It wasn’t Sturgeon who was threatening EU migrants in 2014
I have noticed a lot of British nationalists calling Sturgeon a hypocrite recently.
They suggest that she threatened EU citizens with expulsion during indyref1 and that now she is doing the opposite by criticising Theresa May for her current stance. They base their accusation on this quote.
We have set down a robust and common sense position. There are 160,000 EU nationals from other states living in Scotland, including some in the Commonwealth Games city of Glasgow. If Scotland was outside Europe, they would lose the right to stay here.
I’ll not spend too much time on this because it is such a weak claim.
Clearly the Sturgeon quote is not a threat and is simply a statement of fact. It says nothing of what the Scottish Government position would have been in regards to EU migrants if Scotland were left out of the EU post independence. That the SNP didn’t mention what their position would be alludes to the fact that the SNP were then arguing that Scotland would transition seamlessly into the EU.
The SNP were trying to discourage any other scenario from happening.
If it did happen then given that our economy is reliant on immigration, an independent Scotland excluded from the EU would certainly have granted EU citizens the right to remain.
The position of Sturgeon differs from the position of May because Sturgeon was talking about a hypothetical situation her actual policy was trying to avoid. Theresa May, on the other hand is currently dealing with a real grave crisis of her own making, and she has the power at her disposal to reassure those affected.
Anyway, while looking back at what the SNP were actually saying about the EU at the time, I discovered a speech Alex Salmond made at the College of Europe, Bruges on 28/04/2014. In the speech Salmond emphasises the democratic deficit in the UK. He confirms Scotland’s will to be independent but to remain at the heart of Europe, and he warns about the Eurosceptisism that would subsequently result in Brexit.
At the time our European friends did nothing to help or encourage the proposed independent Scotland within the EU and now everyone is suffering the consequences of their inaction.
Many people thought that Salmond’s warnings of Brexit were hyperbole. I would imagine many EU dignitaries that heard him speak that night now feel guilty they didn’t pay more heed to his words.
I will leave you with an excerpt from the speech which, with the benefit of hindsight, is both prescient and profound. Not least because Salmond predicts where the real threat to EU migrants was likely to come from.
The case for independence rests on a simple but overwhelming truth – that the best people to take decisions about the future of Scotland are the people who live and work in Scotland. That applies to domestic policy – how we create a fairer and more prosperous country. And it applies to international policy, how useful Scotland can be to the world– including decisions about when we pool sovereignty with others.
But at present, our ability to take those decisions is constrained by our constitutional position, as part of a state where Scottish members make up less than 10% of the total in the Westminster Parliament. The leading party in the UK Government has but one seat out of the 59 Scottish constituencies at Westminster. In fact, for more than half of my life, Scotland has been governed by parties from Westminster which could not command a majority in Scotland.
That’s a profound democratic deficit. It affects all areas of Scottish life. And because of the rising influence of a virulent strain – not just of Euroscepticism, but of Europhobia – at Westminster, it now poses a real threat to Scotland’s place in Europe.
The College of Europe invited Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in October 1988, to speak about the United Kingdom’s place in Europe. Her speech is known in Britain as the Bruges speech. At that time, it was seen as a deliberate rebuke to proposals being put forward by the European Commission on social policy.
It is a mark of how much the debate has moved that Margaret Thatcher’s Brugge speech seems almost commonplace now and not the radical departure it seemed at the time. But there is no doubt that it helped to inspire and empower a strain of Euroscepticism which has had an enduring and damaging influence over UK government policy ever since.
The consequences of these developments are becoming clear. Every single one of the four prime ministers since Margaret Thatcher has pledged to put Britain “at the heart of Europe”. Yet the reality has been quite different. Today Britain sits at the margins of European influence, and if Scotland remains governed from London, we face the prospect of an in-out referendum on whether to be part of the European Union at all.
Interestingly, it is unlikely that Margaret Thatcher, as Prime Minister, would ever have endorsed such a course of action. She questioned how Europe worked – not whether to be in Europe. But David Cameron’s proposal is to hold just such a referendum in 2017. It is a position which no politician in Scotland would ever have considered to be reasonable. There is virtually no support for this step in the Scottish Parliament.
In these circumstances, people in Scotland would almost certainly vote to stay in the EU – but the result for the UK as a whole is much more doubtful. A Yougov poll last week found that in Scotland, voters support staying in the EU by 2 to 1; elsewhere in the UK, there is almost a 50-50 split.
And so because Scotland makes up just over 8% of the UK population, it is conceivable that unless we choose to change our circumstances this September, we could be dragged out of the European Union against our will.
Therefore the real risk to Scotland’s place in the EU is not the independence referendum in September. It’s the in-out referendum of 2017(sic).
That decision on Europe isn’t the primary reason for seeking independence – the main reason for seeking independence is a desire to gain the powers any normal nation has; the powers we need to build a fairer and more prosperous country.
But the contrast we now see – between playing a full and equal role in Europe as an independent state, or potentially leaving it against our will – is an important additional factor in the Scottish constitutional debate. It highlights a fundamental truth: that the best way to make a positive contribution, is as an independent and equal partner to other nations.