In the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “This pandemic is not a war. Nations are not against other nations, soldiers against other soldiers. It is a test of our humanity.”
These have been indeed the most testing of times for people in Europe and across the world.
We are facing a global public health and economic crisis the like of which we have not seen in our lifetimes. No country, certainly in Europe, can tackle the pandemic alone. Given the speed and extent of transmission it is true to say that none of us will be safe until all of us are safe.
In the midst of this emergency, which more than ever demands international co-operation, Scotland is having to cope with the prospect of another crisis — leaving the Brexit transition period at the end of the year with either a thin agreement on a future relationship or no deal at all.
The Scottish government repeatedly pressed the U.K. prime minister to extend the transition period because of the pandemic but he refused to do so. That means we now have less than three months to adjust to an entirely new relationship with the EU.
In that time, the U.K. government intends to pass its Internal Market bill which will breach international law and which is also fundamentally incompatible with the principles and practice of devolution, key parts of the U.K.’s constitutional arrangements.
There’s a marked difference between that bill and the development of the European single market which has been based on cooperation, co-decision, subsidiarity and consent, and setting a baseline of minimum agreed standards.
By contrast, the terms of the U.K. Internal Market bill will oblige Scotland to accept standards of regulation unilaterally set by Westminster, whatever they might be. It therefore effectively allows U.K. ministers to legislate for Scotland in devolved policy areas, such as environmental standards, and could hinder our commitment to remain as closely aligned as possible with the EU.
The Scottish parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to withhold consent for the bill. Under established constitutional rules the U.K. government should now drop the proposals but there is no indication that is going to happen.
Throughout these last challenging months my personal focus has been, and continues to be, tackling coronavirus, particularly with cases again on the rise. But the end of the transition period cannot be ignored and the impact on the economy will be particularly severe both in the short and long-term.
Current talks between the U.K. government and the EU on the future relationship are at a critical stage and we in the Scottish government still hope for a deal to be reached. That is in all our interests.
Until the beginning of this year of course, Scotland — as an ancient nation with its own legal system, education system and devolved government — was in a union with the rest of the U.K. while at the same time being inside the European Union.
In relation to the U.K., it is important to emphasise that Scotland is not, and has never been, considered a region of a larger unitary state but a country in a voluntary union of nations.
In the Brexit referendum of 2016, although the U.K. as a whole voted to Leave, people in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to Remain. Despite this we have been removed from the EU against our will and our pleas for the U.K. to say in the single market have been ignored.
The founding values of the European Union — respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law — chime with people in Scotland. As a country we have benefitted enormously from the single market’s “four freedoms,” including freedom of movement as people from across Europe have made Scotland their home.
We have also contributed much to Europe through our people, our world-class universities, innovators and now in particular the fight against climate change.
That’s clearly part of the reason why in recent election contests in Scotland support for political parties that wished to remain in the EU has been so strong.
In our interconnected world today it has never been more important to uphold both our internationalist values and the principles and operation of international law. Scotland will always champion those values and those principles.
The Scottish government, therefore, found it particularly shocking when we discovered that the U.K. government was planning legislation that would breach international law.
Indeed, at the same time as the U.K. government was introducing that legislation, the Scottish government brought forward the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, to entrench our international human rights obligations in Scots law.
At its heart, the European Union is a peace project and we will always offer our unconditional support for the Good Friday Agreement, as we have done throughout this Brexit process. We understand the vital importance of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.
In her State of the Union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in these last few months we have rediscovered the value of what we hold in common.
The Scottish government will, of course, always promote and protect Scotland’s interests but we will never lose sight of our common humanity.
For Scotland our closest friends, in any constitutional future, will always be our neighbours in the rest of the United Kingdom. But more than anything, as we in Scotland decide on our future, and I hope and expect that this will be a future as an independent nation, we will always be a voice for peace, for European and international solidarity, for co-operation and for the upholding of international law.
This article originally appeared on politico.eu