Thursday 13 December 2012

That statement on Europe

Nicola Sturgeon's statement on EU membership for Scotland after independence seems quite reasonable to me -

I am pleased to have the opportunity to make a statement on an independent Scotland’s continuing membership of the European Union and to respond to recent statements by the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.
Firstly, let me be clear that the Scottish Government believes that Scotland should continue to be a member of the EU; a view that does not appear to be shared by a UK government that is displaying ever increasing signs of Euro-scepticism. Indeed, in my view, it is the overtly hostile stance of the UK government – or at least significant parts of it – that presents the real risk to Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU.
This government believes that Scotland does benefit from EU membership and that the EU benefits – enormously – from having Scotland as a member. It is also our view that Scotland’s interests would be better represented in the EU by an independent Scottish Government, with a seat at the top table, able to speak up for our national interest without having to seek the prior permission of UK ministers; and a government able to work closely and constructively with partners across these islands, and across the EU, to advance our shared interests.
Presiding Officer, that is our ambition for Scotland’s future in Europe. It is positive and constructive – with Scotland’s and Europe’s best interests at its heart - and it stands in sharp contrast to the stance of the UK government.
Let me turn now to the recent statements of the President of the European Commission.
As head of the Commission, Mr Barroso’s opinion on this matter should be – and will be by this Government - treated seriously and with respect.
That is why I have written to him seeking an early opportunity to discuss the particular process by which Scotland would become independent and the implications of that for our continued EU membership.
However, in doing so, it is important that I also set out the following points.
Firstly, the European Commission, however important, is not the final arbiter of these matters. Mr Barroso’s statements do not constitute a ‘ruling’, as some have suggested. Nor does the Commission even claim to be specifically addressing the particular situation of Scotland.
Indeed, the President of the Commission himself made clear, in his letter to the House of Lords Committee, that ‘the European Commission has expressed its views in general…’
Second, there is absolutely no provision in the EU Treaties for the dis-application of those Treaties or the removal of EU citizenship from a country and its people when they exercise their democratic right to self-determination. And it would be extraordinary if anyone in this chamber - or indeed anyone else committed to the principle of democracy - was to suggest that there should be.
Indeed, Mr Barroso said in response to a question on 10 November 2012, ‘There are no provisions in the Treaties that refer to the secession from a member state.’
Therefore, what I want to outline to the President – and indeed hear his views on – is the specific process by which Scotland would become independent and the way in which we would seek to ensure that our intention to remain within the EU is achieved.
Firstly, let me deal with the process of independence. As a result of the Edinburgh Agreement that process is democratic, agreed and consensual and the result will be respected and implemented by both the Scottish and UK governments.
Following a ‘yes’ vote in 2014, a process of negotiation will take place with the UK government on the transfer of powers to an independent Scottish Parliament. As I said last week, it would be the intention of the Scottish Government to invite representatives of the other parties and of civic Scotland to contribute to that process. It is a process that we would intend to have completed in time for the next Scottish election in 2016. However, in the period between autumn 2014 and May 2016, Scotland would still be in the UK and, therefore, by definition, still within the EU.
In parallel to negotiations with the UK government, it would be our intention to negotiate the terms of an independent Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU.
And here I should point out that the need for negotiations with the EU was made clear by the Scottish Government in Choosing Scotland’s Future in 2007, in Your Scotland, Your Voice in 2009 and in Your Scotland, Your Referendum in 2012. And it is worth remembering that these are matters that are likely to be about political negotiation more than they will be about legal process.
Let me also pause here to reflect on the position of the UK in such negotiations. It would be interesting to hear those who argue that an independent Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership explain in some detail why that same argument wouldn’t also be true of the rest of the UK, given that the democratic process we are engaged in would lead to the dissolution of the UK in its current political form. However, since I do not believe that we would be in a formal re-application situation, I will not dwell on that point.
However, what will undoubtedly be the case is that negotiation on terms of continuing membership will be highly relevant to the rest of the UK which will require to determine, for example, its own number of seats in the European Parliament and its revised financial contribution.
So, I believe Scotland and the rest of the UK would have a shared interest in concluding such negotiations smoothly and quickly.
And I believe that such a sensible process of negotiation will result in Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU on terms that are reasonable. And by that I mean, for example, that just like Sweden, we would not join the Euro until and unless it was in Scotland’s interests to do so and we had satisfied the conditions for doing so. And, just like Ireland, we would not enter Schengen but would instead look to co-operate with Ireland and the rest of the UK in the Common Travel Area. Both of these positions are practical and justifiable and would, I am sure, be supported by all parties here in Scotland. And, given their approach in other circumstances, the evidence suggests they would be understood by our European partners.
I will cite two reasons for my view and, in so doing, I am very deliberately relying, not simply on arguments of law or process, but on arguments of common sense, reality and mutual self-interest.
Firstly, the EU is an organisation that welcomes new members. It wants others to join – it most certainly would not want to see existing parts of its territory leave.
Let me quote, again, the words of Mr Barroso, this time on 11 September – ‘I see no country leaving and I see many countries wanting to join.’
The EU is also an inherently flexible organisation – it adapts, as indeed it should, to the changing circumstances of its member states. To demonstrate that, we just have to look at how quickly and smoothly the former East Germany was integrated into the EU following re-unification. Indeed it’s instructive to read the press release issued by the Commission about East Germany in 1990. It said, ‘The community institutions have all done their utmost to bring about the integration of what was the German Democratic Republic as smoothly as possible and within the timescale allowed by the unification process.’
There was no direct precedent for what happened with East Germany – just as there is no precedent for what might happen in Scotland – but the EU found a solution that is consistent with the principle of sincere co-operation that lies at the heart of the EU Treaties. They adapted and they did it on the basis of common sense and accommodation of internal decisions taken by one of its member states.
My second reason for believing that Scotland would continue in membership of the EU is that it is overwhelmingly in the EU’s interests for us to do so.
And by that I don’t just mean that to go through the complicated process of putting Scotland outside the EU, just for us to be readmitted later, would be – as Graham Avery, an Honorary DG of the Commission, said – 'not feasible'.
I mean that Scotland’s vast assets – fishing, oil and gas, renewables; our value as an export market to other member states; our education system enjoyed by thousands of EU students every year; and our status as home to tens of thousands of EU citizens, mean that the economic, social and political interests of the EU would be best served by Scotland remaining in continuous membership.
Let us just look at some of that in more detail. We have around 90% of the EU's oil and gas reserves. We accounted for around two-thirds of EU crude oil and a fifth of EU natural gas production in 2009. An independent Scotland would be the largest producer of oil and the second largest producer of gas in the EU.  
In 2010/11, there were more than 16,000 EU students enrolled at Scottish HEIs and 150,000 EU citizens living here by virtue of the freedom of movement that comes with us as being part of the EU.
We are an integral member of the EU and it is not credible to argue that the other nations of the EU would not want to retain access to the vast array of resources and opportunities that Scotland brings to the EU table.
Indeed, if the opposition parties have Scotland’s best interests at heart then – notwithstanding their opposition to independence – they will accept that, in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, the process I have outlined today would be in the best interests of Scotland, the UK and the EU.
Presiding Officer,
As I said earlier, I have sought the opportunity to discuss the matter with Mr Barroso in the near future.
I will be happy to update parliament again following that discussion.

Monday 3 December 2012

Nicola Sturgeon's 'building a better nation' speech

This is the text of the speech Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP is giving today:

Bringing the powers home to build a better nation

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time

That wonderful TS Eliot quotation always makes me think of Scotland.

As a nation, we have done a lot of exploring we were a sovereign, independent country, and then gave our independence away.

We helped to build an empire, and saw it decay.

We transformed a rural economy into the workshop of the world and then watched as the work left.

We discovered oil and stood by as the revenues were spent by others. 

And today - with more oil, in value, still in the North Sea than has already been extracted - we stand on the brink of a renewable energy revolution.

Politically, we have been a Liberal stronghold.  We have voted Tory in huge numbers - hard though it is to believe that now.  We have been a bastion for the Labour party.

We have argued over our best form of government for centuries and after three hundred years without it now have our own parliament.  A parliament that was intended to kill demand for independence stone dead, but is now governed by a pro independence majority.

And in 2014, we will decide if we want to complete our parliament's powers and restore our nation's sovereignty. And that is when Scotland will have the chance to bring home the powers we need to build a better country.

Today I want to talk, as a Scottish Government Minister, about the Scottish Governments case for independence and our vision for an independent Scotland.

Of course, we are not the only voice on the Yes side of the independence debate and others will have different ideas ideas that they will be able to put to the people in elections to an independent Scottish Parliament. 

As with the other side of the campaign, those supporting a Yes vote will not agree on everything.  That is healthy. Indeed, it is confirmation of the vibrant democracy that an independent Scotland would be.

But, as Scotlands elected government, we have a duty to set out our plans and our vision and that is what we will do.

Today I want to set out why independence is essential for Scotland not as an end in itself but as a means to achieve the Scotland we seek.

A country with a stable economy that works for the many and not just the few; one that knows it must create the wealth it needs to support the strong public services we value; a country that manages our vast resources responsibly, with an eye to the future; a country that gets the government it votes for; a country that has fairness at its core and and allows all of us as individuals to reach our full potential.

That is the destination of our journey Scotland. The Scotland we want to be.

A nation like any other, a nation bound in the grasp of other nations as we are all united in a globalised world, but a nation that knows itself, perhaps for the first time.

A nation that makes its own decisions and shapes its own future.

That, for me, is the point of independence.

One of the great intellectuals of the nationalist movement - and someone we all miss dearly the late Professor Sir Neil MacCormick, distinguished between what he called the existentialist and the utilitarian strands of the nationalist movement. The former described those who thought Scotland was entitled to be independent simply because we are a nation, the latter that independence was a tool to deliver a better society.

While I recognise the distinction Neil drew and realise that there are some in our national movement who base their political beliefs more on the fact of nationhood, I would suggest that today most SNP members are an amalgam of these two strands.

For my part, and I believe for my generation, I have never doubted that Scotland is a nation. And while I might not go on about a thousand years of history and that sort of thing I take it for granted as a simple fact that Scotland is a nation with an inalienable right to self-determination.

But for me the fact of nationhood or Scottish identity is not the motive force for independence. Nor do I believe that independence, however desirable, is essential for the preservation of our distinctive Scottish identity. And I dont agree at all that feeling British with all of the shared social, family and cultural heritage that makes up such an identity is in any way inconsistent with a pragmatic, utilitarian support for political independence.

My conviction that Scotland should be independent stems from the principles, not of identity or nationality, but of democracy and social justice.

Firstly I believe that Scotland has a democratic right to choose our own government and determine her own future, a democratic right to put in place her own values and a democratic duty to make her own decisions.

And secondly, I want Scotland to be a country that sees enterprise and fairness as two sides of the same coin.

Down the years, many people have asked me why I ended up in the SNP and not the Labour Party. Why did a young girl, growing up in a working class family in the west of Scotland - a part of the country where in those days, they would joke that the Labour vote was weighed rather than counted; someone who was, just like Labour was in those days, anti-Trident and pro-social justice and went on to work as a social justice lawyer in Drumchapel - why does that person end up in the SNP instead of Labour?
The reason is simple. I joined the SNP because it was obvious to me then - as it still is today - that you cannot guarantee social justice unless you are in control of the delivery.

And that is my central argument to you today. Not just that independence is more than an end in itself. But that it is only by bringing the powers home, by being independent, that we can build the better nation we all want.

And I ask you, as you make up your minds over these next two years, to base your decision, not on how Scottish or British you feel, but on what kind of country you want Scotland to be and how best you think that can be achieved.

Our referendum may be asking only one question, but in truth Scotland faces two choices the first is whether to bring the powers home to govern ourselves, rather than stick with UK governance.

And the second is what kind of society do we want to be.

But we don't get to make the second choice without being prepared to make the first.

The powers of independence are the tools we need to build the country we want to be.

The challenges we face as a country today are real - and they are not just short term effects of the recession or global problems shared by all other countries.

The poverty and inequality that is a scar on the face of our nation, the lag in economic growth, the flow of our brightest and best out of Scotland these are not recent problems. These are long-standing and long-term challenges that UK governments of whatever colour have failed to address.

The UK today is the 4th most unequal society in the developed world. 1 in 5 Scottish children live in poverty. 800,000 Scots live in fuel poverty.

Over the past 50 years, Scotlands average economic growth rate has been 40% lower than equivalent, independent countries.

Recently, the Economist Intelligence Unit published its where to be born index that looks at a range of quality of life measures. The UK ranked 27th. But four out of the top five countries - Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark - are countries with many similarities to Scotland.

What do these other small countries have that we dont? It's not resources, talent or the determination of our people.
What they do have is the independence to take decisions that are right for them.

The example of these other countries should tell us that the challenges we face today are not inevitable. The problems can be solved but only if we equip ourselves with the powers we need to solve them.

So the debate we will have over these next two years must be a debate about the most effective political and economic unit to achieve the economic growth and the social justice that the Scottish people want. It is, in many ways, our version of the same question being asked across all mature western democracies. How to build a thriving but sustainable economy that benefits the many not the few.

The Westminster system of government has had its chance - and failed.

Today, independence is the pragmatic way forward.

Back in 1707, the Union was formed out of the self-interest of the elites of both nations and it could never be said to have been the democratic choice of Scotland.

The purpose of the state then was to advance trade, wage wars and provide a structure of social order.

Then, in the mid-20th century, the creation of the welfare state played an overwhelming role in giving the union a new purpose. Britain lost the colony of India, but we all gained a new territory in the shape of free health care and social protection from cradle to grave. Alongside the BBC, these things began to define British-ness.

And, of course, devolution - to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - was itself an attempt to renew the UK state.

But the UKs ability to re-invent itself is spent. The Westminster parties are at best sceptical and at worst hostile to further substantial reform in Scotlands interests. The post-war economic decline has continued and now the very institutions which once made us distinct, the welfare state and - in England - the NHS, are under attack from the Westminster system of government.

What we do we get from leaving our powers in the control of others?  A high risk economy and an eroding social fabric. 

And let us be clear - to vote no in 2014 consigns us to that path.

A deeply indebted state spending money on Trident weapons of mass destruction while cutting welfare.

A state adrift from Europe and increasingly isolated on the wider stage.

And to those who say that the answer is to change the occupant of number 10 and the colour of the UK government, I say we have been there and done that and the challenges we face remain undiminished.

Labours argument is that Scotland should bear the storms of UK membership when the Tories are in office because, in the event of a Labour government, things will improve more than they ever could with independence.

To me, that argument is deeply flawed.

First, I simply do not believe that Scotland should have to put up with long periods of UK government led by a party we did not vote for. It is - surely - democratically indefensible that although the Tories have never won a majority of votes or seats in Scotland in my entire lifetime or even come anywhere close they have nevertheless governed Scotland for more than half of my lifetime.

Second, it is clear from its record that for Labour to be elected across the UK, it must become something different to what Scotland wants.

Social justice becomes a policy to be bartered against other interests - wars, nuclear weapons and welfare cuts.

In the end the Blair government elected in 1997 was not an alternative to Conservatism. It was business as usual. 

So when the promise of no more boom and bust went bust the banks were rescued and ordinary families left to pay the price - facing joblessness, bankruptcy, falling living standards, a sense of uncertainty about the future and the prospect of being the first generation unable say with confidence that our children will be better off than we are.

So I reject the argument that the best route to achieve our vision for social justice is to stay in the United Kingdom and hope for a different government.

The record of recent governments of all three UK parties, stretching back more than 30 years, is of failure to address the problems that hold back our economy and our society.

To vote no would be to pass on the ability to achieve the social justice we want because history shows that the Westminster system of government won't deliver it.

So if that is the critique of the current United Kingdom and its parties, what is the alternative? 

What is the positive case for independence to achieve our vision of a more prosperous and socially just nation?

To vote yes is to vote not just for new powers but for new powers that we will use for a purpose.

To bring the powers home to make a fresh start. A chance to begin again in response to the 21st century,

There is little point in bringing the powers home to just carry on as before. When devolution was delivered, it brought powers home but Labour didnt have a clear enough idea of what it wanted to do with them. We know what we want to do.

Our overwhelming objective is to benefit, not just this, but the next and future generations.

Bringing the powers home has to be the in interests of long term substantial change.

Yes, we will make changes in the short term the sensible use of borrowing powers to get our economy growing faster, for example. Or action to deal with sky-high air passenger duty that is damaging trade and tourism. Or changes to Tory welfare reforms.

But we are not just talking just about a few presents which keep us happy on Independence Day. This is about change for the long term.

It is about ending, once and for all, the cycle of deprivation so that our people can enter a thriving economy and contribute more meaningfully to their own well-being and that of the world.

Over the next 12 months, as we approach the publication of the independence White Paper, through a range of papers, speeches and events, we will show how we would set about that task.

We will set out the how of bringing the powers home. These will cover issues like the macro-economic framework, regulation and the transition to an independent welfare system - in other words, the infrastructure of the state. Our purpose in this body of work is simple to show that we will be the most prepared nation in the world gaining new powers, so that the transition is smooth.

UK politicians will say this is all too difficult. It cant be done. It wont work. Of course they will say that. Not because its true but because they want to scare you off. It is in their vested interest to say so.

Some may believe it.  Most will not.  Because in the end, the how of independence can be done.   We will explain how it will be done in Scotland, and just a moments reflection on the number of new states that have emerged in the years since the second world war proves that it can be done - because so many have already done it. 

And lets never forget how far along the road to independence Scotland already is. We are not starting from scratch. Donald Dewars Scotland Act of 1998 may come to be seen as one the finest pieces of legislation ever. It set up a parliament which was fit for the 21st century we are already governing in a manner which is light years from the UK. We have in place a great foundation it was designed to be built on.

In the 13 years of devolution, great changes have occurred. We lose sight of them in the pell mell of politics but unlike the privatisation process south of the border, our health service remains true to Nye Bevans founding principles; our education system has a new curriculum fit for modern teaching and learning; our universities offer education based on the ability to learn not the ability to pay; and our older people have more security in their later years.

So we will remind people that we are already half way there we have brought half the powers home, and made a success of it. Now we must build on the foundation and bring the home the rest. It is time to finish the job.

And if Scotland votes yes, I have no doubt that everyone regardless of which side of the debate they were on will want and work for the best for Scotland.

The Edinburgh Agreement makes clear that the Scottish and UK governments will work together to implement the outcome in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK.

And although the independence negotiations that will follow a yes vote will be led by the Scottish Government, we will not act alone.

If there is a yes vote for independence, then let me make it clear - the Scottish Government will invite representatives of the other political parties and of civic Scotland to contribute to those negotiations.

We will have had our debate and taken our decision. Each of us will have argued our case strongly and passionately. But when the people have spoken, we will emerge from it as one united nation.

We will be team Scotland, and at that moment in our history, I am sure whatever they say this side of the referendum - that Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie will argue Scotlands case as strongly as Alex Salmond and Patrick Harvie.

So, the process of how we will become independent is important. People want to know that and they will.

But what really matters is the why of independence. What will we do with the new powers we will have to build a better nation? It will be the answers to that question that will persuade people that the process of getting there of becoming an independent nation is worthwhile.

So the second strand of our work over the next 12 months will be to lay out our ideas and open up for wider debate the ways in which the powers of independence can be used to address the deep seated challenges in our economy and society and to achieve the vision that I have laid out today.

How do we build a more sustainable economy and a fair society? How do we get our economy growing and ensure that the proceeds of that growth benefit the many not the few. What changes will we make to tax and welfare to incentivise hard work and protect the vulnerable? How will we close the gap between rich and poor? How do we, once and for all, end the scandal of child poverty in energy rich Scotland?

The great thing about devolution has been the ability to use the powers we have to find as the late Donald Dewar put it - Scottish solutions to Scottish problems.

Imagine being able to put our minds to solving Scotlands challenges with all of the important powers that normal, independent countries have at their disposal.

To get the chance that new powers and responsibilities will give us to re-think the purpose of government, to harness the energy of our entrepreneurs and our community spirit to find the solutions to these long-standing challenges, to get the chance to re-shape our nation that truly is an historic opportunity.

It is exciting. It is inspiring. And it is infinitely better than accepting the status quo, stay the same, business as usual approach that a no vote would ensure - and which I am sure most people in Scotland would come to regret if it happened.

To me it is the why that counts. Anyone can say that its too hard, or that it will be too much hassle or that it will never work thats the default position, the negative position.

But the world isnt changed by those who accept things as they are or who think that making things better is too difficult. It is changed by people who - to quote that old Bobby Kennedy favourite   dont look at things as they are and ask why, but who look at things as they could be and ask why not.

When I think of the why of independence, I think of a child. Lets call her Kirsty. She is part of the new generation in this land.

According to where Kirsty is born, and what her parents will do, much of her life will be pre-determined.

If we let Kirsty down in the first months of her life, then the chances are that all the welfare, free education, and state intervention that we can provide, will never quite make up for that. If we fail her when she is young, then we have failed her for life.

Not only that but by denying Kirsty proper support we have switched her from being an asset to herself, her community and Scotland - and turned her into a demand for money, services and help.

Every time we fail Kirsty, we fail our own future. Because Kirsty will be the carer to tomorrows pensioners and the Chief Executive of tomorrows companies. She will be the inheritor of our mistakes. Fail her now, and we fail her again and again and again, until she is just another figure shuffling through our welfare statistics, set to die a decade or so earlier than her richer neighbours.

I think of Kirsty because none of us in the movement to bring powers home are doing it just for the here and now. We are doing it for Kirsty, for our own version of that child, for the thousands of children right now growing up in poverty, for the disabled person facing welfare cuts, for our friends who cant get a job or who are worrying about how to pay the mortgage, for the single mother slaving away at two jobs but still struggling to put food on the table.

We are doing it because we believe that it shouldnt be that way; that is doesnt have to be that way; and that the UK system of government has had long enough to fix it and failed.

That is the reason I am here the Deputy First Minister of an SNP government, when everything about me suggests I should have joined the Labour party.

And that is the reason why powers must come home. To give ourselves the means to match the ambition, to make a fresh start, to build a society fit for the future.

It is our duty to decide if future generations will live in charge of their own fate, capable of tackling their own problems - or if we are going to allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated into the future.

The sequence is clear. We vote in autumn 2014. The result will be clear as Scotland wakes up the next day.

If Scots have voted no, then we will get the steady erosion of our services and society that is already apparent under Westminster government.

If Scotland votes yes, it will have decided that there is a different way, a better way.

The transition to independence will give us a once in a generation opportunity to reinvent the purpose of government, and direct the wealth of our nation in a way that liberates all the lives in our land.  

Business as usual or a chance to build a new future thats the real choice we face.

Bringing powers home is - to return to TS Eliot - to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time - to know it by knowing the purpose for which we are here.

Devolution started a journey for Scotland - it was not an end.

Independence will not be the end either.

The end will be the country we can build with the powers that independence will give us.

A country that earns its wealth and shares it more fairly. A country where every child has the chance to grow up and fulfil their potential.

A country confident in itself and its place in the world.

And a country that enjoys excellent relations with its friends across these islands - as an independent Scotland will do.

On that last point, I ask you, just for a moment, to imagine a post-independence declaration between the Scottish and UK governments. It might go something like this:

'The relationship between our two countries has never been stronger or more settled, as complex or as important as it is today.

Our citizens, uniquely linked by geography and history, are connected today as never before through business, politics, culture and sport, travel and technology and, of course, family ties.

Our two economies benefit from a flow of people, goods, investment, capital and ideas on a scale that is rare even in this era of global economic integration.'

Ladies and gentleman, that is not an imagined declaration. It is an actual one. These are the opening paragraphs of the joint statement made by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach in March this year on the state of British-Irish relations - a powerful illustration of the fact that political independence is not about separation. It is about a relationship of equals based on shared interests.

I started with a quote from TS Eliot. Let me end with Alasdair Gray. He urged us to work as if we live in the early years of a better nation.

I believe we do live in the early days of a better nation. The journey towards a better Scotland has started. The duty of our generation is to ensure that the next generation has the ability to complete that journey.