We are asking our friends in Europe to leave a light on for Scotland
At 11pm tonight, Scotland will cease to be part of the EU after almost half a century.
That is a moment of profound sadness for me, and for countless others across Scotland, and indeed the rest of the UK.
Make no mistake, Brexit threatens to make us poorer. It poses a direct risk to jobs, prosperity and investment – and, under Boris Johnson’s government, we are poised to see a dangerous divergence from the EU on vital issues such as environmental protection, food standards and workers’ rights.
Perhaps more fundamentally, being part of the EU is an expression of shared values we hold dear – the ideas of solidarity, openness and a genuine partnership of equal nations.
Few people in Scotland could have missed the contrast with the way the EU showed solidarity with Ireland over the last three and a half years of Brexit negotiations compared with the way the Westminster government has treated Scotland.
Today we are asking our friends in Europe to leave a light on for Scotland so we can find our find way home.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s insistence that we can see a comprehensive trade deal with the EU wrapped up by the end of this year is fanciful in the extreme. The reality is that, in the next few months, the UK is likely to once again be in a standoff with Brussels, which could see us crash out with a No-deal outcome when the transition ends.
But for Scotland of course, the reality of Brexit raises profound questions about our future as a nation.
We voted decisively to remain in the EU. But that vote has been utterly ignored by the Conservative UK government – and Scotland has been treated with contempt by the Tories at every turn since the Brexit referendum result in 2016.
Our proposals for compromise, which could have seen a softer Brexit, still inside the single market and customs union, were dismissed out of hand. We then saw a Westminster power grab on powers of the Scottish Parliament.
In 2014, a central plank of the No campaign was that rejecting independence was the only way to guarantee our future in the EU.
That pledge now rings utterly hollow. We now face being removed from the world’s biggest single market – one eight times the size of the UK market – against the overwhelming democratic wishes of the people of Scotland.
And Scotland faces being the only nation of the UK not to get what it voted for – England and Wales both voted to leave the EU – or a special deal like that which will keep Northern Ireland closely aligned to the European single market and customs union.
We do not grudge Northern Ireland the deal it is being given. Its special circumstances are well known and well understood, and the Scottish Government fully supports and respects the Good Friday Agreement. But it also threatens to put Scotland at a significant competitive disadvantage when it comes to our economic interests, particularly when it comes to inward investment.
Now that Brexit is almost upon us, the Tories’ contempt for Scotland is more brazen than ever.
We see a UK Government which isn’t even pretending to listen to the concerns of Scotland – including those of many business and stakeholders.
That was clear only this week when our proposals for a bespoke Scottish visa system for the migrants we so badly need was rejected out of hand, without even apparently being read.
And yesterday it emerged that “senior figures from the UK government” have been briefing that “it doesn’t matter one jot what the Scottish Parliament has decided” in reference to Holyrood’s vote on Wednesday to endorse the mandate for an independence referendum.
That contemptuous line may have sounded good to whoever said it. But telling the people of Scotland that the voice of their national Parliament – and by extension the way they themselves vote – ‘doesn’t matter one jot’ is the kind of cack-handed, arrogant jibe which will only see support for independence rise even further.
Yesterday also saw the publication of a significant new poll on independence, showing majority support for a Yes vote as the reality of Brexit dawns. That follows another poll showing that a clear majority of people believe it is for Holyrood, not Westminster, to decide whether there should be an independence referendum.
The recent general election saw the SNP win the contest resoundingly in Scotland. We did so with a higher percentage of the popular vote and a higher share of seats than the Conservatives did across the UK as a whole. Despite this, the UK Government tries to insist that there is no mandate for an referendum.
Ultimately, the position adopted by Mr Johnson and his party – who lost half of their seats in Scotland – cannot hold. It is quite simply an unsustainable position to cling to in any democracy worthy of the name.
And in taking the position they have, I believe the Conservatives are trading short-term tactical positioning for what will ultimately be a strategic defeat for them. They are denying a referendum in the face of a democratic mandate for the simple reason that they fear they would lose. That is a sign of weakness – not strength.
But the longer they cling to that position, the more they are likely to increase support for independence when that vote comes. No one, whatever their personal views on the issue, seriously doubts that the question will have to be put to the test again, and I firmly believe that when it is the people of Scotland will vote for independence.