For more than 40 years, Scotland has experienced, what I believe are the many social, economic and cultural benefits of European Union (EU) membership.
The EU is not and nor will it ever be, simply an economic construct. It provides valuable social protections and employment rights and mutual support, providing an opportunity to address pressing challenges such as economic globalisation, energy security and climate change collectively.
Last Thursday, the EU referendum saw England vote 53.4% to 46.6% to leave Europe. In Scotland the picture was very different, with 62% backing Remain and 38% Leave.
As a nation, Scotland voted to protect its place in the world's biggest single market and the jobs and investment that depend on it. We voted to safeguard our freedom to travel, live, work and study in other European countries. We voted to renew our reputation as an outward looking, open and inclusive country. Regrettably in my view, the result in Scotland was not mirrored across the UK and as things stand, Scotland faces the very real prospect of being taken out of the EU against our will, less than two years after being told that the only way to ensure Scotland remained was to reject independence and vote No. Many of those who did vote No in the independence referendum are now justifiably aggrieved that this is a promise that ‘Better Together’ has failed to deliver.
Of course, the EU referendum was only called due to deep splits in a Conservative Party riven by division over Europe for decades. The Prime Minister believed that a knock-out blow to the Euro-sceptics in his party would bury this issue once and for all. In fact, the decisive victory for Leave has caused shock waves far beyond the narrow confines of the Tory Party.
Following the Prime Minister’s resignation, political paralysis has gripped the Westminster establishment. Tory grandees, so vociferous in the referendum only days before, have gone to ground and civil war has – yet again – erupted in the Labour Party. Only the SNP in Scotland is united and capable of governing with strong and effective leadership.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear she will act in the Scottish interest, committing to explore all options to secure our continuing place in the EU and the single market, whilst making it clear that the SNP Government must be fully and directly involved in any and all decisions about the next steps the UK Government will take. The SNP Government has also approached EU institutions and other EU member states to explore all possible avenues to safeguard Scotland’s economy and EU status.
Last Friday, Scottish Government Ministers, began immediate discussions with key stakeholders, particularly in the business community, to minimise potential economic shocks and emphasise that, at this time, we are still firmly in the EU. Trade and business should continue as normal and we are determined that Scotland will continue in the future to be an attractive and stable place in which to invest.
The situation is rapidly changing and may indeed have moved on by the time this column is published. However I want to reassure everyone that the SNP Government is working hard, seven days a week, to protect Scottish interests while ensuring day to day government in Scotland continues.
As Westminster is engulfed in political turmoil and as the UK Tory Government’s Leadership vacuum continues, Scotland will continue to be led by a stable and effective government at Holyrood, focussed on the day to day work of government, determined to continue improving education, NHS, infrastructure and our economy.