Scottish minister: 'We want the UK to remain a strong member of the EU'
Published 21/07/2015 | 14:42
The Scottish Government firmly believes in the European Union and what it stands for. We have made clear we want the UK to remain a strong member of that important union.
We did not support a referendum on the UK’s EU membership, but we accept that is now inevitable.
The Scottish Government will undoubtedly approach that referendum in a positive and constructive manner. We will inform the debate by demonstrating the many benefits that EU membership brings to our businesses, our communities 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. The UK’s continued membership would also be in Ireland’s best interests.
Scotland and Ireland benefit enormously from being part of the EU. No other international arrangement could be quite as advantageous.
EU membership places Scottish and Irish businesses within the world’s largest economy, whose 500 million citizens enjoy some of the highest standards of living on the globe. Around 20 million businesses operate in the EU single market, supplying goods and services to consumers and businesses in the EU and the global market.
The EU is a vital export market for Scottish firms – accounting for almost half of our international exports in 2013 – worth £12.9 billion each year. This is estimated to support more than 300,000 jobs in Scotland.
Within Europe, Ireland is a key trading partner for Scotland. Our exports to Ireland are worth £920 million, while trade from Ireland to Scotland has been estimated at around £300 million and growing. The UK is Ireland’s largest export market. Both countries value our membership of the EU and believe our interests are best served from within the European union.
So the prospect of Britain leaving the EU - potentially against Scotland’s will - is unthinkable, threatens the UK’s place in the single market and is stifling opportunities for trade and business links between Scotland and its European partners to grow.
Regardless of the outcome of the UK’s negotiations in Europe, the EU is hugely beneficial to us now. The facts around this must be widely disseminated and understood.
Of course there is always room for improvement in the way Europe operates. That’s why the Scottish Government has published an Agenda for EU Reform, which focuses on two fundamental principles: regulatory reform and reconnecting the EU with its citizens.
We don’t yet know how our EU reform agenda relates to the UK Government’s plans because the Prime Minister has so far failed to give details of what his proposals actually are and what they would mean in practice.
When he makes this available we will of course compare it with our own agenda and see if there are areas in which we can work together.
But I expect some of the UK’s propositions will be unacceptable to us. For example, any intention to unfairly restrict the advantages of EU freedom of movement would be problematic. It is important to remember that for every EU citizen who now resides in the UK there is a retired couple from the UK sunning themselves on the Costa Del Sol, a Scottish student learning French in Paris, or an British engineer working in Berlin.
Another area in which the Scottish Government cannot reconcile its position with that of the UK Government is on the issue of treaty change. Treaty change is neither necessary nor desirable. It is a long, complex process requiring ratification by the parliaments of all 28 EU Member States. I cannot imagine at the moment, when the EU is dealing with the situation in Greece and the increasing numbers of vulnerable migrants arriving in the EU, that there will be much appetite for embarking on the long process of changing legal texts to satisfy British demands – not least because there are many alternative initiatives which can be used to effect EU reforms.
Any concessions the Prime Minister can gain from his renegotiations may come at a price. And we still don’t know what would happen if the UK voted to leave the EU. We have no idea whether ‘Plan B’ is to join the European Free Trade Association; follow the Swiss model or do something else entirely.
But any alternative would fall short of offering the UK the kind of privileged status it currently enjoys as an EU member. Right now the UK sits at the table in Brussels helping to shape new EU laws and has the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the European project.
I am in no doubt that a UK which finds itself outside the EU will have significantly reduced influence and standing in the world. And a UK departure would significantly weaken our strong links and mutually beneficial relationship with Ireland.
Scotland and Ireland have distinctive identities but elements of shared history, culture and language. Ireland is not just one of Scotland’s nearest neighbours and most important trading partners, but also one of our closest friends.
I believe Scotland and Ireland together can work to demonstrate the relevance of the EU, and to reform it. That is why I will be in Donegal this week, joining the Irish Foreign Minister to talk about the benefits of the EU, the importance to both our countries of the UK’s continued membership and our shared ambitions to secure better regulation in the EU.
Together I hope that we can secure a vote which keeps the UK in the EU, protecting the benefits we all derive from the UK’s place in Europe.