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(Archived) David Mundell: Scotland, the UK and a reformed European Union speech

The Secretary of State for Scotland today set out the case for Scotland as part of a devolved United Kingdom, in a reformed European Union.

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Ladies and gentleman, I am very grateful to the Centre for European Reform for providing me with a platform to make these remarks on Scotland, the UK and a reformed European Union.

You describe yourself as ‘pro-European but not un-critical’ – which I think is a very healthy attitude to take.

I would like to start by saying that my thoughts are with the victims of the shocking atrocity in Brussels and their families.

It is poignant to be making a speech about the European Union today, when the city which has been its headquarters for so many years has been attacked in this way.

I want to speak to you today about the position of Scotland within a United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom within a reformed European Union.

The fact I am doing so in London, as the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Scotland should not be seen as a paradox.

Thanks to the freedom which Scotland’s membership of the United Kingdom gives to her people, thousands of Scots live and work here, helping to make it a vibrant capital of the UK and a great world city.

Our mark is everywhere.

From Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington to J M Barrie’s Peter Pan delighting visitors to Kensington Gardens to the amazing work of the ScotsCare charity, which has been helping out Scots and the children of Scots, here in London for over 400 years.

One of the great gateways to London is King’s Cross Station, which has gone through a remarkable transformation thanks to Scottish architect John McAslan.

Just up the road from here is one of the many London pubs doing, if you’ll forgive the pun, a ‘roaring’ trade under the sign of the Red Lion - the ancient symbol of Scottish monarchy brought to London by another Scottish visitor, James VI, when he took the English throne, as James I, in 1603.

Scots in London have never been strangers from a distant land.

We are partners, colleagues and often family; living and working side by side with people from all over the UK, Europe and beyond.

As a Scot, I treasure the freedom I have to work in London and to enjoy what it has to offer.

It is the same freedom which a Welshman might use to start a new job in Edinburgh, or an Ulsterwoman to go and teach in Margate.

Scottish businesses benefit from the freedom they have to set up an office here in London, to access the world’s greatest financial centre on terms of total equality with a firm headquartered in England.

The same freedom which English firms have to trade and employ north of the Border.

The plumber in Gretna is free to take go and do a job in Carlisle.

The teenager in Chester is free to go and buy her first car from a neighbour in Flint.

This genuine freedom is and has always been the fundamental argument in favour of our United Kingdom.

All the great benefits which we have built up together in the years since our Union was created have flowed directly from it.

The family links, the economic ties, the cultural connections have come about in the way they have because of that freedom.

Without that freedom of movement, of capital, of services, we’d have built less than we have, achieved less than we have, be less than we are.

This genuine freedom, the hallmark of the United Kingdom, is also something of a paradox, because it is achieved by pooling and sharing our sovereignty in these islands.

It is a genuine freedom, in contrast to the false freedom of separation.

If Scotland had voted to leave the United Kingdom, those who supported that outcome would have argued that we had achieved ‘freedom’ from the UK.

Indeed the former First Minister dubbed Glasgow ‘Freedom City’.

But my case to you today is that this would be a false freedom, which would have restricted the life chances and opportunities available to people in Scotland.

And that – despite some important differences between the two referendums – the same can be said of the choice we face in June.

The phrase ‘false freedom’ comes from a poem by John Dryden.

Celebrating the Restoration of Charles II (grandson of James VI of pub sign fame) to the thrones of England and Scotland, he said that the restoration of Monarchy and the end of the Cromwellian protectorate cut loose ‘those real bonds false freedom did impose.’

Britain leaving the EU would be another such ‘false freedom’ which would impose ‘real bonds’ on people in Scotland and across the UK.

Two referendums

The referendum on Scottish membership of the UK in 2014 and the referendum on UK membership on of the EU in June are very different propositions, but they do share some fundamental similarities.

First, the differences: chiefly identity, history and emotion.

For many people in Scotland, Britishness is a fundamental part of their identity.

For them, the question of whether Scotland should be a part of Britain strikes at the heart of their self-definition.

The suggestion that Scotland might leave the UK, therefore, was a genuinely disturbing and upsetting prospect to those people.

The Union Flag is a potent symbol of loyalty for a significant number of Scots, though of course by no means all.

As my colleague Ruth Davidson has vividly pointed out, there are people who go to sleep at night underneath a Union Flag duvet cover.

But there are few but the most committed of Europhiles who would tuck themselves in under the twelve golden stars of the EU flag.

And that leads onto another big difference between Scotland’s membership of the United Kingdom and the UK’s membership of the EU: history.

The Union of Scotland with England and Wales, to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, occurred in 1707.

The United Kingdom’s entry into the European Economic Community happened in 1973.

The Union of Scotland with England and Wales, to form a sovereign British state, has endured for centuries, seen us fight and win together wars of sacrifice and survival, and build a common British heritage, to which we have all contributed and of which we can all be proud.

The prospect of that centuries-old Union being broken in 2014 – whilst an attractive prospect for a significant minority of people in Scotland – sent a shiver down the spine of several hundreds of thousands of others, and was decisively rejected by a majority of over ten per cent.

Britain’s membership of the European Union is a question on a different emotional scale.

And that is a challenge for those who, like me, think Britain’s place is within a reformed EU.

In 2014, those of us who believed that membership of the UK was in Scotland’s best interests didn’t have to work too hard to make people understand the seriousness of the question being asked, or the scale of the consequences of that decision.

Now that’s not to say that we didn’t work hard – we certainly did.

But when you spoke to people about that referendum, whatever their viewpoint, they didn’t take much persuading that the question was of the first importance and that they needed to make their voice heard.

And that brings me onto my third difference – a consequence of the previous two: emotional investment.

As the Prime Minister put it in his Bloomberg speech: ‘we come to the European Union with a frame of mind that is more practical than emotional.’

The fact is that the 2014 referendum campaign, touching questions of identity and history which were close to people’s hearts, inspired mass participation amongst electors, and a record turnout.

One of the challenges which the Remain side in this referendum faces is making sure that those who believe Britain is stronger with a voice and a vote in the European Union actually go out and vote for that on the 23 June.

If they don’t, they’ll be leaving it to the minority who are passionately motivated by the European question to make the decision for them, perhaps leading to a result they would not like and which would be damaging to them and their families.

That’s why a big task facing all of us who think the UK is better off in Europe is making people understand both the risks of leaving, and the benefits we enjoy as a consequence of our membership of the EU.

That way, we can help everyone understand the importance of making their voices heard.

So let’s be clear about the argument we’re making.

Thanks to the deal which David Cameron struck with his fellow EU leaders, we will be in the parts of Europe that work for us – influencing the decisions that affect us but we will be out of the parts of Europe that do not work for us.

So as well as being out of ever closer union, we will never join the euro and never be part of Eurozone bailouts or the passport-free no borders area.

Britain – and Scotland within it – will be stronger, safer and better off by remaining in a reformed European Union.

Stronger – because we can play a leading role in one of the world’s largest organisations from within, helping to make the big decisions on trade and security that determine our future.

Better off – because British businesses will have full access to the single market, bringing jobs, investment and lower prices.

We have ensured the protection of the UK’s rights as a country within the Single Market but outside the Eurozone.

The EU now has an ambitious agenda of economic reform.

It is committed to the reduction of regulatory burdens on business, particularly small businesses.   But the deal which David Cameron struck is certainly not the end of EU reform.

It is really just the start of the process of making the Union fit for the twenty-first century.

There remains much more still to do, but Britain needs to be inside, pressing the case, in order to make it happen.

Our first priority must be to complete the Single Market, and the Prime Minister has ensured that there will be new focus on doing just that.

Another big reform agenda is a personal passion of mine - devolving more powers closer to the people that they affect.

European cooperation shouldn’t be a one way street.

Just as it is right that powers should be passed down from Whitehall or Holyrood to local communities, the same principle should apply to the EU.

Let’s do together what it makes sense to do collectively, but always be on the lookout for opportunities to give local people in their own communities the chance to take more decisions.

And David Cameron has achieved progress there too.

Mechanisms will now be established for decision-making to return from Brussels to the UK and other nation states.

And we should remember the underlying benefits Scotland derives from the European Union.

Our access to the single market of 500 million people reduces costs for Scottish businesses by removing barriers to an export market, currently worth around £11.6 billion.

It secures jobs. The Wilson Review of Support for Scottish Exporting, concluded that over 330,000 jobs in Scotland depend on EU trade;

And it is vital to our tourism industry too, an industry that provides over 10 per cent of total jobs in Scotland.

1.5 million inbound visitors to Scotland from the EU in 2014 spent around £770 million in our country.

And EU residents made up over half of all foreign visits to Scotland.

Our outstanding Scottish Higher Education Institutions are the recipients of important EU support.

And just this week the Scotch Whisky Association – which represents an industry whose exports generate £3.95 billion for the UK balance of trade – has written to the UK Government to say that they believe it is in the national interest for the UK to remain an EU member.

There are clear benefits for Scotland in our continued membership of a reformed European Union, focused on competitiveness and extending the single market.

These are the freedoms which EU memberships gives us.

The freedom to trade and to travel.

The freedom to work for European firms.

The freedom to help write the rules which govern Europe.

The freedom which our size and clout gives us to shape the future of a continent which has always and will always affect our lives here in Britain.

But we also need to be clear about the dangers of leaving the EU.

Just as in 2014, the onus is on those who want to make the change to demonstrate that what they propose is a safe and viable proposition.

This week, a report by PwC for the business group the CBI has put a conservative estimate of the cost to the British economy of leaving the EU at as much as £100 billion - the equivalent of around 5% of GDP - by 2020 and costing 950,000 jobs.

These and many other warnings – from our G20 allies, from our leading industrialists, from military leaders, from academics – yet they are simply dismissed by those who oppose our place in Europe.

It’s all just a scare tactic, they say.

Those of us who campaigned in the Scottish referendum have seen this story before. And we know how it ends.

The Yes side dismissed all of the legitimate questions which the No side raised as scare tactics.

Let’s take for example the oil revenues an independent Scotland would rely on.

When No campaigners pointed out that their estimates of oil revenue were too optimistic and that they were taking a risk with Scotland’s economy by relying on such a volatile commodity, we were dismissed.

We’ve seen in the months since how right we were to raise those questions.

The Scottish Government’s own figures, published on the 9 March, demonstrate the gulf between SNP rhetoric and economic reality.

Scotland’s public spending was almost £15 billion more than its tax revenue in the last financial year.

The amount spent per head was £1,400 per person higher than the UK figure.

Scottish independence would indeed have been a false freedom.

The freedom to have the highest deficit in the EU.

The freedom to make drastic cuts in public spending or increases in taxation.

Independence - what Nicola Sturgeon describes as a ‘beautiful dream’ - has been revealed to be an insolvent nightmare.

The lesson to be learned is that when people argue passionately for a major change, but play down the risks, be very wary.

As the Prime Minister has said, pointing out the dangers and asking the difficult questions is a necessary part of Project Fact.

Some of those who campaigned to preserve the UK, and who were very keen to point out the risks and ask the difficult questions in 2014, now criticise us for doing that today.

I think we were right to caution about the dangers of Scotland leaving the UK – people had a right to know the risks.

And the same applies to the European question.

But it is even more striking to see the champions of Scottish independence become advocates of the UK being better together, pooling and sharing as a part of the EU.

The SNP rightly talk up the importance Scotland’s £11.6 billion EU export market, yet they argue that Scotland should leave the UK, a true single market which accounts for £48.5 billion worth of trade for Scotland.

Now, the two referendums are not the same.

And I’m not saying you can’t support the UK but oppose the EU - or that you can’t oppose the UK but support the EU.

In our democracy, obviously you can.

But it is clearly more consistent and logical to support both institutions, and for many of the same reasons.

Doing so does not require contradictory arguments.

And in doing so we are on the side of majority of people in Scotland – who want to live in a devolved United Kingdom and a reformed European Union.

Conclusion

It is a feature of our times that people no longer give unquestioning, deferential support to political constructions in the way they once did.

It is right that those of us who are elected to positions of responsibility and who support these political institutions should be put on our mettle to defend them.

Whether it is the United Kingdom or the European Union or whatever - if we believe sincerely that they are in the best interests of our country and our people, we should make the case for them with clarity and honesty.

As I have said, the EU is far from perfect and needs further reform.

Our Scottish devolution settlement has received welcome and extensive attention and improvement over the last few years.

And on that note, I hope that the Scotland Bill will pass its final stage of parliamentary scrutiny this week.

But reform of the European Union is an even bigger and more complex task, which has really only just begun.

But we can be confident that our arguments are strong and sound.

The benefits which Scotland and the rest of the UK gains from EU membership are clear.

Stepping away from the EU would be backwards step.

We would be forfeiting our genuine freedom for a false freedom, which would impose real risks and dangers.

In the end, it makes sense to be a part of the things which influence you.

So let’s make the case for the real freedom which Scotland in the UK, and the UK in the EU gives to us all.

Published 22 March 2016