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09/12/13 17:51

Scotland’s place in Europe

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop
Lund University, Sweden
Monday, December 9, 2013

I am delighted to be here in Lund this afternoon to discuss Scotland’s place in the world and the constitutional journey that Scotland has embarked upon. This is my first visit to Sweden as a Scottish Government Minister and it is, I’m afraid, a fleeting one – having arrived this afternoon. I fly home this evening!

But I can promise you it won’t be my last. I am determined to ensure that Scotland deepens her links with Sweden and other Nordic countries and that this engagement is underpinned by cooperation. There is so much that we can learn from one another and in Scotland there is much interest among civic society and policy makers in the Nordic countries with their reputation for excellent public services and trust in Government and other public institutions.

Sweden has consistently been in the top 10 of the UN Human Development Index with a strong track record in the provision of childcare and environmental management - Scotland can learn a great deal from your success. But there is much we can offer too - our strong track record in energy policy, maritime affairs, research, education and tourism. The launch of the European Union’s Nordic Periphery and Arctic Programme next year under Scotland’s leadership will provide an effective platform to enable Scotland to cooperate with her Nordic near- neighbours to tackle the common challenges and opportunities experienced by northerly communities.

Scotland –Sweden Links

As part of our international framework, the Nordic countries are of particular importance to Scotland. I see many parallels between our two countries in the annals of history. Sweden entered the modern era in the late 18th century when scholars such as Carl Linnaeus, one of Lund’s most famous sons, and Emanuel Swedenborg were at the forefront of progressive European thought. At the same time, Scotland was experiencing its own Age of Enlightenment. Great men such as Adam Smith, David Hume and Robert Burns were creating their own legacies in the fields of economics, philosophy and poetry.

I believe that the legacy of progressive thought that began at the same time in our two countries can still be felt today. Let’s take the field of life sciences as an example. Linnaeus would be proud that Sweden is a world leader in a field at the cutting edge of advances in biology. He might also have been interested in Scotland’s expanding life sciences industry. It employs over 30 000 people working in 600 different companies. It is one of the seven key industries identified in the Government’s economic strategy. It makes the ethical, innovative advances that the Scottish Government wants to see in the world. Those similar historical legacies have therefore formed the basis for similar areas of economic interest.

However, Sweden means more to Scotland than joint economic interest. I feel that our countries have many shared cultural and social ties which can be traced through the historical archives. They didn’t begin when Henrik Larsson signed for Celtic in 1997! I’ll give you an example – I’m sure some of you have once wondered why Chalmers University in Gothenburg has a not-so-Swedish name. This is because it was in fact named after William Chalmers Jr., the son of a Scottish merchant, who founded the university. That was in 1829. As you can see, the shared links between Scotland and Sweden in the field of education go back over 180 years.

Moreover, these links continue today. Lund and Edinburgh are both members of the League of European Research Universities which share the values of high-quality teaching and internationally competitive research. Furthermore, we continue to welcome many Swedish exchange students (660) to our universities in Scotland just as Lund continues to invite many students through its overwhelming number (680) of exchange programmes. I just hope that our unfounded reputations as murder capitals of the world, based on the Wallander novels by Henning Mankell and Rebus novels by Ian Rankin, don’t deter future students from coming to study at our universities!

The White Paper and the Road to independence

I am mindful of the history of political cooperation that has been forged in this region. The Nordic Council ensures that Scandinavia is one of the most politically, socially and economically integrated regions in the world. The Oresund Bridge, which I crossed today, is an example of this integration. Taking the Danish word Øresunds and the Swedish word Bron as its official name, the bridge is a symbol of what can happen when countries work together.

I am pleased to see that this culture of cooperation has been extended to the Baltic countries in recent years with the formation of the Nordic Baltic Eight – Scotland is keen to deepen engagement with the Baltic countries too given their expertise in digital and creative industries.

This brings me to a key point: devolution and the forthcoming referendum on independence have only been possible because we have worked together with the UK Government. I’d like to tell you a little more about how we have arrived at this critical point in our constitutional history and why in my view independence does not mean separation from the rest of the UK or the European Union but rather Scotland taking its rightful place as independent member of the international community.

From Devolution to Independence

First, let me outline the constitutional set up in Scotland at present. Our own national parliament in Edinburgh was reconvened in 1999 after an adjournment of almost 300 years. It has extensive powers over education, health, justice and much more besides. However key decisions that affect our future - on economic policy, defence, foreign affairs and welfare - are taken, not by the people of Scotland, but by the UK Government in London.

Since 1999, successive Scottish Parliaments have legislated for progressive purposes. Legislation that has produced policies that I’d describe generally as consistent with the Social Democratic ethos that underpins and informs politics and political discourse in Scotland. Let me give some examples.

The first Scottish Parliament introduced world leading homelessness legislation. The second Parliament took bold action to tackle Scotland’s health inequalities through a ban on smoking in public places. The third Parliament, reintroduced free university tuition and I was the Minister who took through this legislation. That means that students from across the EU, including Sweden, are not required to pay tuition fees when attending a Scottish University.

And the current Parliament will see world leading action to tackle Scotland’s relationship with alcohol, and legislate to expand and transform early years’ education and care.

All of these successes have been achieved under devolution; we believe so much more could be achieved as an independent nation.

Not least independence will ensure that future Scottish Governments will be able to legislate policies that ensure we can build the type of prosperous, inclusive and fairer society that the overwhelming majority of Scots want. I believe the political centre of gravity in England – on welfare policy, on health policy, on economic policy and on EU policy – has shifted to such an extent that the achievements of the post-war British “welfare state” are now in jeopardy. In areas such as the provision of health services, the provision of social welfare and care for our elderly I firmly believe Scotland wishes to pursue a different strategy – one that protects universal access to those services of greatest importance to our vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens.

Why Independence?

This brings me to the core purpose of independence – which is to make Scotland more successful and to improve the lives of people who live in Scotland. The key difference would be that all decisions for Scotland would be taken by a Scottish Parliament and a Scottish Government, and in Scotland’s interests.

With independence the Scottish Government will have access to the full range of fiscal policy levers necessary to ensure our economy can, and will, exploit its economic potential to the full. Independence will also enable the Scottish Government to put in place a modern welfare system that protects the weak and vulnerable in our society, and ensures our citizens are not subjected to the unacceptable and socially corrosive approach to welfare reform being pursued by the current UK Government. For instance an independent Scottish Government will be able fundamentally to overhaul child care provision to allow many more women to participate in the labour force.

Before I turn to some of the key advantages of independence on the European and international stage, I want to highlight the democratic deficit that independence will address. For 26 of the 44 years between 1970 and 2014, Scotland will have had Conservative-led governments in London that we didn’t vote for. That is simply no longer democratically acceptable.

Today, Scotland has no formal voice on the international stage. Instead, we are represented by a Westminster government that we often have not voted for and that has based its actions on very different international priorities. We see that most clearly in matters of war and peace and in our relationship with the European Union.

I want to stress that independence is not separation. Independence will mean strong, new relationships between Scotland and the rest of the UK and with other members of the European Union. It will also mean Scotland taking its place amongst the other independent nations of the world, at the United Nations and through strengthened and deepened bilateral links. As a good global citizen, Scotland will be able to choose its own aims, its own partnerships and its own priorities, working alongside like-minded countries to secure Scotland’s national interests.

An independent Scotland would be able to choose to work on global issues that matter to the people of Scotland and to promote the values that are important to us. For example, by promoting climate justice, where Scotland will have a unique opportunity to build on its leading role in this ground-breaking area which links climate change, development and human rights.

Before we get to that point, however, we will have a referendum – a referendum that will deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of the people of Scotland.

Two weeks ago the Scottish Government published a prospectus for an independent Scotland - 'Scotland's Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland' - the first Scottish Government publication to top Amazon's free non-fiction bestseller list!

That prospectus sets out the case for independence in considerable detail and answers many of the questions ordinary citizens have about the implications for them of Scotland becoming an independent country.

The referendum

The paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ is intended to inform the debate ahead of the referendum that will take place on the 18th September next year at which the Scottish electorate will be asked to vote on the question: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes/No’

The constitutional “authority” for the referendum was provided by the Edinburgh Agreement, signed on 15 October 2012 between the UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond. It sets the framework for the referendum and confirmed that the rules and procedures would be determined by the Scottish Parliament.

Paragraph 30 of the agreement confirms that the two governments will work together in light of the outcome of the referendum.

It is very important that our friends in other countries – and particularly EU partners – understand that should a majority of voters vote for independence in next year’s referendum this decision will be fully consistent with UK constitutional practice, endorsed as it is by the British Parliament and Government.

EU Membership

Scotland has been part of the European Union for 40 years and is strongly committed to continuing membership within the EU as an independent Member State.

We believe that the EU provides the best international economic framework within which to optimize the economic and social gains from independence and to tackle the global challenges we, and other countries, face.

Membership of the EU provides Scottish businesses with access to the single market with a population of 500 million citizens, making it one of the largest single markets in the world. Around 20 million businesses operate in the EU single market, supplying goods and services to consumers and businesses both in the EU and on the global market.

We also benefit from the inclusive nature of the EU and its people. Today approximately 160,000 workers and students have chosen to come to Scotland from Germany, Poland, Ireland, Holland, France, and of course from Sweden.

We also contribute a lot to Europe. Key economic sectors in Scotland matter to Europe and provide opportunities for Europeans to live, work and train in Scotland.

Scotland provides access to world class research and education facilities which are accessible to EU citizens. The free movement of workers ensures that Scottish employers are able to find the people with the right skills for the right jobs.

We share the long-term objectives set out by the European Commission in its Europe 2020 growth strategy, focused as it is on creating the conditions for delivering growth that is smarter, more sustainable and more inclusive.

Process on continued membership

Now there has been a lot of debate on ‘how’ Scotland would continue its membership and I want to say something about the process by which we would seek to ensure our continuing membership.

Following a vote for independence the Scottish Government would immediately enter into negotiations with the UK Government and other EU Member States, through the European Council, to ensure that an independent Scotland achieves a smooth and timely transition to membership of the EU.

The 18-month period between the referendum and the date of independence provides sufficient time for the terms of Scotland’s membership of the EU to be agreed.

This is a view that is backed by a number of international experts, including the UK’s own academic legal advisor, James Crawford.

Indeed I note that the detailed negotiations surrounding Sweden’s accession to the EU back in 1995 took a mere 13 months to complete – a time frame that reflected the fact that before membership Sweden already adhered to much EU internal market legislation because of its existing membership of the European Economic Area. Self-evidently Scotland will enter EU negotiations from an even stronger position in that respect.

The Scottish Government will approach EU membership negotiations operating on the principle of ‘continuity of effect’: that is a transition to independent membership that is based on the EU Treaty obligations and provisions that currently apply to Scotland under its present status as part of the UK, and without disruption to Scotland’s current fully integrated standing within the legal, economic, institutional, political and social framework of the EU.

As we set out in detail in our paper ‘Scotland’s Future’, an independent Scotland will retain sterling as her currency and will remain inside the UK and Ireland-wide Common Travel Area. We regard both of these positions as consistent with Scotland’s economic and social priorities and not incompatible with fulfilling our wider obligations as independent members of the European Union.

There is much discussion of law and process in the debate. Ultimately, the most powerful case for Scotland’s continued membership is not based on law or process – but on common sense, reality and mutual self-interest.

What kind of Member State would Scotland be?

As an independent member of the EU, Scotland – with a population of 5 million – will take its place as one of what is now a majority of comparably sized countries. This would ensure Scotland’s citizens had direct representation in the EU legislative and policy processes at every level – a situation that would be undeniably superior to the current situation.

And it is not only that Scotland presently has no direct voice in EU affairs. Presently there is a significant debate in the UK concerning the UK’s future inside the EU. If the Conservative Party wins the 2015 UK general election we know there will be a referendum on UK membership in 2017, by which time David Cameron has promised he will have re-negotiated Britain’s terms of EU membership – albeit no details of what he is seeking are available far less the prospect of a future UK Government achieving its aims. Given the rise of Euro-scepticism across the UK – and this is by far most pronounced in England rather than in Scotland – I believe there is a risk of the UK exiting the EU by the end of this decade. And, I believe, not only would this be opposed by the majority of Scots, it would deal a major blow to our economic and social prospects. Independence will therefore end the uncertainty about Scotland’s future inside the EU.

It is important to stress that as an independent member state, Scotland would engage constructively with other member states in tackling the challenges we all face. This includes challenges at the economic level, challenges at the level of the democratic legitimacy of the EU, and the significant societal challenges that confront all EU member states.

The financial and economic crises that began in 2008 and which has led to deeply unpopular measures being implemented at EU level have triggered debates across the EU about its future direction and governance and, more immediately, the reforms that are necessary in the short-term to assist the EU economic recovery. As I noted earlier the Scottish Government endorses the Europe 2020 strategy, and will play a full and supportive role in ensuring its success.

There is at this time, not unnaturally, a concern that the EU is moving increasingly towards a two-speed architecture with a core Eurozone group of countries charting a course for ever deeper economic and political integration and a non-Eurozone outer group that will find itself becoming detached from crucial decisions on matters relating to the internal market. Clearly it is important for the non-Eurozone countries that any such shift does not compromise the underlying principle of a “single” European market to which all member states have equal access and in which all have equal legislative authority.

Doubtless one of the greatest challenges all member states confront is to restore confidence in the democratic credentials of the EU. There are concerns across the EU that “Brussels” has become too powerful at the expense of national governments and parliaments, and that EU rules and regulations are either unnecessary or impose disproportionate burdens on our industries – especially Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. Here I think we, as politicians, have work to do. Equally it is important that the institutions of the EU do only legislate where there is clear value-added from common measures.

Although we disagree with the political rationale for the UK Government’s balance of competencies review, we are participating as requested. But we will use the findings constructively for the European Reform agenda happening within the EU.

However – and I would stress this point – where we do form a view that reform in particular policy areas is required, we would expect any such revisions to be achieved within the orthodox “Community method” of collective policy making utilising the mechanisms that already exist within the EU treaties.

Finally an independent Scotland will be well placed to contribute to tackling the global challenges we all face at this time. These include climate change - where we already have very ambitious emissions reduction targets and a commitment to source 100% of our electricity consumption from renewables by 2020. Other challenges include delivering healthy ageing, energy security and enhanced competitiveness in global markets. As you will know, Scotland boasts some of the world’s leading research universities research centres who are making major contributions to addressing many aspects of these challenges.

Conclusion

Ladies and Gentlemen as I have explained this evening, Scotland has already come a long way in her constitutional journey and there is further still to go.

Whilst I am clear that Scotland could do so much more as an independent nation, whatever transpires next year in our referendum, international engagement will remain key to realising our ambition of increasing sustainable economic growth.

The Nordic countries will remain a major priority given our shared links. Our engagement with countries like Sweden will also be steered by our desire to remain an open and innovative country. A country keen to look beyond our shores, keen to work with other nations on an equal basis to tackle the pressing challenges of the future, a nation keen to learn from others but also to share our knowledge with others. Cooperation will be the cornerstone of our engagement with the wider world.

My sincere thanks for welcoming me to Lund University this afternoon.