Nicola Sturgeon unveils plans for autonomy from EU

Nicola Sturgeon will make her maiden speech as Scottish leader in Brussels. Picture: Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon will make her maiden speech as Scottish leader in Brussels. Picture: Getty Images
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Nicola Sturgeon will today unveil ambitious Scottish Government plans to take power back from the EU – but she insists Scotland and the UK must remain at the heart of Europe.

The First Minister will use a speech in Brussels to launch her campaign for a Yes vote in Britain’s forthcoming referendum on EU membership.

Better regulation will contribute to economic growth

Nicola Sturgeon

She will warn that the outcome of the in-out vote may not resolve the issue unless the Conservative government sets out the benefits of staying in the EU.

“We will make an overwhelmingly positive case for continued membership,” Ms Sturgeon will say in a speech to the European Policy Centre.

“As part of that, the Scottish Government will contribute positively to discussions on reform of the European Union. Sensible proposals for change stand a real chance of commanding acceptance.”

The SNP leader will set out demands for national governments to be given greater discretion over issues like health and social care, as well as the way regulation is implemented.

The development of the single market across the EU in energy and digital services also needs greater focus, she will say.

But Ms Sturgeon branded Prime Minister David Cameron “fundamentally” wrong in his key push for EU reform by cracking down on migrants.

Ms Sturgeon’s first EU address since becoming First Minister is widely being viewed as a counterpoint to the Tory leader’s demands for changes to the UK’s membership deal during a whistlestop tour of the continent last week.

The public health issue is a sore point for the SNP after plans for minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland were passed at Holyrood a few years ago, but have since stalled in EU courts after a legal challenge from the drinks industry.

“The EU should leave member states with the autonomy to tackle pressing problems,” Ms Sturgeon will say. Minimum pricing was aimed at tackling “alcohol harm in our society”, she will add.

“We know from their support for our case that many other member states support us.

“My view is that the commission and EU policy should recognise that. They should give a higher priority to enabling member states to take the decisions they deem necessary to protect life and promote health.”

The SNP leader will also call for changes to regulation after Scotland contributed to reforms which were agreed last year to the common fisheries policy, allowing more decisions to be made at a regional level rather than an EU level.

“Regulations should be based on the principle of proportionality. Better regulation will contribute to economic growth,” Ms Sturgeon will add.

“And by doing so, it will help to restore public trust in the decisions made by European 

None of the reforms she is calling for would require any treaty changes.

The referendum on EU membership is likely to be staged in 2017, but could be held as early as next year. It was among the first pieces of legislation in the new Tory government’s Queen’s Speech with Britons poised to be asked: “Should the UK remain a member of the EU?”

Mr Cameron has said he wants to remain part of Europe, but is demanding the UK be exempted from the drive towards closer union. He also wants tougher benefit restrictions on migrants.

But the First Minister will warn today that UK government rhetoric creates the impression that EU membership is not beneficial at present.

“There’s a danger the UK will focus the debate on the size of the reforms achieved, rather than the bigger picture of the value and importance of the EU,” Ms Sturgeon is expected to say.

“If the UK government wants us to remain in the EU, it should give people something to vote for. If it fails to do that, then even if it wins the vote, it may not resolve the issue.”

Mr Cameron’s approach, to restrict freedom of movement, is a mistake, Ms Sturgeon said yesterday. “Freedom of movement is one of the fundamental underpinnings of the EU,” she said.

“David Cameron is threatening that if he doesn’t get his own way, he may be happy to see the UK leave the EU – that is a world apart from my view.

“In Scotland there are roughly 300,000 jobs dependent on our exports to other European countries, which are made possible because of our membership of the single market.”

Scottish Conservative constitution spokeswoman Annabel Goldie last night hit out at the “contradictions” in the SNP’s policies towards the UK and the EU.

“Whatever the cost, she wants to end our union with the United Kingdom,” Ms Goldie said.

“Yet, whatever the cost, it appears she wants to keep our union with the European Union.

“If that isn’t illogical enough, the SNP is also still of the view that, in its parallel universe, an independent Scotland would keep the British pound and reject the euro.

“The only way it is possible to maintain both these positions is if you accept that the laws of political reality stop at the Scottish border.

“The First Minister needs to come clean. Since she is so opposed to the UK and so supportive of the EU project, surely she should just admit that the SNP would dump the British pound and back the euro.”

Ms Sturgeon has insisted she will not share a platform with Mr Cameron or George Osborne in the campaign to stay in the EU.

But this approach was branded “immature” by Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who said it could undermine the Yes campaign.