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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on striking balance with Cameron’s UK

A rising political power in the United Kingdom, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon believes one day Scotland will be an independent country. Now, she’s on a whirlwind tour of the U.S. to promote Scottish products and businesses. Judy Woodruff sat down with the politician in Washington, D.C.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now a look at a rising political powerhouse from Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, the first woman to serve as Scottish first minister.

    Last month, in front of one of Scotland's iconic structures, the Forth Bridge, Nicola Sturgeon celebrated her Scottish National Party's win of nearly all of the seats in Parliament allocated to Scotland in the U.K. elections.

    A few days later, the group of SNP members made their way to London and the entrance to Westminster, where Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party kept its grip on power.

  • NICOLA STURGEON, Scottish First Minister:

    We are absolutely here to stand up for Scotland, and David Cameron should be in no doubt about that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Just nine months ago, Scotland went to the polls and voted no to independence by 55 to 45 percent. Then-SNP leader Alex Salmond resigned. And into his shoes stepped the 44-year-old Nicola Sturgeon.

    Prime Minister Cameron made his way to Scotland shortly after last month's election to discuss the future of Britain, even as Sturgeon called for the power over taxes and welfare spending.

    JON STEWART, HOST, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart": What is haggis?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now she's on a whirlwind tour of the U.S….

  • NICOLA STURGEON:

    Haggis is delicious.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    … promoting Scottish products and businesses.

    Today, she sat down to talk with us at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

    First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, thank you for talking with us.

  • NICOLA STURGEON:

    Thank you very much. It's a joy to be here.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Americans looking across the Atlantic ocean seeing this new relationship, is that what we should call it, between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom?

  • NICOLA STURGEON:

    Yes, I think that's a reasonable way to describe it.

    Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom. But we're more autonomous. Our Parliament is going to become more autonomous, and the voice and the influence of Scotland and the Scottish government I think is going to increase in the years to come.

    And for the United States, that means, I think, a greater recognition of the fact that Scotland is a partner in trading terms, and an ally in terms of some of the big international debates that we have.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You said in your remarks this morning — you questioned how much of a mandate Prime Minister David Cameron has, given the results of this last — the last parliamentary elections, where the Scottish National Party did so well. What do you mean by that? What are you saying? Are you challenging his authority?

  • NICOLA STURGEON:

    I'm not challenging his authority.

    David Cameron is prime minister. He won the election. If you look at the U.K. as one whole unit, he won the election. He won most seats and most votes, and, therefore, he is the prime minister and he has formed the government.

    The argument I'm making is a political one, because the U.K. is not just one unitary state. It's a family of four nations, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. And David Cameron only won the election in one of those four nations, in England. I think, if he is sensible, will demonstrate or want to demonstrate that he recognizes that different parts of the United Kingdom have voted in very different ways.

    And that puts a responsibility on his shoulders to take account of the different views and the different priorities of people in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And what — how would that manifest itself in a concrete way? What would you look for him to do different — that he's not doing now?

  • NICOLA STURGEON:

    Well, in a Scottish context, firstly, to recognize that people in Scotland want to see the Scottish Parliament and government become much more powerful and autonomous.

    David Cameron is proposing some limited additional powers for the Scottish government, but there's an appetite in Scotland for him to go much further. Scotland also voted for a party, the party I lead, that argued a very different economic policy. We argued that there should be an alternative to continued austerity, not that we shouldn't continue to focus on deficit reduction, but that we should also be looking to invest in infrastructure and skills in order to grow the economy faster.

    And I think his economic policies should take account of that as well.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, how do you strike that balance? I mean, he is pushing for an austerity program, as you described it. That's something you're not comfortable with.

    How do you push for that, at the same time maintaining the place that you have in the government structure?

  • NICOLA STURGEON:

    I'm talking to David Cameron now. If he just uses his majority to push things through, then he will send a message to Scotland and to Wales and to Northern Ireland that says that he doesn't really care how people in these parts of the U.K. voted. He's going to do what he wants anyway.

    And, over time, that may be counterproductive to his objective of keeping the U.K. together as a family of nations.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is there any doubt in your mind that Scottish independence is in the cards, that it's coming at some point in the future?

  • NICOLA STURGEON:

    I believe Scotland will be an independent country at some point in the future.

    And I should say that being independent in the modern model means independent in a very interdependent world. An independent Scotland is not apart from the rest of the United Kingdom. We would work very closely with the rest of the United Kingdom. We would be a key part of the European Union and would look to be an outward-looking and constructive partner to our allies in the international community.

    I believe that is the future for Scotland. I can't say with certainty when that will happen. There's no second independence referendum on the immediate horizon.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You have made it very clear that you disagree with any moves to withdraw the U.K. from the European Union. So, we know there's a difference there.

    Are there other significant differences that we should know about between you, the Scottish National Party, and the U.K., the British government, on foreign policy?

  • NICOLA STURGEON:

    We support not just the stance of the United Kingdom government, but of the international community, including the United States, on issues like Ukraine and Russia. We are very supportive of the action being taken there.

    We support the efforts to deal with the ISIL threat in Syria, Iraq, and the Middle East generally.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Big debate in this country right now about whether U.S. forces should do more. The White House has just announced in the last day or so that more advisers will be going into Iraq to train Iraqi troops in the fight against ISIS, against ISIL.

    Are you in favor of more ground troops, if that's what it takes to get rid of ISIS?

  • NICOLA STURGEON:

    Well, I think I would certainly, you know, be supportive of the announcement by President Obama, only that we need to make sure that we're talking appropriate — we, as in the international community, are taking appropriate action to ensure that we are combating the threat of ISIL.

    I think President Obama, generally, in terms of foreign policy, has been a very responsible and measured president. I think there is — and I think there should be a greater appreciation, particularly with big powers like the United States, that influence and power can be softer and more persuasive than simply intervening in different parts of the world. I get the impression President Obama instinctively understands that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Last question. Europe, the victory, the success of the Scottish National Party in these last elections has put Scotland on the map, in the headlines again in a way that it hasn't been in a long time.

    What do you want Americans to know? What should they look for to come from Scotland in the months and years to come?

  • NICOLA STURGEON:

    I often have said when I have been here this week that there are more people in the United States who claim a Scottish connection than there are in Scotland.

    The Scottish diaspora here is very large and very strong. The trading and economic relationship between our countries is strong and I hope will get even stronger in the future. So, Scotland is a friend to the United States. I hope the United States sees itself as a friend to Scotland. And I think we can look forward to the links and the friendships between our two countries strengthening in the years to come.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, thank you very much.

  • NICOLA STURGEON:

    Thank you.

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