independent Scotland will be an enthusiastic, engaged and committed contributor
to Europe, First Minister Alex Salmond told an audience of students and
academics in a speech in Brugge today.
Speaking in the College of Europe, the first university
in the world to offer studies and training in European affairs, the First
“An independent Scotland, as an equal member
state, will bring a positive, cooperative voice to the EU, in contrast to the
often sullen, disengaged voices that have spoken on our behalf since Margaret
Thatcher's speech in this city more than a quarter of a century
“Not being at the top table in Europe has harmed
Scotland’s interests for four decades. Within the UK, we are occasionally
consulted. With independence, we would contribute as equals.
“Scotland’s prosperity over centuries has
been bound up with the ability to trade, travel and work in Europe. And just as
Scots have always worked and lived in Europe, so there are now 160,000 people
from other EU states who have chosen to live and work in Scotland. They make a
massive contribution to Scotland’s economy and culture. These European
connections are an essential part of who we are.”
First Minister also said he would call on the European Commission to make the
living wage a requirement in public sector contracts:
“The Scottish Government has introduced a living
wage - £7.65 an hour - in the public sector across our country. A living
wage gives individuals and families enough income to meaningfully participate
in society, rather than merely afford the basic necessities. But EU law
prevents both us and Scottish local authorities from making that living wage a
requirement in public sector contracts.
“What made Margaret Thatcher’s speech of
25 years ago look so out of kilter is that back then, Europe commanded
strong popular support in its moves towards a social Europe, in contrast to the
free market ideologies of the 1980s.
“In Scotland, for example, Europe’s approach
was far more in tune with the prevailing social democratic ethos, than the
policies imposed by Margaret Thatcher’s government of the
“And so people across the continent, who want to
see Europe rebalancing the economy and addressing inequality, will ask
themselves why we are in a position where EU law prevents us from increasing
the living standards of EU workers. I will be asking the Commission that
question later today. Perhaps they will have an explanation – certainly
they should have a rethink.”
First Minister also told the audience that Scottish independence in many ways
has been profoundly influenced and strengthened by the European
“The EU is an institution which enables countries
of all sizes to contribute as equal partners, and which is an enduring rebuke
to any notion that independence might mean isolation.”
First Minister said that the Scottish Government recognised that continued
membership of the EU will require negotiations on the specific terms but these
negotiations will be completed within the 18 month period between the
referendum in September and achieving independence in March 2016. He pointed
out that there would be no need to reopen the EU budget agreed last year to
2020 as Scotland would take responsibility for its share of UK contributions
outlined the democratic challenges that Europe faces today, saying the
financial and economic crisis in which the EU has been trapped over the past
six years has allowed radical euroscepticism to secure a significant political
foothold in many EU member states.
called for the restoration of public confidence in the democratic credentials
of the legislative and policy-making process in Brussels. He said this could be
achieved by improving the quality and sensitivity of EU governance rather than
through yet another round of treaty reform.
“If we are to restore public trust in the European
Union’s governance, and its ability to materially improve people’s
lives, I believe we have to succeed on two fronts.
“We must prioritise economic policies that
stimulate sustainable growth, while having in place social policies that ensure
that everyone can benefit from that growth. In the UK, we have seen how
widening disparities in wealth have corroded the fabric of our society -
causing deeply damaging inequalities in life expectancy, educational outcomes
and employment prospects.
“In some areas of policy, the EU makes addressing
these disparities more difficult than it needs to be.”
First Minister concluded:
"Now, there is a new world developing in Europe. It
is a world where people want to be independent and interdependent.
"But unfortunately, too much of the debate on this new Europe at
Westminster, is being distorted by the dreams of an old empire.
"Those dreams have little allure now for Scotland. Europe enriches our
culture, our economy and our society. We cherish the freedom it gives us to
share, to travel and to exchange.
"So when our small nation asks for the freedom to contribute, we will meet
a welcome from around Europe. And we will gladly make those contributions - and
more - when an independent Scotland takes its full place in the European family