- 28 Jun 2017
Good morning ladies and gentlemen and thank you to Kirsty [Hughes] for her introduction.
Before I begin, I'd like to take a moment to thank both the Scottish Centre on European Relations and the University of Strathclyde's International Public Policy Institute for coming together to collaborate on this event. Both organisations, in a relatively short space of time, have established reputations as informative and credible contributors to Scottish public policy.
Last night, I attended an event at the Edinburgh International Film Festival at Edinburgh Castle. The Polish Film Institute as this year's festival features a 'focus on Poland' and this helps to highlight the broader important links we have in Europe across my portfolio. I got the opportunity to meet with Sheila Hancock, whose new film 'Edie' is out and features hillwalking in the Scottish Highlands, a feeling you all may be familiar with after travelling up and down the stairs here! I also met with Trudie Styler, Sting's wife, who those of a certain generation may recognise. The point here however is that in Scotland, we co-operate with so many international innovators extensively.
It's also a pleasure to be here at Strathclyde University's Technology and Innovation Centre (TIC), a truly impressive testament to the ambition of one our country's leading universities to drive innovation and collaboration between academia and industry.
The background of this building also seems relevant to today's topic. For those wondering why, it is because the university received financial backing to build the centre not just from Scottish organisations but also from the European Regional Development Fund. The building, therefore, is a very visible reminder of the benefits of European co-operation.
The current situation
So turning now to today's topic of Scottish-EU relations as Brexit talks unfold.
You will all be aware that last week Brexit negotiations began, 10 days after an unnecessary General Election in which the Prime Minister failed to secure a mandate for a hard Brexit. Given its weakened position, the UK Government's approach to the negotiations clearly has to change.
From a Scottish perspective, we have calmly and logically worked to set out our priorities and interests. In part this is due to two factors: the result of the EU referendum in Scotland, which showed clearly that the Scottish people were in favour of remaining in the EU, and secondly, the Scottish Government has been, and continues to be, in favour of continued Scottish membership of the EU.
Following the referendum, we undertook an intense period of work advised by our Standing Council of experts and set out our proposals for negotiations in a comprehensive paper, 'Scotland's Place in Europe', which we published in December last year.
Our paper, put forward in the spirit of compromise, argued that 1) the UK as a whole should retain single market membership, and failing that, 2) for Scotland to retain membership if the rest of the UK chose not to and 3) powers and policies needed, Scottish Parliament needs for transfer of powers.
The subsequent result of the general election, in which the Prime Minister failed to secure a mandate for a hard Brexit, may have opened up a genuine window of opportunity for our proposals to be reconsidered.
As Brexit talks are now underway, the UK should – as a matter of urgency – reset the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) [JMC(EN)] as a proper mechanism for devolved governments to engage with the UK Government.
Furthermore, it should provide the devolved administrations with a seat at the negotiating table to ensure that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish voices are properly heard, and it is an insult to democracy, to the people of Perth and North Perthshire, for a candidate democratically beaten in the General Election to be elevated to the unelected House of Lords to represent an electorate which rejected him.
A more inclusive approach – opening up the process to more voices, more parties and all four parts of the UK – would help to deliver a Brexit deal in the fairest possible way.
This is a position entirely consistent with the exercise of devolution and it is critical to the future of devolved government across the UK that we have a strong voice in the coming negotiations, both in terms of the exit deal and the definition of the future relationship with the EU. The Prime Minister has declared she wants to secure a 'deep and special partnership' with the EU27.
It is during this phase of negotiations, prior to exit in March 2019, that Scotland's interests must also be heard by the UK Government. A new relationship with the EU27 will involve agreements that directly affect devolved competencies. This suggests a deal that will include agreements across a wide range of other policies, over much of which the Scottish Parliament has legislative competence – such as justice, the environment, climate change, food safety, technical standards – or which will impact directly and significantly on Scotland's economic and social prospects.
The exclusion of the Scottish Government from any meaningful influence over the UK's negotiating position during this second phase of Brexit negotiations would be to undermine devolution in a substantial way, and the lack of a strong voice in these matters would leave us without the opportunity we need to ensure Scotland's interests are protected.
As the First Minister said in her statement to Parliament yesterday, the Scottish people should be given a choice about their future – at the end of the Brexit process.
After reflecting on the recent general election result, and given the uncertainty over the UK Government's Brexit position, the Scottish Government will not be introducing legislation for an independence referendum.
Instead, at the end of this period of negotiation with the EU – likely to be around next autumn – when the terms of Brexit will be clearer, the Scottish Government will come back to Parliament to set out our judgment on the best way forward at that time, including our view on the precise timescale for offering people a choice over the country's future.
In the meantime, and as the First Minister said, the Scottish Government will stand the best chance of positively influencing the Brexit outcome if we are at the table – with the full backing of our national Parliament – arguing for the sensible option of staying in the single market.
Despite the twists and turns in the UK process over the last year, my fellow Scottish Government Ministers and I have been engaging extensively with our counterparts across the European Union.
We will continue to do so.
The Scottish Government has deliberately and consistently had active engagement with our European counterparts but in the last year, we have had a clear focus on the consequences of the Brexit vote. For example, in January this year I was the first Minister from any part of the UK to give evidence on the impacts of Brexit and our priorities for the negotiations to the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee.
We are engaging our European counterparts extensively. Firstly, so they understand the outcome of the vote in Scotland. Secondly, to ensure they understand Scotland's position, interests and priorities. And thirdly, to ensure that our European colleagues understand that, as a Government, we remain supportive of European co-operation.
My ministerial colleagues and I have had over 100 engagements with Ministers and Ambassadors from member states, European institutions, European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and European Economic Area (EEA) countries since the referendum. In the last six weeks, I have met with a European Commissioner, Ambassadors from Portugal and Latvia and Ministers from Austria and Bulgaria who both have upcoming European Council presidencies, among others. In these 100 plus meetings we have had, you would expect a mixture of responses.
Some have expressed sadness and disbelief that the UK will soon be leaving the EU. Others have concerns for the future, particularly around issues such as the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and on security, due to the Prime Minister implying in the Article 50 letter that the security of UK and EU citizens would be a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
In all these engagements, two things have struck me.
Firstly, Scotland's predicament – where we are being removed from the European Union in spite of us voting in favour to remain – has been met with interest, understanding and sympathy from our European neighbours.
The actions that the First Minister and Scottish Government have taken in ensuring that EU citizens, following the referendum result, continue to feel welcomed and valued in Scotland, has not gone unnoticed. Indeed, I would go as far as to say it has generated goodwill towards Scotland which will serve us well as the Brexit talks unfold and well into the future. Our situation is not at the top of everyone's minds, but there is awareness and described as 'the commonsense voice in the UK'.
Secondly and somewhat strikingly, participants have expressed a resolve for the EU and the importance of its continuity, its development, growth and responsibilities. They've expressed a desire for the EU to deal with Brexit efficiently and fairly but also for it to redouble its efforts on developing an EU fit for the future.
This desire is perhaps best placed in the context that, following the Brexit vote in the UK, there was a growing view that a wave of populist, anti-EU sentiment and political movements would sweep across Europe and fatally undermine the EU.
This view has not been borne out by reality.
Instead, election results from across the continent – in Austria, the Netherlands and France – have demonstrated that the tide has turned, and Europeans are rejecting this anti-EU rhetoric. This change in dynamic has reinforced my own personal view that the future for the EU, though challenging, is a positive one and the fundamental values underpinning the EU – of respect for human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law – is a much more positive platform which will continue to deliver stability and peace across the continent.
As part of our strategic engagement work, I have visited both Austria and France in the last six weeks.
During my visit to France, I launched the Scottish showcase at the Lorient Festival which will take place in August this year and is set to welcome an audience of over 750,000 people. With over 200 artists and delegates from Scotland participating in 182 performances across 11 days, we are being heralded as 'Scotland the country of honour'.
Days after the election of President Macron, I met with the head of the French Foreign Service, Christian Masset. Although Emmanuel Macron has of course said the door remains open for the UK in the EU, the reality is that French foreign priorities and focus lie elsewhere, primarily on re-energising the Franco-German motor of Europe and in promoting counterterrorism measures.
My visit to the Europa Forum in Wachau was on the weekend following the General Election. Several Foreign Ministers from Central Europe and the Balkan region were in attendance and I spoke with Austrian Vice Chancellor Dr Wolfgang Brandstetter, Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ekaterina Zaharieva, and European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn.
The focus of the conference was on the challenges facing the EU. Brexit was discussed, although it certainly was not front and centre, with countries already looking to the EU of the future. The sense was that the EU is moving on, with Brexit a necessary but unwelcome process which has to be dealt with in a proactive, orderly way.
This all serves to highlight the point that, while the focus in the UK has been on Brexit, Europe, with the challenges facing it, is moving on.
The importance of the long-term relationship
It is in this context that I say that Scotland must not view our relationship with the EU solely through the prism of Brexit, but as we have previously done. We must continue to develop bilateral relations for the benefits of education, culture and the economy, and to tackle the big issues of the day such as climate change.
The European Union continues to be at the forefront of tackling global issues which ensures it will remain a key player in big picture politics. It has led the response globally to climate change, the legacy of the economic crisis and the refugee crisis.
These are issues which do not respect national borders and can't be solved by governments operating in a bubble. They require strong cross-border collaboration, which makes it ironic that, in the face of these challenges, the UK has chosen to retreat from the European stage.
In many cases, co-operation and collaboration with EU member states and institutions has driven forward innovation and investment in Scotland. It is imperative that this continues post-Brexit, and as a Government we are keen to ensure that we continue to co-operate with our European partners. Whatever these negotiations produce, we all have important economic, cultural and personal links which must be maintained and enhanced.
As we're at one of the UK's leading research universities today, if we examine the example of higher education and research funding links with Europe, the benefits of continued collaboration is clear. I have already mentioned that this very building was part-funded by European partners, but what is more is that Scotland as a whole is an active and valued partner in a large number of EU research collaborations.
Horizon 2020 is the EU's main programme for funding research and innovation projects. To date, we have secured almost €352 million in total of Horizon 2020 funding (to March 2017). This represents 1.66% of the total Horizon 2020 budget allocated to date. Of this figure, higher education institutions (HEIs) have secured €251 million and research institutes over €20 million.
Research and innovation is an area Scotland excels in, and by its very nature is international in outlook, spanning the globe for new opportunities and partnerships. Throughout the years to come, Scotland will remain committed to collaborating with our European partners and to attracting the best international talent.
This example is in one very specific, highly relevant area but the substance is the same across many; whether it is health, justice, energy or transport, Scotland and our economy is deeply intertwined with Europe.
As Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, has said, we need "to continue to play our full role in tackling the major challenges of the 21st century. By using our knowledge base to contribute, we will ensure that we do not become isolated from solving the challenges that face the rest of Europe, and the world."
Across the piece however, we continue to use our International Framework and Economic Strategy to drive forward our internationalisation agenda: promoting Scotland abroad, enhancing our global outlook, developing relationships and partnerships and engaging with the European Union. As Brexit talks unfold, this will help ensure we are engaging with the institutions on issues outwith the negotiations.
Within Europe, we have close bilateral links with many of the EU member states. During my visit to France for example, I discussed with representatives of the French Government the possibility of strengthening our existing bilateral relationship and broadening our current joint statement of intent on education and culture to include other areas as proposed by previous French Ministers, such as digital technology.
We have also been increasing our presence in member states through a number of 'hubs' in key locations such as Ireland, Belgium and Germany.
In Dublin, our Innovation and Investment Hub has helped strengthen the historic links between our countries, and I will be visiting Ireland next week to engage the Government there and celebrate the cultural links between Scotland and Ireland.
In Brussels, the Scottish Government, Scottish Development International (SDI) and Visit Scotland are working together collectively as a unit to furthering our aims in line with the Economic Strategy. They engage extensively with the EU and enjoy good relations with the Permanent Representations of other Member states.
And later this year, we will be opening an Innovation and Investment Hub in Berlin. Building on the successful model employed in Dublin, the hub will serve Scottish interests to promote trade and investment links with Germany, a key member state and one of our largest trading partners, and strengthen our links with the German Federal Government.
We have also identified that the Nordic and Baltic countries are and will continue to be key partners in the years ahead. To help frame our strategic engagement, we launched our Nordic Baltic Policy Statement in 2014 to promote policy exchange and collaboration with the countries involved. To reflect the changed circumstance we now find ourselves in, we will be launching an updated statement later in the year.
We are also building relations with our Arctic neighbours. Last year the First Minister spoke at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik at the request Iceland's Former President Olafur Grimmson. Such was her impact, she has been invited to attend again this year and, at the request of Mr Grimmson, Scotland will host an Arctic Circle Forum in November, which will provide a high-profile international platform for Scotland to showcase our work on sustainable economic development to global experts in the field.
In closing, whatever the future holds, Scotland will remain an open, vibrant and outward-looking country. We will stay connected with our European partners as the negotiations progress.
Our Government will continue to engage with member states and sub-states across Europe. That will not be for the purpose of trying to engage in a covert Brexit negotiation but to ensure that our pro-EU stance and constitutional journey towards independence continues to be understood.
Just as importantly, we will continue to engage our European partners on the pressing problems of the day, promoting policy and knowledge exchange and collaborative ventures that will show people what the EU can deliver.
Our cooperation and relationships are not defined solely through the lens of the Brexit talks, however vital and important Brexit and the need to limit damage is.
Our outward-looking, international ambition for Scotland continues and will not be smothered by an insular, inward-looking, empire-nostalgic British state.
A positive European perspective will always guide Scotland's worldview – the compass of a connected world of cooperation, peace and prosperity will steer us.
I'd like to once again thank the organisers for arranging this event and look forward to your questions.
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