The COVID crisis has reminded us as never before of our common humanity as countries across the world face the same huge challenge of keeping people safe.
With the development of vaccines — in itself an astonishing collaborative international project — we can now look ahead to better days. And as we start the process of rebuilding our economies and societies, that same collective spirit will be more important than ever.
Unfortunately for those of us in Scotland we are, at the same time, at the sharp end of a very different project, driven by very different values: Brexit.
The overwhelming majority of people in Scotland voted to remain within the EU.
That’s not surprising. The founding values of the EU — human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights — are Scotland’s values.
Over our nearly 50 years of membership, we have benefited enormously from the single market’s “four freedoms”, including freedom of movement.
More than 230,000 people from across Europe have made Scotland their home. They are part of who we are, they are our friends and family and we really want them to stay.
And in turn I believe Scotland has contributed a great deal to wider European goals.
Indeed, looking at the big challenges, aside from COVID, facing the EU, such as the climate emergency and building a much more inclusive “well-being” economy, Scotland has much to offer.
On climate, for example, we have around a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal potential.
In the Brexit vote back in 2016, the U.K. as a whole of course voted to leave the EU despite the strong vote for remain in Scotland.
Recognising the different preferences in the different countries of the U.K. (with Northern Ireland as well as Scotland voting to remain and England and Wales voting to leave) the Scottish government proposed a compromise.
That would have meant the U.K. leaving the EU but staying in the single market but that compromise offer was rejected out of hand by the U.K. government, which wanted then, and still does now, a more distant relationship for reasons it has never been able to explain.
We are now faced with a hard Brexit against our will, at the worst possible time in the middle of a pandemic and economic recession.
It will mean disruption in the short term, while establishing new, long-term barriers.
Our people will be less safe and their right to work, study and live elsewhere in Europe will be restricted. This includes the loss of Erasmus which saw more than 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners use the scheme each year.
It is therefore not surprising that a consistent majority of people in Scotland now say they are in favour of becoming an independent country.
Scotland, like all nations, is unique. The same can be said of our constitutional circumstances.
The U.K. is a voluntary union of countries, in which Scotland has its own distinct legal and education system, and a government and parliament in charge of a range of domestic affairs, such as health and the environment, but not currently — as Brexit has so clearly exposed — issues such as international and European affairs.
The idea of Scottish independence has never been about separatism. It is instead about the right of people to decide the form of government best suited to their needs.
That right has never been more important given the threat Brexit poses to the internationalist, welcoming European ethos held by so many people in Scotland.
We are comfortable with multiple identities and the other countries of the U.K. will always be not just our closest neighbours, but our closest friends as well.
But for too long, successive U.K. governments have taken Scotland in the wrong direction, culminating in Brexit and the introduction of legislation that had threatened to break international law, and which still undermines the Scottish Parliament.
It’s no wonder so many people in Scotland have had enough.
We are committed to a legal, constitutional route to becoming an independent state.
As an independent member of the European Union, Scotland would be a partner and a bridge-builder — not just a bridge to building a stronger economy and fairer society, but a bridge to aid understanding between the EU and UK.
More and more people in Scotland believe our aspirations can best be met by continuing to contribute to the shared endeavour and solidarity that the EU represents.
Because of Brexit, we can now only do this as an independent member state in our own right.
We have been inside the European Union family of nations for nearly 50 years.
We didn’t want to leave and we hope to join you again soon as an equal partner as we face the opportunities and challenges of the future together.