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Where there’s a will, surely there’s a way for us to stay in the EU

"I very much appreciated the message of your First Minister to EU citizens in Scotland, as did my daughter studying at Glasgow university. Let me know how I can help Scotland.”

This a text message from a senior EU official, and the moment my own mood changed. The scale of last Thursday’s events has barely sunk in. Across the continent people are stunned, sad, horrified.


First published in The National, 28 June 2016

The people I serve want to remain in the EU. The people of the UK, by a small margin, want to leave. Where our 2014 vote was a missed possibility, a route not travelled, this is an actual sense of loss, a sense of losing something we wanted to keep.

The campaign was awful. The Leave side lied and lied and lied and lied, with a straight face and a confident delivery. For those of us trying to counter it, it was like trying to pin down a cloud of fog. The £350 million figure, plastered all over a bus and promised to the NHS, disowned within hours of the vote. They have poisoned the well of democracy – no wonder people don’t respect politicians. It was all just banter! You weren’t meant to take it seriously!

Well it is serious enough now. What is obvious is that not only did they not expect to win, they didn’t actually want to win. There is no plan – they expect someone else to come up with that. And they have unleashed all sorts of dark forces: winding people up about immigration was always going to end badly. 

We now live in a UK where people wear T-shirts saying “We won, now send them back” and reports of hate crimes are coming in by the hour. I hope above all else that Scotland remains welcoming and inclusive, there’s a lot of anxious people out there – be vocal, reassure them.

These are serious times, and we can be thankful we have a serious government in Scotland. We will work flat out to secure the best interests of the country. For my part, I was elected to do a job, and until such time as I can’t, I will work for Scotland.

Our position has been principled and pragmatic from the start. We didn’t see the need for a referendum. We proposed a double majority of the home nations and the UK as a whole. We proposed including EU nationals in the vote. 

We proposed lowering the voting age to 16. All these things were refused by a self-absorbed Tory party that was too busy thinking of its own problems to consider the national interest, and as they and the rest of Westminster descend into nihilism and farce it will be all the more important for us to work flat out.

It will now move fast. The idea that the UK can have a languid few months to consider what it wants to do will be knocked out of it soon enough. I have already heard the view that “notify” can be taken to mean the verbal report Cameron will give the Council today and the countdown starts. 

Cameron has zero goodwill in the bank, and he’s already yesterday’s man. He is not in charge. The two-day summit will have 28 member states today; tomorrow the other 27 will meet, minus us, about us.

So we need to salvage as much as we can from this booroch, and Scotland must be directly in the talks. For now I’m talking about EU status, not membership, because membership is specific and defined; status is more fluid and lets us have more of a conversation. 

There are dozens of places around the EU that have distinct status from their member states: the Åland Islands, the Faroes, the Azores and others. 

Few of them are examples we would want to follow but we will have all options on the table. There is a willingness to listen in Brussels, and an awareness that Scotland voted to stay. There are other options, and Brussels is good at coming up with solutions and compromises, if the goodwill exists. For Scotland, it does exist.