- By Chris Kremidas Courtney
In the wake of May’s UK general election, we in the Scottish government have made clear that after 40 years of membership we want Scotland to remain in the EU. We hope to play a fuller role in shaping its reform and developing its future, but unfortunately our vision contrasts sharply with that of the UK’s new government at Westminster.
David Cameron’s new Tory majority government’s legislative programme has confirmed that within two years there is to be a referendum on whether or not to stay in the European Union.
The Scottish government has made clear that we don’t support this decision to hold an In/Out referendum on EU membership. It is putting Scotland’s place in the EU in grave danger, and therefore threatens our economic stability. By asking the people of the UK to question the enormous value of our EU membership, the prime minister and his government colleagues are already fundamentally damaging Scotland’s interests within the EU.
The Scottish government has made clear that we don’t support this decision to hold an In/Out referendum on EU membership. It is putting Scotland’s place in the EU in grave danger
The Scottish government, by contrast, places tremendous value on Scotland’s place in Europe, not least because of the significant social, cultural and economic benefits we enjoy as part of that union. For example, around 330,000 Scottish jobs are estimated to be directly linked to our EU membership. And our partner countries in the EU were in 2013 the destination for 46% of our exports and contributed £12.9bn to Scotland’s economy.
In that year, there were more than 2,100 foreign-owned companies in Scotland, employing around 302,000 people and with a combined turnover of more than £100bn. Around 40% of these businesses were owned by companies based in the EU.
And the freedom to travel, study and work across Europe has brought major benefits to Scotland. There are at present around 171,000 people from elsewhere in the European Union who live in Scotland. They contribute hugely to the diversity of our culture, the prosperity of our economy and the strength of our society.
We in the Scottish government see Scotland’s future firmly within the EU, helping to shape EU legislation and policies that are central to our collective economic and social well-being. The EU is at a critical juncture in terms of its future direction, and Scotland is keen to play a constructive and progressive role in addressing some of the central challenges.
Scotland will contribute to discussions on reform of the European Union. All member states of the EU recognise that this is needed. As Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in his opening statement in Strasbourg last July, “Europe needs a broad-based agenda for reform.” So sensible proposals for change stand a real chance of gaining acceptance.
The Scottish government has already contributed constructively to the wider EU debate with its publication in August of last year of a paper setting out our own agenda for EU action and reform. This outlined how Scotland will exert as much of its influence as possible to effect the future direction of the EU and reconnect the EU with its citizens.
We want Europe to focus its attention on delivering growth and competitiveness
Our view is that reforms can be done within the existing treaty framework and should meet two key priorities. First, the EU should focus on economic and social policies that will make a tangible difference to the lives of its citizens. We want Europe to focus its attention on delivering growth and competitiveness through investment and innovation, and also on key social issues such as workers’ rights, youth employment and tackling inequalities. Europe needs to address the challenges of modern society by ensuring that EU policies facilitate rather than prevent member states from tackling problems as diverse as healthcare, climate change and energy security.
Scotland’s second EU priority is regulatory reform. It is important that EU legislation should be based on the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity. Better regulation contributes to economic growth, and would also help to restore public trust in the European institutions. The Scottish government believes in better regulation rather than deregulation for its own sake. We want Europe to give priority to policies that increase economic growth and competitiveness, while enhancing social justice and preserving the environment. Needless to say, we want to ensure that new and existing regulation doesn’t impose unnecessary and onerous burdens.
Now the UK government is still considering its negotiating stance, it’s impossible to know whether this Scottish reform agenda matches the UK’s. But our immediate priority will be to protect Scotland’s interests, and in the run-up to the referendum, we will be wanting to make a powerful case for the UK’s continued membership of the EU. This will include continuing to push for a ‘double-majority’ mechanism that would require majorities in all four constituent parts of the UK before any withdrawal from the EU could happen.
One of the things we in Scotland have been consistently told is that Scotland is a valued and equal partner in a UK family of nations. If that is the case, we shouldn’t be put at risk of being forced out of the EU. A double-lock majority would protect Scotland from being taken out of it against her will.
We will also insist on a referendum that is fair to all, giving the right to vote to all 16 and 17 year olds, just as we did in the Scottish independence referendum last September. In that referendum we also gave a vote to all EU citizens living in Scotland so they were able to have their say, just as they do in Scottish parliamentary and local elections.
The Scottish Parliament’s vision of Scotland welcomes and includes everyone who decides to live and work in Scotland. We’re proud that they have chosen to make Scotland their home – and so we believe that anyone who makes that choice, regardless of where they were born, should have a full and equal voice in issues that affect their new home. We will of course argue for EU citizens to vote in the EU referendum when the Bill is placed before the Westminster parliament.
- By Nona Zicherman
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