Sturgeon warning on EU exit ‘anger’

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Published: Tuesday 2nd June 2015 by The News Editor

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A vote to take the UK out of the European Union (EU) could result in a “clamour” for another referendum on Scottish independence, according to the First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon said that if Scotland was taken out of the EU against its will in the in/out referendum on membership it would create a “groundswell of anger”.

She used her first Brussels speech as First Minister to renew calls for a “double majority” to ensure that all four UK nations back withdrawal from the EU before it can take place.

The SNP leader said: “I previously stated my view that if Scotland were to be taken out of Europe despite voting as a nation to have remained, it would provoke a strong backlash amongst many ordinary voters.

“Quite what the result of that would be no-one can perceive but I’ve stated before that this could be one scenario producing the kind of material change in circumstances that would precipitate popular demand for a second independence referendum.

“Bluntly, I believe that the groundswell of anger amongst many ordinary people in Scotland under these circumstances could produce a clamour for another independence referendum that may well be unstoppable.

“Of course it is open to the UK Government to stop that happening, to guard against that scenario by agreeing to the double majority provision.”

Prime Minister David Cameron embarked on a tour of European capitals last week in an effort to drum up support for the reform of Britain’s relationship with the EU he hopes to secure before the referendum promised by the end of 2017.

In her address to the European Policy Centre, Ms Sturgeon reiterated her Government’s “unequivocal” support for the UK remaining in the EU and argued that “sensible proposals” for reform could be achieved without the need for treaty change.

With a legal challenge against Scottish Government plans for a minimum price for alcohol currently making its way through the European courts, she called for member states to be given autonomy in key areas such as public health policy, and for the development of a single EU market in energy and digital services.

The Scottish Government also wants more localised discretion in implementing regulations to make EU policies “more proportionate and less burdensome”, pointing to changes made to the Common Fisheries Policy last year.

Ms Sturgeon delivered her speech almost 40 years to the day since the United Kingdom last held a referendum on whether or not to stay in the European Economic Community in 1975.

She said that, in addition to the “double majority”, the Scottish Government would seek to change the UK Government’s Referendum Bill to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds and allow EU citizens from outside the UK to vote.

She said: “It is incomprehensible to us, for the EU referendum, that the UK Government is proposing to grant the right to vote to the citizens of three other EU countries – Ireland, Malta and Cyprus – but not the remaining 24.

“Denying them a say, on an issue which affects them so directly, is unfair, undemocratic and unjustifiable.”

The First Minister restated her commitment to the European Convention of Human Rights, saying that it “defied belief” for any Government to move away from it, and called for the UK to do more to help refugees in the Mediterranean.

She said: “Alongside our openness to people from the EU, Scotland also recognises its obligations to refugees.

“We believe that all EU members have a role to play in helping those who have fled conflict and persecution, and come to Italy or Greece from across the Mediterranean.

“That’s why the Scottish Government has urged the UK to participate fully in proposed EU action – such as on relocation and resettlement – and it’s why we have made it clear that Scotland is willing to take our fair share of refugees.”

She warned against the UK Government casting the debate on EU reform as one of winners and losers.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I’ve already said that there is a wide consensus that reforms to the EU are desirable. So, we shouldn’t cast negotiations in terms of there being ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.

“The whole point about a more effective European Union is that everyone should gain from it. Compromise isn’t always the same as concession.

“Some UK Government rhetoric creates the impression that EU membership isn’t beneficial at present – it will only become beneficial if we achieve big enough reforms.

“That approach makes it harder to articulate the benefits we gain from membership.

“There’s a danger the UK will focus the debate on the size of the reforms achieved, rather than the bigger picture of the value and importance of the EU.

“I’d like to see a much more positive perspective from the UK. If the UK Government wants us to remain in the EU, it should give people something to vote for.

“Instead of just arguing against the risks of change, it should promote the EU’s achievements. If it fails to do that, then even if it wins the vote, it may not resolve the issue.”

She added: “There’s a chance to lead – and listen to – a public debate on the future direction of Scotland, of the UK, and indeed of Europe.

“All politicians should approach that opportunity as openly and positively as possible. Because if we do so, we are more likely to make our case in a way which captures people’s attention and earns their respect.

“The outcome of the referendum is more likely to be decisive. And we will be better placed to contribute, positively, constructively and influentially, to the European Union in the years and decades ahead.”

Speaking after the address, Ms Sturgeon denied the prospect of another referendum was a “threat” that would be used as leverage any time there was a disagreement with UK Government policy.

She said: “Simply stating fact and offering a solution to a perceived problem, I don’t accept that that’s a threat.

“I’m trying to be constructive here and we will continue to be so, both as the Bill goes through the House of Commons but in the wider debate.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “If I was just jumping up and down about a second independence referendum if the UK wanted to come out there might be more fairness, I still don’t think it would be fair, but it would perhaps be less unfair.

“I’m putting forward here the mechanism that would guard against that scenario arising.

“David Cameron has the ability, if he agrees to that, to stop this scenario of perhaps seeing increased demand for a second referendum. He has the power to stop that happening.”

She was asked whether the result of the Scottish independence referendum, in which a majority voted to remain part of the Union, undermined the case for a “double majority”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I actually think it says the reverse because much of the case that the No campaign made in the referendum campaign was about Scotland’s voice being an equal valued voice within the UK.

“The UK is not a unitary state, it wasn’t a unitary state before the referendum, it’s not a unitary state now.

“It’s a multinational state and one of the consequences of that is we cannot simply have an arrangement on something as fundamental as membership of the European Union where the decision is taken by sheer weight of numbers in one particular part of the UK.”

Asked whether the SNP would put a second referendum into their manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections next year, she said: “I’m focusing just now on trying to amend the Bill that will go through the House of Commons for the European referendum.

“I will come to writing the 2016 manifesto when we get to that time and I’ll take decisions at that point.”

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s proposals for reform, she added: “People don’t really know what reforms he is trying to achieve and I think the danger is if he goes in with a foot-stamping approach and demanding things that other countries will see as not being in their interests then he won’t succeed in getting sensible reforms and what he will do is play into the hands of Eurosceptics.

“That’s the dangerous path I think David Cameron has set down. The referendum is inevitable, I accept that, so it’s important there are voices making a positive and an alternative case, one that says yes there are reforms that we want to see to the European Union, but overwhelmingly that EU membership is in our interest and we should make sure we stay in.”

Ukip MEP for Scotland David Coburn, who also spoke at the event, responding to Ms Sturgeon’s double majority call, said: “Typical SNP gerrymandering of the democratic process.

“Last time they excluded Scots working abroad and serving in the forces, now they want to include any EU national living in Scotland.

“We came into the EU as one so we either stay in the EU together or we leave together.

“The Scottish people clearly decided that they wanted to remain as part of the United Kingdom so any talk of this double-lock mechanism makes a mockery of the Scottish people’s decision.”

Published: Tuesday 2nd June 2015 by The News Editor

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