Can Scotland act as a bridge between the UK and EU?
Scotland has little option now but to seek another Independence Referendum, argues Stephen Gethins.
Are Scotland and England set to travel different European paths? | Photo credit: Press Association
In the EU Referendum just under a year ago I was pleased that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the UK. It has also been encouraging to receive so much in the way of support from our friends and partners across Europe who have said that Scotland’s voice needs to be listened to.
The UK is on the cusp of massive change. The decision to trigger Article 50 will have an impact on us all across Europe but the biggest impact will be felt in the UK. Leaving the EU will be devastating for our economy with studies suggesting that 80,000 jobs could go in Scotland alone.
It is little wonder that the UK’s decision to leave the EU has seen support for leaving the EU in other member states collapse as reality bites.
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Since the EU Referendum, the Scottish Government have been determined to reach an agreement with the UK that reflects the aspirations of the different nations who make up the United Kingdom.
Just before Christmas our First Minister offered the UK Prime Minister a compromise that would have seen Scotland leave the EU but remain in the Single Market - therefore respecting the UK vote but maintaining the least worst Brexit option to respect the wishes of the people of Scotland, and indeed Northern Ireland, London and elsewhere. However that appears to have been rejected.
It now looks as though Scotland has little option but to seek another Independence Referendum.
When the last vote was held in 2014 the people in Scotland were told that they only way to protect our relationship with the EU was to vote No to independence.
The Scottish Government was also re-elected with an increased vote in 2016 with a manifesto commitment to seek an Independence Referendum if there was a ‘material change in circumstances such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will’.
Change is now coming but the question is, what kind of change do people in Scotland want to see. For me we have a choice of two futures. One with the UK with an increasingly isolationist foreign policy where some of our key industries such as education, food and drink and energy struggle outside the crucial EU markets.
The other as an Independent member state working with our European partners as an active partner in the same way that other similar states do. Scotland would be a medium size member of the EU, a net contributor that has met the acquis communitaire and enjoyed over 40 years of EU membership already.
It didn’t have to be this way. UK Prime Minister Theresa may had no mandate to leave the Single Market and no mandate to prevent another Independence Referendum. Just as the SNP was re-elected with that manifesto commitment on an increased vote, so the British Conservatives saw their worst election result in Scotland since 1865 winning less than 15 per cent of the vote and just one MP.
This week I have secured a debate in the House of Commons to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. At these times it is important to reflect on the success that the EU has been. It is not perfect and with 28 sovereign and independent member states, decision making can be a bit messy.
However it is better than the alternative and we have all benefitted from the decades of peace and prosperity delivered by Europe.
Scotland is an ancient European nation and the United Kingdom a voluntary union between it and the other nations. Scotland and England have chosen different paths in terms of our European partnership. However we remain important partners and allies in these islands just as Sweden and Norway do.
Our European partners must face up to the change that is coming and the kind of relationship that it has with the islands to its west.
The UK government has not got off to the best start but it will have to be a two way process. Scotland could be a bridge between the two during these coming years. To do that it needs to normalise its relationship with its partners in the EU and the rest of the UK.
Independence provides that opportunity.
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