The people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom will soon decide whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union. The Scottish government is determined to make the case for continued membership, writes Humza Yousaf.
Humza Yousaf MSP is the Scotland’s Minister for Europe and International Development.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said his referendum on EU membership will happen before the end of 2017. The smart money is that it will take place this year, with some sources close to the UK government apparently suggesting it could be as early as June this year.
Whenever the poll is held, this is an important question which could have serious consequences for Scotland.
The prime minister said recently he will permit his ministers to campaign on either side in the EU referendum campaign. This is deeply worrying and could move the UK closer to the EU exit door. It means, whatever the outcome of the current renegotiations in Brussels, that the UK government will not be making a unified case for continued membership. What chance has the Prime Minister got of convincing people about the merits of the EU if he cannot even convince members of his own government?
It is now more important than ever that those who support Scotland and the UK’s continued EU membership, make the case as strongly as possible.
The Scottish government will remain at the forefront of that argument because Scotland benefits from being part of the EU, and the EU benefits from having Scotland a part of it.
Solidarity, social protection and support are at the heart of why our membership matters. EU reform should be achieved by striking the correct balance between these three principles.
Solidarity, because the significant challenges Europe faces, such as energy security, youth employment, and the number of refugees seeking entry to the EU, cannot be tackled by member states acting unilaterally.
Social protection, because with the pursuit of increased competitiveness it would be easy to erode the vast array of rights that have been conferred on our workers through EU regulation, such as the right not to be discriminated on the basis of age, gender or race; and rights to parental leave, paid holidays and to work for no more than 48 hours per week. Scotland must not be dragged out of the EU against its will, putting these important social protections at risk. If we left the EU these important social protections would solely be in the hands of an unfettered British government.
The EU must also continue to be a union of mutual support. One which seeks to improve the lives of its citizens, allows its businesses to innovate and grow, and supports the ambitions of governments for economic growth and prosperity.
These values resonate strongly with those of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, whose life and work will be celebrated all over the world tonight (25 January) by Scots and the Scottish-at-heart.
I will proudly attend a Burns Supper in Brussels tonight, joining thousands of people who will commemorate the memory of Robert Burns as events are held across the globe in his honour.
Burns was celebrated as a pioneer of his generation, with his dynamic vision inspiring the founders of socialism and liberalism. There are more statues dedicated to him around the world than any other non-religious figure after Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, and his renowned song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is recognised as one of the world’s most popular songs.
Burns was a humanitarian and internationalist who spoke of the universal condition. I am certain that – if alive today – Burns would have supported Scotland’s determination to continue to be an outward facing nation, keen to share our talents, our goods and ideas with others around the world. The EU is key to this.
Right now – as a member of the EU – the UK sits at the top table in Brussels, with the opportunity to shape EU policy and make a positive contribution to the European project. If we are to influence positive change in Europe, we must preserve our EU membership – only that guarantees our role in the EU decision-making processes on issues that affect our everyday lives.
I am determined to make the positive case for continued membership in a reformed EU. The Scottish government will do all we can to secure a vote which keeps the UK in the EU, and protect the benefits we all derive from our place in Europe.