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16/10/13 09:48

The European Union

First Minister Alex Salmond
Hawick High School
21 August 2013

In the fourth in a series of speeches the First Minister delivered over the summer, Mr Salmond set out how, following a vote for independence in next year's referendum, Scotland will continue to participate fully as a member of the European Union.

Below is an abridged version of the First Minister’s speech, focussing on its main theme, or you can listen to the full speech here.

(The European Union is) of vital importance across the country, including here in the south of Scotland.

The Common Agricultural Policy was worth more than £50 million in the South of Scotland last year.

The old Tower Mill, a few hundred metres away is a good example of the previous benefits of Europe’s programmes for rural areas. It was transformed into an arts and business hub as a direct result of the “Heart of Hawick” regeneration initiative, supported by European Structural Funds.

The Scottish Borders Brewery, further down Teviotdale, is one of the businesses to have benefited from European funding under the Rural Priorities Scheme.

Although the balance of European funding is now moving to support central European countries, where the economic challenges are greatest, there are still major opportunities for businesses and communities in the south of Scotland. That’s why Scottish Borders Council last month was considering how to ensure that it benefits from the next European Structure and Investment Funds programme.

But the main benefits of the European Union aren’t about funding streams. They’re about peaceful co-operation between nations, free movement of people, and free access to the European market.

I visited Barrie Knitwear yesterday, which employs more than 170 people. 80% of its exports go to EU countries. Chanel chose to buy the company last year because they had already been buying its products for more than 25 years. Barrie’s survival and revived success exemplify how quality Scottish products benefit from the single market.

We also benefit from the human element to the European Union. Today’s Scots include approximately 160,000 workers and students who have chosen to come from Poland, Ireland, Holland, France, and other countries of the EU.

They make a massive contribution to Scotland’s culture, economy and society. Their presence is an important reminder of why our future lies within Europe.

That future within Europe would be strengthened by independence.

Some people argue that an independent Scotland would not have a loud enough voice in EU negotiations.

That’s a fallacy. It assumes the UK Government’s interests will always agree with Scotland’s, and it assumes that smaller countries can’t influence successfully in the European Union. Both assumptions are wrong.

We know that when the UK Government negotiated to join the EU in the 1970s, Scottish fishing jobs were sidelined.

For example the UK’s fisheries negotiator at the time, David - now Lord - Hannay, has now admitted that the interests of Scottish fisheries were less important to the UK than New Zealand dairy products and Commonwealth sugar.

As a civil service memo of the time put it – a memo which wasn’t released until 2003 - “In light of Britain's wider European interests they"—the Scottish fishermen— "are expendable".

That different sense of priorities continues today. Negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy are a good example.

Under independence Scotland could have benefited from a rule that by 2019 no member state would receive less than 196 euros per hectare – approximately £175 - in direct payments to farmers. That could have resulted in increased payments to our farmers worth £850 million pounds over the next 7 years.

Scotland also the lowest per hectare rate of support for rural development anywhere in the EU. Ireland receives almost as much rural development support funding as the whole of the UK - 1.7 billion pounds against slightly under 2 billion pounds - despite having less than 25% of the UK’s agricultural land.

That directly affects the south of Scotland. Farmers and rural businesses here get less support because of decisions made by successive UK governments. Those decisions have been made because the rural economy is not a priority for the UK in the same way that it is for Scotland.

Without independence, Scotland’s influence in Europe could diminish further. By 2017, our voice might not just be sidelined; it could be silenced altogether.

I don’t believe for one moment that David Cameron wants the UK to leave the European Union – he is playing a game of party management that is in danger of getting out of hand.

But there is now a very real risk that a lack of leadership on his part will result in the UK sleepwalking to the EU exit.

Once again Scotland is paying a heavy price because of Westminster decisions that ignore the interests of our people, families and communities.

Polling has suggested that more than half of Scots want to stay in the European Union, compared with a third who would express a preference for leaving.

That contrasts with recent polling in England, which has suggested that a majority of people expressing an opinion are in favour of leaving the European Union.

I don’t want that to happen – I hope that that the rest of the UK stays in the EU. But even if the rest of the UK does leave the EU, an independent Scotland’s continued EU membership would and should be maintained. Indeed Scotland could conceivably benefit as company headquarters relocate north!

But if we don’t become independent, we won’t have control over what happens.

The European Union is an all-too-real example of why it will be better for all of us if decisions about Scotland are taken by the people who care most about Scotland – those who live and work here.

Now, the UK Government has suggested that uncertainty about Scotland’s EU membership is being caused by the prospect of independence.

The reality is very different.

The Scottish Government has always recognised that continued membership of the EU will require negotiations with other member states and the EU institutions.

This is only right and proper. But these negotiations will be completed within the 18 month period between a “yes” vote next September and achieving independence in March 2016. You don’t even have to ask the Scottish Government for that opinion. Professor James Crawford, the UK Government’s own independent legal expert, told Radio 4’s “Today” programme that an 18 month timetable is “realistic” on 11 February this year - the same day that the UK Government published a report that he had co-written.

What James Crawford realises, as any sensible person would, is that oil-rich, energy-rich, talent-rich, resource-rich Scotland would be a welcome member of the European family of nations.

What independence would do is safeguard Scotland’s future in the EU, and allow us to promote the right type of change for Scotland and for Europe.

There are clearly areas where the European Union needs to change.

The current level of youth unemployment across Europe – 23% - is unsustainable. The UK is currently arguing against a European target for youth employment. The Scottish Government supports one, as part of our belief that the EU should put place a greater emphasis on promoting jobs and recovery.

Alongside that economic challenge there’s a regulatory challenge – it’s vital that the burden of regulation on businesses is proportionate. And there’s also a democratic challenge - a need to reconsider the balance between the decisions taken by Europe on the one hand and the Member States on the other.

The need to meet these economic, regulatory and democratic challenges is understood in capital cities across the EU – in Helsinki, in Berlin, in Paris and in Amsterdam.

In fact, much of it is understood in London. What’s not understood is that you don’t achieve reforms by issuing threats to leave.

An independent Scotland will stand up for reforms and for our national interest. But we will do so by building alliances. We would work with the rest of the UK when we agree, but we could also choose to work with others to achieve change.

As a devolved nation, Scotland already has a remarkably good track record of promoting our own, and wider European, interests.

We made a leading contribution to the development of key European structural funds.

We are playing a major role in moves towards a more integrated European energy market.

We are playing an important part in the EU’s moves to boost economic growth; to tackle global warming; and to promote a healthier and fairer society.

But we could achieve much more as a full member. At present we are a constituent part of a much larger state, where our interests can be ignored. An independent Scotland would take its seat at the top table in the EU alongside 28 other Member States – 12 of which are the same size as Scotland or smaller.

Those countries often wield great influence. After all, the EU is an organisation where negotiation trumps ultimatum; where the strength of your ideas can matter more than the size of your population.

Ireland’s presidency of the Council of the EU this year was a major success – concluding negotiations on the EU’s finances until 2020. It handed over the Presidency to Lithuania, with a population of 3 million.

Last year, Denmark used its presidency of the Council to lead major reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy.

Scotland worked closely with Denmark on that - on issues such as discard-free fisheries, the recovery of cod stocks and more regional-level decision making. But we had no capacity to lead reforms in the same way that Denmark could.

Consider this - Scotland has the longest sea border of any nation in the EU. Yet we have less formal say in fisheries policy than landlocked countries such as Austria and Slovakia!

Not being at the top table has harmed our interests for four decades. Within the UK, we are occasionally consulted. With independence, we would contribute as equals.

During the summer of 2013, the First Minister made 6 major speeches on an independent Scotland’s place in an interdependent world. He put forward the view that Scotland is currently a member of six unions:

  • The political and economic union
  • The social union
  • The currency union
  • The union of the crowns
  • The defence union through NATO
  • The European Union

The Scottish Government wants to become independent from one of these unions – the political and economic union.

The social union will remain, regardless of Government policy, since it rests on ties of history, culture, family and friendship which are not dependent on Governments.

The current Scottish Government will choose, as a matter of policy, to remain in the currency union, the union of the crowns, the defence union and the European Union; and it will use the powers of independence to recast these unions and make them work more effectively for Scotland and Scotland’s neighbours.

The six speeches were made on the following dates -

12 July, 2013 – Nigg Fabrication Yard – introduction to the sequence of speeches
16 July, 2013 - Chief Minister’s Lecture, Isle of Man – Currency Union
25 July, 2013 - Shetland summer cabinet - Defence Union through NATO
21 August, 2013 - Hawick summer cabinet – European Union
28 August, 2013 - Campbeltown summer cabinet – Social Union and Union of the Crowns
2 September, 2013 - Fraserburgh summer cabinet – Independence from the Political and Economic Union

The idea of the six unions was explained in each speech, meaning that there are some overlaps in content between the six speeches. In addition, each of the summer Cabinet speeches began with very specific local references relating to the programme of events around the cabinets themselves. We have therefore published abridged versions of the speeches, focussing on the major theme of each speech.