Photo: Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the European Policy Centre in Brussels on 10 February. Source: The Minister’s twitter account. - Photo: 2020

Looking Forward to Scotland’s Return to EU Membership

Viewpoint by Nicola Sturgeon

The following are extensive excerpts from the address of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the European Policy Centre, a leading Brussels-based think tank, on February 10. She was in Brussels for a series of engagements to make Scotland’s voice heard in Europe.

BRUSSELS (IDN) – This is the first time I have been here – or indeed anywhere outside Scotland – since the UK left the European Union ten days ago.

Brexit was a sad matter for me, and for many people in Scotland and indeed across the UK.

I’m going to set out briefly the ongoing regret the Scottish Government feels over Brexit. I will then explain some of the ways in which the Scottish Government will respond to Brexit. And in doing that I will make clear our desire to return to the European parliament as an independent nation, comfortable – as EU members have to be – with the idea that independence, in the modern world, involves recognising and embracing our interdependence.

As you know very well, 62 percent of voters in Scotland chose to stay in the EU in 2016. Subsequent opinion polls suggest that pro-EU sentiment has grown since then.

And Scotland’s desire to stay has also been reaffirmed by three subsequent nationwide elections – in December, for example, parties in favour of remaining in the EU, or holding a further referendum, gained almost three-quarters of the vote.

So pro-European sentiment has very deep and very strong roots in Scotland. The basic principle behind the EU – of independent nations working together for a common good – is one which appeals to many people in Scotland.

We also recognise the solidarity the EU offers to smaller member states – people in Scotland have seen, and will I suspect long remember, the support the EU has given to Ireland throughout the first stage of the Brexit process. In addition, Scotland has day to day experience of the practical benefits of EU membership.

EU regulations have made our rivers and coasts cleaner. Our universities collaborate with research partners across the continent. EU freedom of movement has given opportunities to people living in Scotland and has encouraged new Scots to contribute to our economy and our society. One of our priorities, at present, is to support those EU citizens to stay in Scotland.

In an age when intolerance and bigotry seem to be on the rise, the values of the EU – values of democracy, equality, solidarity, the rule of law and respect for human rights – are more important than ever.

The founding motivation of the EU, as a peace project, is one which is maybe too easily forgotten in the UK. But its importance has struck me regularly in recent years at memorial events for the two world wars – most recently, just a matter of days ago, for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

At a time of climate crisis, cooperating with the EU improves our ability to tackle climate change at home, and amplifies our voice in international negotiations.

And in an age of great trading blocks, the EU represents our best opportunity to benefit from free trade, without engaging in a race to the bottom.

All of this is important. It helps to explain why Scotland regrets Brexit, and why so many of us continue to feel European. But, of course, the real question isn’t what we have lost … it’s what happens next. What practical steps can Scotland take to mitigate the effects of the UK Government’s actions in bringing about Brexit?

And there are essentially two parts to that answer.

Firstly, for as long as Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom, we will try to influence UK government policy, and where possible, to work constructively with the UK government.

In doing so, we will try to influence negotiations in a way which benefit Scotland, the UK and the EU. In particular, we will stress the value of having as close a trading relationship with the EU as possible.

And so we are also looking to what we can do with our devolved powers, to maintain the closest possible ties with the EU.

We intend to introduce legislation which enables Scotland to keep pace with EU regulatory standards, where we have the power to do so. It is a way in which we can protect the health and wellbeing of people in Scotland, maintain the international reputation of businesses in Scotland, and make it easier, when the time comes, as I believe it will, for Scotland to return to the EU.

And we will also – and this is the second part of our approach – work towards the most obvious and important step Scotland can take in response to Brexit. We will seek to become independent, and we will then seek to re-establish our EU membership.

The case for us being able to seek independence is clear.

As most of you know, Scotland six years ago had a vote on whether to become an independent country. Opponents of independence said – repeatedly – that voting to remain in the United Kingdom, was the only way for us to stay in the EU. That argument weighed heavily with many voters.

Since then, Scotland has been taken out of the EU against our will.

The UK government dismissed the Scottish government’s compromise offer of keeping the whole of the UK inside the Single Market and Customs Union.

And the UK’s overall approach to Brexit has consistently been contrary to Scotland’s views, values and interests.

Strong support for the EU is one of the main reasons that the party I lead did so well in the recent UK election, in which we won 80 percent of the seats in Scotland.

But we also put front and centre in that election the right of the people of Scotland to choose their own future – between staying in the UK after Brexit and becoming an independent country.

Since that election, opinion polls in Scotland have shown majority support for independence. And there are large majorities for the principle that it should be for the Scottish Parliament – and not the Westminster Government – to determine whether and when there should be a referendum.

I am a believer in democracy, in the rule of law, in the power of respectful persuasion and deliberation.

That is why I continue to believe that – as we press the case for Scotland’s right to choose – we should agree a process between ourselves and the UK government for a referendum, in line with the clear mandate given by the people of Scotland.

None of this should be a matter for controversy with the UK government. The UK is not a unitary state. It is a voluntary union of nations. And one of those nations, Scotland, has expressed majority support – time and time again – for remaining in the European Union.

I do not believe it is right that more than five million EU citizens should be removed from the European Union, after 47 years of membership, without even the chance to have their say on the future of their country.

That is why we are taking the steps required to ensure that an independence referendum can be held that is beyond legal challenge – so that the result is accepted and embraced both at home and internationally.

We are asking the Electoral Commission, the independent body that oversees elections in the UK, to test again the question used in 2014 – the question that would be used in a referendum.

We are inviting Scotland’s elected representatives – MPs, MSPs, council leaders and recent MEPs – to establish a new Constitutional Convention, to broaden support for the principle of Scotland’s right to choose.

And we will publish a series of papers – the “New Scotland” papers – giving people the information they need to make informed choices about Scotland’s future.

Those papers will include our plans for membership of the EU. We are keen to outline a clear route to re-accession; to show that that we understand what EU membership requires; and to demonstrate that we have much to offer. Some of that should be relatively straightforward.

Scotland already complies with the European Union’s acquis – its body of laws, obligations and rights … [and] we are passing legislation to ensure that that continues to be the case where practically possible. We welcome free movement, because we know how much we benefit from it.

And I hope that our overall approach as a constructive friend and partner to the EU is not in doubt.

Of course, Brexit has changed the context of the choice we intend to offer the people of Scotland, compared with the 2014 referendum. But fundamentally there is a choice – do we in Scotland believe it is better for our future, or not, to be part of the world’s largest trading bloc and the shared values, and benefits, of European Union membership?

Ultimately, when – and I believe that it is a when – Scotland gains independence, I believe that the case for us joining the EU will be an overwhelming one.

Apart from anything else, we will re-join, not simply as a country with much to gain, but as one which has much to contribute.

That is made clear by the strategy document we published two weeks ago, setting out Scotland’s perspective on the key policy priorities for the EU set out by Ursula von der Leyen – the new [European] Commission President.

Her support for an economy that works for everyone finds direct echoes in Scotland – a country which is increasingly focussing on well-being, alongside wealth, as a measurement of success.

Her emphasis on a Europe fit for the digital age is one we strongly support – Scotland is becoming one of the most important tech centres in Europe.

Her desire for a Green New Deal is one we share – Scotland has some of the strongest statutory climate change targets in the world. We want to help lead the world into the net-zero carbon age – and we know our efforts are enhanced by membership of the EU.

The Commission’s other priorities also speak of our shared values.

In all of these issues, Scotland is a country which can and will make a difference – we will lead by example where we can, but we will also learn from the example of others. But we know we will do this more effectively by working in partnership. I believe very strongly that our sovereignty will be amplified, not diminished, by membership of the EU.

Our task now is … to find our voice as an independent nation, and to take our place on the European and the world stage.

When we do that, we will speak up, together with our friends in Europe and around the world, for democracy, equality and human rights. We will contribute hugely to tackling challenges such as the climate crisis. And we will work in partnership to enhance the well-being of people in Scotland, across Europe and around the world.

For all of those reasons, and many more, I look forward to the day when Scotland returns where we belong – to EU membership with a place in our own right in the Council and the European Parliament. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 February 2020]

Photo: Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the European Policy Centre in Brussels on 10 February. Source: The Minister’s twitter account.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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