Good news for democracy, good news for Europe

The EU, ECHR and Council of Europe, will notice a big and positive difference

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Published in New Europe, September 10th 2014

The referendum in Scotland is good news story for democracy, community and indeed faith in the European ideal. The latest poll has shown that the Yes side is in the majority and that all the momentum is with Yes.

A number of quarters in Europe are of course starting to ask why Scotland wants independence. The reason is actually very simple: the people who care the most about Scotland, should be the people who make the decisions about Scotland, that’s the people who live here.

This about the people who live in Scotland and any concept of national or linguistic identity has been entirely irrelevant to the debate. I can say from the bottom of my heart that as far as I am concerned anyone who lives in Scotland is Scottish. We have around 160,000 EU nationals living in Scotland, all of whom have a vote and rightly so.

The situation in Scotland is dynamic, energising and like nothing I have ever seen. At a time when politics, politicians and government in all their forms have been held in something little better than contempt, we have in Scotland created the conditions for a remarkable flourishing of civic participation. It remains to be seen how high the turnout will be, but I personally would be amazed if it is below 80%.

Scotland, independent, has a GDP per head higher than France and will use that wealth to support our population. Yet we are presently a rich country within a state that is already the fourth most unequal in the world. Where I’m from, in Glasgow, has one of the worst life expectancies in the developed world. Scotland could be different and Westminster has had 300 years to prove we're better together. The status quo is not working and Scotland is sufficiently distinct to merit independent representation.

Since the re-establishment of our national Parliament in Edinburgh in 1999, Scotland’s politicians have made different decisions to those we have seen elsewhere in the UK. The integrity and credibility of the Parliament and government in Edinburgh have been significant in building the case for completing the process. What happens in September will be the next step in a journey that began a long time ago.

Scotland will be a different actor in the world and a different partner in the EU, because a country of 5.5 million people has a different sense of itself, and of its place in the world, than larger countries.

Look at our near abroad, as well as our friends and neighbours in the UK, we have Ireland within sight of our Western shore, Iceland to the North, Norway, Sweden and Denmark to our West.

I want to see a Scotland that acts more like them, not exactly like them, but as a better sort of Scotland: a European Scotland. An independent Scotland will be a reasonable, constructive player in international affairs. We will of course promote our interests, but we will be as keen to seek allies and partnership.

Scotland will seek to remain within the NATO alliance, but we will be an avowedly non-nuclear member of it, where presently the entirety of the UK nuclear arsenal is based in Scotland. Our proposals on continued EU membership were laid out in the Scottish Government’s White Paper and are reasoned, respectful and based entirely on law, democracy, pragmatism and mutual self interest.

The EU, ECHR and Council of Europe, will notice a big and positive difference in policy from an independent Scotland.

The UK government is hurtling towards the EU exit door, and unless there is a dramatic change I think a Brexit is a realistic hypothesis. The UK government has systematically misrepresented and denigrated Human Rights, and I think that assault on decency will continue and accelerate. 

This is all the sadder given the noble role so many English and UK lawyers played in drawing up the Convention. I'll let the UK government speak for its own actions but what is clear is that the people of Scotland want to make our own decisions on how we interact with the rest of Europe.

Our situation is unprecedented and is an agreed constitutional process. There is not one article or provision in EU primary or secondary law that fully covers our situation. 

We wish to remain part of the EU, safeguarding the rights of the 160,000 EU nationals in Scotland I mentioned earlier, as well as all of our citizens living across the rest of the EU. We have been part of the EU for 40 years. We are already a distinct legal jurisdiction within the EU. We will need to negotiate to remain and there are things to work out. But these are points of detail, not principle.

Scotland in Europe will be a voice for peace, and international law. We will be a constructive European state. These are exciting times and If you want to top up your faith in democracy come and visit Scotland, you’ll be very welcome.