She was the guest speaker
at the European Free Alliance group conference on 'The Right to Decide'
Good Morning Friends
Can I start by saying
what an honour and a pleasure it is, to be invited to speak here today.
As a candidate in next
yearís elections for the European Parliament, to be in this great and
historic city, this administrative and political capital of Europe,
excites and engages me.
I hope what I have to say
engages you too.
You wonít be surprised to
hear that I intend to talk about Scotland and its current journey
towards political independence.
For those who arenít
fully familiar with its history, ours is one of the oldest nations in
Our flag, the Saltire,
can be traced back to the year 832.
with England, its larger and sometimes conquering neighbour, has often
been a fractious one.
Yet if there are two
character traits Scotland is famous for, they are pride and defiance in
the face of an oppressor.
In 1320, during the First
War of Independence, the countryís nobles gathered to sign the
Declaration of Arbroath, one of the most important expressions of
freedom and independence in our continentís history and, centuries
later, a profound influence on the American constitution.
I donít want this speech
to be a history lesson, but the words of that declaration, sealed in wax
and sent to Pope John the 22nd at Avignon, are perhaps one of the
greatest expressions of human rights ever written.
They resonate down the
centuries and still find expression today:
"For, as long as but a
hundred of us remain alive, never will we, on any conditions, be brought
under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor
honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom Ė for that alone, which
no honest man gives up, but with life itselfĒ.
Itís amazing what effect
a love letter can have, though, and things did get better!
England and Scotland let
their wounds heal - well, some of them, anyway - and the odd skirmish
and royal beheading didnít stop a Union of the Crowns of Scotland and
England taking place in 1603.
The Act of Union, which
joined the two parliaments and formed a unitary state and single market
in a sort of precursor of the EU, came into being in 1707.
Scotland was not meant to
be assimilated into this new Great Britain, but to be an equal partner
within it and, indeed, it has kept its own legal system and distinctive
national church - both enshrined in the treaty - to this day.
Inevitably, though, the
larger entity overwhelmed the smaller.
Scots did not necessarily
object to this: for instance, they played an instrumental role in
building and running the British Empire, as well as in two world wars.
political settlement survived largely unchallenged until the second half
of the 20th century, when there was a gradual reawakening of Scottish
national identity, and a growing interest in independence.
There are two very
distinct elements to the Scottish autonomy movement which set it apart
from nationalist campaigns in other parts of the world.
Firstly it is, and always
has been, completely non violent.
And secondly, it is
rooted not in emotional idealism, but in the pragmatic aim of building a
better, more cohesive society.
In short, itís not about
independence for its own sake, but as a key to unlocking the door to
forging a better country.
My own party, the
Scottish National Party, 80 years old next year, has long driven the
agenda on independence.
The SNPís revival in the
1970s led to a national debate about re-establishing the Scottish
Parliament which, after an abortive and frankly rigged referendum in
1979, was finally delivered in 1999, a decision validated by the
Scottish people in a referendum.
Since then, the
transformation in Scottish polity has been remarkable.
The parliament, dominated
since its inception by the centre-left, has won the trust of the people,
and has wide ranging powers over education, health, justice, the
environment, enterprise, culture, rural affairs and much more besides.
However, its remit
It lacks power of
decision making over critical areas of competence.
Key decisions affecting
Scots in areas such as economic policy, welfare and benefits, defence,
foreign affairs and the constitution are still taken by politicians in
More and more, Scots are
seeing this existing devolved settlement as inadequate.
As their parliament has
matured, so have their expectations and their confidence.
There is a strong and
glowing clamour for full independence Ė a clamour which will be tested
and hopefully rewarded in next yearís referendum on this very issue.
The road to the
referendum has been a long one, though it has picked up speed in recent
The establishment of the
Scottish Parliament allowed the SNP to become a major political force
for the first time and moved the focus of decision making from London to
The rules of the new
parliament, drafted when Tony Blair was in power, were meant to ensure
that no party achieved an overall majority, so forcing consensus through
And sure enough, the
first two Scottish administrations were an amalgam, of Labour and the
But then, in the third
parliamentary elections in 2007, the SNP won the most seats - albeit
only by one - and decided to press ahead without a coalition partner, as
a minority government.
This arrangement held for
a full parliamentary term, though the lack of a parliamentary majority
did mean that progress could not be made on a Referendum Bill during
Then, in 2011, there was
a dramatic change.
A proven record of
competence in government, the powerful personality of the First Minister
Alex Salmond and the partyís imaginative vision for Scotlandís future,
chimed with the electors in a way which led to the SNP winning a
The party was so
successful that it won an overall majority, despite a system designed to
prevent this happening. We broke the mould!
The result of this
absolute majority is that the SNP government has been able to implement
its entire programme, with a referendum on independence as its flagship
offering to the electorate.
The terms of the ballot
paper have been agreed - it will be a simple yes/no to the question
Ďshould Scotland be an independent countryí and the date of the poll is
fixed for 18 September 2014.
I mentioned a moment ago
that Scotlandís independence movement is driven by aspirations to create
an open, progressive, modern European society, rather than by,
It is about pragmatism,
With this in mind, both
the Scottish and UK governments have been determined to underpin the
integrity of this referendum and to define its exact legal status.
This has been achieved
through a critical concordat called the Edinburgh Agreement.
Signed in October 2012 by
the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, and the UK Prime Minister,
David Cameron, this sets the terms of the referendum, including giving
16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in it.
Importantly, it also
commits both governments to respect the outcome, meaning that if there
is a Yes vote, there will be no attempt by the government in London, to
block the will of the Scottish people.
So with a Yes result, the
way will be open for Scotland to begin negotiations with Westminster on
the transition to independence.
Our aim is to have those
talks concluded within 18 months, meaning that the first elections for
an independent Scottish parliament will be held at the end of the
current term, in May 2016.
That, we believe, is an
entirely realistic timetable.
Discussions with the UK
government over the terms of independence are hugely important, but they
are of course, not the only discussions we will have.
We fully intend to retain
our membership of the European Union.
Scotland is, and always
has been, a European nation.
I know that, here at the
very heart of the European Union and throughout the member states, there
is a certain irritation and weariness, at the UKís deliberately
confrontational attitude to the EU, its refusal to engage, and its
sometimes childish petulance.
Scotland does not share
the UK Governmentís destructive and embarrassing mindset.
Scots have a lot to
contribute to the EU and a lot to gain from their continued membership.
Itís not just the
Scottish Government that wants to play and benefit from as constructive
role in Europe: public opinion favours this too.
Iím not pretending that
we donít have our Eurosceptics, and Iím also not pretending that
everyone in Scotland thinks that all is wonderfully rosy in the European
Of course it isnít.
The case remains, for
reform of some of the key aspects of EU policy and governance, and we
will support that reform.
And we will always act in
Scotlandís best interests, which we will fearlessly and tenaciously
defend when necessary.
Our fellow member states
would expect that, and we know they will respect us for it, as we would
But we will always
negotiate in a spirit of goodwill and co-operation and within the
framework of being a good European neighbour and citizen.
We want the EU to work
Small nations have always
historically commanded respect within the European institutions, and
thereís a strong argument that they punch above their weight here in
Scotland certainly has
plenty to bring to the table.
For instance, our
universities lead the world in terms of quality of teaching and research
and are engaged in programmes which directly help to improve the quality
of life of Europeís people and boost its economy and society.
Our oil reserves are
larger than any other country in the EU and, with independence, will
help to secure our national prosperity for generations to come, through
a sovereign wealth oil fund - an idea already helping to successfully
underpin, Norwayís economy.
Scotland is also fully
aware, that stewardship of natural resources also brings
Despite the fact that
remaining North Sea oil and gas reserves are set to last decades or
more, and reinforce Scotlandís existing position as a global centre of
innovation and excellence in difficult recovery and deep water
technologies, we are already thinking of life beyond hydrocarbons.
Scotland already has some
of the most challenging protective climate change legislation in the
world and is a global leader in renewable energy.
Not in solar power,
admittedly - much as weíd like to, we donít really get enough sun for
that. Weíll leave that to our southern European cousins!
What we do have a lot of
In fact, weíre the
windiest country in Europe.
Please donít let that put
you off coming to Scotland on holiday - all that fresh air is good for
you! But our blustery weather does present us with a truly massive
We have a quarter of
Europeís wind resource, and also a quarter of its tidal energy
potential, along with 10 per cent of its potential wave power resource.
By any measure, that
makes us a major player in the kind of clean, green energy from
politically stable sources, which will fuel Europe in the future.
But we donít just provide
to Europe - weíre part of Europe.
Weíre already in the
We Scots are citizens of
the European Union, and overwhelmingly, we want and intend to remain so.
Opinion polls show that
more than half of us want to stay in the EU and that with independence,
that figure would rise to above 60 per cent.
Weíre absolutely aware of
the benefits that Europeís freedom of movement, both of goods and
people, brings, and we want to retain those benefits.
Freedom of movement rules
donít just give Scots the fantastic opportunity to holiday, live, work,
marry and build families in other member states.
They allow EU citizens
from other parts of the union to come to Scotland too.
Some 150,000 workers and
students from a range of EU countries have chosen to do so. They have
been welcomed and have enriched our culture, economy and society.
Scotland is a better
place for their presence, and they, too will be able and welcome to vote
in next yearís referendum.
I wouldnít want to give
the impression that we take EU membership for granted.
We know that existing
treaties have to be respected and that other member states will need to
Unfortunately, it is
difficult to get a precise opinion on our membership from the European
Commission - not because the Scottish Government canít provide the
details, but because it requires the UK Government, as the existing
member state, to join with us in making the submission, and it has
unfortunately, so far, not consented to do so.
Nevertheless, we will
work diligently to acquire the agreement of other member states.
Our plan is to make a
Notification of Intent to the EU quickly after we secure a Yes vote.
That will signal our
intention to continue Scotlandís membership of the EU on independence,
with negotiations to start as soon as possible.
Some of our opponents
question why an independent Scotland should be a member of the EU, but
surely a better question is: why shouldnít we be?
As Iíve said, we are EU
We apply EU law and
We have already
demonstrated our willingness and capacity, through our existing devolved
Scottish Government and parliament, to transpose and implement EU
We would be a net
contributor to the EU budget, and would seek to be an enthusiastic and
constructive partner, contributing to Europeís development and growth.
But surely the strongest
arguments arenít those about law and process.
They are those of reality
and common sense.
We are in the EU and we
donít want to leave.
Why would anyone want to
throw out a small, engaged, bold new country, which has Europe in its
DNA, and has so much to contribute to all the institutions?
There is another
As I have explained,
Scotland is a pro-European country.
The rest of the UK and
the London Government take a different approach.
The Prime Minister, David
Cameron, has chosen to engage in low politics, and tap into a populist
well, of mainly English Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant, public opinion.
In order to appease
voters attracted by the far right, anti-EU UK Independence Party - a
grouping which threatens his own Conservative Party in England but
barely registers in the polls in Scotland - Mr Cameron has said he will
call a referendum on the UKís membership of the European Union in 2017.
This EU referendum is
unwanted and unwelcome in Scotland, and it provides another imperative
for Scots to vote Yes in our independence poll next year.
If we fail to do so, we
could find ourselves being dragged out of Europe against our Will.
But I am confident we
will not be faced with this nightmare scenario because there will be a
Yes vote in Scotland next September.
Opinion polls show, that
the more Scots learn about independence, the more inclined they are to
vote for it.
We will have to work hard
to win over the electors, and we cannot for a moment be complacent, but
a majority for Yes is undoubtedly there to be won.
I am an Advisory Board
member of Yes Scotland, the official campaign for a Yes vote next year.
Yes Scotland is building
the largest community based campaign in Scottish history, and has
secured the support of various political parties in Scotland and indeed
individuals of no political persuasion whatsoever, but who strive for a
better future than our present.
This debate will be won
in communities, work places, schools, universities and online.
And By the time polling
takes place, Iím hoping my own life will have changed.
As I said at the
beginning, Iím standing as a candidate for the SNP in the European
Parliament elections in May, and I hope that weíll secure the number of
votes necessary to allow me to join our existing team here in Brussels.
Itís a fantastic
prospect, and I really hope that the Scottish people will allow me to
see much more of you after next summer!
Some people might think
of me as a nationalist.
Am I? Iím not sure, in
this multicultural and interconnected world, what nationalism actually
is these days.
No one could doubt my
love of the country Iím so honoured and pleased to call home, but I
think Iíd rather call myself an internationalist.
Iím a mix of cultures.
My Dad is Indian, my Mum
Welsh; I was born in London and raised in Edinburgh.
Iím proudly Scottish,
proudly Asian, proudly Muslim, and proudly European.
And Iíd like to think
that Iím doing a tiny bit, as we all are, to build a better world.
And Iím a Mum.
That drives me too
because, like every parent, I want the very best for my children.
I want them to grow up in a Scotland,
and a Europe, which offers them the opportunity to flourish and to
be the very best they can be.
I want a Scotland and a
Europe which protects their rights, guards their dignity, offers them
outstanding social protections if they need them, and embeds in them,
deep seated values of fairness, tolerance, liberty, compassion, equality
and public service.
And I want them to be
part of a continent, stretching from the glittering night skies of the
Arctic Circle, to the cobalt seas of the Mediterranean, which they can
truly call their own.
Itís their Europe.
Itís my Europe.
It's Scotlandís Europe.
And itís a Europe, which
doesnít just need what we have, but also needs what we are.
ĎSae come aa ye at hame
We are going to win this
referendum, and we are going to join you, back in the family of nations
to which we belong.