Scotland's place in Europe
Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland's Place in Europe, Michael Russell speech at Europa Institute, University of Zurich
Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
Can I start by saying what a great pleasure it is to be here tonight, in such a distinguished University and Institute and in such a renowned city. I hope tonight to be able to convey some modest wisdom from Scotland; but I also hope to learn from a country with not only considerable experience of referenda however troublesome they might be, but also a strong attachment to pursuing with determination what the evidence tells you is right.
And, let me thank Professor Ambühl for that warm welcome and also the Europa Institute for inviting me to speak about Scotland’s place in Europe.
And at the outset let me leave you in no doubt. Scotland not only has a place in Europe, it wishes to expand and develop that place. Scotland voted decisively in the UK referendum of June 2016 to remain in the EU (by 62 % to 38%) and opinion polls indicate that there is an even bigger majority for that position now.
The question that we address - and which it is my job in the Scottish Government working directly for Nicola Sturgeon our First Minister to address - is how we can do just that- expand and develop our place in Europe.
Let me start with historical background. Like any nation, Scotland has its long and rich history. The lessons are woven into our story – they inform and adapt our sense of who we are, this defines our ambitions for our future. And our history is one of connectedness. It is a European history.
It is also in significant part an independent history. Our independence was finally secured through the military and diplomatic achievements of Robert the Bruce 700 years ago and the nature of that independence and of our kingship was underpinned by an appeal to Europe - to the Pope- in the famous “Declaration of Arbroath” of 1320 which some believe influenced the American Declaration of Independence.
Thereafter, apart from a brief period of incorporation into the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, Scotland was an independent country until the Treaty of Union of 1707 entered into voluntarily by the independent kingdoms of Scotland and England. Important to this Union however, was the preservation of Scottish institutions, most notably including the law – a separate legal system, education and church.
Following this period, new imperatives emerged in the form of the industrial revolution and the growth and establishment of the British Empire. Scotland played a full part in these developments, while still making its own mark in the world not least through the Scottish Enlightenment
It was during this period in history that Scotland came to be regarded as a significant global intellectual centre with major figures including the scientist James Hutton, credited as the founder of modern geology and philosophers David Hume and Adam Smith. We continue to outperform our neighbours with five universities in the world’s top 200, a unique achievement for a country of just over 5 million people. And we enjoy more academic citations per head of population than any other country - save Switzerland. But you have the advantage of having CERN which I visited when I was Education Secretary for five years.
Our ancient Universities (of which there were five established before the middle of the 16th century) attracted scholars from across Europe and we in turn sent people to study at the great institutions on the continent. We also sent our soldiers to fight other people’s wars and we traded with vigour and skill - the old German word for a peddler, as many of you will know better than I, is the word for a Scot. We even established staple ports including that of Vera in the Netherlands which still appoints an honorary Scottish Conservator in memory of the connection.
And our intellectual leaders were deeply engaged in conversations with their counterparts across the continent. “It is to Scotland” observed Voltaire “ that we look for all our ideas of civilisation”. And the image of the romantic Highlander, cultivated by the poems of Ossian and the novels of Walter Scott attracted attention as well - indeed a volume of Ossian was in Napoleons’ tent on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo.
Union did not extinguish the sense of nationhood but it changed it. Full political incorporation was never entirely to the taste of many Scots even if it fulfilled the ambitions of the Scottish political class and led to increased undeniable prosperity.
So a growing interest in Home Rule developed in the second half of the 19th century and led to that time re-establishment of the role of Secretary of State for Scotland.
The first half of the twentieth century saw the intensification of the process of, and pressure for, administrative changes which developed into a desire for political change as well but the establishment of the UK welfare state and the cohesion created by two world wars delayed its flowering.
In addition the uncertain nature of that movement in particular early years can be seen in the various factions that pursued a variety of aims. The first referendum on devolution in 1979 produced a small majority for the establishment of a Parliament but also failed to meet an artificial and unique target set by the UK Government. The legislation authorising this referendum required 40 per cent of the total electorate to support devolution: in the event 32.9 per cent supported the formation of an Assembly although this represented 51.6 per cent of those who voted it failed to meet the target imposed.
Interestingly, had that rule applied to the EU referendum the constitution wouldn’t have passed.
This blow to the process of constitutional change delayed progress but did not derail it. Nothing much, in a constitutional sense happened for a decade, largely because of the intransigence of the then UK Government but the resurgence of a civic movement which drew together disparate forces proved one of the decisive factors in the second, and successful, devolution referendum of 11th September 1997. The Scottish Parliament first met in May 1999, as a result of the passage at Westminster of the Scotland Act 1998.
I was honoured to be amongst those first members of that reconvened Scottish Parliament, which had not met for 292 years - the longest adjournment in democratic history.
Fundamental to the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 – [as opposed to the scheme that did not take place in 1979] was the principle that ‘what is not retained – formally identified as ‘reserved’ – is devolved’. Over time, the powers of the Scottish Parliament have been extended through the Scotland Acts of 2012 and 2016.
Donald Dewar - the founding father of the Parliament and the first First Minister of Scotland described it well by pointing out that at the very outset of his administration that devolution was a process, not an event. And, so it has proved until today.
It is this principle that has enabled Scotland to find our own way, as outlined in the words of Scotland’s First Minister when she celebrated two decades of devolution just last month. She pointed out that the establishment of our Parliament had allowed us to ‘look, not just south, but all around us, to our fellow European nations and to countries across the globe. And we (can) contribute our ideas, learn from others and then put those ideas into practice here in Scotland’.
This progressive, ongoing process of devolution has seen the development of policies and approaches drawing from Scottish values of consent, equality and the modern principle of long underlying the sovereignty lying with the people. Not only that, it is this outlook that informed the trajectory towards the Independence Referendum of 2014.
And support from the EU has grown substantially over the 40 years of UK membership.
Not being a member was regarded by many as dangerous and damaging. The campaign threat undoubtedly had an effect.
Much of the promised “new deal” for Scotland in which she would be treated as “an equal partner” and in which there would be a new dispensation in the union “as close to Federalism as you can get” (those are quotes by the way, the latter from the former Prime Minister and Scot Gordon Brown) those things have failed to materialise.
And the European promise has turned out to be a very sour joke indeed.
Brexit was rejected by Scotland by a larger majority than in any other part of the UK. But that rejection has been ignored by the UK Government. As the Prime Minister puts it (ignoring the radical changes in UK constitution and governance that have taken place since 1974) “We joined the EU as one UK and we shall leave as one UK”.
Now of course the UK’s constitution is, famously, not written down but instead based on convention, statute and various legal instruments. The expectation is that the UK’s governance arrangements are established according to a consensus, adapting to the times.
But Brexit has posed us to ask a question. Who defines this consensus? In my view, in my experience, this is effectively at the grace and favour of the UK Government. And when there is a disagreement the only voice that in the end decides is that of the UK.
I shall later on reflect a little on that issue but suffice it to say at this point that the Scottish Government sees Brexit as not only disruptive for Europe, but as something that presents significant risks to the UK’s established constitution and fundamentally the ordered, consented to, governance of the UK.
The late John Smith called devolution the “settled will of the Scottish people”. All the parties in the Scottish Parliament, have made devolution work and have supported the process in which we have been engaged for 20 years. But now, for the first time what Brexit brought with, there is a proposal, by a UK Government to roll back that progress.
The UK Parliament will soon start to consider in Committee stage the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which will oversee the transfer of powers from Brussels to the UK.
The Scottish Government, alongside our colleagues in the Welsh Government, have stood absolutely ready to engage with the UK Government as partners in mastering the complexities and progressing the Bill.
We have, as a rational compromise, made a clear distinction between the technicalities of leaving the EU which must be prepared for even though we don’t want it to happen, and the policy of leaving the EU which we continue to oppose.
We anticipated last year that these technicalities would involve the establishment of new frameworks for co-operation within our islands and we endorsed the thinking being undertaken on this by, amongst others, the Welsh Government .
However neither the Welsh Government, nor the Scottish Government anticipated the attack on devolution in the Withdrawal Bill nor the drafting which could make parts of devolution unworkable. Consequently neither Government is able to recommend to our Parliaments that they give consent to this Bill, for it is a deeply concerning over-reach in powers.
You will recall that I earlier highlighted that devolution is predicated on the principle ‘that which is not reserved is devolved’. It is a principle that has enabled Scotland to find its own approaches and solutions, informed by our own values. For this principle is now under threat, for, the UK Government proposes that it should, for the first time since 1999, take powers for and to itself in relation to devolved policy areas in Scotland.
We are a responsible, devolved government and we do not believe this development would be good for the people of Scotland. We continue to stand ready to work with the UK Government in finding a way forward that preserves both the devolution settlement and the good order of our statute books.
Over the past year a great deal has been written about Brexit.
Much of the debate has been characterised by jargon, economic theory and competing claims about gains and losses. This is perhaps inevitable given the complexity of the subject but that can make it hard to see what's really at stake: not only for devolution, but for businesses, for individuals and for society as a whole. With around a year to reach a deal, there is no time to lose.
That’s why we issued last week a document called “Brexit: what’s at stake for businesses” to allow individual businesses to express for themselves just what they see as being the likely consequences. These centre around people, money and regulations.
On people, companies such as Walker’s Shortbread and Edinburgh University are drawing attention to the crying need for staff from other EU countries, both skilled and unskilled.
On money, there are real concerns about loss of markets. The freedom to move capital, people, goods and services has removed barriers to trade, opening Scotland to the Single Market of more than 500 million people. Even if those markets are retained, we have no clarity on tariffs and other barriers that could be put in place. Nowhere is this more important than in the services sector about which you know so much.
There is also a concern in Scotland about EU funding, so crucial for rural parts of Scotland such as my constituency. Scottish agriculture is more heavily reliant than the rest of the UK on CAP funds and the type of farming which can take place in Scotland means that there are fewer alternatives. The Highlands and Islands of Scotland will lose serious funds in terms of rural support. The implications will be devastating for an already fragile and remote economy.
For many companies quoted in the report - such as Glasgow airport -, being able to do business with certainty and minimum fuss are more important that tariffs and market access. This is about a range of things from queues at customs points to new and significant nontariff barriers of many sorts. If there is to be a focus on new FTAs, then companies could be faced with more than one regulatory regime at one time. We must have clarity on these matters.
All of these issues are important. All of them are pressing, the business ones most of all. Taken together they amount to a real threat to our economy - but that is not the whole story. There are other less tangible but perhaps equally important factors we need to take into account.
In particular there is the issue of the kind of country we want to be. Scottish novelist William McIlvanney was spot on when he described Scotland as a “mongrel nation”. We have always benefited from migration not only in terms of our economy but of our culture and society. We want to be an outward facing international country. For those reasons as well as the economic ones we are adamant that we want free movement of people, to welcome migrants who contribute so much to our society.
Brexiteers will say that the “boasted advantages” – a wonderful phrase used by our national poet Robert burns to describe the Act of Union of 1707 - will somehow compensate for these losses. But I am afraid that is likely to be a chimera. One year on there is no sign whatsoever of the fabled new free trade arrangements we were promised. You know to your cost that these only come if at all –after many years of serious talks – and compromise. The only sector where there remains any enthusiasm for Brexit is fishing – with the reality dawning that even that enthusiasm may wane over time as reality replaces rhetoric.
A closer look at the international trade deals envisaged by the UK shows that they come at a price. They will involve the lessening of some of the key regulations which set the standards which underpin our life in Scotland – for example in food safety where imports of beef treated by hormones or chicken chlorinated before sale, currently banned in the EU-, and damaging possibly imports at low prices of products which are a priority of Scotland to sell. Or flounder on the issue of migration. Any idea of opening up markets for whisky in India without allowing Indian scientists might not succeed.
So where next? Throughout my political life I have been asked to make predictions and I have always resisted. Never has it been as hard as on this subject. We have all been proved wrong over the last 18 months. It is hard both to make sound predictions and to remain confident and positive - but let us try to do both.
There are many possible scenarios. It is possible a smooth and careful negotiation towards the EU departure. I recognised that this is the ambition of the UK Government. Seeing it close up I find it difficult to understand how this will happen. But there are other options too.
Either the UK will leave the European Union without a deal, crashing out on the worst possible terms that would be disastrous. Or the UK Government will fall under the weight of its Brexit shambles.
If we are to remain positive in Scotland then we need to think more about our own objectives and our own priorities rather than the priorities of others. The position is very stark. The Scottish Government does not want to leave the European Union. If we were forced to do so against our will that we think would amount to a democratic outrage. If we are forced out it would be our intention to return as full members. We would at some stage want to give the people of Scotland a choice between the Brexit negotiations by the UK Government and an independent future within the EU. This is the choice which people need to have.
An important step on the way to pursuing our objectives was our document published last December called Scotland’s Place in Europe. This was a useful step - the first government to attempt to map out a way forward after the EU referendum vote. It was well received as a serious contribution to the debate. We intend to publish further economic and other analyses to support our Programme for Government in the coming debate.
The Brexit debate may be complex and detailed but the remedy is simple. If some are (even temporarily) not to be a member of the European Union then we must not go any further than being continued members of the Single Market and Custom Union - and the most straight forward way of achieving that, via EEA membership. In all of this whilst the transition or ‘implementation period’ proposition by the Prime Minister is welcome although a tentative step in the right direction, it is not enough. We must be very clear about the destination we are aiming for.
A glance at the agenda for this week’s European Council makes our case very eloquently. Never mind Brexit, the Heads of state will be extending the digital single market, improving cooperation on cyber security, improving European security and opening up trade deals with Australia and New Zealand. What’s not to like in that? That’s where our energies should be, not trying to arrange a very messy and expensive divorce.
I have to say that the model which governs Switzerland’s arrangement with the EU is neither available nor what we are seeking. We have much in common with Switzerland, whether it be unique musical instruments like the bagpipes and the alphorn; we both have heroic Williams – Wallace and Tell; and world class tennis players in Murray and Federer [Federer just edging ahead of Murray]. However, we do not look for a similar relationship with the EU which is built on the same level of detail and complexity.
What we do need to bear clearly in mind is that our interests are as much about standards and values and our way of life as about economic advantage. It has not been a good month for Martin Schulz but I must say that I was particularly struck by his comment that Europe is not an accountant’s club. Just as the Brexit talks are, in Michel Barnier words “not a game”, it is much more than that.
So we have high ideals for Europe and the European Union. Just because we are friends does not mean that we cannot be critical friends. We need to reiterate always the importance of democratic and citizens’ rights. The situation in Catalonia shows that threats to those rights can come from anywhere within as well as without. Those rights need to be defended by calling out where they are being affected.
In a similar way it is surely unacceptable for five million people from a pro-European country such as Scotland to be deprived of their European citizenship. I have a sense that the European Parliament is coming to recognise this. The Commission needs to do likewise.
So how are we going to achieve these objectives? This is going to be extremely difficult but we have some serious assets at our disposal, not least the nature of Scotland as a country. This is the country of the Enlightenment where clear thinking and analysis has been our watchword for centuries. It is also a country of numerous inventors – Alexander Graham Bell; John Logie Baird; Sir Alexander Fleming; James Watt; and more recently; David Jones and Mike Dailly (creators of the Grand Theft Auto Video Game series); the team from the Roslin Institute who were behind the cloning of Dolly the sheep and Richard Henderson who along with your very own Jacques Dubochet was awarded this year’s Nobel prize in chemistry. We know how to be creative and imaginative.
And, be determined in all of this we need to speak out and deploy our argument. Here is the nub of the problem. We are experiencing well known problems with our engagement with UK counterparts. The UK internal intergovernmental body – the Joint Ministerial Committee (European Negotiations) – set up for these discussions has only this week met for the first time in nine months.
This was meant to be a monthly meet overseeing the negotiations. It was meant to give regular updates on the negotiations and have input on the substance of the United Kingdom negotiating position. Yes, papers being published by the United Kingdom on their negotiations cover devolved matters and make commitments for the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government yet so said neither of these bodies have been consulted. We had less than four hours’ notice ahead of publication of the latest UK trade white paper. This is completely unacceptable. If we are to be involved as implementing commitments on devolved interests we need to be part of the process.
We need also to go beyond our internal conversations to setting out our visions internationally. That is why I am here today. That is why we take an interest in what Presidents Junker and Macron are saying about the future of Europe. We have a view too. We want to encourage a Europe of minorities as well as majorities. We want to see active small members being listened to as much as the more slow moving big members. Above all we want different layers of involvement under a process of democracy and equality.
In all of this we have to come back again and again to the central thought of a Europe of peace and prosperity.
For that is the fundamental issue. Membership of the EU has led to an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity on our continent. The continent we share. That is what it was established to do and that is what it has done.
After the second devastating war in less than two generations the victor nations, reeling and weakened by war, reached out their hand to the vanquished nation.
Never again they said. Never Again
A promise that means much to me and many families. My father, a 19 year old acting sergeant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was taken off the beach at Dunkirk in 1940 on a stretcher, his leg full of shrapnel. He carried that wound for the rest of his life. I never had to go through that terrifying experience. Nor did my 19 year old son.
Never Again. So, leaving the EU is more than an economic act - it undermines that solidarity which is essential for peace and prosperity. Saying, as the Prime Minister and the Brexiteers regularly do, that they are “leaving the EU but not leaving Europe” with respect misses that point. The EU is the means by which our continent has, and will, progress together. Leaving it weakens the whole. That is so damaging.
Scotland understands that. That is why Scotland in the majority goes on saying “never again”. Scotland wants to be part of continuing the search for peace and prosperity and wants to continue to be able to deliver it for its citizens.