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Scotland's place in Europe by Alec Salmond

The following is lifted from an article by Alec Salmond, former First Minister of Scotland, published in The National on Thursday 15th December 2016, Now I try to keep these pages for ramblings on my interest in history, but Alec inspired me with this article and I thought I should share it. Scotland is a proud European nation and we want to keep it that way, not dragged out of Europe on the coat-tails of an England that is hankering for a lost world empire that will not and cannot ever return.

In 1297 a rag-tag and bobtail army of Scottish peasants laid low the might of Plantagenet chivalry at Stirling Bridge. This, it should be said, was not absolutely unique. The Flemish peasants did much the same to the French a handful of years later at Courtrai. (And of course, Scotland was to repeat the victory on an even more emphatic scale using a largely peasant army under King Robert I to defeat the massed chivalric host of Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314.)

However, there is no doubt Stirling Bridge caused reverberations around medieval Europe. Unfortunately, on a different battlefield, Wallace was brought down to earth with a bump the following year at Falkirk.

However, in between Stirling Bridge and Falkirk, how did Wallace and his co-Guardian of Scotland, Sir Andrew Moray celebrate their historic victory? Not with a giant ceilidh, but with a letter to Lubeck, the headquarters of the Hanseatic League, and here I paraphrase from the Latin. “There has been a change, we are back in charge. Could we have our trading concessions back, and please be nice to our two merchants who are carrying this letter”.

The Hanseatic League was the medieval equivalent of the modern Single Market and the Lubeck letter is the equivalent of our First Minister saying to today’s European Commission. “Look we don’t like the idea of the full English Brexit, we didn’t vote for it and we are not having it. We hope to be in charge again soon”.

Wind the European time-clock forward 450 years and we find a Scots Gentleman writing from Toulouse in France to his friend telling him that he was writing a new book. The Scot was Adam Smith, the friend David Hume and the book, The Wealth of Nations.

The point was that in the 18th century, Scotland was at the centre of the development of European thought and the age of rationality represented by the Scottish Enlightenment ushered in both the French and the American revolutions.

Wind that clock forward another century and a half: we find Scotland of 100 years ago, at the centre of European conflict. Our losses as a percentage of the population from the carnage of the Great War are only matched by those of Germany, France and Russia. There are villages in the North East and Highlands of Scotland where of young men of fighting age, no less than half were killed or seriously injured. Therefore more than most, we have huge interest in the peace to which Europe has contributed in the last 65 years.

The purpose of these three separate stories is to emphasise that Scotland has for a millennium been a European country. In trade, in cultural and in Scientific advance and development; in peace and in war Scotland has been at the heart of Europe.

Therefore to be told now that against the wishes of the Scottish people, these connections are to be severed, that we are to be reduced to the role of at best a bystander, is not just democratically unacceptable – it flies in the face of our history. It should not just be unacceptable to Scotland, it should be unacceptable to Europe.

There are many negative things about the Brexit process. It will be intensely damaging to the United Kingdom. Brexit offers nothing except salt and vinegar, as President Tusk memorably put it.

However, one of the worst aspects is how the time and effort of Europe will be preoccupied in dismantling part of the European project. What a waste when Europe’s eyes should be on the challenges of the present and the future. Europe should be galvanising to repair the weaknesses of the project – a project which Robert Schumann pointed out 66 years ago will not be made all at once or in a single plan.

However there is an aspect of Scotland’s story which should bring hope to the rest of the continent. We hear a great deal about how the established order is under siege from the forces of right-wing populism. How liberal values, progressive politics and respect for the judiciary are on the retreat across Europe, and indeed the planet.

However. in Scotland it is progressive pro-European forces which are in the ascendancy. The protest against the establishment is expressed in liberal values, and the European Union for all its faults is regarded as a positive thing.

As President Juncker said himself, Scotland has earned the right to be heard and, as he mentioned to me today, to be listened to in Brussels.

Scotland is not unique in this. In a number of countries forces of change have also emerged from the autonomist left. And yet, how have European institutions responded? The answer is not well. When the reactionary vandals are at the gates of the Treaty of Rome then help from all progressive Europeans should be treasured and valued.

We need a Europe where dissent is channelled into fresh hope. We need to lift again the tattered flag of a social Europe. We need to fuel once more the idealist vision that propelled Mauritis Coppieters himself – where self-determination of peoples, of linguistic and cultural diversity, peace and democracy, could all find a home in a united Europe.

In the coming weeks, the Government of Scotland will be publishing a paper on Scotland’s way forward. How we can maintain our European connections and how the UK can accommodate this without countermanding the Brexit process across England.

What we need now from the rest of the continent is not just goodwill and encouragement. We need vocal support and the realisation that we have to turn the tide away from all that Brexit represents if we are to build a European home with room for all its nationalities.

Or as Hamish Henderson once put it in his great anthem, Freedom Come All Ye:

So come all ye at hame wi’ freedom
Never heed whit the hoodies croak for doom
In your hoose a’ the bairns of Adam
Can find breid, barley-bree and painted room