Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome
Sixty years ago today, in a Europe that was still healing from the division and economic scars of World War Two, the signing of the Treaty of Rome laid the foundations for the sustainable peace we all enjoy today. What for centuries had been an abstract aspiration for meaningful cross-border cooperation had turned into concrete and powerful reality, marking a hugely significant step in the process of European solidarity.
Over the last 60 years, more and more nations have embraced this joint endeavour to promote mutual understanding by overcoming old divisions. The 60th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome provides us with the opportunity to reflect on what Europe has been able to achieve and the huge contribution the European Union has brought to our daily lives. We can look back with pride to a process that has turned old foes into good friends, dismantling barriers while encouraging democracy and strengthening equality.
The European project was born and has grown as a project of peace based on principles of open economies and progressive, liberal democracy – values the Scottish Government holds dear.
As we mark this week’s anniversary with events at our Parliament and at Edinburgh University, we also await the triggering – in a matter of days – of Article 50. The irony of this timing is not lost on me.
In a letter to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk on Wednesday, the Prime Minister is expected to set out her negotiation demands for Britain’s exit from the EU. This will mark the start of two years of discussions, following which the UK will cease to be a member state.
This is in spite of the fact that on 23 June 2016, living up to our reputation of being an outward looking, international country, the Scottish people overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU.
From tackling youth unemployment to enhancing climate protection, from research and innovation to the equality agenda, EU membership has helped make Scotland fairer and more prosperous. Far from rendering us less secure, open borders have enriched our society. We are lucky to have 181,000 EU nationals who have chosen to live here.
Our EU nationals are well educated, hard-working, and make a vital contribution to our economy, including in sectors that are key to Scotland’s future economic growth. They are very welcome here and we value the role they play supporting our economy, culture and society. It is unacceptable that the UK Government has still failed to safeguard their residency status, and we again call on the Prime Minister and her colleagues to do the right thing by offering that assurance immediately.
We now find ourselves in a position not of our making. Scotland did not vote for Brexit, let alone the economic cliff-edge a hard Brexit represents and which the UK Government have indicated they will pursue.
The Scottish Government has a duty to protect Scotland’s interests. Remaining in the EU is the best possible outcome for Scotland, yet we have acted in the spirit of genuine compromise. In December we set out detailed proposals which accepted that Scotland would leave the EU but which would have allowed Scotland to remain in the European single market even if the rest of the UK leaves.
Despite assurances that our proposals would be carefully considered, we are now almost at the point of Article 50 being triggered and the UK Government has failed to share details of its negotiating position, or even to formally respond to the proposals we have set out.
That failure by the UK Government to match our compromise is regrettable. But it also means that the people of Scotland must now be given a choice – at the right moment – in deciding our collective future. It will be a choice of whether to go down the slippery slope of a hard Brexit, with all the huge economic and social damage that threatens, or to became an independent country, securing a partnership of equals with the rest of the UK and joining the progressive family of European nations in our own right.
That is why the First Minister has set out this Government’s plan to seek the Scottish Parliament’s approval for us to open formal talks with the UK Government on the arrangements needed to give the people of Scotland a choice over their future in an independence referendum – not now, but once the detail of the Brexit plan is known.
The democratic mandate for a referendum is cast-iron, and if MSPs ratify the proposals this week, it will carry the full weight of Scotland’s elected national parliament – something which, I firmly believe, will be impossible for the Prime Minister and her government to stand in the way of. In short, any move to try and indefinitely block a referendum would be unfair, undemocratic and utterly unsustainable.
This will be a significant moment in Scotland’s long and much-valued relationship with the EU. It will signal to our friends in Europe that we are determined to do all we can to remain part of the European community of nations, and to continue to hold dear the values we have shared for 60 years.