Europe Day 2024

– in the Scottish Parliament at 12:53 pm on 23 May 2024.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 12:53, 23 May 2024

I invite those who are leaving the public gallery to do so as quickly and quietly as possible.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-12992, in the name of Alasdair Allan, on Europe day 2024. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament is pleased to celebrate Europe Day 2024, which takes place on 9 May and marks the 74th anniversary of the historic Schuman Declaration; considers that Europe Day is a chance to reflect on the aspiration for peace and unity across Europe, both within and outwith the EU; notes with alarm that this Europe Day takes place at a time of war in Europe, and reinforces Scotland’s solidarity with the people of Ukraine; applauds the efforts of organisations, including the European Movement in Scotland, New Europeans UK, Citizens’ Rights Project, and the Scottish Council on Global Affairs, to mark Europe Day 2024 with a Festival of Europe, which will be held from 11-12 May at Summerhall in Edinburgh; is firm in the belief that Scotland remains a steadfastly European nation, bound to its neighbours by a long history of cultural, social and economic ties; notes that the flag of Europe is still flown with pride outside the Scottish Parliament building; recommits to the shared EU values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and human rights, as well as the EU motto, “United in Diversity”; notes what it sees as the positive impact that EU programmes and structural funds have had on communities in the Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency and across rural Scotland; regrets what it sees as the continued damage on Scotland’s economy and society resulting from Brexit, and that, it believes, the people of Scotland had their European citizenship taken from them against their democratic will; notes the belief that it is in Scotland’s interests to rejoin the EU and the single market, and reaffirms what it considers to be Scotland’s aspiration to play an active role in its European future.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

From time to time, it is as well to lift our eyes from the Scottish political fray to recall that Scotland is still a European country and that events in Europe still matter to us. I am therefore grateful that we have the opportunity to reflect on all that in this debate.

Almost three quarters of a century ago, the Schuman declaration marked the beginning of post-world war two Franco-German co-operation. That was a hugely significant turning point in Europe’s pursuit of long-term sustainable peace. It came after a continuous period of more than 80 years during which Germany and France had largely been either at war or on the verge of war with each other. In the following year—1951—the alliance was opened to other European countries, and the treaty of Paris was also signed by the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Luxembourg. That created the European Coal and Steel Community, which paved the way for the European Economic Community and, subsequently, of course, the European Union.

Europe day is celebrated on 9 May each year, on the anniversary of the signing of the Schuman declaration. Unfortunately, the anniversary fell, and falls, at a time of war in Europe. I therefore take the opportunity—as I am sure others would—to reiterate the Parliament’s categorical condemnation of Putin’s unprovoked aggression, which has destroyed the lives of so many Ukrainians since the illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Russian Government’s reckless actions during that invasion have also directly resulted in the deaths of many members of its own forces.

The European Union was established to promote peace and co-operation between Europe’s independent nations. I, of course, very much hope that, one day soon, Scotland can count herself among those independent European nations. However, for the moment, Europe day represents an opportunity for us to reflect on the European Union’s core aspirations, as well as on the challenges that it faces in today’s landscape.

Peace and co-operation are values that we must pursue and prioritise, particularly in a period of political polarisation when misinformation and, therefore, mistrust can be rife. Unless those are checked, they can, ultimately, pose a threat to democracy itself. The shared European

“values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights”,

are ones that I hope every individual in the chamber shares, no matter their position on Scotland’s future or, indeed, on the European Union.

However, I cannot resist saying that those who continue to argue against even rejoining the single market or re-establishing freedom of movement of people are taking an extreme stance—one that I do not claim to be able to comprehend. It is a stance that I would counsel all parties not to humour much further.

Just a few weeks ago, yet more new, expensive and complicated import controls came into force as a direct consequence of Brexit, and are causing further damage to Scotland’s businesses and our economic interests. More EU businesses are ceasing their trade with the United Kingdom altogether because of the additional expense and bureaucratic headache that the trading relationship now involves. The UK has already suffered the largest five-year decline in goods trade since comparable records began in 1997, with the volume of UK goods imports and exports being 7.4 per cent smaller than it was in 2018.

Exports from my constituency, particularly of fresh seafood, have at times suffered significantly due to the complex, time-consuming and expensive checks that are now required for every box on every journey to mainland Europe. Any small error can result in thousands of pounds of produce being held up and, sometimes, ultimately discarded.

I am conscious that the bulk of the roads in my constituency that are wide enough to drive two cars past each other without stopping are largely the product of EU structural and investment funds. The UK Government committed to matching EU structural funding after Brexit in a programme that it insisted would be

“better tailored to our economy”.

However, we have found ourselves being overlooked and short-changed.

Meanwhile, the UK Government—and, as far as I can see, the main UK Opposition—refuse to move an inch from their opposition to EU membership. I am afraid that, even with the potential for a new Government in Westminster, the tunnel vision on anything related to the EU or the single market looks to be firmly set to continue.

Last month, both Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak rejected the European Commission’s proposals for a post-Brexit youth mobility deal, for instance, which would have allowed those aged between 18 and 30 to live, study or work in one EU country for up to four years, with young EU citizens able to come to the UK on the same basis.

Brexit was unquestionably an act of cultural and economic vandalism. Scotland remains a steadfastly European nation, bound to our neighbours by a long history of cultural, social and economic ties. Although external powers have forced us to leave the political European community, I am proud to say that Scotland’s esprit européen is something that no external power can take away.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I am really confused about the “external powers” that Alasdair Allan is referring to. We had a referendum, and the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. What external powers is he referring to? Is he referring, by chance, to England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

I am referring to the fact that two thirds of the country that I represent in this Parliament, and in which I have the honour to live, voted to remain in the European Union.

I fear that, as well as annoying Mr Kerr, I may have annoyed one of the Presiding Officer’s predecessors when I and others spoke up in the chamber some time ago to make the case for the European flag continuing to be flown outside our national Parliament. I have no regrets about that, and I am pleased to see that it is still flying. For me, it is a symbol of hope that, in the not-too-distant future, Scotland will be able to rejoin the EU family as a member state. More immediately, it is a clear sign that we want to celebrate Europe day and all the ideas that that represents.

Photo of Meghan Gallacher Meghan Gallacher Conservative 1:00, 23 May 2024

I join colleagues on all sides of the chamber in celebrating Europe day in 2024. In a turbulent world, it is vital that we continue to express the close bonds of friendship with our many friends and allies across Europe.

That brings me to the motion. Today’s debate on Europe is an opportunity to talk about the many virtues of a shared European heritage and culture. It is a chance to celebrate the long-established historical ties between the United Kingdom and Europe. For me, it is an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices of the brave men and women who courageously answered the call to secure the liberation of Europe from the tyrannical grip of Nazism. Their sacrifices, and those of many more, ensured that we have a Europe in the first place.

It is disappointing, therefore, that the motion makes no mention of the 79th anniversary of victory in Europe day—a day of national and international celebration that has echoed across the world every year since the hard-fought allied victory in Europe was secured on 8 May 1945.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

I thank the member for making the point about victory in Europe day. I am more than happy to acknowledge it, and to acknowledge the sacrifice of all those who secured victory in Europe.

Photo of Meghan Gallacher Meghan Gallacher Conservative

I am grateful to the member for doing so, because it is such a vitally important date in European history. After all, without an allied victory in world war two, spearheaded by Britain and her allies, the formation of the Council of Europe would never have been possible in the first place.

The Scottish National Party might be unaware that it was our greatest ever Briton, Winston Churchill, who first suggested the formation of the Council of Europe back in 1943. The Council of Europe finally became a post-war reality when it was signed into existence in London on 5 May 1949.

The founding Statute of the Council of Europe set out the guiding principles for its work on rebuilding a Europe that had been shattered by war. As the driving force behind its formation, it is unsurprising that we in Britain share with it the values that we hold most dear here: those of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Article 1a of the statutes states:

“The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress.”

The motion that is before us could have recognised other significant European achievements such as the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act, to mention two more. Unfortunately, we have so far heard only some waffle from the SNP, whose members see the debate as an opportunity to attack Britain and the democratic will of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.

The SNP loves to conflate the European Union with Europe, as if they are somehow interchangeable. However, as with its flip-flopping on oil and gas, the SNP has a track record of flip-flopping on the EU. In the 1960s and the 1970s, the SNP actively campaigned to take us out of Europe. In 2014, it ran a campaign of separation that would have taken Scotland out of the EU. Thankfully, the vast majority of people in Scotland rejected the SNP’s idea of separation. SNP members talk of Scotland being pulled out of Europe against her will, conveniently forgetting that it was the United Kingdom that had membership of the EU. The SNP also conveniently ignores the fact that a third of its own membership voted to leave the EU back in 2016.

Fast forward to today’s debate, whereby we have the SNP falling over itself to shout about the benefits of being in a union—well, square that circle if you can. It seems that European unionism is good and UK unionism is bad. You could not make it up.

The crux of the matter is that the SNP wants separation at any cost. It intends to rip Scotland out of the world’s most successful and strongest union—to achieve its goals against the wishes of most people in this country. If the SNP had ever got its way, we would have found ourselves outside both the UK and the EU.

I will conclude, because I am out of time. At the founding of the Council of Europe in 1949, Winston Churchill said:

“Our hopes and our work point to an era of peace, prosperity and abundance.”

In a volatile world in which, once more, conflict rages out of control, it is comforting to know that the United Kingdom leads the way in Europe, in ensuring that the long-term stability in the region will once again ensure that peace, prosperity and abundance return to all in Europe. That is a cause for celebration.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party 1:05, 23 May 2024

I thank Alasdair Allan for lodging what is a very comprehensive motion and securing the debate. I had hoped that the debate would be a celebration of Europe day and that we would have had a bit of consensus, but it has turned into a bit of an irony fest—with quotes from Winston Churchill on his attitude towards Europe as part of the initial process, but a defence of the insular Conservative Boris Johnson, who dragged us out of European membership on what was basically a pack of misinformation. So many people were told that we would lose European membership if we voted for independence, but we were then faced with the Brexit vote. Europeans in this country were left bereft about their future because of Brexit.

However, I wish everyone a happy Europe day. As Dr Allan did, I extend my solidarity to the people of Ukraine in particular. Europe day 2024 and its call for peace take on a new meaning, given that there is war on the European continent.

The inception of the European Coal and Steel Community—the EU’s precursor—was, foremost, a peace project. Greater political integration based on mutual interest helped to stabilise relationships between France and West Germany following the abject horrors of the second world war. In that light, the EU stands out as one of the most successful peace projects in history. It is ironic that we have walked away from that. The values of peace, freedom and respect for common humanity have renewed meaning. There should be renewed focus on much-needed peace as the conflicts in Ukraine and in other areas around the world continue.

The motion notes that Scotland remains resolutely European, and we have already talked about how the Scottish electorate overwhelmingly rejected Brexit. Brexit damage has been manifest. The Office for Budget Responsibility expects there to be a long-term hit to gross domestic product of 4 per cent. Smaller firms and exporters have been wiped out due to the costs of red tape and non-tariff barriers in their supply chains. [ Interruption .] Stephen Kerr is speaking from a sedentary position. I suggest that he looks at the work of the Parliament’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, which I convene, as there has been ample evidence on that point.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I remember that, during the indicative votes in the House of Commons during the Brexit process, SNP members of that house had an opportunity to vote for Britain’s membership of the single market but did not do so. That seems to be so much hypocrisy.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

I say to Stephen Kerr that, here and now, we face the consequences of Brexit. As I said, we have ample evidence of the damage. As the Independent Commission on UK-EU Relations, which came to the committee this morning, notes in its report on the trade of goods:

“Although goods trade between the EU and UK recovered most of its previous level in value terms following a sharp fall in the early months of 2021 the current value of trade is well below what would have been expected had the UK performed on a comparable level with other trade partners.”

This is not an ideological bun fight. That is the brutal economic reality, with consequences for our constituents and the businesses in our areas.

As the Parliament marks Europe day, is there cause for hope? We have lost the right to live and work in 27 other nations; new costs and rules on cabotage are devastating for touring artists, as our committee has heard from the culture community; and we have lost Erasmus and Comenius—extraordinary initiatives that fostered cultural and academic links and gave our young people life-changing opportunities, which my grandchildren are now denied.

The EU is integral to the majority of our trade. EU structural funding, which Dr Allan mentioned, provided crucial investment for areas in Scotland that were impacted by post-industrial decline—not least my Motherwell and Wishaw constituency. After the mining and steel industries were destroyed, it was left with no investment and no move forward from the UK Government until the Ravenscraig regional sports centre was built using European structural funds.

I wish everybody a happy Europe day.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour 1:10, 23 May 2024

I congratulate Alasdair Allan on bringing the debate to the chamber.

As we mark the 74th Europe day, we must never forget why integration was pursued in Europe. In 1950, in the aftermath of the second world war, which caused so much death and destruction, Robert Schuman, the French foreign minister, called for European integration, so that war would become

“not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”.

We should still abide by that important principle for peace in Europe, and the events of recent years show that co-operation is more important than ever. The invasion of Ukraine goes against everything that we have pursued for the past 74 years. It is imperative that our support for Ukraine remains steadfast and that a peaceful Europe remains the norm.

The motion mentions the festival of Europe that took place earlier this month. At the festival, I spoke on a panel with Ben Macpherson and Christine Jardine MP. I urged that, rather than bickering about Brexit once more, we should build a new productive relationship with Europe—one that is built on our shared values of democracy, equality and the rule of law and that delivers for working people.

There are several ways that we can do that. The motion highlights Scotland’s loss of access to EU programmes and what they can do for communities. The loss of Scotland’s membership of the Erasmus scheme, which allowed thousands of Scottish students to study in Europe, is regrettable. Scotland should look at emulating the success of Welsh Labour’s Taith scheme, which has allowed Welsh students continued access to educational exchanges.

Culture has also suffered as a result of Brexit. Performers and artists from Scotland are held back by the high costs of touring in Europe, and vice versa. If artists cannot come here, brand Scotland is threatened, as is our status as a leading country for culture.

An incoming Labour Government could institute a new touring agreement with the European Union so that artists can tour without expensive visas. The Scottish Government should look to co-operate on that issue, rather than being stuck on the constitutional issue.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

The current UK Government has, sensibly, rejoined the horizon programme. Does Mr Choudhury agree that, given that it has been possible to rejoin European programmes, a priority for any Government should include rejoining the Erasmus+ and creative Europe programmes?

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

Yes, I would support that but, if we cannot rejoin those programmes, we need to look at other options, such as what Welsh Labour has managed to do with the Taith scheme. Our Government should make that a priority, too. Redoing the Brexit debate will not solve the cost of living crisis, but we can renegotiate the deal to better serve working people.

Although Scotland and the United Kingdom are no longer part of the European Union, we are still European. Our shared history and culture transcend any political institution. With the future being more uncertain than ever, we must have a collaborative relationship with our European partners. We must never forget what happened in the past when that co-operation was absent.

Photo of Karen Adam Karen Adam Scottish National Party 1:15, 23 May 2024

I congratulate Dr Allan on getting the debate to the Scottish Parliament. As we have heard, Europe day 2024 marks the 74th anniversary of the historic Schuman declaration. As the motion states, it is

“a chance to reflect on the aspiration for peace and unity across Europe”.

Seventy-four years ago this month, on 9 May 1950, the then French foreign minister Robert Schuman laid the foundations for the European Union with his renowned Schuman declaration. His declaration opened with the line:

“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”

Those creative efforts began with a proposal of joint control of coal and steel production between France and Germany. In the seven decades that followed, interdependence and co-operation between European nations went from strength to strength, with the European Coal and Steel Community, the treaty of Rome that created the European Economic Community and the creation of the European Parliament.

For decades, Scotland had a number of members of the European Parliament standing up for Scotland in Europe. One of those MEPs sadly passed away last year, and I will conclude my remarks with the words of the lady affectionately known on the continent as Madame Écosse.

Our neighbours from the continent have always been welcome in Scotland. We had a French national, Christian Allard, representing North East Scotland in the Scottish Parliament for a number of years. At a time of UK Government hostility towards those who hail from elsewhere, it is more important than ever to reiterate that welcome. Last month, along with my colleague Kevin Stewart, I welcomed the French ambassador and the consul general in Aberdeen, and we discussed the rich past and vibrant present that the north-east shares with France.

Members might know that our national hero Robert Bruce, himself of French origin, sent an embassy to the European continent in 1323 to renew the auld alliance of 1295. The embassy included the Earl of Moray and the Bishop of Moray. The latter would go on to establish the Scots college at the University of Paris way back in 1333. Our educational links with France and Europe go back at least seven centuries.

William Elphinstone would go on to study at the University of Paris for a number of years before returning to Scotland to found the University d’Aberdeen, modelling it on the French university. Now, many centuries later, the University of Aberdeen, alongside our other universities in Scotland, continues to welcome European students. It bears repeating that our educational system and our country are richer for their presence.

Brexit, however, has no doubt threatened that. European students are no longer eligible for tuition-free university education in Scotland. Sadly, the UK Government’s decision to ignore the will of the Scottish people and its pursuit of a hard Brexit, which tore us out of a number of EU programmes, including Erasmus+, continue to threaten our centuries-old educational, scientific and cultural exchanges with Europe.

Last week, I was delighted to welcome to the Scottish Parliament the consul general of France in Scotland, diplomats from the French embassy in London and a number of graduates who have benefited from the international mobility granted to them by schemes such as Erasmus+. However, each and every one of those whom I spoke to raised the urgency with which the loss of programmes such as Erasmus+ needs to be reversed.

Winnie Ewing was the architect of the Erasmus+ programme, which fuels fraternity between European nations. Therefore, it is with the words of Madame Écosse at the reconvening of our Scottish Parliament that I will conclude:

“My last practical hope is that everyone who was born in Scotland ... and everyone who chose Scotland as their country, will live in harmony together, enjoying our cultures”—

cultures plural. She went on to say that out there

“in Europe and in the wider world, there is a bank of good will towards Scotland.”—[Official Report, 12 May 1999; c 5-6.]

Those words are as true today as they were then.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative 1:19, 23 May 2024

I congratulate Alasdair Allan on securing the debate, but it is a great pity that the SNP did not put as much energy into contesting the 2016 referendum campaign as it has since put into moaning about the result. It spent tuppence-ha’penny on the campaign, and that was back when it had more than two farthings to rub together. However, it is in the best tradition of the SNP that it struggles to accept any referendum result.

The people of the United Kingdom collectively decided that the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union had run its course, but I am no less a European today than I was on the day that Britain left the European Union. Of course, Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom remain closely attached to Europe, geographically and in every other respect and lessons are on offer for the SNP since we left the European Union.

Let us take the economy. The UK economy is now the joint fastest-growing economy in the G7 with Canada, outpacing France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. Those are official figures. The UK is now the fourth-largest exporter of goods and services globally, moving up from seventh place in the rankings in 2021. It has overtaken France, the Netherlands and Spain.

What would be so bad about trying to keep up with the countries in the European Union in other areas such as nuclear power, for example? Here is John Swinney at First Minister’s questions on 16 May:

The Scottish Government will not support new nuclear power stations in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 16 May 2024; c 26.]

Here is the contraposition from the European Union:

“The Council of EU member states and the European Parliament agreed on Tuesday (6 February) to label nuclear power as a strategic technology for the EU’s decarbonisation”.

Will the SNP follow the EU’s pragmatic lead and label nuclear power a strategic technology for Scotland’s decarbonisation?

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

Perhaps the member would acknowledge that the European Union leaves it up to member states to decide which of them builds a nuclear power station. We do not find EU member states attempting to tell each other to have nuclear power stations in their respective territories.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Alasdair Allan has his own excuses for the cover story that the SNP gives for its denial of the science of nuclear energy.

Let us try gene editing technology. The SNP remains opposed to that but, earlier this year, the European Parliament voted to ease the regulation on gene-edited crops. Why not follow suit?

How about illegal immigration? I know that the cabinet secretary has a great vested interest in Austria, so perhaps he is familiar with what the Austrian chancellor said this week:

“The Rwanda model is a solution for us to have asylum proceedings in safe third countries and that is something we need to put on the EU’s agenda as well …

The UK is therefore also a pioneer for this model, a model and a path that will be important for the Europeans as well. We support the British path and the British model.”

It is not just Austria:

“Last week ... 15 leaders of EU countries, including Austria, called for new solutions to address illegal migration into Europe, which included the idea of relocating asylum seekers to third countries.”

I am reading this from The Times , by the way; I am not making it up.

“The countries that signed the letter last week were Bulgaria; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Greece; Italy; Cyprus; Latvia; Lithuania; Malta; Netherlands; Austria; Poland; Romania and Finland.”

One last area where the SNP could stop bleating and do something positive has already been mentioned: the moan about Erasmus+. Sitting alongside the Turing scheme, for which Scottish students are eligible, the Welsh Government—it is a Labour Government and I am a Tory—has set up Taith. It will spend £65 million on Taith up to 2026.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

The European Union has made it abundantly clear that the United Kingdom would be welcome back in the Erasmus+ scheme and the creative Europe programme. Does he agree that that would be the right thing to do?

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

The cabinet secretary raises the current position of the European Union. The reason that we got to that point was that it would not allow the United Kingdom to remain part of Erasmus+. Hence the Turing scheme and Taith.

I speak in praise of Taith, because students from Wales have both Turing and Taith to allow them to continue to benefit from international exchanges, as they did through Erasmus+.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I do not think that I have time. I apologise.

However, Turing and Taith go beyond Europe. If the Welsh Government can do it—and, by the way, the SNP promised to do it—why has the SNP not delivered? That is the point. Is it because the SNP prefers gum bumping and grievance over delivering substance? Of course it is.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party 1:25, 23 May 2024

The Scottish Government’s preference is that the United Kingdom joins Erasmus+ and the UK Government rejoins Creative Europe. That is the answer to Stephen Kerr’s question.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party


I begin by praising Dr Alasdair Allan for lodging his motion about Europe day, on which we mark the day in 1950 when Robert Schuman proposed bringing French and West German coal and steel production under a single authority. That happened on the day after the anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May 1945; it is absolutely right to acknowledge the connection between those things and the ultimate price that was paid by so many people, which was raised by Meghan Gallacher.

In the shadow of the second world war, the bold idea of working together across Europe was the seed of a peace project that grew into what has become the European Union, and recognition of that project could not be more important today. Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine and the conflict in Gaza remind us that peace and co-operation are precious. Indeed, they are so precious that we must not take them for granted.

On 9 May, which was Europe day, I had the pleasure of addressing Scotland’s first international festival of Europe, which took place in Edinburgh. I am grateful to the European Movement in Scotland for inviting me. I reflected then that, from armed conflict to climate change and rapid technological change, the challenges that are facing our continent need a common response.

A united Europe is a universal idea and one that is rooted in the common values of human dignity, freedom and democracy. Indeed, one of the first to enunciate that vision was none other than Sir Winston Churchill in his famous speech in Zurich in 1946, where he called for the creation of a united states of Europe.

In June this year, in a few weeks’ time, more than 400 million Europeans will go to the polls. It will be the first time in 45 years that Scottish voters have not taken part. I remember with sadness the day when Scotland’s members of the European Parliament were piped out of the European Parliament chamber. Our fellow Europeans were asked to leave a light on for Scotland, and I believe that the light is still burning bright for the day that we return.

Brexit has been—this is beyond any challenge—an unmitigated disaster for Scotland. The economic impact is well documented, but it is not just our economy that suffers. The ending of free movement of people has greatly impacted on people the length and breadth of Scotland, not least on European Union citizens, to whom our message remains clear: you are welcome here, we want you to stay, and this is your home.

Above all, we must not forget the impact on young people. It was an extraordinarily welcome move when, only last month, the European Commission proposed opening negotiations with the United Kingdom on a youth mobility treaty. Following the UK Government’s decision not to participate in Erasmus+, the European Commission’s offer was rejected out of hand by the UK Government. That is deeply disappointing. The only thing that is more disappointing is that the UK Government was not the first to reject the proposal—that was the Labour Party. I have to hope that, if there is to be a change in the UK Government, common sense will prevail and the Commission’s offer will be taken seriously. If we are going to stand here as regularly as we do and lament the impact that the ending of free movement of people has had, particularly on young people and on culture and the arts, we should take seriously the offer that is open to us on Erasmus+ and Creative Europe.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for giving way. Will he please acknowledge to the chamber that the SNP has a commitment to create a programme that is equivalent to Taith—the Welsh Government’s scheme—which, together with the Turing scheme, creates an even more expansive opportunity for our young people and our students? Will he agree that the SNP made that commitment and has done nothing about it whatsoever? Where is the Scottish equivalent that the SNP promised to bring to the chamber? It has still produced nothing.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

In point of fact, Stephen Kerr is wrong. The Scottish Government has been looking at all the options, but what has become abundantly clear to us is that the Turing scheme is not more expansive than Erasmus+ for students in Europe; it is a reduced offer.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to the UK ambassador when I was in discussions with the European Commission about the offer that it has made to the UK in relation to Erasmus+, and I confirm to Stephen Kerr that the offer is there. The Commission is happy for the UK to join. We are happy for the UK to join. I care not whether it is an outgoing Tory Government or the potential Labour Government in London that wakes up and sees the common sense of doing so, because what really matters is that we embrace the opportunity of being back in Erasmus+. It is a very important part of European citizenship.

For the record, it is quite right to recognise the role that Winnie Ewing played in the creation of the Erasmus scheme—we have heard about that this afternoon. [ Interruption .] I am overrunning time, so I will proceed and wind up shortly.

We urge the UK Government to think again, to respond positively to the Commission’s initiative and to negotiate a deep and generous agreement with the EU. More than that, we urge whoever is in number 10 in the months ahead to include in the UK’s relationship with the EU an openness to once again embrace Erasmus, Creative Europe and all that they offer.

Freedom of movement is only one reason why I want Scotland to return to the European Union as a member state in our own right. Our detailed policy paper, “An Independent Scotland in the EU”, was published last year. It set out our vision of shared values, what we can contribute to the European Union and the benefits that Scotland will gain from being a member state in our own right for the very first time. Our ambition is to be an open nation that seeks to be a global citizen, that is a force for good and that leaves a positive mark on the world. Those are all aspirations that we share with our European neighbours.

The founding principles of a united Europe ring true today more than ever. The message to our European friends from this Parliament’s debate on Europe day is that Scotland is by your side, and we will continue to work with you to address the many challenges that we share.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—