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Douglas Alexander MP

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Walking Away From Others Has Never Been the Scottish Way

Posted: 17/10/2013 11:48

Today's headlines in Scotland are all about Grangemouth and the future of the nation's only oil refinery. But the headlines in the coming days will undoubtedly focus on Perth where the SNP's annual conference is taking place.

Unlike so often in recent years the delegates are gathering in pensive mood. The big story of the referendum campaign over the last year is that the polls have simply not shifted despite the promises offered and assertions made by the SNP.

As Scots we certainly want change today, but the change the Nationalists offer is not the change we want or need. And with less than a year to go till the independence referendum, a clear majority of Scots continue to show a granite like resistance to the suggestion of separation.

Part of the Nationalists' difficulty is that they are trying to make two contradictory arguments. On one hand they try and tell their supporters that with independence everything will change. And, simultaneously, they try and tell the rest of us, the unconvinced majority, that with independence nothing will change. Nowhere is this flexibility with the facts more evident than on the issue of Scotland's place in the world. The issue of the terms of Scotland's potential membership of the European Union has proved to be a world of pain for the SNP.

First there was the humiliation of the legal advice that never was. For many months the SNP claimed that Scotland would be an automatic member of the EU, would be free to adopt Sterling, and would inherit all the UK's opt-outs on EU migration.

Alex Salmond claimed that this position was supported by his Government's legal advice - until being forced to admit that no such advice had been provided or indeed sought. In contrast, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has been clear that an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU and negotiate its terms of entry.

More broadly, as economic power moves East and we face competition from countries the size of continents, the nationalists' claim that ending Britain should be Scotland's priority rings hollow. SNP ministers in Perth will claim that Scotland's role in the world is diminished so long as we remain in the UK.

Of course this assertion ignores the leadership role Scots have played in recent years in the UN Security Council, the World Bank, the IMF and Nato. But it also ignores our deeper shared history across these islands. Far from being held back by the UK, for the last 300 years Scots have been at the forefront of its engagement with the world.

David Livingstone, a man born and raised in Lanarkshire, campaigned tirelessly for the abolition of the slave trade in east Africa in the 19th Century as a member of the Missionary Society of London. Today, hundreds of Scots work in East Kilbride at the headquarters of the UK Department of International Development sustain that tradition of service. Each day they are helping to tackle disease, hunger and need. It is life changing, world changing work.

From the telephone to the first working television, the MRI body scanner to the discovery of penicillin, the list of Scottish scientific achievements is long and proud. These Scottish scientists and engineers whose discoveries and success reach right around the globe, were not lesser Scots because we are part of the UK. Indeed many benefited from opportunities, collaboration and support from across the UK and far beyond Scotland's shores.

Scottish businesses know that they have the weight and influence of the UK round the negotiating table in the EU, and Scottish tourists have the support of one of the largest consular networks on Earth. Sir Chris Hoy benefited from training with the British team in Manchester and is now one of the world's top athletes. He is proud to be Scottish and also proud to represent Team GB.

So in sport, as in science, business, and diplomacy, as Scots we understand that we benefit from the deep and diverse partnerships that make up the United Kingdom. As Scots - like everyone else - we live in an increasingly inter-connected world that demands shared solutions to shared problems. Walking away from others have never been our way. Walking with others has been our heritage and still represents our best future.

 

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