SPEECH ON SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE IN BARCELONA – MONDAY 19thMAY 2014
Ladies & Gentlemen,
When my good friend Alejo Vidal-Quadras invited me to come to Barcelona to tell the truth about Scottish independence, I jumped at the chance; not only because Alejo is a dear colleague and a great MEP, but also because I love Catalonia and I love Spain and I don’t want to see your great country break up. We have the European elections in the UK on Thursday and in Scotland, the whole focus of the campaign has been on the impending referendum on independence, which is due to take place on 18thSeptember. In fact on the ballot papers, my Party is listed as Scottish Conservative Party – No to Independence.
Let me give you a little of the history to this debate in Scotland. Strangely enough, Spain plays a key role in Scotland’s story, which all began in Panama way back inin the late 1600s. It was at this time that the Scots tried to establish an overseas colony on the Darien Peninsula, the narrowest point between the Pacific and the Atlantic, so that they could open up a potentially profitable trade route with the Far East. A Scotsman called William Paterson persuaded nearly all the Lords, Dukes, Earls and wealthy landowners in Scotland to finance this scheme and 1,200 Scottish colonists set sail for Panama in July 1698.
Despite some initial successes establishing a fort and making friendly contact with the indigenous tribes, trouble was not far away. A supply mission from Scotland was shipwrecked, while the onset of the hot season spawned a host of tropical diseases. As provisions ran short, many of the colonists died of hunger and disease. Finally, alerted to the fact that there were some Scotsmen trying to take over Spanish territory, the Spanish navy arrived and finished off the few sick and starving survivors. A second expeditionary force set sail from Scotland in 1699 and found the colony at Darien abandoned. They too died of disease and starvation. Out of over 2,400 Scottish would-be colonists, only 50 survived to tell the tale.
This disastrous episode bankrupted Scotland and when it was suggested that all shareholders who had lost money in the scheme would be repaid in full if they signed up to the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England, the Scottish aristocracy readily consented and almost overnight, Scotland’s independence was gone. As Robert Burns – our great poet put it:
We're bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
That’s the background. William Paterson, by the way, who was the mastermind behind the Darien Scheme, had the foresight not to join the colonists, so he survived and actually went on to found the Bank of England! And in retrospect, I think the Act of Union between Scotland and England was a great and fundamentally significant historic step, so we have the Darien disaster and Spain to thank for the creation of the United Kingdom.
Let me now bring you a little more up to date. In 1999, the Scottish Parliament was set up. It was given extensive devolved powers governing health, education, justice, rural affairs, housing and the environment. The parliament is elected by a system of proportional representation to ensure that no single party could ever win an outright majority. Unfortunately, this failsafe plan proved to be just about as successful as The Darien Scheme, when the Scottish National Party led by Alex Salmond, won an outright majority at the May 2011 elections, capturing 69 of the 129 seats.
How did the SNP achieve this amazing victory? Well it was partly due to the way in which the Scottish Parliament is financed and partly to the incompetence of the previous socialist administrations. The Scottish parliament is financed by a generous annual block grant from Westminster. Economists say that every man, woman and child in Scotland is £1,800 or around €2,000 better off than their counterparts in England. This has enabled the SNP to offer free health care, free dental care, free care for the elderly and free university fees for students from every country in the EU except England! English students have to pay the full fees in an act of outrageous and blatant discrimination!
By offering these rich inducements, the SNP were virtually able to buy Scottish votes at English taxpayers’ expense and this is how they managed to secure an outright majority at the last Scottish parliamentary elections.
As you can imagine, this fiscal arrangement causes a great deal of resentment in England where the taxpayers do not receive the same benefits as we do in Scotland.
This is why I have always resisted calls for any referendum on independence being held across the whole of the UK, because I fear that the English might well vote to get rid of us!
So, with a secure majority, there was nothing to stand in the way of the SNP’s commitment to hold a referendum on independence and they duly agreed on 18thSeptember this year as the due date for this historic vote. David Cameron has agreed that the outcome of the referendum will be binding and he even agreed to an SNP demand that 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to vote, for the first time ever. Strangely enough I think this was a tactical error by the SNP. I’m sure they thought that teenagers in this age group would be real bravehearts and would vote for independence as a matter of course.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I visit many schools and always ask this age group how they will vote. The overwhelming majority, continually say that they want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom and the reason is quite interesting; kids of this age are constantly on social networks, making contact with people around the world. They think in global, rather than in narrow nationalist terms. They cannot understand why anyone would want to break up a large, successful entity into something smaller and less homogenous.
Strangely enough, it is over the issue of Europe that the whole SNP case for independence has begun to unravel. Alex Salmond and his ministers repeatedly assured us that on Day One of independence, Scotland would simply continue as a full EU Member State. They said they had high-level legal advice that confirmed Scotland would be a ‘Succession’ rather than an ‘Accession’ State. They refused to disclose this legal advice so we took them to court and when a High Court judge ordered Alex Salmond to reveal his legal advice he sent his Deputy – Nicola Sturgeon -to tell the Scottish Parliament that the dog had eaten her homework…there was no such legal advice!
Now Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy have both confirmed that under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, an independent Scotland will, in fact, become an ‘Accession State’ joining the long queue of Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Turkey and many others to negotiate their way into full EU membership.
This has serious implications for Scotland, as it will mean that we would have no option but to give up the pound and join the Eurozone and we would have to join the borderless Schengen area. We would then have to erect border controls between Scotland and England - our biggest trading partner.
The cost in currency exchange, delays and disruption in manned border controls would have a massive impact on Scotland’s economy. So much so that some of our biggest leading companies like Standard life, Lloyds Banking Group, Aggreko and a host of others, who employ tens of thousands of people in Scotland, are publicly threatening to move to England if Scotland votes YES in September.
We also know that the EU accession process can take years to conclude. What happens to farmers and fishermen cut adrift from their subsidies during this time? What happens to the 175,000 people who work in financial services in Scotland and who will not be certain whether they will be in or out of the Eurozone?
In an attempt to calm down fears Alex Salmond says that he will keep the pound, even although David Cameron, George Osborne, Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg have all told him that he cannot keep the pound in an independent Scotland. He says he will keep the Queen as Head of State, although a few years ago he was a convinced Republican. He says Scotland will remain a member of NATO, although he intends to get rid of the nuclear submarines that are based in Scottish waters, at a cost of thousands of jobs that will be re-located to England. He used to trumpet that Scotland would become part of the ‘Arc of Prosperity’ that includes Ireland and Iceland, although he has become strangely reticent about that since the economic crisis.
My own view is that Scotland has been a successful part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years, since the Act of Union. We have worked together, fought together, lived together and loved together; we have formed a positive partnership, which has brought us global respect. As part of the United Kingdom Scotland shares in that global role, which has given us a voice in the UN Security Council and in the G8 leading economic nations and a seat at the top table in the EU. An independent Scotland’s role would be severely diminished globally and in Europe.
I do not intend to interfere in the internal affairs of Spain, but I am well aware that the decision the Scottish people take on 18thSeptember will have implications and reverberations far beyond the borders of Britain.
I am proud to be Scottish, but I am also proud to be British and proud to be a European. I believe we are better together and I hope we will stay that way. Europe needs a united Britain and a united Spain. Let’s work together for a better future.
STRUAN STEVENSON, MEP
Note: Struan Stevenson is a Conservative Euro MP for Scotland. He has been a Member of the European parliament for 15 years.