Proud to be Scots, British and Europeans
Usually – but sadly not this year — we gather to dine on haggis, drink whisky and to recite and remember his work.
Burns Nights is a great occasion for Scots – and those of Scots descent – all over the world. It is a celebration not just of the poet but of what it means to be Scottish.
So tonight I invite you to take a dram, not just to boost our biggest export but to toast the enduring ties of friendship between Scotland and the countries of the European Union.
This year marks an important new chapter in the United Kingdom’s and therefore Scotland’s relationship with Europe.
As you all know, the United Kingdom, following the biggest democratic exercise in our history, has left the European Union. But we remain, by reasons of history and geography, but also looking to the future a fundamentally European nation. And that is certainly true of Scotland.
We remain friends and allies. And in the UK-EU agreement we have a stable new framework to take forward that crucial relationship.
The deal agreed between the UK and EU on Christmas Eve is a comprehensive one, covering not just trade but setting our arrangements for ongoing co-operation on security, transport, energy, social security and healthcare.
We in the UK will continue to enjoy wines from the Loire, drive cars made in Stuttgart and use a thousand other products from across Europe.
And I am confident you will continue to enjoy great Scottish produce too, whether that is our world famous whisky or quality cashmere products.
Young Scots will now be able to benefit from the recently announced Turing Scheme, which enables students to study and work across the world, and our great, ancient, world-leading universities will continue to welcome European students.
We will also work together to fight cross-border crime. The UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement includes a comprehensive deal on law enforcement and criminal justice cooperation, which provides for continued cooperation with EU Member States. This provides an excellent basis for our law enforcement agencies to continue to work in close collaboration as they strive to keep our communities safe.
Soon enough we will be able to sun ourselves on the beaches of the Mediterranean, and we hope you will return to enjoy our awe-inspiring mountains, lochs and glens. Or to play a round a golf.
Looking forward to this year, the future of Scotland within the United Kingdom will inevitably be debated. The UK government’s position is clear. Scotland is better off within the UK and the UK is better off with Scotland in it.
In a piece to a number of European newspapers a few weeks ago, Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister in the devolved Scottish Government made the case for an independent Scotland. I want to use this opportunity today to explain why being part of the UK is so much better.
With our united history; shared social and cultural experience; fully integrated economic and business connectivity; not to mention the ties of family that bind us so closely together, we will continue to thrive as the United Kingdom.
Nicola Sturgeon implied that, of all the people in the UK, only Scots share the basic values held dear by modern Europeans. That’s just wrong.
In all the nations of the UK and in the countries of the EU we all cherish the rule of law, democracy, freedom of speech and human rights.
We recognize our collective obligation to care for the environment – and with that aim in mind I look forward to welcoming leaders from across Europe, and indeed the world, to our great City of Glasgow later this year for the COP26 global climate conference.
We see ourselves as very much part of a global community, with much to offer.
The UK’s decision to leave the institutions of the European Union changes none of that.
The vote to leave the EU was close and has been of course controversial, but it was a fair and democratic decision.
Across the UK, the result reflected longstanding concerns about the nature of EU integration and an acceptance that, for reasons of our history and our present, the path to ever closer integration was not for us.
I recognize that the Scottish government does not welcome Brexit but I was disappointed that they did not support the UK/EU agreement, which is so clearly so much more in the interests of the UK and the EU, than any available alternative.
For Scotland to flourish, we must be at the heart of a thriving UK which, of course, retains close ties with the EU including Ireland, based on our mutual interests and the basic values we all share.
My message on Burns Night is this: We are proud to be Scots, British and Europeans. And we are proud to have you as friends.