The independence referendum is the greatest opportunity we have ever had to build a more prosperous, fairer and better Scotland. At its heart the case for independence rests on the belief that it is better for all our futures if decisions about Scotland are taken by the people who care most about Scotland – the people who live and work here.
We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a higher GDP per head than France, Japan and the UK as a whole. But under Westminster for far too many people it doesn’t feel that way.
With independence we’ll have control of the policies we need to ensure our great wealth can be used to create a more secure future.
The alternative is to leave decisions about Scotland’s economy, tax system, social security policy and European future in the hands of Westminster governments – often governments that, like now, have been rejected by voters here. No-one believes that David Cameron’s promise to hold an in/out EU referendum by 2017 was made in the best interests of Scotland. The Prime Minister took that decision because of external pressure from Ukip south of the Border and internal tensions within the Conservative Party.
The consequence is that Scotland could be dragged out of the EU against our will if a majority elsewhere in the UK votes for withdrawal. Several Westminster Cabinet ministers are now on record as saying that if an EU referendum was held today they would vote to leave. David Cameron is playing a game of European roulette with both Scotland’s future and people’s jobs by starting a process he can no longer control.
I believe an independent Scotland will take a very different approach. We won’t get everything right and there will be challenges to face but we will have the power to put into practice the values that most people in Scotland share.
That means having an outward-looking international focus where we look on the EU as an opportunity to co-operate and achieve – not a threat to be overcome.
Scotland’s independence is something that runs with the tide of history. When the UN was formed at the end of the Second World War, there were fewer than 50 independent members – today there are more than 190. And of the ten countries which joined the European Union in 2004, more than half became independent since 1990 and seven are smaller or around the same size as Scotland in population terms. All of those countries have a seat at the top table of Europe so they can put the case for their national interests and pursue policies they believe will benefit the whole of the EU. That is one of the prizes that will come with independence.
Under Westminster, because we don’t have that direct voice, Scotland receives the lowest farm payments in the EU. Our fishing industry has been damaged and our rural communities have missed out on billions of euros of funding. Had an independent Scotland negotiated a deal similar to Ireland’s, we could have secured an extra €2.5 billion in rural development funding between 2014 and 2020.
In the event of a Yes vote on 18 September, as an existing part of the EU, we will move to become a full, equal member state in our own right. People in Scotland will still be EU citizens – the difference will be that we will be represented by our own government, not by remote Westminster administrations for whom Scotland will never be a priority. The negotiations to secure that independent status will take place during the period between a Yes vote and Scotland becoming independent in March 2016 – so at no time will Scotland be outside the EU. A range of legal and academic experts support that position. After all, we self-evidently meet membership criteria because we are in the European Union.
Scotland’s continued membership is a matter of common sense and in the interests of both ourselves and the rest of Europe. Scotland is a lynchpin of the EU. We have some of the EU’s best universities, with close links to other European institutions. We have 60 per cent of the EU’s oil reserves and 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal potential.
As one of the wealthiest countries in the world we will be a net financial contributor and we are home to 160,000 people from other EU nations. So our independent membership of the EU will be of great benefit to Europe as well as to ourselves.
But aside from the major contribution we have made, and will continue to make, to the EU, perhaps most importantly we share and promote the EU’s founding values. The European ideal is based on freedom, democracy, co-operation and the rule of law. In Scotland we are engaged in a legal, democratic process to determine our future. It is a process that exemplifies the very values of which Europe should be proud. There is no doubt that the eyes of the EU and the wider world are on Scotland as we decide the future of our country. Our profile has never been higher.
With a Yes vote on 18 September we can take our place as an equal member of that international community. Let’s grasp this opportunity of a lifetime to make our contribution to the wider world and vote Yes.
‘YES’ CASE AT A GLANCE
• Scotland is a valued part of the EU – with nearly 60 per cent of the EU’s oil reserves and 25 per cent of its offshore wind potential.
• An independent Scottish Government will, for the first time, be able to promote Scottish economic interests directly and participate on equal terms.
• Without a direct voice, Scotland receives the lowest farm payments in the EU.
• Had an independent Scotland negotiated a deal similar to Ireland’s, we could have secured an extra €2.5 billion in rural development funding between 2014 and 2020.
• David Cameron’s plan for an in/out referendum means that without independence Scotland could be forced out of the EU against our will.
• Fiona Hyslop is the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, and SNP MSP for Linlithgow.