Independence is the lifeboat we need to save us from being sunk by Brexit

PROBABLY today, we will see Theresa May commence the triggering of Article 50. This unprecedented action will begin the countdown on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the culmination of years of nagging and low-level rebellion by – primarily – Tory backbenchers.

The National

First published in The National, 29 March 2017

The UK has no plan. It’s about to take a leap into the unknown for the worst of reasons, dragging Scotland along with it against our will. I honestly do not know how I’ll feel, but I write this with a keen sense of dread and sadness.

We don’t know what is in Scotland’s future, nor the UK’s, nor indeed the EU’s. But I am damn sure that we can do better than this. I am confident that an independent Scotland would be welcome in the EU and so that has to be our starting point.

The people of Scotland deserve a proper choice between the reality of hard Brexit and the reality of independence in Europe.  The independence proposition will be laid out in due course and there will be a clear proposal. This will give the people of Scotland a choice to follow a path that is different to that offered by Brexit Britain.

 This future won’t be inspired by some notion of Scottish exceptionalism, but rather by facts and the hard work Scotland as a whole has been putting in since the EU Referendum campaign. Maybe even before, when the Scottish Government declared that yes, EU nationals resident in Scotland would have a vote in the 2014 IndyRef.

The actions of the Scottish Government, along with the outpouring of solidarity from ordinary Scots towards our European neighbours, has emphasised that Scotland is serious about Europe. We live in heavily-politicised times, where rallies and marches have moved back into the mainstream. It’s difficult to claim that people don’t care about an issue when there are marches going down the high street.

Absolute credit to the groups who organised the various Marches for Europe last weekend, commemorating the Treaty of Rome’s 60th anniversary. The Treaty, signed in 1957, marked the beginning of the journey to build the EU that we know today, establishing the European Economic Community and bringing Europe closer together to rebuild after the Second World War.

Make no mistake, the EU is the greatest war-avoidance mechanism ever invented, keeping governments locked into cycles of negotiation and diplomacy instead of rolling out tanks. In the words of John Hume, the great Irish peace builder: the EU is “the best war avoidance mechanism ever invented”. I saw the pictures from Edinburgh’s march, 1500 folk with flags and prams and grins, and knew that all across Europe, similar marches were taking place.

I was in Rome and I can tell you, the Prime Minister doesn’t know what she is missing out on. It’s difficult not to feel a lump in your throat when you declare “Scotland stands with Europe; remember to stand with us” and a great roar of “Scotland!” comes back at you in a dozen different tongues.

Meanwhile, the heads of state for the other 27 EU nations were reflecting on the EU’s achievements, but this was no navel-gazing exercise. The Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentolini noted that the EU had failed to respond adequately to the 2008 economic crash and in doing so “triggered a crisis of rejection.”

While more and more folk are looking at Brexit and realising Scottish independence is the lifeboat we need, our European friends see Scotland as a good news story for Europe. It’s time to increase the Scottish charm offensive.

Scotland can begin to manoeuvre into the space the UK is hell bent on vacating. That starts with rejecting the Eurosceptic media and power-players who have vested interests in destabilising the world’s pre-eminent soft-power entity. Forget the smoke and mirrors they’re trying to use - immigration has been good for Scotland, with EU citizens contributing £55 per second to the UK public purse. We did our own research in the 2014 independence referendum, we can do it again now.

Imagine the possibilities for an independent Scotland in the EU. On the business and economic side, we have a tremendous skills base, the business infrastructure, and the capability to provide a gateway to the EU. Instead of relocating from London to, say, Dublin or Paris, businesses could come here.

Think of the world-class research teams our universities would have, and the new Scottish Renaissance we could build. Our kids studying abroad with Erasmus, our communities at home strengthening and growing, and an independent Scotland, proud and equal on the global stage.

Blaming Brussels for everything is a coward’s game. Instead, we have this golden opportunity to show the EU that Scotland means business. Malta currently has the EU Presidency, with their population of around 430,000. Imagine what a 5 million-strong Scotland could achieve. Staring down the barrel of article 50 we must now start to work together to mitigate its impact. The Scottish Government will continue to engage with the UK to stand up for Scotland, as will our MPs in Westminster but to me it is obvious: the best way to mitigate Brexit Britain’s impact is to leave it.