The Choice Between Two Unions 1

Professor Michael Russell MSP gives his first reaction to the outcome of the European Referendum, and its implications for Scotland.

Political anoraks like myself like to speculate before elections about possible outcomes and there has been much such speculation in recent weeks. Accordingly the outcome of the European Referendum was, in the literal sense, not unanticipated.

But it was certainly unexpected given not only the prevailing wisdom that referenda outcomes usually default to the safest option of the status quo but also because of the undoubted trend towards “Remain” in virtually all the polls in the last few days of the campaign.

Others will no doubt want to take up the seeming inability of UK pollsters to make accurate predictions not just on this occasion but for last year’s Westminster elections too. For most of Scotland’s political class and for most electors as well, if my casual constituency conversations in the first 24 hours after the vote are anything to go by, the real issue now is how Scotland and those who live here can continue in membership of the EU.

In June 1850, in a Westminster tour de force, Lord Palmerston defended his foreign policy to an initially hostile House of Commons. In the course of a four and a half hour speech he defined his objective as being one in which ” (just as) the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say Civis Romanus sum I am a Roman citizen; so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England, will protect him against injustice and wrong.”

Now however Scotland must weigh in the balance whatever continued protection the “watchful eye and the strong arm ” of England (however its British successor is or will be described) may give against the existing rights and responsibilities of European citizenship which we currently enjoy. No longer can we take advantage of both.

So which should we choose and how ?

In fact the first part of the choice has already been made. But voting so decisively for “Remain” Scotland indicated that it was comfortable with participation in a con-federal Europe even if wanted to see further reform particularly in areas like fishing. It liked and still likes freedom of movement , high environmental standards and regulation of markets and work places. It is prepared to pool a degree of sovereignty in order to gain such benefits and a sizeable minority of Scots (those who voted YES in the 2014 Referendum) have already assented to the idea of independent membership of the EU on those general terms.

The task, therefore, of the Scottish Government is to find a way to ensure that Scotland and all who live here or want to live here continue to enjoy the fruits of membership. It is clear from German and French rhetoric that such advantages can only be had by sovereign membership of the type that England and Wales have rejected and therefore Scotland must find a way to secure that sovereign status.

Consequently another independence referendum is not just a necessary action arising from the manifesto commitment made by the SNP only a few months ago. It is also the essential next step to ensure that the preference expressed last Thursday in every local authority area of Scotland is achieved. Only by securing a YES vote in such a referendum can continued European membership and continued European citizenship be guaranteed.

The choice is now between being an unequal part of an incorporating Union moving steadily to the right, with a diminished standing in the world and with its eyes fixed on a deeply divided America rather than the continent in which it is set or more independence and a status of equality within a project which has, in our lifetimes, brought peace, increasing influence and greater prosperity to our neighbours and ourselves.

It is the choice between being able to use our burgundy passports to move freely amongst friends in the modern world and show by example the need for co-operation and collaboration or to revert to the defensive, insular blue documents full of the bluster of Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requesting and requiring in terms that seem to flow from Palmerston himself.

Many had thought until Friday morning that we might have escaped that stark choice and go on gradually developing the powers of the Scottish Parliament until they and we reached a state of independence.

Now however the moment of choice is upon us and Scotland must make it positively and inclusively in favour of what is best for our future if we are to meet the pressing challenges of the 21st century, challenges that demand collaboration and co-operation.

It is, none the less, tragic that England seems to think that it is 19th century challenges that still matter and moreover that as a nation it must meet and conquer them alone.

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