Below is a speech given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at Stanford University, California. Check against delivery.
It’s a pleasure to be here at this beautiful university. I’m in the USA this week to celebrate what we call Scotland Week. According to President Bush’s Tartan Day proclamation of 2008, this Thursday – the 6th of April – is a day for marking the contribution that Scottish emigrants have made to the USA, and for celebrating Scotland and America’s “long shared ties of family and friendship.”
From time to time various surveys have suggested that almost 30 million people in the United States claim Scots or Scots Irish ancestry, although the official census figure is only around 10 million.
So there are twenty million people in the USA who aren’t actually Scottish, but who want to be! That’s a pretty huge compliment. And as far as I’m concerned, if you want to be Scottish, nobody’s stopping you!
There’s actually a more serious point here. Scotland’s modern identity, like the US’s, is an inclusive one. We basically take the approach that if you want to be Scottish, you can be – that’s relevant to some of the later points I want to make in this speech.
Many of the ties between Scotland and the US are evident here in Palo Alto and the surrounding area. There’s a hill called Ben Lomond twenty miles south of here – it’s close to a town called Bonny Doon, which was named by a Scottish settler. John Maclaren, a Scottish emigrant from Bannockburn, worked on Leland Stanford’s estate here in Palo Alto, and was instrumental in establishing San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
And it’s been very clear to me during the two days I’ve spent here that the connections between Scotland and California – ties based on culture and history, trade and commerce, family and friendship – continue to flourish.
Those international ties are part of what I want to talk about today. I’m going to talk about Scotland’s desire – not just to create a fairer and more prosperous country – but also to make a positive contribution to the world.
But I should maybe start by looking back at some of the events of the last year and indeed the last week. 2016 was a tumultuous year in politics – at home in Scotland, across the UK and of course here in the US. The consequences of the decisions taken last year will have ramifications for years to come.
We’ve seen lots of evidence of that in the last fortnight. 10 days ago, 27 of the 28 governments across the European Union celebrated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome – that’s the treaty which first established the European Economic Community.
Scotland has been a member of the European Union or EEC for more than 40 years. Our membership has brought us significant economic, environmental and social benefits. However, in addition to that, the fundamental principle of the EU – that different nations work together on equal terms for a common good – appeals to me and appeals to many people across Scotland. As a result, EU membership has become part of Scotland’s identity. It speaks to our sense of ourselves.
That’s why in 2014, when Scotland had a referendum on whether to become an independent country, our membership of the European Union was an important issue. Nobody really argued about whether Scotland should be part of the EU – the only debate was about how we could best play our part.
In particular, many of those who opposed independence – including the UK Government – argued that leaving the United Kingdom was a risk. It would threaten Scotland’s place in the European Union.
That turned out to be entirely untrue. When the UK held a referendum on EU membership last year, a large majority of people in Scotland – 62 per cent – chose to stay in the EU. However we were outvoted by the rest of the UK.
The suggestion Scotland made before the referendum – that the UK could not leave the EU unless all four of its countries voted to leave – would have prevented this from happening. However that proposal was disregarded by the UK Government.
As a result, the UK was the only member state which was not represented at the 60th anniversary celebrations for the Treaty of Rome. Instead, the UK Government last week notified the European Commission of its intention to leave the European Union.
So Scotland – despite the arguments made in 2014, and despite how we voted in 2016 – faces being forced to leave the European Union against our will.
What’s even worse is that the UK is not just leaving the EU; there is a real danger that it will leave in the most damaging way possible.
Scotland has proposed ways in which the UK as a whole – or Scotland on its own – could retain membership of what is called the single market, without being part of the EU. Several other countries, such as Norway, have that arrangement. Our proposals have been disregarded by the UK Government.
That could potentially have a wide range of impacts – it could mean tariffs for farmers who export, or higher regulatory barriers for trade with Europe. It is already causing deep uncertainty and anxiety for people who have chosen to live and work in Scotland from other parts of the EU.
But it’s maybe worth looking in detail about what it might for Scotland’s universities. For Scotland, as for California, our universities are an incredible cultural, social and economic asset.
In fact when the Times Higher Education Supplement published its rankings of the best universities in the world last year, Scotland had more world class universities in the rankings, per head of population, than any other country in the world apart from Luxembourg.
I’ve just attended an event highlighting the research partnership which Stanford has established with five of Scotland’s universities – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot Watt, St Andrews and Strathclyde. They are collaborating on the study of photonics – the use of light waves, and the applications it has for advanced manufacturing, telecommunications and stem cell research.
And I’ve just welcomed Heriot Watt’s decision to launch a new economics scholarship for US students, to be based at Panmure House in Edinburgh – where Adam Smith lived and worked in the final years of his life.
Those examples demonstrate that our universities have a reach which extends far beyond the European Union. But there is no doubt that in recent years, membership of the European Union has been fundamental to Scotland’s academic success. One in six of our academic staff are EU citizens from outside the UK. So are one in six of our postgraduate students. Those EU students are disproportionately likely to be in subjects such as science and technology.
If you look at research, Scotland benefits hugely from the opportunities for collaboration which are provided by European programmes. Those programmes are currently only available to countries which are inside the single market, or which are applying to join the European Union.
That’s why in November the Principal of Edinburgh University – not someone who is known for exaggeration – told a House of Commons Select Committee that the impact of Brexit on Higher Education, and I quote, “ranges from bad, to awful, to catastrophic”. It is a very significant risk to a sector which is fundamental to Scotland’s future.
The reason for running these risks – for leaving the single market as well as the European Union – is that the UK Government has prioritised control of immigration. But that policy in itself is likely to be damaging to Scotland.
Scotland benefits hugely from the contribution made by people who come to Scotland to work or study – from the rest of the UK, from the European Union and, of course, from the USA. And historically, our level of population growth has been lower than the rest of the UK’s. We would actually like to see more immigration into Scotland.
And so there are two things which follow from that. The first is that if any of you are uncertain what to do after you leave Stanford, you are very welcome to come to Scotland! We offer a warm welcome and a fantastic quality of life. And our weather is much more interesting than the boring sunshine you get here in California…
However the second point is more fundamental. In my view, it is counterproductive for the UK as a whole to prioritise control of immigration over any other outcome for Brexit.
But it’s especially damaging to Scotland. In fact, it is not a choice which any major political party would argue for in Scotland, because it’s so clearly contrary to our needs. It’s a good example of how Brexit is forcing upon Scotland a policy agenda which is not of our choosing and not in our interests.
So Brexit – and the way in which the UK Government is choosing to impose Brexit upon Scotland – presents Scotland with a dilemma. Scotland had a referendum on independence less than three years ago. That’s why many people in Scotland – entirely understandably – are reluctant to have another one in the next two years.
However if we do not give people in Scotland a choice, we will have to accept a course of action determined by a UK Government with only one elected representative in Scotland – a course which may be deeply damaging to our economy and our society for decades and maybe generations to come.
In addition, the UK Parliament and the other 27 national parliaments of the EU will have a role in accepting the Brexit deal agreed between the UK Government and the EU. As things stand, Scotland will have no say.
In my view, that is democratically unacceptable. That is why the Scottish Parliament, last week, agreed to seek consent from the UK Government for a further referendum on independence, once the terms of the final Brexit deal are known. It means that – rather than having Brexit imposed upon us – the people of Scotland will be able to choose our own future.
In doing so, we will need to consider what sort of country we want to be, and how we can achieve that – how we can build a better society at home, and make a positive contribution to the world.
One of the things I encountered time and time again during the referendum campaign on Scottish independence, was an overwhelming desire to create a fairer society, as well as a more prosperous one. That desire came from many people who voted against independence, incidentally, as well as those who voted for it.
It’s a desire we are responding to under Scotland’s current devolved powers. Shortly after I became First Minister, the Government revised our economic strategy. One of the biggest changes that we made was that we decided to promote equality alongside economic competitiveness.
That focus is – first and foremost – a matter of basic morality. Everyone in any society should have a fair chance to fulfil their potential.
It’s also an issue of basic economic efficiency. There is strong evidence that inequality in western economies, has harmed growth. The UK is a good example. The OECD has estimated that between 1990 and 2010, rising inequality here reduced growth by 9 percentage points.
Professor Joseph Stiglitz, who taught here at Stanford for more than a decade, is one of the Nobel Laureates who serves on Scotland’s Council of Economic Advisers. He said at the time that “tackling inequality is the foremost challenge that many governments face. Scotland’s Economic Strategy leads the way in identifying the challenges and provides a strong vision for change.”
He recognised that a more equal society, where everyone can participate to their full potential, will lead to a stronger and more sustainable economy. And workers who are well educated and trained, well paid and highly valued and supported, will be more productive than those who aren’t.
Two weeks ago research was published on the happiest countries in the world. As you might expect, countries in developed nations ranked highest. The USA was 13th, and the UK was 19th. However it was striking that the five highest spots were all taken by small European countries – Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Finland and Switzerland. Two of those countries are EU members, and all are members of the European single market. All of those countries score highly on measures of income equality – they do considerably better than the UK, for example.
So there is strong economic evidence for the Scottish Government’s prioritisation of inclusion.
There’s also an important political point – one which is also a major issue in the USA. Policies such as free trade and immigration will often bring benefits to the economy as a whole, but they also have the potential to disadvantage – or be seen as disadvantaging – particular areas and particular groups. So the sustainability of those policies is increasingly dependent on our ability to ensure they benefit everyone.
We saw that in Scotland and the UK last year. The vote to leave the European Union had many causes. But we know that people on low incomes were more likely to want to leave. When you allow for student numbers, so too were areas with low employment rates.
So the EU referendum also posed a challenge for those of us who support free trade, who welcome immigration and who believe that the benefits of globalisation, if they are properly managed, and that’s an important caveat to stress, these benefits should outweigh the costs. It demonstrated that we can only sustain support for a dynamic and open economy if we do more to build a fair and inclusive society.
That’s what I’m determined to do. It is one of the most pressing challenges that most developed societies face. It requires leadership, and while Scotland does not have all of the answers – no country does – I believe that we are at least asking some of the right questions.
I am well aware that even in Scotland, more than a third of voters chose to leave the EU. But it is at least possible that one reason why the referendum result was so different in Scotland, compared to the rest of the UK, is that the Scottish Parliament has often adopted policies with fairness at their heart. We have taken action, for example, to mitigate some of the social security cuts imposed by the UK Government. There was maybe less of a sense of people being left behind and disenfranchised.
In terms of our economic policy, we have worked to promote gender equality. One of my first actions as First Minister was to appoint a gender balanced Cabinet.
I was quite struck, when I read about Stanford University, to see that women were admitted on equal terms as men from the very beginning, at the insistence of its founders. Leland Stanford actually pointed out in a letter in 1893 that “if vocations were thrown open to women, there would be 25 per cent increase in the nation’s production.”
It’s a simple and overwhelmingly obvious point – that nations impoverish themselves if they underuse the talents of half of the population – but it’s one which no nation has yet fully acted upon. Scotland is trying to take a lead.
We have launched major initiatives in early years care, primarily because we believe it’s an essential part of ensuring that all children – regardless of their upbringing – get a fair chance to realise their potential. However we also recognise childcare’s importance in encouraging parents to return to work.
And we work closely with trade unions and employers together, to try to boost productivity and encourage fair work practices. That partnership approach is very different from the one adopted by the UK Government.
In some respects it’s closer – although this is not an exact comparison – to the German economic model developed after the war. That became known as Rhine capitalism. It was based on a strong sense of partnership between workers, trade unions, businesses and the public sector. It encouraged competitive markets, but combined them with strong social protections. It has resulted in high levels of innovation, high productivity and strong exports.
That approach to the economy was based on a distinct vision of society. Article 1 of postwar Germany’s constitution states that human dignity is the underpinning principle of the entire state. That helps to establish the constitutional principle of the “social state” – a state which strives for social justice.
What we’re trying to create in Scotland isn’t identical, of course – this is a different time and context. But there are similarities. And, as with most countries, our concern for human dignity and social justice isn’t confined to Scotland’s boundaries – we also want to make a positive contribution to the wider world.
Tomorrow I will be attending meetings at the United Nations in New York. Scotland was one of the first countries to commit in 2015 to signing up to the UN’s sustainable Development Goals. That means that we seek to build a fair, prosperous and sustainable society at home in Scotland, and also around the world.
Scotland, as a relatively small country, has to focus our specific contributions on the world stage. So it’s maybe worth talking about two specific areas where we are trying to make a difference.
One of my meetings tomorrow is with the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria at the United Nations. We will discuss Scotland’s Women in Conflict programme. It prepares 50 women every year to play a part in mediation and conflict resolution. Last year, it trained women from seven countries in North Africa and the Middle East. The programme is Scotland’s way of trying to act on UN Security Council resolution 1325, which recognises that women bear many of the worst consequences of civil war and conflict, but are frequently excluded from efforts at reconciliation.
Another area Scotland prioritises is tackling climate change.
In 2012 Scotland became the first country to establish a Climate Justice Fund for developing countries. It recognises that the people affected most by climate change are often those who have done the least to cause it.
And in addition to helping countries to mitigate climate change, we also want to be at the forefront of tackling it.
I mentioned earlier the fact that Scotland and Stanford are working together on new technologies in photonics and healthcare. Scotland of course has a long history of innovation. In fact, we led the world into the industrial age – James Watt’s steam engine is arguably the single most important invention of the first industrial revolution.
And so we want to apply our innovation and engineering expertise to help to lead the world into the low carbon age. In 2009 the Scottish Parliament passed what at that time were the most ambitious statutory climate change targets in the world. We have already met our first major target five years early, and are now looking to go further.
We already produce more than 50 per cent of our net electricity demand through renewable sources. And we are an important development site for some of the renewable technologies of the future. The world’s largest tidal power array is being developed in our Pentland Firth. The world’s largest floating offshore windfarm is currently being built off our north eastern coast.
I discussed all of this with Governor Brown yesterday. When Governor Brown gave his inaugural address two years ago, he pointed out that “taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels.”
He was referring of course to California’s astonishing track record of innovation – much of it linked to work done here at Stanford. For both California and Scotland, innovation is part of our history, and also part of our modern identity. So Governor Brown and I discussed ways in which Scotland and California could work together. Both of us want to apply our capacity for innovation to tackling what is arguably the biggest environmental, economic and moral issue facing the world.
There’s one final point about the different issues I’ve mentioned in the speech – climate change, peace-keeping, inequality and immigration. All of them are inter-related. Drought, exacerbated by climate change, may well have been an initial cause of the Syrian civil war. The refugee crisis caused by that war had a direct impact on the debate on UK’s membership of the European Union.
Immigration is a major topic of debate in the USA as well as Europe, of course. And looking into the future, we know that the displacement of populations which will be caused by climate change – especially if global warming exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius – is likely to dwarf the scale of migration that Europe has seen as a result of the Syria crisis.
It’s a good demonstration of the fact that no nation is insulated from our reliance on, and our obligations to, the wider world. All independent nations have to accept our interdependence.
The best balance between independence and interdependence is the question that Scotland once again faces.
Over the last 60 years, the European Union has built a single market and encouraged economic co-operation, while developing common social standards for workers and shared environmental standards. It is the least imperfect organisation which has yet been established, for enabling independent neighbours to trade and travel freely while respecting the environment and protecting living standards.
Brexit forces Scotland to choose. Do we remain part of a United Kingdom which is ending its membership of the largest trading block in the world, specifically in order to curb immigration? Or do we become an independent country – with the opportunities and risks that entails – and with the freedom to be an equal partner with other European nations and with countries across the world?
My own view, as a supporter of independence, is that we will choose the second course. Independence, combined with equal partnership, is the best way for us to build a fairer society at home and to make a positive contribution to the world.
However that is something which will be debated and discussed across Scotland in the months and years ahead. The immediate point that the UK Government must recognise, is that the people of Scotland have the right to make that choice.
I’m sure that as the people of Scotland debate independence, as in 2014, there will again be debate and disagreement about how Scotland best contributes to the wider world. But there will again be very little disagreement about whether we want to contribute.
Our modern identity will remain open, outward-looking and inclusive. People from around the world will still be welcome to call themselves Scottish.
And Scotland will of course continue to build partnerships around the world – including with governments, businesses and universities here in California across the United States.
So it is a pleasure to be here today. I wish all of you a happy Tartan Day on Thursday! And I hope that many of you choose to live, work or study in Scotland in the years to come.