Internationally, widespread interest in Scotland's referendum experience continues, with a number of events being held in Brussels recently to report on and analyse the process and its repercussions. The Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, addressed a Brussels audience of MEPs, EU Of.cials, diplomats and academics in October at an event titled “Scotland, the EU, the Referendum and Reform.”
The speech and follow up conversation re.ected on Scotland’s Independence Referendum, discussed the powers that Scotland was promised in the run up to the Referendum by increasingly desperate Unionist politicians, before highlighting the SNP Government's constructive approach to EU engagement and reform -contrasting greatly with the UK Government position of negativity and an In/Out EU Referendum.
Our Independence Referendum engaged people across Scotland, many of whom had never campaigned or voted before, in a national debate. The debate was not only about how individuals saw their constitutional future, but more importantly, a wide-ranging discussion about the kind of society in which they wished to live and which policies they wished their government to deliver. Over 3.6 million votes were cast and the referendum had the highest ever turn-out of any UK poll.
On the 18th September politics did not stand still. Fiona Hyslop described this well when she said, “Politics and the people are moving on with pace”, a point best illustrated by the massive increase in SNP membership from 25,000 to an incredible 80,000 and rising. In UK population terms that would be the equivalent to membership of a political party of 1 million members. Compare that with the UK Labour Party membership of only 190,000!
The leaders of the UK political parties vowed that further substantial devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament would be delivered within a short period of time, with the Prime Minister saying “if we get a No vote, that will trigger a major, unprecedented programme of devolution with additional powers for the Scottish Parliament.”
Scotland’s relationship with the European Union is particularly important in this new debate. The EU exercises considerable in.uence over economic prosperity and social welfare – areas of policy that are either already the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament or expected to be transferred to Edinburgh through the Smith Commission.
The Scottish Government has published an agenda on EU reform that attempts to bring Europe closer to the citizen, in a similar way that the Independence Referendum engaged such a high proportion of the public. The Scottish Government outlines potential approaches that the EU should take to better re.ect concerns right across Europe on major issues such as social cohesion, climate and energy security. To encourage better regulation in Europe the Scottish Government outlined 5 key principles. EU laws should be transparent, proportionate, consistent, targeted, and the institutions should be held to account where regulation is overly restrictive.
The engaging approach of the Scottish Government was very well summarised by Fiona Hyslop in her conclusion that "The Scottish Government will therefore continue to protect and promote the bene.ts of our EU membership, and the wider protections of international law under the European Convention on Human Rights. We will seek to in.uence the UK government and EU institutions to advocate meaningful reform in those areas in which things can be done better in Europe."
"And we will continue to argue the case for extra powers for Scotland in the EU so that we have the leverage we need to protect Scotland’s interests, making our distinctive, pro-European voice heard loud and clear here in Brussels."