Coanchor and Managing Editor, PBS NewsHour
First Minister, Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, joins PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff to discuss the recent United Kingdom parliamentary elections and Scotland's future. Sturgeon discusses the outcome of the most recent general elections in the United Kingdom, describing the factors that led to her party—the Scottish National Party (SNP)—winning close to every parliamentary seat in Scotland. Sturgeon highlights the growth of Scottish nationalism in recent years. Over the course of the conversation, Sturgeon describes her vision for the SNP, the next steps for Scotland's independence movement, and her relationship with the rest of the British government.
WOODRUFF: Delighted to be with you this morning to preside over a discussion with the first minister of Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon was elected deputy leader of the Scottish National Party, the SNP, in 2004, and in that capacity, she went on to become a high profile figure in the Scottish parliament, in Scottish politics, leading to her history-making election as leader of the SNP in November of last year. She became the first woman to hold the position first minister of Scotland.
But she made further history two months ago after a vigorous campaign when her party won a landslide in the U.K. general elections, capturing 56 of 59 seats designated for Scotland in the national parliament.
She will begin by making remarks and then I'll sit down with her for a conversation before we take your questions.
Please join me in welcoming the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon.
STURGEON: Thank you very much indeed, Judy, for that big warm introduction. Thank you to all of you for being here this morning. It is a real pleasure for me to be here. It's a real pleasure for me to be here in the United States, here in Washington, D.C., and, in particular, to be here at the Council on Foreign Relations, an august (ph) and well-respected organization, not just in the United States but worldwide.
One of the things I've been reminded of often since I arrived on this visit to the U.S. at the weekend is the fact that the bonds - the very deep bonds between Scotland and the United States go back centuries. They run from the discussion and the debate between enlightenment thinkers such as David Human (ph), Benjamin Franklin, to the modern exchange of university graduates and the connection between our technology companies. The relationship between our two countries is cultural, it is social, it is historic, and, of course, it is economic as well, and we value those links and loose ties very highly, and from what I've seen in and about (ph) on my visit this week is that those ties are set to continue and, indeed, to strengthen for generations to come.
So it's a real pleasure to be here this morning at the Council on Foreign Relations, an organization which for more than 90 years has contributed to that exchange of ideas between the United States and the wider world.
I'm especially pleased to be speaking at this particular time. I'm very aware that there is a strong interest here in political development, not just in Scotland, but across the United Kingdom as a whole. And there is understandably an interest in the implications of these developments for Europe and for the wider international community.
Before we begin our discussion therefore (ph), I want to provide a very brief overview of my thoughts on where the United Kingdom and Scotland stand right now. And in doing that, I'll talk about two referendums and one election. I'll look back briefly at the referendum on Scottish independence that took place last year and also at the U.K. general election that took place just last month. But I'll also look forward to the referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union, which is expected to take place sometime before the end of 2017, although the exact timing of that referendum is not yet determined.
Now, as you probably guess or as you probably able to guess, the first referendum on Scottish independence which took place last September didn't turn out exactly as I would have hoped that it would. But while that referendum might not have transformed Scotland's constitutional position, it undoubtedly transformed Scottish politics and I would argue it has a transformational effect on United Kingdom politics, as well.
Firstly, our referendum has made Scotland one of the most politically-engaged countries I would argue in the entire world. Nearly everybody in Scotland last year became intensely involved in a peaceful and passionate debate about the kind of country they wanted to live in. And that debate has had lasting consequences.
For example, in the U.K. general election last month, (inaudible) in Scotland was some 5 percentage points higher than it was in the rest of the United Kingdom. Many people here perhaps previously hadn't had any interest whatsoever in politics or how the country was governed, had now understand (ph) and their voice really matters. They feel involved in decision making in a way that hasn't happened before, certainly not in my lifetime.
So regardless of the result, the referendum itself, the expedience of the referendum has been good for Scotland. We're more energized; we're informed, and more empowered than we have ever been before. The result of that referendum also provided part of the context for last month's U.K. general election.
To the casual observer, the U.K. election to (ph) just a very clear result. It resulted in the election of a majority conservative government and saw that (inaudible) David Cameron as prime minister. When we look at that election though in more detail, something striking and much more complex emerges because, in many ways, there were actually four different elections taking place in the United Kingdom last month in each of the different nations of the United Kingdom. And those elections to (ph) just very different results and the difference is in those results have very significant implications for the U.K., for the future of the U.K., and how it is governed as a country.
So my party, the Scottish National Party, won the election in Scotland with as—as Judy has just told you, 56 votes of the 59 electoral constituencies in Scotland. At (ph) labor won the election in Wales. The conservatives won in England with 60 percent of the seats there. And, of course, Northern Ireland, it has and always has had a very different system of party politics. So there was no one uniform result across the United Kingdom. The multi-national United Kingdom voted in four very different ways.
And shortly before the election, I raised the question of what actually constitutes an electoral mandate in the U.K. when the four nations are voting in and pulling in very different directions. In practical terms, of course, simply winning enough votes and seats in England can secure a parliamentary majority. But when a government is achieved only by winning seats in one of the four nations of the U.K., the question arises, what kind of mandate is that because there (ph) was a party, of course, has the right to form the government of the U.K. and has, indeed, done that.
But it was not the biggest party in three of the four nations of the U.K., far from it, in fact. And so the legitimacy of its actions in those other nations comes very clearly into focus. And so, as I discussed with the prime minister when we met after the election, what happens to the future of the United Kingdom now in the years ahead? Well, at least in part, depend upon how responsively Westminster deals with the reality that in political as well as in constitutional terms, the U.K. is not a unity (ph) state.
There is no second Scottish independent referendum on the immediate horizon, of course, but I do think it is a reasonable point to make that if the United Kingdom is to remain intact in the years to come, it must demonstrate and it must demonstrate very clearly that it can adapt to multi-national and multi-party politics in a far more substantial manner than it has often done in the past.
But here in the United States, of course, you're very used to the idea of 50 different state governments making very different choices about very significant issues. But that's not something the U.K. government are used to for much of the last century, devolution notwithstanding. The U.K. has been a remarkably centralized state but it's now increasingly clear that for the United Kingdom as a whole, one size doesn't fit all and a one-size-fits-all approach is not going to fit the bill for the future.
Of course, distinct political identities which seem to be emerging in different parts of the U.K. are also relevant to the third vote I want to briefly talk about this morning, the coming referendum on the U.K.'s membership of the European Union, something that is of huge significance within the U.K. But, as I found in the United States, this can be a matter of considerable interest to people here, as well.
While many people back in the U.K. find (inaudible) this referendum is that the prime minister says he wants to stay in the European Union, both of the biggest U.K. parties say they want to stay in the European Union. There's overwhelming support, or so it seems, for European Union membership in the Westminster parliament, and, yet, here we are in the United Kingdom standing perilously close to the exit door of the E.U. And, interestingly, (inaudible) who the prime minister is seeking to appease with our European referendum, the Euro skeptic (ph) opinion in his own party or the United Kingdom independence party are unlikely to be appeased by a renegotiated membership of the European Union but what that body (ph) of opinion was is for the U.K to exit the European Union and nothing less.
It seems—if it seems odd in the U.K. as a whole, and it often does, that this referendum is now looming, the U.K. government's approach seems especially odd to many people in Scotland. In the general election last month across the whole of the U.K., parties which want to leave the European Union are called (ph) around 12 percent of the popular vote. In Scotland, that figure was less than 2 percent and, just this week, we've seen an opinion poll of Scottish voters showing that 72 percent would opt to vote to remain in the European Union with only 28 percent saying they would vote to leave. And that's perhaps not surprising, given the economic significance both to Scotland and to the U.K. over E.U. membership. In Scotland, a (inaudible), for example, there are some 300,000 jobs that rely on our exports to the European Union. So membership of the European Union is of enormous importance.
So I would argue, for many people in Scotland, the referendum on the E.U. simply isn't a priority but, nevertheless, it does raise the possibility, depending on how the result goes across the U.K. that Scotland could be taken out of the European Union against our will. And that's why the European question is in some ways very directly linked to the question of how the U.K. is governed.
One of the themes (ph) of the Scottish referendum last year, particularly (inaudible) often very powerfully by those campaigning against Scottish independence was that Scotland is a valued and equal partner in a U.K. family of nations. And so surely, therefore, as many people in Scotland would say, it shouldn't be possible for Scotland's voice to be overruled in an E.U. referendum.
And that's why the Scottish government is arguing for a double majority provision in that referendum, where the U.K. could only leave the E.U. if each of the nations of the U.K. votes to leave. That sort of territorial requirement, of course, is often used in federal (ph) countries like Canada and Australia. And I think it's time to apply it to the United Kingdom, a multi-national state, to give meaning to the sayings (ph) that the U.K. is a family of nations.
I said last week in a speech to the European Policy Center in Brussels that if Scotland does find itself taken out of the European Union against a vote in Scotland to remain in, then it could—it could produce a demand for another independence referendum which may well be unstoppable. But I would argue, and do argue, that the U.K. government has it within their power to remove that possibility by agreeing (ph) to the double majority provision that we're putting forward. The referendum legislation that could demonstrate what we are so often taught, that the U.K. government does see the U.K. as a family of nations and I would posit that that would be one very clear way in which the U.K. could do what I suggested earlier that it needs to do to demonstrate that it can adapt to a multi-national, multi-party system of politics within the United Kingdom.
So, just to conclude my opening remarks, it's clear from what I said. I hope, I think it's clear from observing politics in the United Kingdom these are momentous, very exciting times for Scotland and, indeed, for the U.K. as a whole. That bring challenges but it also brings considerable opportunities. The coming months and the coming years gives us a chance to secure (inaudible) autonomy for Scotland allowing us to build a powerhouse economy and ensure a more equal society.
They also provide an opportunity to secure better governance across the whole of the U.K. and they will see a vote which I hope will reaffirm the place of Scotland and the place of the United Kingdom within the European Union. All of these outcomes are possible; none of them are guaranteed. They require positive argument; they require constructive negotiation from political leaders across the U.K.
For my part, I'm determined that the Scottish government will take the lead to making those arguments and contributing to those negotiations because if we achieve these three objectives, it will be good for Scotland, it will be good, in my view, for every nation of the U.K., and it will secure our place in Europe and the wider world. And by doing that, of course, it helps to strengthen our friendships and our alliances both here in the heart of the United States and right across the world (ph).
So thank you very much, indeed, for listening. And I'm now (inaudible) looking forward to the discussion that will follow.
WOODRUFF: So, First Minister, again, welcome, and thank you—I thank you for talking with us.
You said in your remarks, you raised the question about whether the conservative party victory in—in England, as you put it, is only one of the four nations. You said and only one of the four nations that were holding elections can be considered to have a mandate. So my—that's my question to you. My first question to you is if it's not a mandate, what is it? I mean, are you saying that David Cameron is not legitimately the leader of the U.K.?
STURGEON: No, I'm—I'm not saying that. The—the constitution of the United Kingdom, as it stands at present, means that David Cameron is the prime minister, he won the election, and got enough votes and enough seats across the U.K. to form a government and that's what he has done.
The point I'm making is a point of real (ph) politic, it's a point of political reality. Although because of the relative sides of England compared to the other nations of the United Kingdom, David Cameron is able to form a government. My argument is that he needs to accept that in the other three nations of the United Kingdom, his party did not win and, therefore, in how he governs the country, that's something that he should take account of and he should respond to the democratic wishes as they were expressed in Scotland and Wales and in Northern Ireland. And, in any respect, (inaudible) whole key (ph) and his government respond to that political reality that will determine, at least in part, how the United Kingdom develops over the coming years.
You know, for—for people in Scotland right now, we're watching quite carefully to see how David Cameron's government responds. If it responds well, then the message people will take is Westminster is responsive, is adaptable, it can serve Scotland better. If it doesn't, then that message will be a very different one.
WOODRUFF: What is—I mean, are we to understand that there's a new relationship between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom?
STURGEON: Scotland and the—the United Kingdom, the British Isles, the Arab part (ph) in that regard as to whether Scotland becomes in the future—at some point in the future an independent country or not is—is always integral, but we have a reality in the United—the United Kingdom is not and never has been a unity (ph) state, is a multi-national family of four different nations. And, in recent years, we've seen through devolution an asymmetry develop in how the United Kingdom is governed. We've seen different voting patterns; different priorities emerge in each of these four nations. And that does bring into sharp focus the relationship between a Scottish government and the United Kingdom government.
And, you know, I—I think it's a big test over the years to come of the United Kingdom, the construct that is the United Kingdom. Is that adaptable and responsive, can it accommodate the different views and the different directions in which each of its nations wants to go in. Or will it prove to be unresponsive in which case our hearts and I—I think we'd say perhaps the United Kingdom will not continue as—as the construct that it is.
WOODRUFF: Watching from the other side of the Atlantic, I think many Americans look at what's going on over there and would say, well, if Scotland were to break away, were to become independent, that greatly weakens the United Kingdom. What do you say to that?
STURGEON: I've—I've never held that view, and one of the things I've been talking about a lot this weekend, the United States is about, you know—if Scotland had become an independent country or if we ever do in the future and, you know, stress the point I made in my opening remarks, there is no second independent referendum on the immediate horizon, so we're talking hypothetically at the moment.
But, you know, the United States, for example, in that scenario would go from having one close ally, the United Kingdom, to having two close allies, Scotland and the remainder of the United Kingdom. I don't believe that weakens the United Kingdom in an international context.
Scotland would always see as its closest ally defending the security of the United Kingdom, contributing to the security in the rest of the world as the—as England and the remains are of the United Kingdom. In many ways, you know, I think that as (inaudible) to strengthen and the—the position and, you know, the United Kingdom I think can be strengthened by demonstrating how it responds to the will of the people and its different constituent parts.
WOODRUFF: Well, in the meantime, while there's not a—an action right now to—to move toward independence, there clearly are—you clearly are looking at ways to have Scotland exert more authority over its own affairs. Your deputy leader, Stewart Hosie, said that last night was quoted today in the Scotsman as saying the SNP is going to push for full fiscal autonomy which, as we understand it, would mean complete control over tax and spending. Is this something that the SNP has decided to do?
STURGEON: That position of the SNP short of Scotland being independent, we want to have maximum powers in the Scottish parliament. I'm very impressed that you managed to read the Scotsman before I have (inaudible)...
WOODRUFF: I have a feeling that's no so, but we'll see.
STURGEON: I can tell you it is so, but...
STURGEON: So, yes, that is the position of—of the SNP. Now, as—as a devolved part of the United Kingdom, there are some restrictions on the devolution of tax powers, European Union rules, for example, would mean that VAT rates couldn't—value added tax rates—couldn't be set differently in—in Scotland, so there—there are some restrictions.
But we want maximum fiscal powers within the United Kingdom, contact (ph) short of Scotland being an independent country. Why do we want that? Not for its own sake, but because the more powers we have, the more fiscal responsibility we have, the more ability we have to shape things like our system of social security, the more able we will be to grow our economy, to make sure we're doing the things and pursuing the policies that help us to attract investment and create jobs and grow our economy faster and more sustainably. So its powers and responsibilities for a purpose, and we will make those arguments that in the Westminster parliament as the debate about for the autonomy for Scotland continues over the—the weeks and months to come.
WOODRUFF: So you're not saying it's happening in an imminent way? I—I mean, the push to have this fiscal autonomy.
STURGEON: But there is legislation going through the House of Commons right now that's just started to extend the powers of the Scottish parliament in what I would argue are reasonably limited way. So as part of that legislative process, we will seek to make amendments to extend the autonomy that is being proposed to the Scottish parliament. And I think what you've been reading in the Scotsman today is about a particular amendment that we are pursuing in the House of Commons to give the Scottish parliament the right to move to a fiscal autonomy.
WOODRUFF: So—and—and I'm sure you're aware of the analyses that show this would cost as much as $10 billion a year, cost Scotland that much. Is that a deterrent?
STURGEON: No, it's not. I mean, that—that analysis looks at the fiscal position of Scotland right now and finds that, not surprisingly, Scotland is in deficit just as the U.K. is in deficit. Our revenues are not large enough to cover all of our spending. The position of the United States. It's in a position many countries across the world are in. So that's what that analysis is about.
Now, countries that are in deficit want to pursue policies that grow their revenues through economic growth so that they can pay down their deficit and achieve fiscal balance. My argument for fiscal autonomy is that it equips the Scottish government with greater waivers (ph) and greater powers and greater responsibility to do just that. So it introduces an ability for us to tackle the fact that we, like many other countries right now, are in a fiscal deficit position.
WOODRUFF: So I guess my question is how much of a priority—is this the first thing you're going to be pushing for in the coming weeks and months?
STURGEON: In—in—in terms of the constitutional debate, yes, we will be arguing that case for maximum powers for the Scottish parliament. But as first minister of Scotland, my priority on a daily basis as the leader of any government will be—will be the—the economy in Scotland, how we grow jobs in Scotland, how we attract investment, how we make sure that our public services like our national health service and our education system are performing at well and delivering quality services. So these are my daily preoccupations. But in terms of how the constitutional future of Scotland develops, we will be seeking to argue for as—as much autonomy for the Scottish government as possible.
WOODRUFF: Is it a good thing if Scotland has its own foreign policy, do you think?
STURGEON: Well, if Scotland had been an independent country, we would've had responsibility for foreign policy as part of that. We're not in that position. Foreign policy remains the preserve (ph) of the United Kingdom government. But I do think it is good for our—I know we're looking internationalist country with that (ph), I know we're looking internationalist government as the one I read (ph) is to have a voice and to seek to influence the direction of U.K. foreign policy and we will seek to do that. We'll seek to do that in a very constructive way.
There are, you know, some differences in (inaudible) foreign policy between the Scottish government and the U.K. government. But there are many, many areas in which we share a view and—and which the—the Scottish government would be and are very supportive of the position of the U.K. government. So we will seek to have our voice heard and to influence the direction of foreign policy as—as much as we can. But, of course, it is at the moment the responsibility of the U.K. government.
WOODRUFF: So for an American audience, what's—what's most important for us to understand—to the extent it's important at all—what's important for us to understand about where are the similarities and where are the differences when it comes to relations with the United States? You've talked about the E.U., your strong view that the—that the U.K. should stay part of—of the E.U. but what—what else—how would you flesh that out?
STURGEON: Well, what I would say about my party and my government and how we conduct ourselves in these matters within the United Kingdom and the European Union and the ways of the world is that we are internationalists and outward looking. We would be and if Scotland had voted to be independent, this would have been absolutely the case. We would consider ourselves to be a key ally of the United States. We want to work constructively within the world community to make sure that we are playing our part and resolving some of the conflicts and some of the issues of challenge that we live with in the modern world. We would want to be a continuing member of the NATO Alliance to play our part in collective security.
So the message that we very strongly articulated during the referendum and will continue to is the international community would have nothing to fear from an independent Scotland. We're not going to be independent right at the moment but if that happens in the future, then the international community would find in Scotland a constructive and positive ally in terms of the many issues that we're dealing with and facing today.
WOODRUFF: What do you make, First Minister, of all of the attention you've been getting since—since last month? Really since last November, but most of all in the last few months?
STURGEON: I think it's good for Scotland. You know, there has been more international attention on Scotland as a country in the past two or three years than I can ever remember before. Now, last year we had a wonderful coincidence of different events. We hosted in the City of Glasgow, the Commonwealth Games. A few weeks later we hosted the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, big international sporting event that put the focus on Scotland.
Most countries would've probably thought that was enough to be going on with for one year but we decided we might get bored between the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup so we had a referendum on independence in between those two events. But all of that combined to put a spotlight on Scotland that I think in many ways continues to this day.
And my view's a very simple one, we should capitalize on that, we should make the most of that. We should use that to encourage companies and business to invest in Scotland and the message I've been taking around New York and Washington this week is—is that simple one. Scotland's a great a place to live in, to work in, to do business in, to invest in. So if you're seeing Scotland on the television, reading about it in your newspapers, and you fancy finding out more, then please come to visit. Come to invest. Come to study. Because we're a fantastic country for all of them.
WOODRUFF: So, finally, before we take questions from—from the audience, how do you—how—are you getting done on this trip what you want to get done in—in this official trip to Washington?
STURGEON: Yes, I'm—I'm extremely happy with how this trip has gone, you know. Let me just say, firstly, we've had a fantastic reception from everybody we have met in the United States, both in New York and Washington, and we're very grateful for that. But the focus of the trip has been largely trade and economy-focused and that's been very successful. I, in New York, met with two companies that were announcing new investment in Scotland so, from that point of view, it was very successful.
But the other practice (ph) has been to be very directly to United States audience that Scotland sees itself as your friend and your ally and somebody that wants to—to work with you across a whole range of—of ways and, in that respect, I hope the visit has been successful in getting that message across.
WOODRUFF: So the U.S. has nothing to fear from Scotland.
STURGEON: Nothing whatsoever. On the contrary.
WOODRUFF: All right, First Minister, let's—let's take questions now from the audience.
I would ask you to—I believe we have microphones. There's one, maybe there's another one. Wait for the microphone. We would ask you to speak directly into it. We would ask you to stand up, give us your name, your affiliation and let's see who wants to go first. I think over here, this gentleman.
QUESTION: We met yesterday at the World Bank. The topic was economics and I was wearing a World Main (ph) hat today. It's politics and I can ask a personal question. I'm an English (ph) Scot. If I was forced to choose a passport, I'd chose a Scottish one. But I'm also—I was born in London and I want to ask you a question about fiscal legitimacy you mentioned regarding the current government of the U.K.
London has a larger population than Scotland, and the conservatives lost the election in London, as well, so one question is are the conservatives legitimate rulers of London in the same way you mentioned Scotland. And, secondly, my wife's family are partly from Orkney. Orkney's a small part of Scotland, has a very distinct identity. And if Scotland were independent, would it be legitimate for Orkney to say they would like to be independent from Scotland and is the current—is your government in Scotland the legitimate government of Orkney given what you said about territorial differences in terms of votes and the political affiliation?
STURGEON: OK, thank you for that question.
WOODRUFF (?): We'd say two questions.
STURGEON: Orkney, of course, being one of only three parts of Scotland that didn't vote SNP at the general election but actually it came close, so maybe—maybe in the future we'll be able to—to change that.
Look, let me—let me be very clear about this. In a—a straight constitutional sense, the—the government of the U.K., you know, is legitimate in every part of the U.K. I don't question that. I'm making a political point about the need for in a multi-national state of—of different nations voting in different ways, a sensible government will be responsive to that and David Cameron and his government will demonstrate that they understand that whether they like or not, people in Scotland didn't vote for his government and will, through their policies and their approach and their demeanor towards Scotland, demonstrate that they understand that. So that's the point I'm making.
And London, of course, has its own—its own mayor, its own devolved government in—in that sense. But the way to point (ph)—and this relates to your—your point about Orkney, as well, you know, I've (inaudible) a very sharp distinction and I think most people in the United Kingdom would meet (ph) this distinction as well between nations and—and regions of the United Kingdom.
Scotland is a nation as is England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and, you know, I mean, that brings up particular significance and importance to the different voting patterns and the different constitutional positions of these nations within the United Kingdom.
In terms of Orkney, and I—I spent a bit (ph) of time in both Orkney and Shetland in the runoff to the independent referendum. I've been there since then as well. There is no great appetite in Orkney or Shetland, if Scotland was to become independent, for them to be independent from Scotland. I'm not saying you will not find anybody there of that opinion but contrary to how it's occasionally presented in the United Kingdom and particular Scottish media; you will not find a great clamor to break away from Scotland in either Orkney or Shetland.
What you do find within both of those islands and other islands is a desire for greater autonomy. And the Scottish government actually right now is in the process of looking at what powers and responsibilities we devolve from Edinburgh to our island communities to—to give them greater autonomy and, in a sense, giving life to the belief we have in decentralized government and power lying as close to people as possible.
But to wrap that up, you know, my point here is not to say David Cameron is not our legitimate prime minister as far as Scotland is concerned. Now, whether I want him to be or not is neither here nor there. In a constitutional sense, he is. But the political reality means that if he simply acts as if he's got the same mandate in every part of the U.K., then I don't think he will be acting in a way that is strengthening the U.K. or the country. I think he'll be acting in a way that is ultimately going to weaken the U.K. in that respect.
WOODRUFF: OK, over here. Yes, front?
QUESTION: Since you've opened the door to what a Scottish foreign policy would be, what are your views on what the U.K. policy should be toward Ukraine and Iraq and Syria?
STURGEON: Well, we're—this is a good example on these issues of where the Scottish government supports the—the U.K. position on Ukraine and Russian.
We're supportive of the international community's position. We're supportive of the sanctions against Russia and have been a voice of support within the U.K. for the government's position and a voice of support wider than that for the international community's position.
Similarly on ISIL and Syria, Iraq, we support the efforts of—of the international community. The ISIL threat is one of the severest threats that not just the—the Middle East faces, but the (inaudible) because of the implications of that.
So do not—do not think that the SNP and the Scottish government takes a markedly different position from the U.K. government on the—the vast majority of international issues. We—we don't. We are—are a responsible participant and a responsible voice when it comes to these matters. And on both of these issues, you will not find any great difference between our position and the position of the United Kingdom government.
WOODRUFF: Can you foresee a—a point, though, when you might take a different—because, obviously, you've mentioned that...
STURGEON: Oh, we—we take...
WOODRUFF: ... you do, but I mean what (inaudible)...
STURGEON: My—my party—my party wasn't in government at this point in our recent history but my party took a very different view over the war in Iraq in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. We—we opposed that conflict, so there are some issues where we have taken a different view.
There may well be issues in the future where we—we take a different view. But, you know, the war in Iraq and we were not alone in the international community in terms of countries that thought the invasion of Iraq and what followed (ph) on from that was the wrong direction to take. But we would always be and always—we will be a responsible voice in terms of these international issues.
WOODRUFF: Right here in the front row.
QUESTION: I think, should there be in the future an independent Scotland, I think one of the greatest concerns in the U.S. is how the defense structure would be disentangled. And I wonder if you would speak about your vision for how defense—how defense would be handled if Scotland were to be independent.
STURGEON: Well, we set out in the referendum campaign last year in very significant detail how an independent Scotland would configure its defense forces and how those defense forces would then work and cooperate with defense forces across the rest of the United Kingdom, the European Union, and internationally. If you have an interest in that, I would be happy before I would go to go into details and I can send you the work we did around that.
An independent Scotland, if—if we had voted to become independent, would've established our own defense forces, army, navy and air force. It would've taken a period of years to make that transition. But notwithstanding the distinct defense forces an independent Scotland would've established, they would have inevitably worked very, very closely and in a very integrated way with the defense forces of the rest of the United Kingdom.
You know, Britain is an island and the defense of Scotland is important to the defense of England. Defense of England is important to the defense of Scotland. And it is inconceivable in any future constitutional arrangement that the defense forces of each part of the United Kingdom would not work together very cohesively.
The difference of opinion between the Scottish government and the United Kingdom government on defense and I, you know, absolutely respect the fact this is our difference of opinion between the Scottish government and the United States government, as well, is over at the future of the U.K.'s nuclear deterrence. My party does not support the nuclear deterrent and does not support the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.
Now, partly that is a disagreement—an honest disagreement in principle, but, in part, it's also a very practical concern that we have about the implications for our conventional defense forces of a decision to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent.
There have been significant reductions in the U.K.'s conventional defense footprint over the past 10 years that is a—a very current debate which I know the President of the United States is intensely interested in about the percentage of GDP that's spent on defense in the United Kingdom. And one of the concerns we have is the more that defense expenditure is taken up with Trident, the less expenditure we have on the conventional forces that the country really needs to secure itself and to contribute to defense internationally.
I mean, one example I often use which illustrates and highlights what I—I think is almost a neglect of our conventional defense forces is our own maritime surveillance. As I said a moment ago, Britain is an island. To Scotland, maritime protection and surveillance is very important. You know, we've got a large oil industry, fishing industry, so these maritime interests (ph) are extremely important to us. The U.K. doesn't have any maritime patrol aircraft. So towards the end of last year when there was suspicion that Russian submarines were patrolling in our territorial waters, we did not have within our own forces the capability to deal with that, we had to draw on help from—from elsewhere. So my view is we need a strong, appropriate, conventional forces, forces that are capable of defending the United Kingdom, but also contributing positively and appropriately to international threats (ph), as well.
WOODRUFF: Let's see. Trying to go back and forth across the room. Right there, yes?
QUESTION: First Minister, with the decline of the hydrocarbon resources in the North Sea, and the decline in employment in the energy and energy services, what are the areas that you see as the potential sources of prosperity in the next five years, and how willing are you to accept new migrants whether they be from within the 28 (ph) or North Africa, to participate in those new areas of productivity?
STURGEON: OK, thank you very much, indeed. That's a very good question. Scotland's oil and gas resource, like the oil and gas resources of other countries, are blessed to have those natural resources of, you know, they are finite resources. That said, oil and gas will continue to be a considerable source of revenue for Scotland and for the United Kingdom for many, many years to come. There is estimated to be up to 24 billion barrels of extractable oil left in the North Sea, so it's—it's an industry that has a—a good strong future ahead of it. But, you're absolutely correct, that it is a finite resource.
Scotland is in a very lucky position, of course, of not simply being an oil-producing country; we also happen to have some of Europe's best and biggest potential around renewable energy. So we're also a leader when it comes to wind energy, we even (inaudible) energy in some of the new technologies around low carbon energy sources. So that's a growth area for Scotland and an area that we are investing in and encouraging greatly.
We're also very lucky to have a number of strong sectors in our economy that I would suggest are growth sectors of the future so the key strengths of the Scottish economy, other than energy, would be life (ph) sciences where we are, you know, a world leader, creative industries, our food and drink exports which are enjoyed by many in the United States and many other countries across the world.
So, one of the things I think it's important to understand about the Scottish economy is notwithstanding oil and gas tends to be very associated with the Scottish economy. Our economy is not dependent on oil and gas. We have a rich and diverse economy and (inaudible) capability in many of the sectors that are the—the growth sectors of the future.
I was—one of the companies I spoke about having met in New York just announced an investment in Scotland is a United States company active in the space sector, the manufacture, nano (inaudible). They just announced a major investment in Scotland because that's one of the other areas where Scotland is seen to have through the skills our universities are producing a real competitive advantage.
One of the things we're doing which doesn't make us unique but it is very important is increasingly we're lucky in Scotland, we've got for head (ph) of population more top universities than any other country in the world apart from Switzerland. So we're in a very good position in terms of the quality of our education. But, increasingly, our universities and our business sector are working hand-in-glove to make sure that we're able to maximize those competitive advantages we've got.
Briefly, on immigration, Scotland welcomes immigration and we welcome migrant workers to Scotland. There are considerable numbers of Polish people and people from other European Union member states living in and working in Scotland. Actually, notwithstanding the debate that is very, very active in the U.K. just not (ph) associated with the European Union membership question, if European Union migrants to the United Kingdom they can make positive contribution to our economy. And that is true of Scotland, as well.
So we welcome immigration that can help with the task of growing our economy. We've got—actually got in Scotland an organization called Talent Scotland (ph) where that is our—a public organization helps companies scour the world looking for talent that can then fill skill shortages in some of our key sectors. So we're an open economy and we're an open society and we welcome very much the contribution that workers from outside Scotland make our economy.
WOODRUFF: Ok, the gal (ph) in the very back there. Stand please.
QUESTION: Does it rankle you that you are not received at the White House while every member of the Royal Family that is in this town has an appointment in the Oval Office?
STURGEON: Not—not in the slightest. I—you know, I—I said earlier on and I'll say again, we've had a fantastic reception in the United States as we can. The—the courtesy shown towards me, towards the Scottish government, has been fantastic. But also the—the genuine interest in Scotland and where we stand within the United Kingdom, within the European Union, within the wider world has been absolutely first class. So I have no complaints and—and no rankles at all with anything associated with my visit here this week.
WOODRUFF: Let's see, right there. Third row back.
QUESTION: Our family legend has the Cunninghams (ph) are from Ayrshire but it's been some centuries so I'm not going to ask you about the independence movement in Ayrshire. Instead, my question has to do with monetary issues. What currency would an independent Scotland wish to have?
STURGEON: I hail from Ayrshire; it's my—my home in Scotland. It's where I come from so I can report back that the independence movement in Ayrshire is alive and well and...
STURGEON: ... and—and prospering.
The proposition on currency that we put forward during the independence referendum was that an independent Scotland would continue to use sterling. We would continue to use the British pound, partly because it is our currency. It's our currency now and there's no reason why it wouldn't continue to be our currency in the future.
Some people say is a hotly debated issue, an independence referendum now, I won't go into all of the ins and outs of all of it but, you know, many people will see, you know, how could Scotland and England, as independent countries, share the currency. Look what's happening in the Eurozone (ph).
I think the key point to put across there is that, you know, and I'm overly simplifying here, but the problems in the Eurozone (ph), you know, come from partly the fact that the produce (ph) parts of Greece and the richest parts of Germany and everything in between have been shoehorned into one currency. That's not the position that would have been the case in the scenario of an independent Scotland.
The economies of Scotland and England are very closely aligned. We would've been what many economists would've termed an optimal currency zone, you know. Levels of productivity, levels of employment very, very similar. So my belief then, my belief now is that not only should Scotland continue to use the British pound if we became independent, but it would be workable and preferably viable and preferable successful for us to do so.
WOODRUFF: So there won't be a new Scottish mint to...
STURGEON: Well, we have our own...
WOODRUFF: ... (inaudible)
STURGEON: ... Scottish bank notes. The Scottish (inaudible) banks already produce Scottish bank notes. So if you go to the United Kingdom and—and you happen to go to Scotland, you'll get a pound note (ph). It's worth exactly the same as the one you get in England but it will have its own Scottish stamp on it.
WOODRUFF: All right, yes, right here on the second row.
QUESTION: You've spoken really eloquently on so many issues here and I think there's one area where people are really looking to Scotland within the United Kingdom, here, and internationally. Which is on this very issue that you expressed about being an open economy, an open society, and a country that's trying to play a responsible role in governance, and especially in conflicts.
As you all know, there's a lot of scrutiny on Scotland now about this very question that you raised about Scotland being a nation and not just a region. We have elections coming up in Spain at the end of this year where the question about Patagonia (ph) and its independence will be raised. And, in fact, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is on what is a region and what is a nation.
And I think that the question that you heard earlier was really getting at that, rather than just at the legitimacy, is how in a modern era where you have so much immigration, as you said Scotland has a lot of immigrants, a lot of people who wouldn't hail back to Ayrshire or Orkney or anywhere. And Scots have a migrants nation themselves and the United States and all those in England, as well, it's not just the Scots, you know, born recently but many generations of Scots have moved about for hundreds of years.
How in this modern age where it's very difficult to define a nation, it's not just on language anymore, can Scotland actually play a role as a model of how to resolve many of these conflicts and deal with these issues of governance? And one of the biggest issues in the United Kingdom itself is I think there's been a lot of concerns in Ireland and in Northern Ireland about the future of the peace process and what would happen if Scotland did become independent.
So I'm just really wondering how you can address this issue. It's not just a question of being a nation. What does a nation mean in a modern context and how can Scotland really actually be a model for a lot of these other countries globally?
STURGEON: Yes, I think that's a very—very good question. And the contribution Scotland can make in the area you're talking here is not to, you know, intervene or start to express opinions about whether Patagonia (ph) should be independent or not, but it should lead by example in how we conduct these debates and how we seek to settle and resolve them as we did in the independence referendum last year.
I mean, to get to the heart of your question, what is a nation in the modern world. But (ph) Scotland's in the happy (ph) position of its territory not being disputed, the borders of Scotland—the nation—are well understood and well settled and agreed without any real disputes so the—the territorial limits of—of the nation of Scotland are understood. But, of course, what is a nation is a more complex question and this is where Scottish nationalism, if I can use that term, which is often a—a pejorative term with negative connotations, it's where Scottish nationalism offers a positive role model for the rest of the world because my definition of what it means to be Scottish, I mean, the nation—the territorial limits of the nation are well defined, but what it means to be Scottish, in my view, is whether or not you choose to live there.
So if you chose to live in Scotland, if you chose to make Scotland your home, doesn't matter to me whether you come from England, the United States, Pakistan, India, Poland or any other part of the world, if Scotland is your home, if you live there, if you work there, if you make a contribution, you are Scottish and have as much right as I do to influence the future direction of the country.
So in the independence referendum, Polish migrants who were living in Scotland had a vote. They were allowed to vote in the referendum, just as people who live in Scotland but were born in England or any other part of the European Union had the right to vote. So that's the civic approach to nationalism that is absolutely at the heart of the SNP's approach to this question.
And what—what does that do for the rest of—of the world. It demonstrates—and I think our referendum experience demonstrated this very powerful really (ph) that you can resolve these complex questions of nationhood, of governance, of identity in an entirely peaceful and democratic fashion. And that's the example we hold up to the rest of the world.
The issue of Scottish independence has been debated with, you know, an ebb and flow in intensity for 300 years, since Scotland became part of the union. That question has never gone away. It's always been there. As I say, it's coming and going in terms of its level of intensity. But in modern times—in modern times, not a single drop of blood has been shed in that debate on either side. What a fantastic example to say—for the rest of world.
So that's what we offer. It's not for us to say in any other part of the world whether our particular people or particular nation should ought to do as we do and argue to be independent. But in terms of the process of determining these things, we should absolutely fly the flag for how we've chosen to do it.
WOODRUFF: What about the other part of her question about the effect on the Northern Ireland peace process?
STURGEON: Oh, the Northern Ireland peace process. I—you know, this was an issue that occasionally was talked about during the—the referendum campaign. I do not believe and, you know, I—I don't think many people know that Ireland or indeed across the rest of the U.K. who would seriously have argued that a vote for Scottish independence would have compromised the peace process.
Now, I don't want to undermine or diminish the challenges that Northern Ireland still faces and, you know, periodically will face. But the peace process fortunately and thankfully is very well established in Northern Ireland and I think all of it is—in whatever part of the United Kingdom we happen to live in, whatever our views on the constitutional future of the United Kingdom are absolutely committed to making sure that peace process continues to be successful.
One of the—one of the features of the peace process in the Gifrady (ph) agreement was the establishment of a forum across the British Isles called the British-Irish Council. I'll be attending a meeting of the British-Irish Council in Dublin next week—toward the end of next week.
The British-Irish Council brings together the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, three devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the crown dependencies, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey. And, you know, that is—gives wave (ph) to the British Isles and how we seek to cooperate and forced (ph) a dialogue within the British Isles.
You know, interestingly, if Scotland did become an independent country we would still have been part of the British Isles and we would still have operated in that forum. We would just have gone from being a devolved member of the British-Irish Council to an independent member. So, that is a very strong representation of the—how those kind of arrangements can work and itself was one of the outcomes of the peace process in Northern Ireland. So that I'm glad to see is something that I think we all agree on that the importance of that peace process and its continuation is beyond and above any of these other debates.
WOODRUFF: The question, let's see here. Then I'll go to the back.
QUESTION: Recently the United States Congress has been considering welfare reform and they've been—leadership has been very open in looking into the U.K. as a model, particularly Universal Credit and a lot of the reforms implemented by the conservative Cameron government. Sort (ph) of, what is your perspective on that and what should U.S. policymakers be worried about in sort of unintended consequences of looking to that as a model?
STURGEON: (Inaudible) it would be my advice and that—that's—I think you've got to draw a distinction between the theory of welfare reform in the United Kingdom and practice of welfare reform. In theory, Universal Credit—Universal Credit is bringing together all the different social security benefits into one single payment and making sure that that operates in a way that as people move into work, they don't fall off a cliff in terms of the benefits that (inaudible)—you know, outweighing (ph) the benefits that get from starting to end.
So, in theory, it's a good idea, but it's not working that way in practice because the process of reform has been accompanied by a very significant cut (ph) on expenditure. So what you found as the new systems have come into place is that the—the—the expenditure cuts have meant that some of the people that have been intended to benefit from welfare reform have actually been some of the biggest losers.
And, you know, the—the rest of the (inaudible) kingdom government has been tough on people who don't want to work, people who want to, you know, skive (ph) and shuck responsibility and lie in their beds all day while the rest of us are out working and, you know, don't get me wrong. I don't think these people should get an easy raid (ph) on the welfare system, either. But that's not the reality of what has happened. The—and there's lots of research if you're interested to back this up.
And the people who have suffered in the last couple of years, the most from welfare reform in the United Kingdom have been people with disabilities and disabled benefits have been significantly cut. Single parents and particularly women and laws (ph) in employment for (inaudible) low wages, they have between them taken the biggest hit. So you may have something to learn from the theory of U.K. welfare reform. I would argue that you should shy away from some of the practical application of—of that.
WOODRUFF: All right, question in the back?
QUESTION: On your comments about Scotland's independence movement being a model in terms of the peaceful nature, I'm just curious on your thoughts. Did social media or the internet or technology play a role that was different now than in the past in this particular movement?
STURGEON: It—it played—social media played a massive role in the independence referendum in Scotland. It was—I did (inaudible) the margins perhaps (inaudible) and I'll go into that in a second, but in the positive, it—it opened up—it helped to open up the debate many, many more people than—that would otherwise have taken part.
So you had in the referendum a population that was just not truly working to get engaged because it was a big issue and a big question and a big responsibility for everybody to decide how they were going to vote. So you had that desire to be engaged. What social media did was give people the means to be much more engaged that could access information in a way that (inaudible) that could often find exactly what they were wanting to know about in a way that they wouldn't otherwise been able to do and people shared views and shared information in a way that wouldn't have been possible without Facebook and Twitter and social media, generally. So with that, a positive in my view.
Social media—this is not unique to the referendum. Social media's gone downsides because it gives to a minority and is a minority in Scotland and the U.K. and I'm sure in the United States, as well, but a minority of more extreme opinion that is not very tolerant of other people's views and just wants to hurdle abuse at people that don't agree with them. That minority of people have always been there but social media now gives them a platform to communicate with the (inaudible) world that they wouldn't previously have had.
And occasionally in the referendum, it appeared as if that minority was bigger than it was and it—it—you know, at times threatened to—taint the atmosphere. And I don't think it did overall, but sometimes that was the—the danger (inaudible). So as the downside of social media, but I think it's hugely outweighed by the positive and it did have a big role in the referendum. And it, you know, continues to have an always transformational role in terms of the—the democratic engagement that we're now seeing in Scotland around elections, as well.
WOODRUFF: So we have time for one more question. And just reminding everybody, this has been on the record. I think that's been obvious. But, yes—yes, sir, right here.
STURGEON: Oh, now you tell me.
QUESTION: I'm not sure I should pose this question. Our family was banished from Scotland in 1662 after the restoration of Charles II. But, nevertheless, my question relates to the Scottish diaspora (ph). In this country, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, is there more that can be done to mobilize the diaspora (ph), the Scottish diaspora (ph) for the interest of Scotland. I mean, the Irish are very good in this country in mobilizing their diaspora (ph). Can Scotland do the same?
STURGEON: Yes, can I say, firstly, I'm very sorry you were banished from Scotland (inaudible)
STURGEON: As first minister, I—I hereby formally lift the ban.
STURGEON: OK? You're—you're welcome back any time you like. And I'll—I'll greet you at the airport just underline.
That is a very good question, sir. Yes, I mean, the diaspora (ph)—a Scottish diaspora (ph) in the United States alone is—is enormous and hugely powerful and influential.
I—I was joking last night at the—at the reception at the embassy that some of you may have been at, there are more people in this country who claim to be Scottish than there are in Scotland. And, you know, we've—we've got population of five million that are—I mean, official estimates and there are probably underestimates here that are 10 million people in the United States who claim a Scottish connection.
So the diaspora is hugely important. We're working incredibly hard to mobilize and use the talents and the skills and the influence and the networks of the diaspora to fly the flag for Scotland and to capitalize on the profile of Scotland. We have a—an office at—here in Washington, Keith (ph) here in the front row if you want to connect with him before the end, that works in—in that office. So we're working very hard to do that.
We're got a network on the trade side called Global Scots and if anybody here wants to be a Global Scot, please feel free to—to come forward. To do that formally in terms of the business community (inaudible) but, you know, albeit, we're working hard at that and doing very well through our staff here. We can do much more. So if anybody here has Scottish connections or Scottish background or if they just wish they were Scottish, then please feel free...
STURGEON: ... please feel free to offer your services. We'd be delighted—delighted to take you up on it.
WOODRUFF: So Scots of America, rise up. Is that (inaudible)
WOODRUFF: Please join me in thanking the First Minister and...
WOODRUFF: And I would just ask you to keep your seats until she leaves the room. Thank you.