German Symposium speech

External Affairs Secretary speaks at the London School of Economics and Political Science 

Many thanks Professor Travers. Guten Tag allerseits, vielen herzlichen Dank fuer die Einladung.

I know from previous speakers what an important role the German Symposium plays in relations between Germany and these islands.

Never have we needed our friends in Europe more. As a passionate believer in Scotland remaining in the European Union, being taken out against our will on Friday was very sad indeed.

But the reaction in Brussels and other EU capitals has been striking and heart-warming. The words of Donald Tusk on Sunday give me great hope that Scotland will one day be able to once again proudly call itself an EU nation.


The Scottish Government is determined to keep Scotland as closely aligned to the EU as possible, and I will talk in just a moment about our newly launched European Union Strategy. We also strongly encourage the UK Government to seek close alignment in the coming negotiations.

Scotland sees itself, and has always seen itself, as an outward-looking country, an internationalist country, and we deeply value our relations with Germany and with the Länder.

Just last week I had the pleasure to welcome to Scotland a parliamentary delegation from North Rhine-Westphalia, an engaging and interesting group. We discussed at length the existing strong links between our universities, businesses and schools, and how we can go about forging new and stronger links. We need to collectively tackle the big challenges, such as developing the innovative solutions needed to make our energy systems green.


The week before, I visited Berlin, where I spoke at the Tönissteiner Kreis annual conference about Scotland’s approach to wellbeing, and engaged with the audience to hear and learn from Germany’s approach.

As well as policy links, we so dearly value the wonderful cultural and sporting links between Germany and Scotland. In 2018, for example, Glasgow and Berlin co-hosted the first ever multi-sports European Championships. Having been involved in some of the preparations, including meeting with Berlin officials in the Olympic Stadium with 100 days to go, to discuss the lessons we learnt from hosting the 2014 Commonwealth Games, I saw first-hand the great success that is possible when our two countries work together.

That same year, the Scottish Government’s third Innovation and Investment Hub opened in Berlin, following on from offices in Brussels and Dublin. The Scottish Office has been a wonderful addition, promoting and facilitating the valuable links I’ve mentioned, and many more.

The Scottish Germany Hub is just the latest staging post in the enduring relationship between our two countries. It signals Scotland’s intent to strengthen our links with our European friends, even in the face of the many challenges thrown up by the UK’s exit from the EU. We need to step up not step away from our European engagement.


As I mentioned, on Friday I was delighted to launch the Scottish Government’s European Union Strategic Agenda for 2020-2024: Scotland’s Perspective – our EU Strategy.

This document is a clear signal of our intent to continue to engage with, and shape, the future of the European Union, irrespective of Brexit, and our priorities align closely with those of Commission President Von der Leyen.

The strategy reflects our vision for Europe and the challenges we share.

Our aspirations set out in the document are that Europe:

  • Embodies progressive, democratic values on the world stage;
  • Rises fully to the challenge presented by the global climate emergency;

Actively promotes the wellbeing of all of society; and…

  • Helps create smart economies which thrive by the intelligent and humane use of new technologies

So let’s take the climate emergency, the defining challenge of our time. Scotland and Germany have so much potential to learn from one another and work together.

Scotland intends to be at the forefront of addressing this challenge alongside our European partners. Indeed, Scotland and the German states of Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia, have already been working closely together as members of the Under2 Coalition to fulfil the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.

Whilst Scotland has committed to achieve net zero carbon emissions, including international aviation and shipping, by 2045, having already halved our emissions since 1990, we understand that the impacts of climate change go beyond borders. They are a threat for cities, states and regions across the world and can only be addressed through international cooperation.

In November, Glasgow will host the UN Climate Conference - COP 26 – which must set the world on course for a net-zero future by mid-century.

Scotland will seek to work with Germany, and other international partners to ensure the conference is a success and promotes increased global ambition and action on climate change.

And if we look at wellbeing, where the Scottish Government, and others, believe that Gross Domestic Product – GDP – has too often come to be used as the primary measure by which we judge a nation’s success.

GDP values activity in the short term that boosts the economy, even if that activity is hugely damaging to the sustainability of our planet for future generations, or to the wellbeing and happiness of our communities. 

The Scottish Government published our National Performance Framework, setting out the outcomes we aim to achieve, and the social, economic and environmental indicators by which we would judge our progress.

Our refreshed Framework, launched in 2018, explicitly puts delivering wellbeing, and sustainable and inclusive growth, at the centre of government planning – at the centre of all we do.

Our national outcomes align with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. And just as the Sustainable Development Goals have a focus to ensure “no one is left behind”, so too the Framework has reducing inequalities at its heart.

But these issues are not only faced by Scotland, but by countries around the world – and it makes sense for the Scottish Government to work with other like-minded governments to tackle these challenges together.

This is why Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand launched the Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative in 2018. The group’s members are committed to shaping a vision for improving the wellbeing of their citizens through their approach to the economy.

This international group held its first economic policy lab in Scotland last year – bringing together officials from across our governments to discuss inclusive growth, sustainable tourism and natural capital, child poverty and predictive analytics, and New Zealand’s wellbeing budget.

We are already learning from our partners – we have begun to consider the impact our spending decisions have on wellbeing, and my officials have been engaging with Iceland on the challenges of sustainable tourism.

And our focus on improving the quality of people’s lives is echoed in the excellent German government publication on Wellbeing in Germany – ‘Gut leben in Deutschland’ – where it says:

“It has been clear for some time now that it is no longer enough to simply work to ensure economic growth and greater prosperity…The point is to improve both the opportunities available to live a good life and the conditions in which it is to be lived.“ 

That’s absolutely right, and we are eager to learn from Germany and to share learning from our own experience as we in Scotland begin to develop a public health approach to mental health and wellbeing. I know that Scottish Government officials are liaising with counterparts in the state of Hessen on these issues – just one of the valued links between Scotland, Germany and the Länder. 

The indicators that Germany has identified, from equal opportunities to security and freedom, from investing in the future to protecting the environment, are goals that the Scottish Government shares.


And finally, our number one strategic aim, which is to protect and enhance the progressive, democratic values that we so often take for granted in Europe.

Scotland is a modern nation built on shared values and aspirations, values we share with the European Union: respect for human rights, equality, freedom and democracy.


This is why – similar to the way in which Germany has its Bürgerdialogue – citizens’ dialogues – and having seen how successful citizens’ assemblies have been in Ireland at resolving difficult issues – the Scottish Government recently set up a Scottish Citizens’ Assembly.

The Assembly brings together a representative cross-section of Scottish society to enable citizens to give their views on how to equip Scotland for the challenges of the future.

This allows people to be truly empowered to decide what their country looks like, what it stands for, and what it means to live there.


This is also why we’ve been absolutely clear that the people of Scotland have the right to determine whether the time has come for a new, better relationship, in which we can thrive as an independent nation at the heart of the EU.

At the end of December, the Scottish Government published ‘Scotland’s right to choose’, which sets out in detail the democratic case for giving the people of Scotland a choice about their future, specifically a referendum on independence.

It is not about the benefits of independence, but rather the right of the people of Scotland to choose.

Last Wednesday the Scottish Parliament voted in support of a motion to recognise the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and recognised that there has been a material change in circumstances since 2014 – Scotland leaving the EU against its will and our treatment during EU exit.

Despite the UK Government’s refusal to give Scotland its right to choose, the First Minister has made clear that there is no “easy” or shortcut route to independence. The Scottish Government is committed to a lawful, constitutional referendum, the result of which will be respected in the UK, the EU, and internationally.

In her speech on Friday, the First Minister set out the next steps the Scottish Government will take:

  • We will ask the Electoral Commission to test the question, ‘‘should Scotland be an independent country?’
  • We will invite Scotland’s elected representatives—MSPs, MPs, MEPs and Council Leaders—to establish a new Constitutional Convention, and endorse a modern Claim of Right for Scotland; and
  • We will publish a series of ‘New Scotland’ papers that will give the people of Scotland the information they need to make informed choices about the future of the country.

You may have seen on Thursday a poll that shows that 51% of respondents – and 58% of under 65s – would vote for Scotland to be an independent nation if a referendum were held. If 52% in the EU referendum is enough to proclaim the ‘will of the people’ be heard, then surely the people of Scotland also deserve their say.


The EU is an institution that embodies many of the values that Scotland believes in. It represents a continued pursuit of peace, democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law and equality – values which we believe are integral to the future prosperity and wellbeing of Scotland and Europe.

We live in uniquely uncertain times, facing the global climate emergency and the rise of isolationist politics, which pose significant threats to the prosperity of Europe’s people.

This is why we believe so strongly in the EU, which exemplifies the internationalist and consensus-based approach needed if we are to tackle these twin threats and others.


The Scottish Government also wants to be absolutely clear that Scotland continues to welcome people from other European countries. We urge EU nationals to make Scotland their home, to bring your heritage and culture, and to continue to further enrich the tapestry of modern Scottish life.

EU citizens contribute to our vibrant cultural diversity, save lives in our NHS and have built their lives, their homes and their businesses in communities right across Scotland.

But the UK Government’s post-EU exit immigration policy will not work in Scotland’s interests. It doesn’t consider Scotland’s needs nor rights as a separate country.

The ending of freedom of movement will harm Scotland’s economy and our demographic prosperity.

Last week the Scottish Government published our ‘Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper’ document, which further develops our position on devolution of new powers on migration.

The paper summarises the options for a tailored migration policy for Scotland and advances a reasonable, realistic approach with devolution of some powers within a UK framework.

The main new option would be a Scottish Visa, for which the eligibility criteria would be set by Scottish Ministers, according to the needs of Scotland’s economy and communities.

The UK Government’s dismissal of our proposals within hours of receiving them speaks volumes of their willingness to listen - but I do not believe it is the last word on this important matter.


To conclude, whatever happens in the coming year, and whatever Scotland’s future, please be in no doubt that Scotland will continue to seek to play its part on the international stage.

The UK’s exit from the EU will not change the EU’s importance to Scotland nor our commitment to it. Geographically, Scotland may lie at the edge of Europe, but we have always seen ourselves at its heart.

Scotland is ready to play an active role internationally to push for a Union that embodies the progressive, democratic values we believe in, and to work together with our friends and partners to tackle the big issues we face, and to find ways to improve the lives of our citizens.

We will continue to argue for the right of Scotland to decide how much alignment with the EU would best serve the interests of the Scottish people.

As the First Minister said on Friday, as the UK was about to leave the EU, we believe that Scotland has the right to choose its own future and that the best option is for Scotland to be an independent country in the EU. Until that happens, we ask our friends in Europe to please leave a light on so we can find our way home.

And in the meantime we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Germany and the rest of Europe, around our shared values and interests.

Vielen Dank fuer Ihre Zeit. Ich wunsche Ihnen einen schonen Nachmittag.  

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