“Good news for Democracy, good news for Europe”
Monday 8 September, 09:45 – 12:00, CEPS, Place du Congrès 1,1000 Brussels
Ladies, Gentlemen, I’d like to thank the Centre for European Policy Studies for hosting this very timely event, and giving me the chance to take a few hours out of Scotland, away from campaigning, to come explain to a Brussels audience what is happening in Scotland.
And be in no doubt. Scotland is a good news story about faith in democracy, faith in community and indeed faith in the European ideal.
It is also really exciting!
The latest poll published in Herald on Sunday has the Yes side in the majority, just (51% YES 49% NO). We have some time yet to get to 18 September but this is putting Scotland on the map.
Today I’ll explain how Scotland is a unique set of circumstances and ambitions that brought us to here, and I'll explain the "Why" of independence.
Why are we doing this?
I’m not motivated by flags, history, languages or anthems, important as they are, we have all those now.
The "Why" is answered by the simple fact that:
the people who care most about Scotland,
the people best placed to make decisions about Scotland and
the people best placed to represent Scotland in the world, are the people who live there.
And that we could do better making our own choices than we will achieve being a minority at Westminster.
And note, I say the people who live in Scotland, another thing entirely peripheral in the debate is any concept of national or linguistic identity.
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. How Scottish they feel is a matter for them, as far as I, the government and law of Scotland is concerned they are part of our present and indeed future, and welcome. Equally, my own family living in San Francisco and the Middle East do not live in Scotland, so do not have a vote. Anyone who lives in Scotland is Scottish, we're the European ideal in action.
The situation is dynamic, energising and like nothing I have ever seen. An inclusive democratic revolution. At a time when politics, politicians and government in all its forms is held in something little better than contempt, we have in Scotland created the conditions for a remarkable flourishing of civic participation, excitement, and an energising sense of possibility.
We’ll see how high turnout will be, but I personally would be amazed if it is below 80%. People are talking about this in the clubs, cafes, churches and streets the length and breadth of Scotland.
It is an energising discussion not about nationalism but democracy, about where in our multilateral interconnected world power should lie. In a world where borders matter less, power matters more. The power to make our own decisions and speak for ourselves.
And this desire has not come from nowhere overnight, it has been building for years. I’ve been privileged to represent Scotland as an MEP since 2004, and as MEP represent all of Scotland, from the islands in the Far North to the West Atlantic, to the English border, our only land border with any other country.
And there is another Scottish specific. We have a very distinct and long established mental map of our country. Our borders have not changed in nearly 500 years - forgive me, there’s not many of you can say that! Since Scotland’s foundation we have been independent for over 500 years longer than we have been a part of the UK, albeit that is the most recent 300 years.
History is only so important, but it has brought us where we are. The point being that nobody disputes we have the right to make this choice and have what it takes to be a success. This is an agreed constitutional process grounded, utterly, in law and democracy.
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, heading to be the most unequal in developed world, according to Oxfam. Where I’m from, in Glasgow, has one of the worst life expectancies in the developed world. In a rich country. Scotland could be different and Westminster has had 300 years to prove we're better together. The status quo is not working, for us.
We have considerable energy reserves, and glittering renewable assets. We are on course to generate an equivalent of 100% of our electricity needs from renewables by 2020, and there’s plenty more where that came from. We also have oil, gas, financial services, whisky, biotech, the industries of the future.
The question is not could we be independent, we have the right and we have the resources. It is should we.
I believe Scotland is indeed sufficiently distinct to merit independent representation. Since the re-establishment of our national Parliament in Edinburgh in 1999 a mere 15 years ago, 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, as opposed to Westminster, have been significant in building the case for completing the process. We have done well with the limited powers we have, why not finish that job?
But it is not just about domestic matters.
We will be a different actor in the world and a different partner in the EU, because a country of 5 and a half million people has a different sense of itself, and 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.
All countries which by any measure excel. In international law, egalitarianism, social democracy, and indeed happiness. I want to see a Scotland that acts more like them, not as a carbon copy but as a better sort of Scotland. A European Scotland.
We have already committed that an independent Scotland will have a written constitution. I appreciate that doesn’t sound unusual to your continental ears, but it really is a revolutionary idea in the UK. We 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.
And turning to the EU, ECHR and Council of Europe, where I say we will be a different player, really, you’ll notice a big difference!
The UK government is hurtling towards the EU exit door, and unless something massive alters the direction of travel I think Brexit is a realistic hypothesis. The UK government has also systematically misrepresented and denigrated Human Rights, and I think that assault on decency will continue and accelerate. All the sadder given the noble role so many English and UK lawyers played in drawing up the Convention in the first place. 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.
Scotland will be a reasonable, constructive player. We will of course promote our interests, but we will be as keen to seek allies and partnership.
Our proposals on continued EU membership, as outlined in the White Paper, are reasoned, respectful and based entirely on law, democracy, pragmatism and mutual self interest.
Our situation is unprecedented, but it is worth stressing again, this is an agreed constitutional process.
The Scottish and UK governments have already signed the Edinburgh Agreement, promising to respect and implement the decision. An agreed outcome will be worked out, and we will of course keep the EU institutions, and member states, current with those discussions.
There is not one article or provision in EU primary or secondary law that fully covers our situation because remember, we are already to use a Scottish phrase, in with the EU Bricks. We wish to remain part of the EU (and I'm not sure you can say that for everywhere else in the UK!), 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. Given the extent of devolution already within the UK, we are already integrated, independently, into the structural, fisheries, agricultural and other budgets. We are represented, as Scotland, in the European Parliament by MEPs, in ECOSOC and the Committee of the Regions.
We will need to negotiate to remain and there are things to work out. But these are points of detail, not principle.
But it is actually impossible, short of a simply incredible suspension of Scotland from the basic law, for us to leave. Any hypothetical exit would be just as negotiated as remaining. So a solution will be found.
It is reasonable to consider the founding values of the EU, the desires of the parties and the reasonableness of our case.
There are, of course, things to discuss, but with goodwill and good faith we will find a way through these points of detail, not principle. Brussels is good at that.
So this is a good news story about faith in ourselves, faith in democracy and faith in Europe. We will be a voice for peace, and international law. We will be a constructive European state.
It is overwhelmingly in the mutual self interest of Scotland, the UK, the EU and each and every member state to see us move, as part of an agreed, consented and negotiated settlement, from being a region of the UK to a member state in our own right.
I do not discount any hypothetical possibility. I refuse to believe any true European, or any true democrat would find cause to stand in our way.
This is exciting.
If you want to top up your faith in democracy come visit Scotland, you’ll be very welcome.