Scots prepare for EU referendum


Picture of Fiona Hyslop
Fiona Hyslop

It is less than 18 months since Scotland’s independence referendum energised the country, prompting a record 85% turnout as our people engaged with politics on a level never previously seen. With the ink scarcely dry on those ballot papers, the people of Scotland are preparing once more to head for the polling booths to consider another question of serious consequence for Scotland: should the UK remain a member of the European Union?

The Scottish Government firmly believes in the EU, and that Scotland benefits enormously from being part of it. We have been and will continue to make the case for the many benefits EU membership brings to our communities, our businesses and our standing in the world. We will outline at every opportunity why continuing to be part of the EU is in Scotland’s, and the UK’s, best interests.

Our determination to remain in the EU does not only result from self-interest – it also recognises the importance of solidarity and the value of common action

EU membership places Scotland’s businesses within the world’s largest trading area of 20 million businesses and 500 million potential customers. Membership of the Single Market underpins cross-border co-operation between businesses, a factor proven to be crucial to successful innovation. So it is no wonder that the EU is a vital export market for Scottish companies – accounting for almost half of Scotland’s international exports in 2013 – worth £12.9bn each year, and supporting employment for more than 300,000 people.

Being in the EU means our citizens can move freely around the continent in pursuit of work, education and family. It means, too, that Europeans from other member states can join the 153,000 EU nationals who have already chosen to make Scotland their home and are making vibrant contributions to our society and economy. The employment and equality protections of Social Europe are also highly valued in Scotland.

But our determination to remain in the EU does not only result from self-interest – it also recognises the importance of solidarity and the value of common action. If the Scotland, and indeed the whole UK, is to play a meaningful role in tackling the major challenges of our time, we must remain in the EU. We want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners across the EU to address the big issues facing all of us like the impact of youth unemployment, climate change, energy security and urgent global crises like the humanitarian disaster currently bringing hundreds of thousands of refugees to our shores.

Through solidarity, support and collaboration, we can achieve far more than individual states ever could acting alone. This emphasis on solidarity is clear in Scotland’s approach to economic reform, which aims to tackle the legacies of the recession and strengthen our economy in line with the recommendations of the OECD, the IMF and the European Commission. The two key challenges of increasing competitiveness and addressing inequalities are profoundly connected, and both are strongly anchored within our economic strategy.

The Scottish Government is also playing a full role in supporting EU and UN efforts to secure an ambitious global climate treaty. Scotland’s interests will feature as part of the UK delegation in the crucial talks in Paris in December, during which we will continue to push for a legally-binding international agreement. This is vital if we are to limit global warming to less than 2ºC and strengthen the EU’s low-carbon economy.

Scotland’s interests will feature as part of the UK delegation in the crucial talks in Paris in December

On the ongoing refugee crisis, we have repeatedly urged the UK to opt into the EU-wide scheme to relocate 120,000 refugees who have already arrived in the EU. The UK has a moral obligation to play its part in this scheme and Scotland will continue to push for Prime Minister David Cameron to reconsider his position. In turn, we stand ready to welcome our fair share of refugees to Scotland.

Before the UK holds its referendum on EU membership, Cameron has committed to renegotiate the terms of our membership. But he has so far avoided sharing his plans or making clear what he actually wants, but any intention to restrict the advantages of EU freedom of movement would be problematic for Scotland.

Right now, the UK sits at the top table in Brussels, with the opportunity to shape EU policy and make a positive contribution to the European project. That opportunity is best seized through initiatives to benefit all in the EU, not by pursuing an exceptionalist agenda. The Scottish Government is therefore determined to secure a vote that keeps the UK in the EU, and protect the benefits we in Scotland and the UK all derive from our place in Europe.

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