In Scotland at this time of year (25 January) we celebrate Burns Night. Rabbie Burns is our greatest poet, a man who translated his immense passion for life into verse of incomparable wit and poignancy, writes Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack.
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.
Stop endless referendum talk, UK PM Johnson tells Scotland
On a trip to Scotland to try to stem growing support for another referendum, Johnson opted for a blunt message, saying independence supporters had their chance in 2014 in a vote they had agreed at the time was “a once-in-a-generation event”.
The bonds that tie England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland together in a $3 trillion economy have been severely strained by both Britain’s exit from the European Union and Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Opinion surveys indicate a majority of Scots would now favour breaking apart the 314-year-old union between England and Scotland.
But Johnson, whose unpopularity runs deep in Scotland according to opinion polls, suggested he was sticking to his position of not approving another referendum, which the Scottish National Party needs to hold a legal vote.
“I don’t think that the right thing to do is to talk endlessly about another referendum when I think what the people of the country and the people of Scotland want in particular is to fight this pandemic,” Johnson said at a laboratory just outside Edinburgh.
“I don’t see the advantage of getting lost in pointless constitutional wrangling when after all we had a referendum not so very long ago,” he said.
“The very same people who go on and on about another referendum also said only a few years ago, only in 2014, that this was a once-in-a-generation event - I’m inclined to stick with what they said last time.”
His visit to Scotland, at a time when the nation is in a lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, drew criticism from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party (SNP) who questioned whether it qualified as “essential” under coronavirus guidelines.
Johnson’s spokesman defended the trip, saying it was “a fundamental part of the prime minister’s job to go out and see businesses and communities and people”, particularly during the pandemic.
Sturgeon, who runs Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, is hoping a strong SNP performance in its 6 May parliamentary election would give her the mandate to hold a second referendum.
If Scotland became independent, the United Kingdom - already grappling with the economic consequences of Brexit and the pandemic - would lose about a third of its landmass and almost a 10th of its population.
Scotland voted against independence by 55% to 45% in 2014. But a majority of Scots also backed staying in the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum - though a majority in the United Kingdom overall, including England, Johnson’s base, voted to leave - and Scottish nationalists say this boosts their case for secession.
Johnson’s Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove, himself Scottish, told Sky News: “At the moment, when we are prioritising the fight against the disease and also the need for economic recovery in due course, talking about changing the constitution and so on is just a massive distraction.”
Scottish government comment on efforts to stay in Erasmus
Minsters have welcomed the support of around 150 MEPs who have asked the European Commission to explore how Scotland could continue to take part in the popular Erasmus exchange programme. The move comes a week after Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held productive talks with Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to explore the idea. Until last year, over 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners took part in the scheme annually, with Scotland attracting proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sending more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.
Lochhead said: “Losing Erasmus is huge blow for the thousands of Scottish students, community groups and adult learners - from all demographic backgrounds - who can no longer live, study or work in Europe.“It also closes the door for people to come to Scotland on Erasmus to experience our country and culture and it is heartening to see that loss of opportunity recognised by the 145 MEPs from across Europe who want Scotland’s place in Erasmus to continue. I am grateful to Terry Reintke and other MEPs for their efforts and thank them for extending the hand of friendship and solidarity to Scotland’s young people. I sincerely hope we can succeed.
“I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel. We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximize Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme. I have also spoken with my Welsh Government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact.”
'Brexit carnage': Shellfish trucks protest in London over export delays
Many fishermen have been unable to export to the EU since catch certificates, health checks and customs declarations were introduced at the start of this year, delaying their deliveries and prompting European buyers to reject them.
Trucks with slogans such as “Brexit carnage” and “incompetent government destroying shellfish industry” parked metres from Johnson’s 10 Downing Street office in central London. Police were asking the truck drivers for details.
“We strongly feel the system could potentially collapse,” said Gary Hodgson, a director of Venture Seafoods, which exports live and processed crabs and lobsters to the EU.
“Prime Minister Boris Johnson needs to be honest with us, with himself and with the British public about the problems for the industry,” he told Reuters. One operator, he said, needed 400 pages of export documentation last week to enter Europe.
David Rosie at DR Collin & Son, which employs 200 people, used to send one or two trucks a night to France carrying live crab, lobster and langoustine worth around 150,000 pounds ($203,000). He said he had not exported a single box this year.
Fishermen, he said, “lost their livelihoods in the turn of a clock” when Britain left the EU’s orbit on New Year’s Eve.
Under a deal reached last month, British trade with the EU remains free of tariffs and quotas. But the creation of a full customs border means goods must be checked and paperwork filled in, shattering express delivery systems.
Using a phrase that has angered many business owners, Johnson described the changes as “teething problems”, and said they had been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnson said an additional £23 million ($31.24m) fund had been created to compensate businesses that “through no fault of their own have experienced bureaucratic delays, difficulties getting their goods through where there is a genuine buyer on the other side of the channel”.
The government said this extra cash was on top of a £100m investment in the industry over the next few years and nearly £200m provided to the Scottish government to minimize disruption.
Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that as well as financial support, it was working with the industry and the EU to address documentation issues.
“Our priority is to ensure that goods can continue to flow smoothly to market,” a government spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Fishing alone contributes 0.1% of Britain’s GDP if processing is included, but for coastal communities it is a lifeline and a traditional way of life.
The Scotland Food & Drink association says exporters could be losing more than 1 million pounds in sales a day.
Many in coastal communities voted for Brexit but said they had not expected this impact.
Allan Miller, owner of AM Shellfish in Aberdeen, Scotland, said times for his deliveries of live brown crab, lobster and prawns had doubled from 24 hours. This mean lower prices and some of the product did not survive, he said.
“You’re talking 48 hours to 50 hours. It’s crazy,” he said.
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