Speech to European Policy Centre in Brussels, 26 February 2013
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to all of you today here in Brussels.
I’m especially pleased to address the European Policy Centre – an organisation which is currently at the forefront of discussions on subjects such as the recent budget settlement, reform of the banking sector and how to promote economic growth. It is an ideal forum in which to talk about Scotland’s referendum on independence in 2014, and its implications for our relationship with the European Union.
I speak here today as the Deputy First Minister of a European nation with a distinct history, culture, legal system and, of course, a Parliament of our own. However Scotland’s political status is not what I would describe as normal.
Our own national parliament in Edinburgh was reconvened in 1999 after an adjournment of almost 300 years. It has extensive powers over education, health, justice and much more besides. However key decisions about our future – on economic policy, defence, foreign affairs and welfare – are taken, not by the people of Scotland, but by governments in Westminster.
That creates anomalies which are very obvious here in Brussels. On a range of issues, from fisheries and agriculture, to employment and economic development to the digital agenda, the Scottish Government currently has responsibility for policy-making in Scotland, but has no formal or direct representation when it comes to the many decisions made here – decisions that impact, to a greater or lesser extent, on all of these important areas of responsibility.
The Scottish Government’s case for independence is therefore a simple one. We believe that the people best able to represent Scotland’s interests, and to make decisions about Scotland’s future, are the people who choose to live and work in Scotland.
An independent Scottish Government would be able to use the full range of fiscal economic levers to improve the performance of our economy, which over a period of time has lagged behind the growth rates achieved in comparable countries. As an independent country we would be better able to tackle the deep-seated inequalities that continue to blight our society, and harm our most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens.
In doing so, we would recognise, as all nations have to, that independence goes hand in hand with interdependence. That is why an independent Scotland would seek to participate as a full and equal partner in international organisations such as the EU.
Today, I want to talk specifically about an independent Scotland’s place in the EU. I will outline how we benefit from – and contribute to – the work of the EU. I will make clear that – regardless of the direction of UK policy – Scotland is strongly committed to continuing within the EU as an independent nation. And I will say something about the process by which we would seek to ensure our continuing membership.
Earlier this month, the European Union and the USA announced that they would work to establish a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The announcement was a reminder of the massive opportunities that European Union membership brings. President Barroso predicted that when the agreement is up and running, the European economy will get a stimulus of half a per cent of its GDP. For Scotland, for whom the USA is our largest trading partner outside the EU, such a partnership will be especially good news. However, access to export markets is only one example of the benefits Scotland derives from membership of the EU. The EU has a wider role to play in promoting economic growth and meeting social challenges. In these areas, too, Scotland benefits from its place in the EU, and the EU benefits from Scotland’s contribution.
After all, Scotland faces many of the same challenges as the rest of Europe – promoting economic growth; tackling global warming; improving energy security; and promoting a healthier and fairer society. We are already working with partners across Europe to tackle these challenges.
Earlier this month, it was announced that Biocity in Scotland, working with Dundee University and the Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance, would be the site of a major screening centre for the discovery of new drugs, under the EU’s innovative medicines initiative.
That’s just one example of how our universities – which benefit from EU framework programmes – are making a major contribution to research which will improve the prosperity of Europe’s economy and the wellbeing of its people and society.
Scotland is also a world leader in renewable energy – especially the development of offshore wind, wave and tidal technology. We’re not acting in isolation, however – as active partners in the North Sea Offshore Grid Co-ordination initiative, and the Irish Scottish Links on Energy Study, we are playing a major role in moves towards a more integrated European energy market.
That reflects the potential importance of Scotland’s natural resources to the European Union. We have the major share of the EU’s oil production, almost a quarter of its offshore renewable energy potential, a fifth of its natural gas production and a twelfth of its seas.
Perhaps most importantly of all, though – in addition to the contribution we can make through our natural resources, our research capabilities and our policy interests - there are five million people in Scotland who benefit from and contribute to the free market and freedom of movement that the European Union provides. They are already European Union citizens, and overwhelmingly wish to remain so.
They include approximately 150,000 workers and students who have chosen to come to Scotland from Poland, Ireland, Holland, France, and other countries of the EU. They make a massive contribution to Scotland’s culture, economy and society, and are one of the many reasons why people in Scotland see their future firmly as part of Europe.
Despite all of these mutual advantages that derive from Scotland being an integral part of Europe, our current situation offers no certainty that those advantages would remain. But that is not because of Scotland’s referendum in 2014 – instead it’s a result of the UK’s proposed referendum on EU membership in 2017. It is, therefore, worth commenting on that referendum.
Let me be clear that I don’t do this in order to criticise the UK Government – I can do that very easily from Edinburgh. But I do think it is important that colleagues in Brussels, and across the EU, recognise that the perspective of the Scottish Government on our future inside the EU is very different from that of the current UK Government. Public opinion in Scotland is also quite different from opinion in England.
According to an IPSOS-Mori poll earlier this month, more than half of Scots want to stay in the European Union, compared with a third who would express a preference for leaving. And the poll suggests that, in the event of independence – with the ability that will give us to better articulate, assert and protect our vital national interests – support for membership of the EU would be stronger still, at more than 60%. All of this contrasts with recent polling in England, which has suggested that a majority of people are in favour of leaving the European Union.
This divergence of views between Scotland and elsewhere in the UK is not a recent or short-term phenomenon. While I would not suggest that it doesn’t exist at all, it is nevertheless the case that Euro-scepticism has never had the same potency in Scotland as it does in parts of England. In the 2011 Scottish elections, the UK Independence Party – whose growing influence may well be responsible for David Cameron’s EU referendum policy – received fewer than 1% of the votes. I believe that the reason for this is that people and politicians in Scotland recognise that EU membership is overwhelmingly in our national interest.
That is not to say that we think the EU is perfect or that there is not a substantial case for reform of key aspects of EU policy and governance. On the contrary, the Scottish Government understands and supports the case for reform of the EU. We are already contributing to the process of amending the Common Fisheries Policy; we would like to see more ambitious EU targets on carbon emissions; and we are strongly supportive of increased transparency and accountability in how the EU does its business
However, we believe that these reforms are best achieved from within the EU, through constructive dialogue and alliance building with other, like-minded member states.
This does not seem to be the road that David Cameron is set upon. I have deep concerns about the direction of his policy. Instead of leading the EU, the UK is in danger of sleepwalking towards the exit. Such an outcome, for Scotland, would be contrary to public opinion and against the public interest.
However, my hope and expectation is that before the UK government holds its planned referendum, Scotland will have become an independent nation.
As you might expect, the Scottish Government has thought deeply about the process by which an independent Scotland would continue as a member of the EU.
That process is inextricably linked to the question of how Scotland will become independent. And so it is worth noting from the start a particular characteristic of the United Kingdom. It came into being as a union – it is not and never has been a unitary state. It has always been possible to dissolve the UK if the people so choose.
The fact that Scotland has the right to become independent is recognised by the UK Government. Last October, the UK Prime Minister - David Cameron - and Scotland’s First Minister – Alex Salmond – signed the Edinburgh Agreement.
That agreement made it clear that the UK Government would give the Scottish Parliament unchallengeable authority to organise a referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country.
Following that agreement, and subsequent legislation at Westminster, the Scottish Government will next month introduce a Referendum Bill into the Scottish Parliament. The nature of the process that will lead us to a democratic referendum late next year, demonstrates something very important about Scotland’s constitutional debate. Although the UK Government and the Scottish Government disagree fundamentally about the merits of independence, the referendum itself will take place with our shared consent and co-operation. This means that Scotland’s referendum takes place in a different context from many of the other debates and discussions about sovereignty taking place elsewhere around the world.
Indeed, perhaps the most significant clause in the Edinburgh Agreement, is that which states clearly that both the Scottish and UK governments will accept the outcome of the referendum and work together, constructively, to implement the outcome in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK.
With that important commitment in mind, the Scottish Government published a paper three weeks ago which set out our expectation that following a yes vote in the referendum, Scotland would become independent by March 2016. This timetable has been referred to as “realistic” by the UK Government’s own independent legal expert, Professor James Crawford.
By March 2016, we would have agreed necessary transitional arrangements with the UK Government and we would have established a constitutional platform for independence. We also expect that Scotland’s independence would have been accepted by the international community, and that agreement would have been obtained for our continued membership of the European Union.
We are already carrying out detailed work on a number of the issues that would need to be resolved to secure that continued membership.
For example, the independent Fiscal Commission that is part of the First Minister’s Council of Economic Advisers, has already published a substantial report on the macroeconomic framework of an independent Scotland. And on Thursday, we will publish a paper on how economic and competition regulation could work in an independent Scotland. We have shared ideas and learnt from international examples in preparing this latter paper, and have been especially grateful for the co-operation of the Dutch Administration in discussing possible regulatory models.
We have also corresponded with the European Commission about Scotland’s continuing EU membership in the event of a yes vote next year. However, the Commission has made clear that it will only give a detailed opinion if presented with a “precise scenario” by an EU member state.
We consider that it is possible to prepare and publish a “precise scenario” that will provide the European Commission with the information it needs to consider Scotland’s intention to remain in the EU after independence, and we continue to call on the UK government – as existing member state – to join with us in making such a submission.
All of this work should show that the Scottish Government does not take the process of EU membership for granted. We understand that it is essential to respect the legitimacy of existing EU treaties. We also understand that our continued membership will require negotiations, and the agreement of other nations.
To secure that agreement, Scotland would make a notification of intent in autumn 2014, following a yes vote in the referendum. That notification would make it clear that we want to continue within the European Union as an independent nation.
We would then start negotiations as soon as possible.
Scotland would begin those negotiations as a nation which would be a net contributor to the EU budget, and whose people are already EU citizens.
We would begin them as a nation which already applies the body of EU law and policy and, as a devolved government, has demonstrated its capacity to transpose and implement EU legislation.
We would begin them as a nation keen to be an equal and constructive partner in the EU – recognising its benefits; participating in dialogue about its future; and contributing to its development and growth.
And we would begin them seeking to apply the principle of continuity of effect: in other words, on issues like the Euro, Schengen and the rebate, our aim would be to retain the prevailing terms of Scotland’s membership.
There is, of course, much discussion of law and process in this debate. But ultimately, the most powerful case for Scotland’s continued membership is not based on law or process – but on common sense, reality and mutual self-interest.
All of those point to the desirability of negotiations being concluded before Scotland becomes independent, so that our continued membership is a seamless process. After all, the alternative would benefit absolutely nobody.
Just think about it for a moment – if there was a gap in Scottish membership, new negotiations would be needed to allow other EU fleets to fish in Scottish waters. 150,000 EU citizens who have made Scotland their home would face uncertainty about their future status. The very founding principles of the EU would be traduced.
It would be simpler, fairer and more efficient for all nations if people in Scotland could retain the status that they overwhelmingly desire – as citizens of the European Union, and proud and constructive partners in the European family.
Ladies and gentlemen, for me, I said at the start of this speech that independence goes hand in hand with interdependence. That’s one of the reasons why for me, as for many Scots, a sense of nationalism goes together with internationalism.
Scotland is a nation which has made a big contribution to the world in the past, and we have a huge amount to offer the world in the future. We are already demonstrating that in our interactions with European partners – in our work on energy, on life sciences, on reform of the common fisheries policy and many other areas.
But I believe that we can – and will – make our biggest contribution as an independent nation, taking our own place on the world stage, and acting as equal partners with our friends across the UK, and with fellow nations in Europe and around the world.
That is why, after independence, we intend to remain part of the European family. And it is why Scottish membership of the European Union will be good for us, good for your individual nations, and good for Europe as a whole.