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sovereignty

<em>Picture: fdecomite</em>

Picture: fdecomite

By John Knox

The project at this week’s European summit is to rebuild the economies of the entire continent. And Britain, as one of the big four, should be right in there – signing up to the new rules, helping to rescue our fallen comrades and securing the single market we all need in Europe.

The fact is that nearly everyone has broken the fiscal rules that they all agreed to at Maastricht in 1991 – especially over recent years, as they struggled to contain the banking meltdown and the world recession.

The rules insist that budget deficits be less than 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) and that government debt be less than 60 per cent of GDP. According to the European Union’s latest figures (2009–10), only Germany of the big four has stuck to the 3 per cent rule. France had a budget deficit of 7.5 per cent, Italy 5.3 per cent and the UK 11.5 per cent.

On the size of the national debt, the figures reveal that Germany had a debt of 83 per cent of GDP, France 82 per cent, Italy 118 per cent and the UK 79 per cent.

So none of us is perfect. Well, none of the big boys. Some of the smaller countries have behaved themselves – Poland, Sweden, Croatia, the Czech Republic. Others, like Greece, Iceland and Ireland, have not.

It may be that the golden rules are too strict, as golden rules often are. And it looks like they will be interpreted gently, even under the new measures to be agreed in Brussels on Friday. But, looking over the wasteland of the European economies over the last three years, we are now rueing the days we ignored the golden rules entirely.

It brings us back to what the European Union – and its euro currency – is for. It is to try to make life better for ordinary citizens across the continent. They all want much the same things: peace, a job, a decent standard of living, a good home, good schools, a public health service and a fair society. A common market and good government can help them achieve these fine aims.

No one wants a Europe that is unstable, has a poverty-stricken southern fringe, where countries race each other to the bottom with devaluations, low wages, poor public services and where only corrupt officials and the super-rich flourish.

So far, so good – but then a troublesome concept enters, stage right, like the bear in A Winter’s Tale. Sovereignty. David Cameron does not want to hand sovereignty over to Brussels. Like an ancient king, he appears to believe it is his, or at least the Tory party’s. I thought the modern world had finally established that sovereignty belongs to the people and can be pooled, to our advantage.

Pooling sovereignty in the European Union has brought us great advantages: peace, prosperity undreamed of in the 1950s, a common market, a common currency which 60 per cent our exporters use, and a set of minimum standards for business, labour, agriculture, the environment, etc. There are some things you cannot do in these days of globalisation without a larger union: establish a minimum wage, levy tax on aircraft fuel, introduce a transactions tax, stamp down on tax havens, tackle climate change.

At the same time, there have been some efforts to balance this centralising force with the principle of “subsidiary” – passing decisions down to as local a level as possible. Hence devolution. (Admittedly, there is an unsettled will over how far that should go.)

For all these reasons, I don’t think standing back from the European project is a wise option. Making the euro zone strong again is in Britain’s interest because it is such a huge market for around a third of our economy. We may, after all, have to join the euro one day. The speculators may come for us next. Our economy is not exactly flourishing, with 8 per cent unemployment, 5 per cent inflation, growth almost non-existent, the public services being cut, and manufacturing and exports flatlining (despite the devaluation of the pound).

And as for a rewriting of the treaty and the threat of referendums across Europe, what is being proposed by Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy is not so much a rewrite as a re-emphasis of the agreements already reached at Lisbon and Maastricht. The new Brussels deal is simply a calling-to-order of Europe’s political leaders who have so far shambled their way through the bankers’ recession and let their peoples down.

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First Minister Alex Salmond <em>Picture: Scottish parliament</em>

First Minister Alex Salmond Picture: Scottish parliament


This address was given to the Scottish parliament by Alex Salmond on his re-election to the post of First Minister for Scotland, 18 May 2011.

When Donald Dewar addressed this parliament in 1999, he evoked Scotland’s diverse voices: “The speak of the Mearns. The shout of the welder above the din of the Clyde shipyard. The battle cries of Bruce and Wallace.”

Now these voices of the past are joined in this chamber by the sound of 21st-century Scotland. The lyrical Italian of Marco Biagi. The formal Urdu of Humza Yousaf. The sacred Arabic of Hanzala Malik. We are proud to have those languages spoken here alongside English, Gaelic, Scots and Doric.

This land is their land, from the sparkling sands of the islands to the glittering granite of its cities. It belongs to all who choose to call it home. That includes new Scots who have escaped persecution or conflict in Africa or the Middle East. It means Scots whose forebears fled famine in Ireland and elsewhere.

That is who belongs here, but let us be clear also about what does not belong here. As the song tells us, for Scotland to flourish then “Let us be rid of those bigots and fools / Who will not let Scotland, live and let live.”

Our new Scotland is built on the old custom of hospitality. We offer a hand that is open to all, whether they hail from England, Ireland, Pakistan or Poland. Modern Scotland is also built on equality. We will not tolerate sectarianism as a parasite in our national game of football or anywhere else in this society.

Scotland’s strength has always lain in its diversity. In the poem Scotland Small, Hugh MacDiarmid challenged those who would diminish us with stereotypes. “Scotland small?”, he asked. “Our multiform, our infinite Scotland, small? Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliche corner. To a fool who cries ‘Nothing but heather!’”

The point is even the smallest patch of hillside contains enormous variation – of bluebells, blaeberries and mosses. So to describe Scotland as nothing but heather is, said MacDiarmid, “Marvellously descriptive! And totally incomplete!”

To describe Scotland as small is similarly misleading. Scotland is not small. It is not small in imagination and it is not short in ambition. It is infinite in diversity and alive with possibility.

Two weeks ago, the voters of Scotland embraced that possibility. They like what their parliament has done within the devolved settlement negotiated by Donald Dewar. They like what the first, minority SNP government achieved. Now they want more.

They want Scotland to have the economic levers to prosper in this century. They are excited by the opportunity to re-industrialise our country through marine renewable energy, offering skilled, satisfying work to our school leavers and graduates alike. But they also know we need the tools to do the job properly.

This chamber understands that too. My message today is let us act as one and demand Scotland’s right. Let us build a better future for our young people by gaining the powers we need to speed recovery and create jobs.

Let us wipe away past equivocation and ensure that the present Scotland Act is worthy of its name.

There is actually a great deal on which we are agreed. The three economic changes I have already promoted to the Scotland Bill were chosen from our manifesto because they command support from other parties in this chamber.

All sides of this parliament support the need for additional and immediate capital borrowing powers so we can invest in our infrastructure and grow our economy. I am very hopeful that this will be delivered.

The Liberal Democrats, Greens and many in the Labour party agree that Crown Estate revenues should be repatriated to Scottish communities. We await Westminster’s reply. Our leading job creators back this government’s call for control of corporation tax to be included in the Scotland Bill.

The secretary of state for Northern Ireland – a Conservative – supports the devolution of this tax, and the cross-party committee of this last parliament agreed unanimously that if the principle was conceded in Northern Ireland then Scotland must have the same right.

But these are not the only issues which carry support across this chamber. There are three more constitutional changes we might agree on. Why not give us control of our own excise duty? We have a mandate to implement a minimum price for alcohol. We intend to pursue that in this parliament come what may.

However, our Labour colleagues agree that it is correct to set a minimum price for alcohol, but they were concerned about where the revenues would go. Gaining control of excise would answer that question. It means we can tackle our country’s alcohol problem and invest any additional revenue in public services. So I ask Labour members to join with me in calling for control of alcohol taxes so that we together we can face down Scotland’s issue with booze.

Another key aspect of our national life controlled by Westminster is broadcasting. All of Scotland is poorly served as a result. If we had some influence over this currently reserved area we could, for example, create a Scottish digital channel – something all the parties in this parliament supported as long ago as 8 October 2008.

We agree that such a platform would promote our artistic talent and hold up a mirror to the nation. How Scotland promotes itself to the world is important. How we talk to each other is also critical.

These are exciting times for our country. We need more space for our cultural riches and for lively and intelligent discourse about the nation we are and the nation we aspire to be.

Finally, many of us agree that, in this globalised era, Scotland needs more influence in the European Union and particularly in the Council of Ministers. At the moment that is in the gift of Westminster.

Sometimes it is forthcoming, more often it is withheld. We in the Scottish National Party argue for full sovereignty – it will give us an equal, independent voice in the EU.

However, short of that, the Scotland Bill could be changed to improve our position. When the first Scotland Act was debated in Westminster in 1998, there was a proposal, as I remember, from the Liberal Democrats, to include a mechanism to give Scotland more power to influence UK European policy. It was defeated then, but why not revisit it now? Let Scotland have a guaranteed say in the forums where decisions are made that shape our industries and our laws.

I have outlined six areas of potential common ground where there is agreement across the parliament to a greater or lesser extent: borrowing powers, corporation tax, the Crown Estate, excise duties, digital broadcasting and a stronger say in European policy.

I think we should seize the moment and act together to bring these powers back home. Let this parliament move forward as one to make Scotland better.

Norman MacCaig observed that when you swish your hand in a stream, the waters are muddied, but then they settle all the clearer. On 5 May the people of our country swished up the stream and now the way ahead is becoming clear.

We see our nation emerge from the glaur of self-doubt and negativity. A change is coming, and the people are ready. They put ambition ahead of hesitation. The process is not about endings. It is about beginnings.

Whatever changes take place in our constitution, we will remain close to our neighbours. We will continue to share a landmass, a language and a wealth of experience and history with the other peoples of these islands

My dearest wish is to see the countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals There is a difference between partnership and subordination. The first encourages mutual respect. The second breeds resentment.

So let me finish with the words of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who addressed this parliament in 1706, before it was adjourned for 300 years. He observed that: “All nations are dependent; the one upon the many.” This much we know. But he warned that if “the greater must always swallow the lesser,” we are all diminished. His fears were realised in 1707.

But the age of empires is over. Now we determine our own future based on our own needs. We know our worth and should take pride in it.

So let us heed the words of Saltoun and “Go forward into the community of nations to lend our own, independent weight to the world.”

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum