An Open Letter to the SNP Conference

16. SCOTLAND’S PLACE IN EUROPE

Conference welcomes the overwhelming vote of the people of Scotland on 23 June to remain in the European Union (EU); notes that 62 per cent of voters chose to remain, as did a majority of voters in every local authority across the country.

The SNP reaffirms that citizens from other EU countries living here are welcome, that Scotland is their home, and that their significant contribution to Scotland’s economy, culture and society is valued.

Conference believes that it would be democratically unacceptable if Scotland were to be dragged out of Europe against its will.

Conference expresses its disappointment that the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU but reaffirms that the democratic will of the people of Scotland must be respected.

The SNP values our access to the single market and the investment and jobs it brings; our European citizenship and the freedom to live, work, study and retire in any EU country, the legal safeguards for workers, women and parents, and our place as an outward looking nation, willing to work constructively with our neighbours across the continent.

Conference believes that every avenue must be explored to keep Scotland in the EU. If no viable solution to safeguard our membership as part of the UK exists, Scotland should prepare for a second independence referendum and seek to remain in Europe as an independent country.

EDINBURGH WESTERN CONSTITUENCY
BRANCH
Motion to be tabled at SNP Annual Conference, Friday 14th October 2016

There will be a debate at conference tomorrow asking delegates to vote on a motion regarding Scotland’s place in the European Union, and a new Scottish Independence Referendum. I realise it’s one of those epochal motions which will no doubt have many delegates wishing to speak. If I don’t get the opportunity to do so – and to be realistic, I don’t see much chance of it – here is what I would say.

I heard this a couple of days ago, at my local Community Council meeting.

“The way I see it, we voted as one country, we need to just suck it up, and make the most of what we’ve got.”

I didn’t say anything then, because it wasn’t the time or the place to have a square go about grand constitutional issues when we still had to talk about the Kirn Drive Bus issues and the new school’s entrance placement. Nor was it appropriate to discuss party politics at a Community Council meeting – difficult as that task is, given how politically engaged the people of Inverclyde are now.

If you demand that the result of the Scottish Independence Referendum be respected, then that means two things. One: you must believe in the Sovereign Will of the Scottish People. Two: you must believe that the promises made to the Scottish People in the event of a No vote be respected. In 2014, the official result meant that it was every democrat’s duty to uphold that Sovereign Will. In 2016, that same rule applies.

In 2014, the SNP acknowledged and respected the official result. The First Minister did not declare UDI; the SNP did not use its Scottish Parliamentary Majority to secede regardless; the Scottish Government did not declare the vote null and void because less than 50% of the total electorate voted No. Respecting the result does not remove the right to continue campaigning for what you believe in – especially when over 1.6 million Scots agreed with our cause. But we went further than that: when it became increasingly clear that the promises of Devo Max, Home Rule, and Federalism were not forthcoming from any of the major parties, the SNP took up their slack: to demand that Westminster deliver what it solemnly vowed. The people of Scotland saw fit to swell our ranks into the 3rd largest party, elected 56 MPs, and a third term at the Scottish Parliament with the largest vote share of any party since Parliament reconvened.

Even with our hearts utterly broken, everything we do is for the people of Scotland. How can it be otherwise? Where other parties may look on Scotland as merely a supplement to a wider UK voting base, a source of income, or a remote wilderness to park nuclear submarines, the SNP are different – we cannot take Scottish votes for granted, because the people of Scotland are the reason this party exists.

During the Scottish Independence Referendum, much was made of the United Kingdom being a “partnership of equals.” Ruth Davidson called the UK “a 300-year-old equal partnership.” Alistair Darling said the nations of the UK were “equal partners.” None other than Theresa May spoke of “a future in which Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England continue to flourish side-by-side as equal partners.”

What kind of an equal partnership sees two of four nations being dragged from the European Union because of a small majority in the other two? What kind of an equal partnership sees the democratically elected First Ministers of three nations effectively frozen out of UK negotiations – two of which represent nations which do not want to leave at all? What kind of an equal partnership says that the Sovereign Will of the Scottish People was absolute and must be respected in 2014, but not in 2016?

1975_2011_2016-referendum-results

There have been three UK-wide referendums. In both the 1975 European Communities Membership Referendum and the 2011 Alternative Vote Referendum, every nation of the UK – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England – voted the same way. Every nation voted to remain in the EEC in 1975: no nation was being held in against its well. In 2011, every nation rejected the Alternative Vote reforms: no nation was denied reforms the majority of their people wanted. For the first time in history, a UK referendum has shown a clear divide across the four nations. And the treatment of the two nations which disagreed with the largest one belies the reality of this supposed “equal partnership.”

We’re used to having governments we didn’t elect. But a referendum result which was different across the nations is uncharted waters for the United Kingdom.

So no, I don’t think we should “suck it up.” How can we, when the people of Scotland are not getting what they overwhelmingly voted for not only in elections, but now in referendums? How can we “make the most of it” when David Davis hasn’t even talked to the Scottish Parliament about fisheries & agriculture in the hundred days since the vote, the UK Government still refuse to discuss their plan in detail, and nearly everything from the value of the pound to the UK’s international standing has gone into freefall? How can we trust that Scotland will get the best deal when our First Minister is denied a role in negotiations, promises that Scotland would have more powers devolved dismissed out of hand, and that the best Team GB can come up with to explore new trade options is a yacht?

The SNP were elected on a manifesto commitment explicitly putting a referendum on the table in the event of “a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.” But we must also acknowledge the commitment we made to EU citizens following the EU referendum – that “you remain welcome here, Scotland is your home and your contribution is valued.” There are 173,000 EU nationals residing in Scotland right now. Many of these citizens voted in the Independence Referendum, thanks to EU rules on local elections. They were denied a vote in the EU Referendum. They deserve the right to vote in any future Independence Referendum – but if the next referendum takes place in a Scotland outside the EU, there is no guarantee that they will have those rights at all.

Nobody wants to experience the 19th of September 2014 again. But we cannot allow fear of failure to jeopardise the rights of people we promised were welcome. If we said we would explore every avenue to prevent Scotland being torn from the European Union against our will, then we have to do exactly that. Could we wait until after the UK has left the EU for indyref2? Sure, we could – but in doing so, we would be placing the fate of every EU citizen, and every UK citizen in the EU right now, in the hands of a government that wants schools to provide lists of children who weren’t born on British soil. If the UK Government will not provide the assurances the people of Scotland – including the EU nationals who make Scotland their home – need and deserve, then we must do everything in our power to ensure that we do.
Conference, I implore you: please, support this motion.

3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the SNP Conference

  1. Also bear in mind that we elect politicians to govern wisely, and if their lack of wisdom amounts to financial ruin, we have every right to change our minds (and as often as we want).

    This ‘once in a generation’ twaddle was “a once in a generation opportunity”, and note that the full quotation is almost never used. I would threaten a referendum on every politician every year, if it kept them from getting complacent.

  2. […] Scotland as equal partners, and since this is the first referendum in the UK’s history where there is not a four nation consensus, it is indefensible for two Remain-voting nations to be denied their democratic choice. Given that […]

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