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16/10/13 09:45

The six unions - introduction

First Minister Alex Salmond
Nigg Fabrication Yard
12 July 2013

In the first in a series of speeches the First Minister delivered over the summer, he highlighted six unions that impact on Scotland today.

Mr Salmond set out how, following a vote for independence in next year’s referendum, Scotland will continue to participate fully in five unions – the European Union, a defence union through NATO, a currency union, the Union of the Crowns and the social union between the people of these isles – embracing them and using the powers of independence to renew and improve them.

Below is an abridged version of the First Minister’s speech, focussing on its main theme, or you can watch the full speech and subsequent question and answer session.

Let me say first what a pleasure it is to be speaking at Nigg. Two years ago 1 person was employed in this complex. Now it is 1,200.

This is the result of Global Energy’s private enterprise supported by public intervention.

A further 1,000 people are due to go through the skills academy over the next two years as Nigg is restored to its proper position as the beating industrial heart of the Highlands of Scotland.

There is a connection with the speech I am about to deliver. The revival of Nigg shows that huge manufacturing facilities can operate from the Highlands. The Scottish Open this week at the breathtaking Castle Stewart links demonstrates that major sporting events can be staged in the Highlands, just as this speech indicates that significant commentary about the future of our country can be delivered from the Highlands.

Before the 1707 Act of Union, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, a member of the auld Scots Parliament, made a very modern observation.

"All nations are dependent, the one on the many, this we know."

But he warned that if “the greater must always swallow the lesser, we are all diminished."

Saltoun recognised the bonds of trade, language, science and ideas that were forming even in his lifetime.

The technologies you use and develop here at Global Energy would have astonished him. But the fact that you work in 12 countries, across 6 continents, would not.

He would understand the phenomenon we now call globalisation - he could see the world was changing even from his perspective of 300 years ago.

Today’s speech is about what independence really means in the modern world. It is as Saltoun said all these years ago about interdependence.

It is also about the right to choose. To identify what needs to be changed. To keep what should be kept. And the ability to choose the difference.

Despite the UK Government’s language, Scotland has never been extinguished legally or otherwise.

After 1707, declarations of war, the shifting sands of European alliances, helped to alter the Scottish centre of economic gravity from east and west, but underneath the imperial superstructure Scotland was still Scotland not north Britain. North Britain was never a concept that really caught on, or captured the public imagination -particularly after it was realised that there was no great enthusiasm in England to be called South Britain!

Of course in the decades after 1707, there were no public services. Welfare, or what passed for it, was administered by the parish.

Education, the first and crown jewel of Scots public legislation, was also organised at parish level.

Democratic participation grew in parallel with the state. In Scotland that meant the demand for self-government also grew - as public services became more important, and Scottish industries private and public came under head office control from London.

You can trace that demand from Keir Hardie, through the Scottish Home Rule Association, through the National Covenant, through the rise of the SNP in the late 20th century - and finally the successful cross party referendum campaign for the reconvening of our own parliament.

Now we have that parliament, we want - and we need - more power and more democracy.

In Scotland, we expect a modern, social democrat government in the new age of globalisation – to lead, to include, to protect.

But what we have instead is a dysfunctional state – one where political, financial and economic power is hugely concentrated in the south east of England.

One where the super rich are rewarded with tax cuts and the gap between rich and poor is among the widest in the developed world.

And one where for almost two thirds of my life, Scotland has been ruled by Governments that were elected to fewer than half of Scottish constituencies.

Of course now that we have a Scottish Parliament we can mitigate the impact of some Westminster decisions. But it is mitigation, and no more.

We have introduced and protected free health care and education and defended free personal care for the elderly, but our public finances are defined not by Scotland’s wealth and priorities but by a Westminster Chancellor whose party has only one MP in Scotland.

We have cushioned 500,000 Scots against London cuts to council tax benefit, but we cannot stop more than 82,000 households, including over 15,000 families with children, from having the bedroom tax inflicted upon them.

In recent years, in the face of UK austerity measures, we have led the rest of the UK on attracting inward investment, done all we can to protect capital spending, and prioritised youth employment so that we now have the 6th best rate in the whole of Europe. But we lack the taxation powers that could be used to further boost Scotland’s economy.

We have up to a quarter of the European Union’s offshore renewable energy potential, but no control over the electricity market reform process which has spread such uncertainty over renewable development.

We have almost two thirds of the European Union’s oil production. But we have had to watch while the UK has imposed 16 tax changes on the sector in the last decade – which seriously delayed the new investment boom in our offshore fields.

We can’t clear the country of nuclear weapons, we can’t even prevent fuel poverty in energy-rich Scotland.

With devolution, we can frame policies which allow us to do a bit better than the most of the rest of the UK. Only with independence can we build the Scotland we want to see.

European nations such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway are among the ten most equal countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

All are Scandinavian countries but all have made different choices about their international engagement. Norway is outwith the European Union but within NATO. Sweden is in the European Union but outwith NATO. Denmark is a member of both.

However all are more prosperous and more equal countries than the UK.

A generation ago Scotland was more prosperous than Norway. Both countries discovered oil in similar quantities. Now Norway is over 60 per cent more prosperous than the UK or Scotland.

And why should a country with Scotland’s traditions tolerate being part of a state which is one of the most unequal in the OECD?

With independence, decisions about Scotland’s future would be taken by those who will always make the best decisions – the people who live and work in Scotland.

We could stop the bedroom tax.

We could prevent tens of thousands of children being thrown into poverty by the UK Government’s war on welfare.

We could create a childcare system which ranks with the best in the world.

We could use our tax powers to encourage innovation, investment and job creation across all parts of the country.

We could have a modern constitution which enshrines the rights of the people of Scotland.

We could create that fairer and more prosperous society.

That is why we must change the political and economic union as a matter of urgency.

But this union is one of SIX UNIONS that govern our lives today in Scotland.

My contention is that we can choose to keep five of these six unions - with some differences certainly but still basically intact.

Indeed we can embrace them in that spirit of interdependence that Saltoun recognised all those years ago, while using the powers of independence to renew and improve them.

They are:

The European Union
The Defence Union through NATO
The Currency Union
The union of the crowns

And finally the Social Union between the peoples of these islands.

We will remain members of the European Union – but with a seat of our own at the top table, and without the endless and desultory London-centric debate about withdrawal.

We will still be members of Nato – co-operating with our neighbours and friends in collective security. But we can still decide not to be a nuclear power - like 25 out of 28 current NATO members.

We will be part of a currency union with the rest of the UK – but we will now have the full taxation powers we need to promote jobs and investment, social justice and prosperity.

And we will retain the monarchy – making the Queen the Head of State of 17 independent countries, rather than 16. However we will adopt a new constitution, written and endorsed by the people, asserting rights as well as promoting liberties and enshrining the ancient Scottish principle that ultimate sovereignty rests with the people.

Those unions - the European Union, the defence union, the currency union and the union of the crowns - are ones which the SNP would propose to maintain because they make sense for both Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Of course it would be open to other parties to put forward different choices for the people of Scotland - the real point is that we would make these choices.

There is a final union which does not rely on the choices made by politicians and parliaments.

The social union unites all the peoples of these islands.

After independence we will still watch the X-Factor or Eastenders. People in England will still cheer Andy Murray, and people in Scotland will still support the Lions at rugby – even when there aren’t many Scots in the team!

People will still change jobs and move from Dundee to Dublin, or from Manchester to Glasgow.

That’s the reality of the social union – it’s not about border controls or whatever else is the Whitehall scare of the day. We already share a common travel area - not just with Ireland but with the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, who are not even in the European Union!

Irish nationals who live and work in the UK are treated as permanent residents, and can vote in UK elections. By statute Ireland is specifically NOT a foreign country.

Under independence, we will continue to share ties of language, culture, trade, family and friendship. The idea that these ties are dependent on a Parliament in London is and has always been totally nonsensical.

So let’s return to that world envisaged by Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, a world where every nation depended on others.

That world is characterised by unions and agreements into which independent sovereign states can enter freely.

I have identified FIVE of those:

The European Union
The Defence Union
The Currency Union
The union of the crowns

And the Social Union

All of these will remain in place. They can be strengthened and improved by independence.

But one key Union – the political and economic union - must change fundamentally.

This highly dysfunctional state controlled from Westminster feels threatened by any challenge to its privilege and power. All attempts to change it have been resisted – reasonable calls for Devo Max or real economic powers were rejected out of hand.

Yet it does not work for Scotland any more.

Instead it holds Scotland back and imperils our future.

It will not bend, and it will not change of its own accord.

So we will – we must- change it.


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.