done for that and thank you. greatgrandma

A: To you and others who were concerned about free bus travel for the elderly, I am very happy to say that the concessionary travel scheme will be continued as part of supporting pensioners and disabled people to lead healthier and happier lives. I know it makes a real difference for many.

On how we will pay to be independent, Scotland is already a prosperous nation. Even without oil and gas, we are the third most successful part of the UK outside London and the South East and recent figures have also shown that Scots would be £500 a year better off in an independent Scotland.

Q: Is your objection to being part of the UK about the pooling of sovereignty? In which case, why cede powers to Europe? Or is your objection really to England and the English? frit

A: Best answer - under devolution Scotland controls 8% of our taxation base, rising to 16% shortly. Under independence in Europe, we'll control 100% of our taxation base. I think 100% is independence in economic terms and 16% clearly isn't. Under independence people in Scotland, wherever they come from, will decide how to run the country and we really will be best pals with England.

Q: If you had to choose between total Scottish independence devoid of any association with England in all areas (including defence), or to stick with the current system of devolved government, which one would you go for? Can Scotland be truly independent? If you were going to campaign against independence, what would you base your campaign around? fabgran

A: Mustn't give too much away to our opponents, however I wouldn't run the dispiriting fear-mongering campaign that they're engaged in - it will run out of puff, just as it did in the Scottish elections in 2011. On your first point, I've always voted for any improvement in the powers for the Scottish parliament, but independence has always been my passion and belief. Finally, all countries are inter-dependent one upon the other, that's how it should be. But we have the chance to build a really special country in Scotland that matches the abilities and sentiment of our people. I think we should take that chance and contribute to our neighbours in England, across these islands and internationally as an independent nation which recognises its responsibilities to the world community.

Q: As I understand it, the primary argument you have presented to the people of Scotland in favour of Scottish independence is that they will benefit economically from being members of an independent Scotland. But do you not believe, along with the founder members of the SNP, that independence is in itself of supreme value and would be worth having even if it meant that Scottish people gain no economic advantage from independence?

A: Couldn’t have said it better myself. I fully agree. A sense of identity, a new confidence in a proud nation with a strong sense of social justice, a good global citizen: these are all attributes which Scotland aspires to through independence. And of course the fact that we will flourish economically is also a welcome bonus!

Scotland and the EU

Q: If Scotland leaves the UK and you find you do have to apply to join the EU, as has been declared by Brussels, are you happy to have to join the Schengen agreement? Would that mean border controls into the UK? What if Scotland are independant and the UK leaves the EU - what would happen then with regard to the border line? I hope never to have to find out by the way. POGS

A: We are quite clear on where we stand with membership of the EU, but I’d like to stress that an independent Scotland would have an open border with England. As a full member of the European Union, Scottish borders would remain open to European Union nationals, just as Scots are free now to move throughout the European Union. And just as no one from the UK needs a passport to travel to Ireland now, there would be free movement across the border between Scotland and England. Also, an independent Scotland will issue its own passports which would offer shared or dual citizenship.

Q: As far as I understand SNP policy, you want Scotland to be an independent country separate from the UK but Scotland to be a member of the European Union. Is this not getting rid of one set of rules only to then have to live by another set? It could also take several years for Scotland to be granted full membership of the EU and in the meantime would that mean anyone English living and working in an independent Scotland having to seek refugee status? Finally if Scotland does gain independence any chance of anexing Northumberland to join you? DavidH22

A: Independence will mean Scotland will be in a position to build strong new relationships. It will also mean we can control 100 per cent of our taxes. We control 16 per cent of our taxes at present – that’s not independence. We want a partnership of equals where a social union replaces the current political union. After all, the Queen will still be our head of state. And it is worth remembering that that we will be negotiating from within as we will at no point leave the EU. And in Europe, an independent Scotland would continue to share open borders, shared rights, free trade and extensive cooperation. On the subject of Northumberland? Well that’s purely for the people in your beautiful part of the country to decide!

Q: You continually compare us to Norway, therefore why do you think it is necessary to belong to the European Union? LIZZIEMIK

A: Norway is an outstanding example of an independent country which is husbanding its oil and gas resources for long term benefit, while Westminster has frittered Scotland’s North Sea revenues away. With more value to come from the North Sea than has been generated to date, Scotland has every opportunity as an independent nation to deliver similar benefits as Norway has secured. Fortunately in Scotland we are already members of the EU and Scots enjoy EU citizenship. But we need independent and equal representation within the EU as a Member State to negotiate directly for our country’s own interests. It is the clear view of the Scottish Government and a range of eminent experts that it is not necessary to be in the EU but it is the best policy.

Q: If Scotland becomes independent, which currency will it adopt - the Scottish Pound or the Euro? Sel

A: Happy to set the record straight on this one. Scotland will retain sterling. In fact, this decision has been backed up very recently – only just yesterday – by eminent economists such as the Nobel prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz. Scotland's considerable wealth and assets will continue to make a substantial contribution to a Sterling Zone which would provide underlying stability and help us to deliver faster sustainable economic growth. And just to reassure you, Scotland would not be forced to join the Euro; after all, Sweden hasn’t joined.

The referendum

Q: I am interested to know why Alex has set Autumn 2014 as the date for the independence referendum, rather than a Spring date? Elections are usually held in May and there is good reason for that. We have longer evenings and there is more chance of good weather. Older people find it easier to vote. Can you guarantee that the Scottish independence referendum will be held no later than mid-September 2014, in order to make it as easy as possible for all age groups to be able to register their votes? Dodiegale

A: Your question about the timing of the referendum vote is actually very important. The reason for settling on the autumn of 2014 is two-fold: firstly it’s before the clocks go back and secondly Scotland is already preparing for an incredibly busy year on the international stage – what with the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games. Quite rightly, attentions will be focused on these wonderful events earlier in the year and it is only right that we take our time and ensure all the facts are out there so the people can make the biggest decision in generations.

Q: Why are Scots living out of the country not being allowed to voice an opinion on this matter? Although I am married to an Englishman and have lived away for a number of years I am a Scot first, foremost and always. Where you live does not change your identity! Bennan

A: Firstly, I absolutely appreciate your point that where you live does not change your identity. That’s why our Homecoming celebrations where we extend an invitation to Scots around the world to return for a visit are so successful. 2014 is when our next Homecoming Year takes place and all gransnetters are invited!

On your question of eligibility to vote in the referendum, this will be based on who can vote at Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections. That means broadly that those resident in Scotland will be eligible to vote. This follows the precedent of the 1997 referendum on establishing a Scottish Parliament.

Q: If you want a referendum on Scotland's independence can the English please have one on their independence as well? Not only does it affect the Scots but will affect the English too. Woollyjumper

A: As First Minister of Scotland, I am privileged to be elected to represent the interest of the people of Scotland. I
believe that Scotland and England can only benefit from independence - when Scotland becomes independent then England will gain a good neighbour.

The future of Scotland is for Scotland to determine, but I recognise that it is of great interest for people across the UK. It is of course perfectly possible for Westminster to hold a referendum on whatever it wants – indeed, David
Cameron plans to hold one on the future of the UK in the EU at some point in the next five years or so. I was elected on a manifesto promise to give people in Scotland a say over their constitutional future – and that is what my government is doing.

Q: Can you explain to me why you are so keen to lower the voting age to 16 in time for the Referendum? It seems that a huge percentage of Scottish residents of voting age don't have a clue about all the whys, wherefores, ifs and buts, so how do you expect the 16-18 year-olds to arrive at an informed decision? Call me cynical, but it smacks to me of desperation. I am not Scots born, but have resided here for over half my life and barely know one person in favour of Independence.

On a lighter note, my daughter met you at a charity "do" in Edinburgh when she was nine and you were masquerading as Santa Claus; she told you her name was Imogen and you replied "Emma Jane, how nice." I don't think she has ever forgiven you! Gally

A: I believe it is only right that the youngest adults in the country should be able to have their say on their nation’s future. The Scottish Government’s view is that the voting age should be reduced to 16 for all elections and we have already extended the vote to 16 and 17 year olds in our health board elections and crofting
commission elections. If you can get married, serve in the armed forces or pay tax, then you should have a say in Scotland’s democratic processes.

Finally a big hello to Imogen and apologies for getting her name wrong. I am sure the real Santa got it right!

Q: I think it would be a great idea if we had live TV debates between yourself and Mr Cameron/Mr Moore and Ms Sturgeon in the run up to the Referendum. What do you think? Also I wanted to thank you personally for all you are doing for Scotland and the Scottish people. Looking forward to celebrating our first Independence Day in March 2016 with my two wee granddaughters knowing their future is secure. Lang may yer lum reek Sir! greentara

A: My lum is reeking just fine thank you! Any time, any place is the answer to your great idea, although I think the Prime Minister seems more keen on running Scotland than in debating about the future of Scotland.

On England

Q: What do you most like about England? loafer

A: English people and English literature.

Q: Following on from this... What do you least like about England? applepie

A: Some of the members of Parliament!

Q: Have you ever had happy holidays in England? downwithcupcakes

A: One of my earliest memories is going to Harrogate to be a Scottish solider at a wedding. I was about three at the time. Anyway, it must have rubbed off because I've holidayed in Harrogate a number of times. Mind you, and strangely enough, it was always when the Ebor horse racing meeting at York was on. It makes for a great week and a good marital combination.

Q: What tips would you give someone who wanted to set up an English National Party? freshmeat

A: Good choice of username at the moment! Any party should try to represent the best of the country. The SNP is certainly not perfect but most people believe, whether they agree with us or not on independence, that we have the best interest of Scotland at heart. Looking at the political parties in England, I find it difficult to say that about any of them at the present moment. Perhaps things will change.

Q: Westminster has always outsourced a lot of its leaders from Scotland. Where is the Westminster parliament going to go for its leaders in future? whippit

A: I've always had great faith in the people of England's ability to govern themselves! I know that some people say that England can't manage, but it's a great country and will do just fine.

On sport

Q: What will happen to our rather successful Olympic Team GB if Scotland becomes independent? (I realise this is probably not high on your list of priorities but the Olympics did lift everyone's spirits last year...) alphafemale

A: Next year both Scotland and England will have teams in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. And both countries will get behind the sportswomen and men. I thought the London Olympics were great and set the bar high for Glasgow. We'll see if we can jump over it.

Q: Scottish football fans are often acknowledged to be among the "best" (ie the most passionate, vocal, enthusiastic etc) But the Scotland national team isn't very good. I'd love to know what you think about both of these facts? fruitloop

A: I think you're right about Scotland fans. The Tartan Army are fantastic but the team haven't always lived up the support. However with Gordon Strachan at the helm I am confidently expecting another revival.

And other things...

Q: When you eventually give up being First Minister, which celebrity reality television programme would you like to star in? Splash? Strictly? I'm A Celebrity? glorious

A: Obviously looking far into the future! Can't do Splash, we have enough rain in Scotland already. Not doing I'm a Celebrity, can't eat bugs and I might meet a Tory MP! That leaves Strictly, but I'll have to brush up on my tango.

Q: Would you limit bonus payments to the top executives of RBS if you could? (I think Stephen Hester is on £7.8m a year) topshot

A: I think that's a good argument for consistent taxes on bonuses, not just occasional ones. There has to be a way of getting to grips with "bonus culture", which has caused so much havoc across financial institutions.

Q: I see that your deputy Nicola Sturgeon has been named today in the top 20 most powerful women in Britain. But Justine Roberts - founder of Mumsnet and Gransnet is no 7! What do you think?! Marika

A: I think Nicola will have to try harder, perhaps she should found political-net. Seriously she is a very able and charismatic politician.

Q: Can you explain why in surveys your approval rating is always the highest, by a mile, of any of the political leaders while the mainstream media never have a good word to say about you? Granny23

A: It is part and parcel of being First Minister that you come in for some stick from the press now and then. Besides, in the words of Robert Burns, "The mair they talk, the better I'm kent." However, it appears that mainstream media is dying. And obviously it’s quite clear that discussion forums such as Gransnet are taking over!