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The UK’s cabinet minister for Scotland has said he would be prepared to join a cross-party team negotiating the terms of independence for a new state if the Yes side wins next month’s referendum.
The idea of Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish secretary, publicly debating his possible role in establishing an independent state caused dismay in the No campaign and has heightened speculation he could lose his job.
The Yes camp quickly seized on his remarks in social media postings on Thursday. “Alistair Carmichael says he’ll join #TeamScotland to negotiate indy – acknowledging that #Yes is ever more likely,” the Scottish National party said on its Twitter feed.
Some senior Liberal Democrats say they expect Mr Carmichael, the Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland, to be moved out of the cabinet when Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and party leader, conducts a reshuffle of the coalition’s Lib Dem ministers in the next few weeks.
Jo Swinson, the 34-year-old employment minister and MP for East Dunbartonshire, has been tipped to replace Mr Carmichael after the referendum, adding a much-needed female face to Mr Clegg’s top team.
The Scottish secretary’s aides said such speculation should be taken “with a pinch of salt”, but that decisions on Lib Dem ministerial appointments were for Mr Clegg.
Mr Carmichael’s comments came in an interview with The Scotsman, where he was asked whether he would join SNP leader Alex Salmond’s “Team Scotland” to negotiate an independence settlement in the event of a Yes vote.
He said: “Yes, if I was asked to. I mean if Scotland votes for independence then I will still want to be part of the Scottish public political life.
“I would have to be realistic about what could be achieved, but you know that I’m not walking away from Scottish politics.”
Asked about the possibility of a Yes vote – which is still unlikely according to opinion polls – Mr Carmichael added: “If that is something that happens then yes, I would want to get the best possible deal for Scotland.”
The pro-union Better Together campaign declined to comment, although privately officials were amazed that the Scottish secretary should have ventured into speculation about defeat on September 18. One senior member of the campaign asked: “Why would he do it now?”
Mr Carmichael’s aides insist that his position as part of any post-referendum Team Scotland is not new and that Michael Moore, his Lib Dem predecessor as Scottish secretary, had also indicated he could work in an independence negotiating team.
Mr Salmond was said to be delighted that one of his principal opponents had said he would be willing to work on an independence deal.
“This is very significant because it shows that even members of the UK cabinet are now openly acknowledging that a Yes vote is becoming ever more likely as the Yes campaign gains ground every day of this campaign,” a source close to the first minister said.
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