The Parliament Magazine
SCOTLAND’S FUTURE IS IN THE EU
Brexit took the Scots out of the European Union against their will, but future EU membership is part of the vision for an independent Scotland,
In Scotland, it is not where you’ve come from that matters – it’s where we’re going together. As a country we’ve been enriched through the years by “new Scots” from Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, the other countries of the UK, Asia and by many others who have chosen to make Scotland their home. In recent times, our population decline has reversed, with inward migration from Europe playing a large part as a result of freedom of movement within the European Union. We’ve learned from each other and shared experiences and, as a result, Scotland has been changed for the better.
For nearly 50 years until the UK left on 31 January last year, Scotland was part of the EU. Scotland did not vote for this departure. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, there was an overwhelming majority for ‘Remain’, and every local authority area in the country voted to stay in the EU. Strong support for EU membership has subsequently been rea rmed in elections since the referendum. Despite those clear and repeated democratic votes, Scotland has not only been removed from the EU but also from the Single Market and Customs Union. That is because the UK Government rejected a compromise plan that the Scottish Government had put forward. This sought to reconcile the fact that while the UK as a whole voted narrowly to leave the EU, two of the four UK countries (Scotland and Northern Ireland) voted to remain. The result was that we lost the benefits of the “four freedoms” - including freedom of movement - which were so important for Scotland.
We will remain a voice urging the UK Government to maintain as close a relationship with the EU as possible, rather than arm’s length one currently favoured by many at Westminster. That closer relationship would be in all our interests. The Brexit vote, and the decision by the UK Government to pursue a hard Brexit, has prompted renewed debate in Scotland over our constitutional future. The Scottish Government’s position is that the people of Scotland have the right to decide whether they wish to become an independent country. It is important to stress in this respect that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union of nations. It is universally accepted, both by those opposed to, and in favour of, independence that Scotland is a country and not a region of a unitary state. Scotland’s position is therefore unique – a country, in a voluntary union, which has been removed from the EU against the will of the majority who live here.
Clearly, we would not expect the EU institutions to comment on the case for either a referendum, or for independence, but there are two points worth stressing to a European audience: First, we understand how important it is that any referendum on Scottish independence be legal and constitutional, such that its result will be recognised at home and internationally. That will continue to guide and inform our approach. Secondly, with EU membership part of our vision for an independent Scotland, we will fully recognise and respect both the accession process and the obligations of membership.
Let me explain why I am so confident
“Scotland is a country and not a region of a unitary state. Scotland’s position is therefore unique – a country, in a voluntary union, which has been removed from the EU against the will of the majority who live here”
that European Union membership is right for Scotland. The strong support for the EU in Scotland is based both on the practical benefits of membership and on values. The founding values of the EU - human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, respect for human rights and the rule of law are Scotland’s values too. The Scottish Parliament continues to fly the European flag, as a symbol of our commit
ment to those values. In addition, we have recently passed legislation that will enable Scotland to remain aligned with EU regulations within devolved policy areas where it is appropriate to do so, even as a non-member.
The pandemic has reminded us, as never before, of our common humanity and of the deep interconnections that bind the fate of Europeans and indeed people across the world. Tackling COVID-19 will remain the top priority of the Scottish Government. And, like all national governments, we are thinking deeply about the kind of economy and society we wish to build as we emerge from the current crisis. Scotland has much to contribute to
“The founding values of the EU - human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, respect for human rights and the rule of law - are Scotland’s values too”
the great challenges we are all facing. Our climate change targets are world-leading and we are harnessing our extraordinary renewable energy resources. Scotland’s universities are among the best in Europe and we are at the cutting edge of digital developments. We are committed to creating a wellbeing economy and to tackling the great inequalities that the pandemic has so clearly exposed.
I believe the best way to maximise that contribution is to regain our place in the European Union. We didn’t want to leave in the first place, and we look forward to a time when we will once again play our part in this great shared endeavour.