First Minister News

First Minister writes to PM about lack of interaction with Scottish Govt on Brexit

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to the Prime Minister about the role of the devolved administrations in talks on the future trade relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Full text of letter:

Dear Theresa,

I recognise that this is a critical week for Brexit, ahead of the European Council at the end of the week. It is therefore with concern that I have read press reports over the weekend about offers you may be making to the Democratic Unionist Party, upon whom you rely for a working majority in the House of Commons. As a consequence I wanted to seek clarity and assurance from you at the outset.

Since the EU referendum in 2016 there has been sustained and consistent damage done to the devolution settlement, and to the idea that the UK is a partnership of equal nations. As you are aware, like Northern Ireland, Scotland voted to remain in the European Union.

In the past two years however, Scotland’s wishes and national interests have been roundly ignored and at times treated with contempt by the UK Government.

I now have three further major concerns over what appears, from reports, to be your strategy for securing a majority for your Brexit deal. By according the DUP disproportionate influence, it seems clear that maintaining your majority in the UK Parliament comes before respect for the properly constituted governments across the UK.

Firstly, there must be no question of one political party – the DUP – being represented in talks on the future trade relationship between the UK and EU when other political parties and Devolved Governments are not. As you are aware, in August 2018, the Scottish Government published a paper in respect of our role in International Trade negotiations. There has been no indication that the UK Government is taking these proposals seriously, although there has since been support for a greater role for devolved administrations in trade negotiations from both the International Trade and Scottish Affairs select Committees in the House of Commons. In addition, there have been no meaningful moves to ensure the devolved governments have a properly enhanced role in the next phase of EU-UK negotiations.

Secondly, the UK Government’s proposals to the DUP appear to involve a serious curtailment of the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Indeed in seeking to obtain support for your deal in December the UK Government committed, in the event that the Protocol on Northern Ireland is required, “to ensure that there would be no divergence in the rules applied in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in areas covered by the Protocol”. Many of the relevant rules fall within devolved competence and therefore it is not in the gift of the UK Government to unilaterally constrain the powers of the Scottish Parliament in order to strike a deal with the DUP. Continued alignment can only be guaranteed with the full support of the Scottish Government and Parliament. As you will be aware, the Scottish Government continues to be concerned that Scotland will be placed at a disadvantage if your proposals take effect.

Finally, we continue to see decisions from the UK Government which undermine and discredit the existing UK funding framework and which short-change Scotland. In 2017, The UK Government provided an additional £1 billion to Northern Ireland as part of the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party and recently it allocated another £140 million in Northern Ireland’s 2019-20 Budget. These funds were allocated to devolved matters and it is completely unacceptable that these decisions did not result in additional consequentials for Scotland. The UK Government’s actions mean that Scotland has lost out on equivalent funding of around £3.3 billion. The UK Government cannot continue to favour Northern Ireland over the other devolved administrations for short-term political gain and we expect any future funding to be allocated in a fair and transparent manner.

I have said and will continue to say that while there is no broad consensus in the UK Parliament for your Brexit deal, the decision ought to be put back to the people in a second EU referendum – that is the responsible and democratic thing to do. However should the UK continue on a path to exiting the EU, then there must be fair and equal treatment of the four nations of the UK in relation to influence over and a role in the negotiations of the future relationship through the properly constituted devolved institutions.

At present, far from ensuring such fair treatment you appear to be pursuing a path that privileges one political party, further constrains the powers of the Scottish Parliament and short-changes public spending in Scotland. This approach would not be acceptable.

Article Source:

Joint statement by the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales – EU Exit Debate

Scotland and Wales unite to voice dismay at UK Government’s approach.

“Today, for the first time in the 20-year history of devolution, the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament, voted simultaneously to oppose a damaging no deal Brexit.

Read Nicola Sturgeon’s opening speech at the debate:

“The vast majority of Members across both Chambers voted in agreement that a no deal outcome would be completely unacceptable and that an extension to Article 50 is the best way forward to protect Wales, Scotland and the UK as a whole.

“No deal would mean not just probable short term chaos, but also very real and long-term structural damage to our economy. Damage which would mean fewer jobs, lower wages and less tax revenue.

“The motions in both the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales also re-iterated opposition to the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister which would do significant damage to both countries.

“This united and historic step was taken to send the clearest possible message to the UK Government and Westminster that this reckless course of action must stop now.

“We take little comfort from the sequence of votes planned to take place in the House of Commons next week, when a vote on extending Article 50 will be held only after another attempt to browbeat Members of Parliament into supporting the Prime Minister’s deal and a vote to support no deal.

“We are just 24 days away from crashing out of the EU. The Prime Minister’s attempt to run down the clock must be resisted at all costs.

“Today we have come together to set out our clear opposition to the actions being taken by the UK Government.

“Next week the Prime Minister and the UK Parliament must show they have listened, rule out no deal at any time and request an immediate extension of Article 50.”

First Minister Speech on Brexit (5 March 2019)

Nicola Sturgeon’s speech at the Scottish Parliament debate on Brexit (5 March 2019)

The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Parliament are holding simultaneous sessions today (with debating and voting) calling on the uk govt to act on brexit – “We have been brought together by our dismay – bordering now on despair – at the UK Government’s approach to Brexit”.


Scottish Parliament TV:

Presiding officer,

In Cardiff this afternoon, Jeremy Miles, the Welsh Brexit Minister, will open a debate on almost exactly the same motion as the one we are debating here today. The Welsh First Minister will close the debate.

It is worth emphasising that this is the first occasion in 20 years of devolution that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have acted in unison in this way.

We have been brought together by our dismay – bordering now on despair – at the UK Government’s approach to Brexit.

That despair is echoed across our countries.

As recently as last summer, the Prime Minister confidently told me that by the autumn of last year, not only would we know the terms of exit, we would also know significant detail about the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

And yet here we are, just 24 days until the UK is due to leave the EU.

And still we don’t know if there will be any agreed terms of exit.

We don’t know if there will be a transition phase.

And the terms of the future relationship are not much more than a blank sheet of paper.

The potential consequences for businesses, communities, individuals and public services grow more stark by the day.

And in the face of all this chaos, the Prime Minister is showing no decisive leadership.

Instead of doing the right thing and ruling out a no deal exit at any stage, she insists on free wheeling the car ever closer to the cliff edge.

She is trying to run down the clock, making undeliverable promises to hardline Brexiteers and offering tawdry, half baked bribes to Labour MPs.

Her one note of consistency in all of this has been contempt for Scotland. Seemingly, we aren’t even worthy of her bribes – though I think we should take that as a compliment.

Presiding Officer,

The domestic and international standing of the Westminster system of government has surely never been lower in any of our lifetimes.

This fiasco should not be allowed to continue for even one day more.

The Scottish and Welsh Parliaments are today making three demands.

The first is that the prospect of leaving the EU with no deal is ruled out – not just at the end of March, but at any time.

The second is that MPs must not allow themselves to be bullied into choosing between the catastrophe of no deal and the disaster of the government’s deal.

And the third is that an extension of Article 50 is essential and urgent, and must be requested now.

The demand to rule out a “no-deal” scenario is, I hope, supported across this chamber.

The Scottish Government is doing everything we can to plan for and mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit.

I am personally chairing our weekly Resilience meetings, looking at medicine and food supplies, economic and community impacts and transport links.

But every aspect of that planning reinforces this overwhelming reality – no rational government acting in the interests of those it serves would countenance leaving the EU without a deal.

The UK Government’s own forecasts predict that a no-deal scenario could reduce GDP by 9% over a 15 year period.

But you just need to look at the nature of the preparations to know that the impact would be much more immediate.

The UK government has been buying fridges to stockpile medicine. It has been testing motorways and airfields in Kent for use as lorry parks. It has been awarding and then cancelling ferry contracts to businesses which don’t even have ships.

It has been taking steps which should be inconceivable in a developed economy in peacetime. And all of it to plan for an avoidable outcome which, if it happens, will be by choice.

It is unforgivably reckless.

‘No deal’ should be definitively ruled out – and today, from Edinburgh and Cardiff, we demand that it is.

However – and this brings me to the second purpose of today’s motion – the UK Government must not use the threat of no deal to blackmail the UK Parliament into voting for its current deal.

The response to the rejection of Theresa May’s deal has so far been characterised by delays, denials, dishonesty and most recently desperate attempts at bribery.

Ministers have wasted months pretending that significant changes to the Northern Ireland backstop are possible – despite all evidence to the contrary.

Much better, surely, to face up to the fact that the deal is unpopular because it is a bad deal – for the UK, and certainly for Scotland.

It would take us out of the EU, out of the single market and out of the custom union.

But it provides no clarity whatsoever on what our long-term future relationship with the EU looks like. The UK Parliament is effectively being asked to approve a “blindfold Brexit”.

To the extent that any direction of travel can be discerned, it points to a long-term social and economic disaster for Scotland.

The red lines mean that we are heading towards a Canada style deal at best.

And let’s focus on what that means – the Scottish Government estimates this could lead to a fall in national income of £1,600 per person by 2030 compared with EU membership.

Our services sector, three-quarters of our economy, will be particularly badly hit.

Being out of the customs union, pursuing an independent trade policy, will also make the UK vulnerable to the trade priorities of Donald Trump.

When the US Government’s negotiating priorities were published last week, it was no surprise to hear fears that Scottish and UK markets could be opened to chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef.

And, of course, part and parcel of the approach taken in the PM’s deal is the end of freedom of movement. Combined with the despicable hostile migration policy, that could lead to a fall in the number of people working in Scotland and paying tax here.

The NHS and social care will pay a particularly heavy price if EU nationals are deterred from working here.

In short, the deal on the table guarantees more years of uncertainty during which Scotland’s interests will be at the mercy of a vicious, and seemingly never-ending, Tory civil war – one where the extreme Brexiteers are currently in the ascendancy.

It could open up our markets to US products which, for very good reasons, are currently banned.

And it will damage our economy, our living standards and our NHS.

For all of these reasons, and many more, it must be rejected.

And what should happen instead?

The Scottish Government has made clear that we see continued EU membership as the best outcome for Scotland and the UK.

And if it can’t be secured for the UK as a whole, we believe that option should be open to Scotland as an independent country.

Of course, we have also, for more than two years, put forward compromise proposals which would see the UK as a whole stay in the customs union and single market.

The Welsh Government has also put forward plans for a close relationship with the EU.

The UK Government has ignored us at all stages.

What the Welsh and Scottish Governments are proposing now – and this is the third point raised by today’s motion – is that there must be an extension of Article 50.

Nobody now believes that Brexit can be delivered on 29 March.

Quite apart from anything else, there is no time to scrutinise and pass the legislation required.

But we should not simply seek a short extension, as the Prime Minister envisages.

We need an extension long enough to enable a better path to be taken. This could open the way again to the possibility of a single market and customs union compromise.

However the preferable alternative option, in my view, is now a second EU referendum.

There is a strong democratic case for it.

After all, nobody voting to leave the EU knew precisely what they were voting for – the leave campaign was deliberately vague, some may say deceitful, about the form Brexit would take.

And where the leave side was specific, it was less than honest – for example about the prospect of Turkey joining the EU and the NHS getting more money.

We also know now that the leave campaign broke the law.

Presiding officer, I understand that prospect of a second vote does not appeal to everyone.

And we cannot take for granted that there would be a majority for Remain across the UK – that would have to be worked for.

But simply pressing ahead with Brexit – knowing that we are heading for disaster – makes no sense. After all, whatever most people voted for, it clearly wasn’t where we are now.

A second referendum provides everyone with a second chance. While Scotland, of course, has the option of independence, for the UK as a whole, another referendum is now the best of the options available.

Presiding Officer, last month I opened the new Scottish government hub based in Paris.

And in a city like that – where evidence of Scotland’s ties with Europe extends back more than seven centuries – it’s absolutely impossible not to feel a deep sense of loss about what Brexit means for Scotland.

Our country has benefited immeasurably from the hundreds of thousands of EU citizens who have made Scotland their home. Many Scots have had their horizons widened and their lives enriched by the ability to study, travel and work in Europe.

The EU – while far from perfect – has also encouraged stronger trading ties, a cleaner environment, and better conditions for workers.

And perhaps most of all it has exemplified the benefits we all gain when independent nations fully cooperate for the greater good. That is not something which we should give up lightly.

For more than two years now, since the result of the EU referendum, the Scottish Government has proposed ways of mitigating the damage that Brexit will cause.

We have been joined in our efforts by the Welsh government. However we have been ignored at almost every turn by the UK Government.

This motion is a further attempt to propose a way forward. It provides the basis – even at this late hour – for a more sensible and less damaging approach.

And by doing so it allows us to act in the interests – not just of our own constituents – but of the UK as a whole; indeed of Europe as a whole.

I commend this motion to the Parliament and hope that members of this Scottish Parliament and our friends in the Welsh Parliament will vote for it this evening.

Nicola Sturgeon speech at France’s Assemblée Nationale

THE First Minister is in France to talk up Scotland as an “open and outward-looking country”.

She was addressing the Foreign Affairs Committee at the Assemblée Nationale in Paris.

She is also there to officially open the Scottish Government’s hub office in city.

It is an honour to be invited to this committee. As my remarks will make clear, Scotland and France are natural partners on many issues. In fact, one of the reasons for my visit to your great city was to launch, yesterday, the new Scottish Government office here in Paris.

That is an important development for us. It represents a commitment, not only to France, but also to Scotland’s role as an outward-facing European nation.

It also perhaps overdue. After all, France was the very first country to establish a consulate in Scotland.

It was opened by General de Gaulle in 1942. A quote from General de Gaulle’s speech on that occasion is inscribed on the outside wall of the Consul-General’s residence in Edinburgh – it says simply ‘the oldest alliance in the world’.

That of course reflects the fact that our countries enjoy ties of trade, commerce and friendship which go back for more than seven hundred years.

I will reflect on those historic links between our countries from time to time in my remarks today. But as you would expect, I will focus far more on our modern partnership. In fact my basic message this afternoon is actually very simple.

Scotland treasures our friendship with France. We believe that it brings significant benefits to both of our countries. We want it to flourish further in the years ahead. And we are working with France to ensure that that happens.

As you would expect, I will start by addressing the issue of Brexit.

It is, after all, the dominant issue in the UK at present.

The first point I want to stress is that the Scottish Government is committed to the European Union.

We believe that Scotland benefits hugely from access to a single market of more than 500 million people.

We benefit from the rights EU membership offers to workers, and from the protections it has provided for our environment.

We benefit from our freedom to travel, study and live in Europe, also from the contribution that our fellow EU citizens have made to Scotland.

Those EU citizens of course include 7000 French people, who are our colleagues, friends, neighbours and in many cases our family.

The Scottish Government is proud that they have done us the honour of making Scotland their home.

We will always stand up for their rights – in recent months we have lobbied successfully to ensure EU citizens would not have to pay a fee to obtain settled status in the UK.

And we will always make it clear that EU citizens are welcome. In fact in the coming months, we plan to step up our efforts to encourage EU citizens to stay in Scotland.

In addition to all of the practical benefits we gain from the EU, we also cherish its fundamental values – freedom, democracy, the rule of law, equality, and respect for human dignity and human rights – and we will always encourage the EU to live up to these values.

There’s actually a point here which goes slightly beyond Brexit.

The main task of the Scottish Government’s new Paris hub is to strengthen our ties with France.

But another important reason to be based here is that Paris, as a great world city, is the home to major international organisations. UNESCO and the OECD, in different forms, have both been here since the 1940s.

It’s a reminder that France was at the heart of efforts, after World War II, to create a rules-based international order.

The institutions created during that time – which of course include the predecessors to the European Union – have brought significant and lasting benefits to Europe and to the world as a whole..

We are being reminded at the moment that the principles they exemplify – multilateralism, cooperation, a respect for human rights – cannot be taken for granted. We hear too many voices of intolerance and isolationism around the world today. That should concern all of us.

And so participating in international institutions, and speaking up for internationalist values, is hugely important.

I hope that Scotland’s base in Paris – in a small but significant way – will help us to do that more effectively.

Of course at the moment, a key way in which we co-operate with other countries is through the EU.

I was struck by something that the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said earlier this month. He was reflecting on the consistent support Ireland has received from the EU throughout the Brexit process.

He said: “As a leader of a small country that is fully committed to the European Union, this solidarity resonates deeply in Ireland. But not just in Ireland, in all small member states as well.”

It’s a good example of the fact that for member states – especially, but not exclusively, smaller ones – EU membership can amplify, not curtail, national sovereignty.

As I’m sure you all know, in 2016 two of the four countries that constitute the UK – England and Wales – voted to leave the EU.

But the other two – Scotland and Northern Ireland – voted to remain in the EU.

In Scotland’s case, 62% of those who voted, chose to remain.

Despite that, the UK Government has been unwilling to recognise the complexity of the vote across the UK – the 48% of people overall who wanted to remain; the remain votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland; and the fact that the UK is supposed to be a partnership of equals.

Instead, it has sidelined moderate voices and chosen to draw self-defeating red lines – none of which flow directly or inevitably from the referendum result.

That approach has led to many of the difficulties it faces today. I can understand Europe and France’s frustration with that – in fact I share that frustration.

The Scottish Government – on behalf of the Scottish people – has consistently sought compromise. In December 2016 we published Scotland’s Place in Europe.

This paper was the first detailed set of Brexit proposals to be produced by any government in the UK. These proposals aimed to minimize the harm caused by Brexit. And they also tried to take account of the nature of the vote across the UK.

In this paper, we made clear the Scottish Government’s view that continued membership of the EU would be the best outcome for Scotland and the UK.

However, we also suggested that if this was not possible, the UK as a whole should remain in the customs union and single market, or even that Scotland should retain single market membership as part of a differentiated solution.

That option represented a middle ground, given the closeness and complexity of the referendum result.

And finally, we proposed that when there is greater clarity about the terms of Brexit, Scotland must have the option to choose a different course, by opting to become an independent country.

I will say more about independence at a future date.

One thing I do want to stress, however, is that for the Scottish Government, independence is not about the isolationism that characterises Brexit – instead independence would see us recognizing and embracing our interdependence with other nations.

We will always seek to be close allies and partners with our neighbours in Europe. The last two years, to my mind, have underlined the importance of that position.

Now, you will have noticed that the UK Government’s negotiating stance has not reflected any of the Scottish Government’s views or proposals.

That is why we believe that the deal the Prime Minister agreed with the other 27 EU member states in November is deeply flawed.

Let me be clear, though – that is a reflection of the UK Government’s flawed negotiating strategy, rather than the position of the EU.

To give one important example, it seems clear that no free trade agreement envisaged by the UK Government will match the benefits the Single Market provides for services. However Scotland’s services sector accounts for three-quarters of our economic output.

Putting that sector at a disadvantage will be damaging to Scotland and indeed the whole of the UK – and ultimately to member states across Europe.

Perhaps even more fundamentally, we still have virtually no clarity on what the UK’s long-term relationship with the EU will look like. The UK Parliament is effectively being asked to approve a “blindfold Brexit”.

That is deeply concerning. If you look at the ongoing chaos at Westminster – where hardline Brexiteers appear to receive more attention than moderate voices – it is impossible to be optimistic about the UK Government’s ability to agree a long-term relationship which safeguards Scotland’s interests.

And in the places where November’s political declaration is clear, it is damaging to Scotland.

By insisting on an independent trade policy, it effectively rules out a Customs Union. It effectively rules out single market membership by explicitly committing to the ending of free of movement of people.

I spoke about French citizens in Scotland earlier. For me, this is one of the saddest parts of Brexit. The UK Government is proclaiming the end of free movement as a victory – instead, it is a self-defeating measure. It removes opportunity from millions of people.

It is an approach which is especially damaging to Scotland. Without freedom of movement there is a danger that our population will start to decline. We could face workforce shortages in rural areas, in our universities, in our care and health services.

European nationals are not only very welcome in Scotland. They are crucial to our well-being.

All of this is down to the red lines that UK Government has chosen to draw. Given the existence of those red lines, I understand why the European Union believes that the deal agreed in November is the best which could be achieved.

And I appreciate that many people in France and across the EU would like the UK to just get on with it.

But no government of Scotland which has the interests of this and future generations at heart could possibly support the current deal.

In addition, we still believe that there are still possible routes to a better outcome.

However to achieve that, the UK Government would have to alter its approach.

Firstly, the UK Government should make it clear that it would not support the UK leaving the EU on the 29 March without a deal in place. Such an outcome would be disastrous.

The UK Prime Minister should therefore write immediately to the European Union requesting an extension to the Article 50 process. That would alleviate the most immediate time pressure.

And in any event, it has been obvious for some time now that the UK is not remotely prepared to leave the EU on 29 March.

I sincerely hope France would lend its support such an extension. However I am well aware that a new European parliamentary session starts on July 1. And so I know that the time of any extension – and indeed the purpose of it – would need to be considered carefully.

Beyond that I believe there are two options. The UK Government could drop its self-defeating red lines and, at long last, stand up to the more extreme Brexiteer element in its ranks and agree to the UK as a whole remaining firmly within the Single Market and Customs Union.

Among other things, that would make it far easier to maintain an open border on Ireland. It is the UK’s chosen red lines that currently make that solution impossible.

However, there is no sign so far of the Prime Minister being willing to contemplate such an approach – and, of course, even if she was, there may be too little time left to achieve a guarantee of it before the UK relinquishes EU membership.

That is why the alternative option is now the preferred one for me and many others – a second referendum offering people the choice to remain in the EU.

There is a strong democratic case for that. For parliament, it is a way to break the deadlock. For Scotland it is an opportunity for our wish to stay in the EU to be respected.

And for all voters, it is a chance to make a decision based on much more detailed information than was ever made available in 2016.

At the time of the referendum, people who opted to leave knew that they were voting against EU membership; but they did not know what they were voting for.

That allowed the EU to serve as a scapegoat for more general discontents – for example an entirely justified dissatisfaction about austerity, inequality and stagnant living standards.

A second vote could be based on a much clearer understanding of what the leave option actually means in practice.

This option does not currently have the parliamentary support it needs. However it remains one way out of the problems the UK has created for itself.

So it is a course the Scottish Government will support. We cannot endorse the UK Government’s current Brexit proposals, and we will do everything in our power to secure a better outcome for Scotland, the UK and Europe.

And regardless of the eventual outcome of the Brexit process, the Scottish Government will ensure that Scotland is – and is seen to be – an open, welcoming and outward-looking country.

In the last two years the Scottish Government has doubled our trade representation on mainland Europe.

We have launched a new promotional campaign – Scotland Is Now – which invites people to live, work, invest in and visit our country. We have enhanced our Brussels office, and established new bases in Berlin, Dublin and London.

And yesterday, as I mentioned, I formally opened our new base in Paris. It exemplifies Scotland’s desire to strengthen the connections between our two countries.

That is something which I stressed in meetings with European Affairs Minister, Nathalie Loiseau, yesterday, and with the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, today.

We have many opportunities to do so. Culture for example is an area where Scotland and France already have a formal co-operation agreement.

Scotland was country of honour at the Brittany’s Lorient festival in 2017, and earlier today, I confirmed that the Orchestre de Paris will play at this summer’s Edinburgh International Festival.

Economically, in recent years, France has been Scotland’s largest European inward investor. In fact French businesses employ more than 20,000 people in Scotland. France is also a key market for Scottish businesses – you are our third largest export destination.

There are obvious opportunities for us to build on those links. Low carbon technology is a good example.

One of my last official visits to Paris was for the 2015 Climate Change Summit – I know how hard France worked to secure the Paris agreement, and how seriously you take your obligations under it.

Scotland now generates more than 70% of our gross electricity demand from renewable sources. The waters around Scotland are currently home to the world’s most powerful offshore wind turbines, and the world’s largest tidal stream project.

We already collaborate with French institutions in this area – the Universities of Caen and Le Havre in Normandy are involved in a tidal energy project led by the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney. EDF is a significant investor in Scottish offshore wind projects.

However given the scale of France and Scotland’s ambition in moving to a carbon neutral economy – and given the urgency of the global challenge – renewables is an obvious area for further co-operation.

Technology and artificial intelligence could be another.

Events such as Vivatech demonstrate how successful France has been, in recent years, at becoming a major centre for technology businesses.

Scotland is also enjoying success in that area. Our cities are becoming established as major tech hubs – partly because of the quality of our university research.

That may sometimes create healthy competition with France – for example in attracting investment – but it will also lead to opportunities for collaboration.

Other possible areas for partnership include food and drink, health and social care, and policy issues such as the need to balance growth with equality. And of course one of the most important areas of all is education.

Virtually every university in Scotland has a research connection with partners in France – either through bilateral links or through the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

Almost 2,000 people from France study in Scotland, and many Scots study here in France. Those exchanges are of course largely enabled through the Erasmus programme.

Scotland will do everything in our power to remain part of Erasmus, and we will do everything we can to ensure that, despite Brexit, our universities collaborate with institutions here in Paris and around the world.

Just a few kilometres from here, you can still see the entrance to the old College des Ecossais in Paris. It was established in 1325.

It is a reminder that the exchange of people and ideas between our countries has been taking place for centuries – it will be a vital part of our friendship well into the future.

I began by quoting General de Gaulle’s speech at the opening of the French Consulate in Edinburgh.

On the same occasion, De Gaulle welcomed the frequent “exchanges of ideas, feelings, customs, and…words…between two peoples joined by a natural friendship”.

In recent decades, thanks in part to our European Union membership, and then also to the establishment of a Scottish parliament, those exchanges have flourished further.

Brexit now puts some of those ties at risk. However when you look at the closeness of our countries’ existing connections, and when you see how much common ground we share, I believe that – despite Brexit – our relationship will flourish still further in the years ahead.

That is why I am delighted to be here today. It is a privilege to attend this committee. I look forward to your questions.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s speech at Georgetown University

“It is an absolute honour to be delivering this address and to be taking part in this discussion in these wonderful surroundings, in this beautiful and historic library. I could quite easily spend the rest of my trip to the United States here in this library alone, so if my team are listening, if you could rearrange the schedule to allow that to happen I would be immensely grateful. But it’s also an honour to be the first speaker in what I know you are describing as “Women World Leaders” week. And it’s a big privilege to be on the same billing this week as Hillary Clinton, Margot Wallstrom and Amat Alsoswa.

For that reason and for many, many other reasons, I’m thrilled to be here at Georgetown. And of course it is always a pleasure to be in the United States.

Washington and Georgetown – like so many places across the United States, I guess – hold real reminders of the strong and very long-standing ties between Scotland and the USA.

From across the city, of course we can see the Capitol dome, which was designed by William Thornton who was a graduate of both Edinburgh and Aberdeen Universities in Scotland. This university itself, during the Civil War, briefly served as a base for the Union Army’s New York Highlanders which was a regiment mainly raised from Americans of Scottish descent.

And that of course reflects the fact, that in my view we should celebrate and never take for granted, that hundreds of thousands of Scots travelled to the USA in the 19th and then into the 20th century, in search of opportunity and a better life. And indeed that’s why the Presidential proclamation on Tartan Day, which was issued in 2008, notes that “Scotland and the United States have long shared ties of family and friendship”.

Perhaps more importantly though, those ties of family and friendship – and also of trade, of commerce and of culture – endure to this day.

And the universities sector plays a really important role in that. For several years, St Andrews University in Scotland and Georgetown have worked together on a student transfer programme. In total, almost 5,000 students from the US study in Scottish universities – who knows, some of you here might be tempted to do the same in future.

And those international connections, those important, valuable and cherished international connections – are directly relevant to the theme of what I want to talk about today.

As Joe said in his introduction, later this year, Scotland will mark the 20th anniversary of the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament, after almost 300 years of not having a Parliament of our own. And regaining that parliament, that seat of democracy and governance that now sits in Edinburgh, has allowed Scotland – on some issues – to chart a different course from the rest of the United Kingdom on domestic policy. So for example, in recent years we’ve decided to pursue a more progressive taxation policy than the UK as a whole. And unlike in England, students studying at Scottish universities don’t have to pay tuition fees. We believe that education is something that is precious and should be based on an individual’s ability to learn, not on their ability to pay.

However, having our own parliament has also allowed Scotland to raise our international profile, in the interests of expanding trade, boosting cultural links and also making a contribution to tackling some of the big issues that the world confronts. For example the moral imperative of tackling climate change. We established a Scottish Government presence here in Washington back in 2001, not long after the parliament was re-established and later this week, when I am in Canada, I will meet staff at the Scottish Government’s new base in Ottawa.

In the last couple of years, we’ve also significantly expanded Scotland’s presence in major European cities like Paris and Berlin and when I go to the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, I will be reflecting, amongst other things, on Scotland’s programme to help women who are acting as peacemakers in conflict zones.

I know that Margot Wallstrom, the Swedish Foreign Minister, is speaking here on Thursday on the topic “More Women, More Peace” – something I feel very passionately about as well. Scotland too – like Sweden – recognises that women have an important role in peacemaking. We’re trying to play our part in promoting that.

And all of this, I hope, speaks to a country that’s relatively small in size, but nevertheless a country that has big ambitions to play our full part and have our voice heard in shaping the world that all of us live in. And of course, throughout all of that time, Scotland’s membership of the European Union has been one of the most important means in which we have been able to expand our economy and expand our economic opportunities and maximise our influence. Just last week, trade figures showed that Scotland’s exports to the EU, in the most recent year we’ve got figures for, increased by 13%, outstripping the growth in our exports to the rest of the UK, and indeed to the wider world. Though I’m delighted to say the United States remains our biggest international export market. We also work very closely with European partners on issues that range from energy security to health research.

And it’s important to say in the times that we live in right now, that these European connections have never really been particularly controversial in Scotland. Scotland has a very proud European tradition. We see ourselves as a European country and people in Scotland by and large, of course there are exceptions, but by and large, people in Scotland and this is perhaps in contrast with people elsewhere in the UK, don’t really see membership of the European Union as a threat to our own national sovereignty. On the contrary, we see that membership is a way of independent countries coming together to work together, to tackle collectively, big challenges. So membership of the EU is one way in which Scotland, as a small nation, has been able to co-operate with friends and neighbours across the continent and amplify our voice in the process. Indeed, many of us, and this is an issue that I’ll return to later, believe that our voice and influence would be strengthened if we were an independent member state of the European Union.

We value the practical benefits that the EU brings us – research collaborations, free trade and free movement. But we also, and perhaps this is the more important point, we also value the principles that the EU exemplifies – that nations can and should co-operate as equals for the common good.

Now as most of you know, in 2016 the UK, regrettably in my opinion, voted to leave the European Union. It did so by a narrow margin of 52% to 48%. But of course the vote in Scotland was very different. Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, by a larger margin than that, by 62% to 38%. So as things stand right now, on 29 March – in just 53 days’ time – Scotland faces the prospect of leaving the European Union against our democratically-expressed will.

And that throws up many issues and many questions for us, but it throws up the fundamental question about the way in which political decision making is exercised in the United Kingdom and indeed about the nature of the United Kingdom itself. It’s important to remember, and this is something is not always remembered, even within the UK, let alone internationally, the United Kingdom is not a unitary state. The United Kingdom is made up of four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and indeed we are often told in Scotland that that is a partnership of equals.

Yet two parts of the UK – Scotland and Northern Ireland – voted to remain in the EU. The other two – Wales and England – voted to leave.

And in response to that, the UK Government could have led discussions with the devolved nations and others about how to leave the EU. It could have considered and made compromises that took account of the differing views across different parts of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Government was willing and very keen to play our part in any such discussions.

But instead of that, the vote in Scotland has been ignored. And over the two and a half years since it took place, our interests have been sidelined. And it is increasingly difficult, indeed it is now really impossible to reconcile that experience with the idea of the UK as an equal partnership of nations.

The negotiations and discussions that have taken place since the referendum, and let me be diplomatic about this, have been tortuous in the extreme – largely as a result of red lines put forward by the UK Prime Minister.

I mean let me be clear, I oppose Brexit I don’t want the UK to leave the EU but there was nothing inevitable about the chaos and the difficulties that that process has ended up being mired in. That has largely come about because of the way in which the UK is choosing to leave the EU – the red lines that the Government put in place quickly ruled out the closest forms of partnership with the EU – for example continued membership of the single market and the customs union.

However, ruling out those close partnerships has proved deeply problematic. First it, as I’m sure you’ve read, has made it far, far more difficult for the UK Government to meet its obligation to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland which of course is a member of the EU in its own right.

And secondly, it has increased the economic harm that Brexit is likely to cause.

After all, the European Single Market is a great modern success story.

It allows independent nations to take advantage of a market of 500 million people – that’s eight times the size of the UK market alone.

It has brought many economic benefits and it’s still not yet complete. There are still huge future opportunities in services, where Scotland has particular strengths, and of course in the digital economy.

So to leave this successful, developing marketplace makes no economic sense whatsoever and it will damage the prospects of future generations.

And that’s particularly the case, because the claims made about the supposed benefits of Brexit are already proving completely illusory.

There is no evidence that the UK on its own will be better at striking trade deals than the EU – in fact, what we have seen so far suggests the opposite would probably be the case.

And for the UK Government, the greatest prize of leaving the EU appears to be ending free movement of people and curbing migration to the UK. Yet for Scotland, that is one of the biggest downsides of Brexit.

People in Scotland and across the UK currently have the automatic right to work and study in Europe. In future, we will be denied that; and people from elsewhere in Europe will be denied similar opportunities in Scotland.

Now I think that’s wrong in principle, I think we should be looking to make it easier for people to share different cultures and get to know different countries across the world, but there’s a real practical danger in that for Scotland as well, because Scotland’s demographics are different to the rest of the UK’s. We’ve got a population that’s ageing faster and we’ve got challenges about growing our working age population. So if free movement ends then it is distinctly possible that Scotland’s working age population will start to fall with severe economic and social consequences.

Now back in November, the UK Government, notwithstanding all of these difficulties, finally managed to agree a deal with the EU which tried to reconcile all of this, tried to reconcile its commitment to Ireland and its stance on the Single Market and the Customs Union.

However that deal pleased absolutely nobody in the UK and it didn’t pass through the House of Commons.

The UK Government is now trying to renegotiate that agreement, particularly the aspect of it that relates to Ireland. But it’s trying to do so with the clock ticking and despite the fact that the European Union has repeatedly said that such a renegotiation is not something it’s willing to accept. As a result of that, there is a real and growing risk that the UK will leave the EU in 53 days’ time without any deal in place.

And that would be hugely damaging – far more so, dare I say it, than the government shut down you’ve just had here in the United States. In fact, some of the contingencies being considered – if we leave the EU without a deal – are genuinely astonishing.

Retailers and farmers have warned of price rises and shortages of key foods; motorways and airfields in the south of England are being considered for use as lorry parks; UK Government ministers – quite seriously – are claiming to be buying fridges in order to stockpile essential medicines.

And some of that sounds amusing but the idea that a prosperous country, one of the most prosperous countries in the world, in peacetime is even considering steps such as that, demonstrates how absurd this whole situation has become.

But of course, diagnosing problems with the status quo is relatively easy. The harder issue is trying to work out where we should go from here, particularly with the pressure of time that is now bearing down on the UK.

In my view, in the short term, several steps need to be taken. First, the UK Government should confirm that it will do absolutely everything to avoid the UK leaving with no deal. It should make clear it’s not prepared to allow the UK to leave the EU with no deal.

And as part of that, it should acknowledge that the UK simply is not remotely prepared to leave the EU in 53 days’ time. That’s been obvious for a while now. So the UK Government should ask the EU to agree to put back the planned date for Brexit.

The request for an extension of course must be accompanied by an achievable plan. And that plan cannot be a continued insistence from the Prime Minister that her deal is the only alternative to no deal.

And I think there are two broad options here. We could reconsider the closest possible forms of partnership with the EU – the ones that were ruled out back in 2016 – such as continued membership of the Customs Union and Single Market. That would at least minimise the harm to the economy caused by leaving the EU.

The second and, in my view, better option is to hold a further referendum on EU membership.

At present there may not be a consensus in the UK Parliament for the option of Single Market and Customs Union membership – or indeed any other option. And so the Scottish Government’s view, my view, is that this issue, given the deadlock in Parliament, should be put back to the electorate in another referendum.

Now there are three other points I want to briefly make which relate to Brexit, but which also relate to wider issues. And the first is one I’ve touched on already, and that is immigration – which was a significant issue during the EU referendum campaign. Firstly let me recognise that the issue of immigration is a difficult one for politicians and governments in countries across the world including of course in this one right now.

But equally in my view, too few politicians have the courage to make the positive case for immigration and that’s what I want to try to do, not just today, but generally.

I reflected earlier on the generations of Scots who found a home in the USA. They did so at a time when far more people left Scotland, than wanted to come to Scotland. One of the wonderful things that has happened in the last 20 years or so – largely as a result of migration to Scotland from the rest of Europe – is that that position has reversed.

That has benefited our country. Our universities, our workplaces and our communities have gained hugely from the skills and commitment of these new Scots. Immigration has been good for our culture, our economy and for our society as a whole.

In fact, for Scotland, it is absolutely essential. As I said a moment ago, without it, our population will start to decline. And everybody knows the consequences of that. A smaller number of working age people will have to support a growing number of older people. So severe restrictions on immigration pose a genuine risk to the long-term health of our economy and our society.

And one of the things that I personally find hardest to accept, in relation to the UK Government’s Brexit policy, is that they see ending freedom of movement as a good thing. I don’t believe that’s true for any part of the UK, and it’s certainly not true for Scotland.

In fact, the central trade-off at the heart of the UK’s approach to Brexit makes absolutely no sense to us at all.

By impeding free trade, in order to end freedom of movement, the UK is in the bizarre, absurd position of doing something that will harm the UK and Scotland, in order to do something else that will harm the UK and Scotland. That is the absurdity of the position we find ourselves in.

The fundamental point that I’m making – that no Scottish parliament, of any political composition, would approach Brexit in the way that the UK Government is currently doing – helps to explain why Brexit is also relevant to the debate on Scottish independence, which is the second issue I want to touch on.

In the independence referendum that Scotland had in 2014, and there’s a real irony in this, voters in Scotland were repeatedly told that if we chose to become independent, we would have to leave the European Union. We would be thrown out of the European Union and be in the position of having to reapply for membership in our own right now. I, as it happens, always think it was a bogus argument, but finding ourselves four years on facing being taken out of the European Union against our will really does grate on many people in Scotland considerably. But back then voting to stay in the UK was portrayed as the way to protect our European Union membership.

And that in itself raises the question of whether decisions about Scotland should continue to be taken at Westminster – or whether it would be better if those decisions were taken in Scotland by our democratically-elected parliament.

And of course the ongoing chaos at Westminster and the way in which Scotland’s interests have been consistently ignored makes that question even more relevant.

I as First Minister have said I will set out my thoughts on the timing of another independence referendum in the next few weeks – once the terms of Brexit have become clearer.

But, amid the confusion and uncertainty of Brexit, one thing I think is clearer than ever. Scotland’s national interests are not being served by a Westminster system which too often treats Scotland as an afterthought, or too often sees our interests as not being material. In my view, they can only properly be served by becoming an independent country. But an independent country that then seeks to play its part in an interconnected world. And that is a vision that I think more and more people in Scotland, in the wake of the Brexit experience, find very attractive.

Now the third and final point I want to touch on in relation to Brexit is the issue of inequality.

Inequality, like immigration, was a major issue in the build up to the EU referendum.

We know that across the UK, people on low incomes were more likely to want to leave the EU. And when you allow for student numbers, so too were areas with low employment rates. The vote for Brexit was partly caused by austerity – deep public spending cuts, stagnant living standards, and a sense of disempowerment on the part of many people across the country.

Now in my view, Brexit is the wrong response to inequality – because it’s likely to make people’s living standards worse rather than better. But at the same time, there was a logic to many people’s decision to vote for major change. After all, if people aren’t benefitting from the status quo, we can’t expect people to vote for the status quo.

So the Brexit vote – and there are maybe parallels here with the US and with other countries around the world – highlights a real challenge for those of us who do support free trade and those of us who do welcome and support immigration. We must ensure that those policies benefit everyone in our society – not just a few.

Otherwise, an open economy will encourage popular resentment, rather than commanding the widespread support it needs to do.

That’s one of the reasons why Scotland’s economic strategy has for several years emphasised so strongly this notion of inclusive growth – growth which benefits everyone, and growth to which everyone has the opportunity to contribute.

So in Scotland we have promoted fair work. In Scotland a higher proportion of people are paid what we call the living wage, than in any other part of the UK. We are currently using new powers that the Scottish Parliament has over social security to ensure that people who rely on benefits are treated with dignity and with respect. As I said earlier on we have taken a decision to make our tax system more progressive, so that those on lower incomes pay slightly less but we ask those on the highest incomes to pay slightly more to support the public services that so many of us rely on such as our national health service.

We’re also taking steps to promote equality. Last year, we became the first country anywhere in the world to take a decision to embed LGBTI rights into the school curriculum. We are also implementing legislation to better tackle domestic abuse, something which is attracting international recognition.

And, where it makes sense to do so, we’re trying to improve living standards by removing some of the financial burdens on households. So for example we have ensured that medical prescriptions, and personal care provided for elderly or infirm people is not subject to charging, that is something that people get through the contribution they make through their taxes.

I’ve already mentioned that Scotland doesn’t charge tuition fees for going to university. And in the last year, we’ve become the first country anywhere in the world to provide free sanitary products in all secondary schools and universities. Now these are just some examples of the work we’re doing to try to make the country fairer and more equal.

And the financial cost to the government of some of these policies is relatively small. But it makes a big symbolic difference.

We do these things – first and foremost because they are morally right, but also, because we know that societies and economies that are more equal do better, so these kinds of policies deliver social and economic benefits and they help to develop a stronger sense of community cohesion, a sense that everybody has a role to play and everybody benefits from doing the right things.

And Scotland, like all countries, is more likely to prosper if we fully use the talents of all of our people.

And our policies also honour what we describe as the social contract between the people and government. We know that everybody, at different times and in different ways, contributes to the economy and society. However we also know that everyone – at different times and in different ways – can need a helping hand from the state. So we make sure that public support is available to everyone because we believe if we do that, we help everyone to contribute more effectively. It is a virtuous circle that we seek to promote.

And that focus on equality, on inclusive growth, is likely to become even more important in the years ahead.

Scotland, like the rest of the developed world – certainly including the United States – will have to address several hugely important challenges. We will have to continue to adapt to an ageing population; we will need to ensure that artificial intelligence and automation benefit society as a whole; and of course we will need to tackle climate change and the transition to a zero carbon economy.

And I am very firm, in Scotland we are all very firm, we don’t want to shy away from those challenges – instead I want Scotland to be a world leader in addressing them.

Climate change is a good example. It is the most important economic, environmental and moral issue currently facing our planet.

Scotland is trying to take a lead. Back in 2007, our parliament set what at the time were the most ambitious climate change targets anywhere in the world. They used 1990 as a baseline year and required us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2020. We achieved that target five years early and are now aiming to go much further.

We already generate 70% of our gross electricity demand from renewable energy. And we have a target to reach 100% by the end of next year.

We have also set a target of removing the need for new diesel and petrol cars by 2032.

I’m actually going to discuss Scotland’s low carbon ambitions tomorrow with Governor Murphy of New Jersey. And I’m sure one of the things that will crop up is that the transition to a low carbon economy isn’t simply an overwhelming moral obligation –although it is – it’s an obligation that we owe to future generations, but it is also a massive economic opportunity for the countries that are ahead of the curve.

I know that President Obama gave a major speech on climate change here at Georgetown back in 2016. And he argued, among other things, that inaction in the face of climate change showed “a lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity”.

And what he was doing then was appealing to an American tradition that really resonates in Scotland. Scotland is famous for a range of innovations ranging from the television and the telephone to penicillin and beta blockers. We modestly and humbly claim in Scotland that we literally invented the modern world – we don’t like to boast.

This year we are marking the bicentenary of the death of James Watt – the man whose improvements to the steam engine were fundamental to the industrial revolution. It’s a reminder that Scotland was in so many ways the country that led the world into the industrial age. So it would be fitting if we could now help to lead the world into a carbon-neutral age.

And in some areas, we have the opportunity to do exactly that. Scotland’s waters host the most powerful offshore wind turbines anywhere in the world and the most successful tidal power turbines. We are also home to the world’s first and largest floating windfarms. And we have really important strengths in areas such as smart grids and battery storage.

All of that activity is bringing economic benefits. Low carbon technologies already employ more than 50,000 people in Scotland and for a country of our size, that’s a significant number that will only grow in the years ahead.

But we have seen, and this takes me back to the inequality point, that in previous waves of economic change too many people have been left behind. Where I grew up, in the west of Scotland, I remember vividly the job losses caused in part by the decline of mining and heavy industries during the 1970s and 1980s. And I know that some US communities have suffered in a similar fashion.

So we all have to be determined that future waves of economic change are handled better. In Scotland we’ve appointed a just transition commission – a panel of independent advisors to make recommendations about how we ensure that the transition to a carbon neutral economy benefits all of our citizens.

And of course, there is a really important international dimension to all of this. The worst impacts of climate change are not largely felt within developed nations, it is one of the huge injustices of climate change that it is usually developing countries – who have done least to cause the problem – who pay the heaviest price.

Which is why the Scottish Government a few years ago established a climate justice fund, helping countries in Africa adapt to the consequences of climate change, and develop in a sustainable way. That’s a relatively small programme given the overall scale of the issue – but it is a significant gesture from a country that wants to be a good global citizen.

And in many respects, that brings me back to conclude where I began. Brexit is dominating all the headlines at home – I’m sure it’s claiming a few headlines here in the United States. It is an unwanted challenge for Scotland – if it goes ahead it will be harmful to our economy and our society. But regardless of it, Scotland will always strive to be a good partner to countries around the world.

In the 20 years since our parliament was created, we have helped to take a lead in tackling climate change, we have forged new relationships with international organisations such as the UN and the EU; and we have strengthened old friendships such as those that we enjoy with the USA and Canada.

And where we can, we will try to lead by example, in combining an innovative and open economy, with a fair and inclusive society.

In all of this, we know that, as a nation of just 5 million people, we will never be one of the world’s great powers. But we do believe that we can still make a meaningful contribution to great causes. And we understand, and this in the world we live in today is an important point never to lose sight of, that we will all achieve more, and learn more, when we engage constructively with partners around the world.

Few of those partnerships mean more to us than the one we share with the people of the United States. So it is a real pleasure and a real honour for me to be here today. I am looking forward now to some discussions and questions. And I hope that many of you, if you haven’t done so already, will visit, study or live in Scotland in the future, as we continue to strengthen the enduring friendship between our two countries – Scotland and the United States.”

First Minister Visits North America

Nicola Sturgeon News Piece: Scotland is an open, welcoming nation, keen to collaborate with others across the globe.

By the time you read this I will be in North America, on a five-day official visit to the US and Canada.

This will be my third visit to the continent as First Minister, and each time I go, I am more aware than ever of the importance of maintaining strong links with our neighbours across the pond.

Of course, the ties between Scotland and North America go back hundreds of years.

Many of Scotland’s most famous sons such as Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie and John Muir made their names in the US – and are still revered on both sides of the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, Canada’s first Prime Minister John A McDonald was born in Glasgow – and another Scots-Canadian, the businessman Thomas McKay, helped found its capital city Ottawa.

In fact, census data suggests that the number of Americans and Canadians claiming Scots ancestry far exceeds the population of Scotland itself – that is a great opportunity for our country.

But our relationship isn’t simply based on our shared history and longstanding friendships – trade has always been, and continues to be, a key factor.

Figures published just last week show that the USA is Scotland’s top export destination country, with an estimated £5.5 billion of exports in 2017 – up by 11.1% from the previous year. That is great news for businesses across Scotland, and the jobs that depend on them.

Meanwhile, Canada continues to be a top 20 export destination, worth £580 million in 2017.

But frankly, our international successes shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us. For a relatively small country, Scotland punches well above its weight in terms of international recognition – our food and drink, our tourism, our academic institutions, our life sciences industries and our renewable energy potential are just some of the economic strengths that we have to offer the world.

And during my busy five-day visit, I’ll be working hard to promote Scotland as a place to live, work, study and do business.

While in Washington DC, I will be delivering a speech at Georgetown University on Scotland’s place in the world, and meeting key businesses to discuss their current investment in Scotland as well as explore future opportunities.

During my visit I’ll also be exploring how we can work more closely with like-minded state administrations on tackling climate change. This has been a key priority for the Scottish Government and was a focus of my visit to California in 2017, where I signed an agreement with Governor Jerry Brown.

Scotland is in many ways seen as a world leader in tackling climate change and this presents huge opportunities for us to share knowledge and expertise, with the potential to deliver significant economic benefits at home. Low carbon technologies already employ more than 50,000 people in Scotland – for a country of our size, that’s a significant number, and growing it is a priority.

When I am in New York, I will hold meetings at the United Nations. One of the things we will discuss is the work we do with the UN – working with UN Women in areas of international development and equality, supporting Unicef’s work on child poverty, and running a special programme to help train women in peace-making negotiations in troubled parts of the world.

My final leg of the visit is in Canada, where I will be the first First Minister to visit in over ten years. Canada is a market of increasing importance for Scotland and I will have the pleasure of opening the Scottish Government’s new office in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, where we will for the first time have a team of representatives based there, working on a daily basis to boost economic links that will benefit Scotland

Finally, I will visit Toronto, a city with great business links for Scotland – while I am there, I will have a range of meetings to discuss partnerships in trade and, just as importantly, social enterprise.

This visit is part of the Scottish Government’s international strategy to boost trade and investment, and strengthen educational and social links with priority countries worldwide. Scotland has always been an outward looking country and we have limitless potential for international partnerships. That is why it’s essential that we do all we can to promote our strengths and increase opportunities for investment and collaboration. Quite simply, these links can help to grow our economy here at home, create jobs and increase our national prosperity.

There are less than two months to go until the UK is scheduled to leave the EU, and it beggars belief that the UK Government is still unable to say what our future trading relationship with Europe, or indeed the rest of the world, will look like.

Scotland has always been an open, welcoming nation, keen to collaborate with others across the globe – and in the midst of all the Brexit chaos, it’s more important than ever that we send a message to the world that we are open for business. That’s exactly what I’ll be doing this week.

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Investing in Scotland’s Entrepreneurs

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced new support today to help drive entrepreneurial networks so that budding entrepreneurs can use them to share ideas, experience and seek support, investment and expertise.

A total of £650,000 funding will be provided through Entrepreneurial Scotland – an organisation that aims to inspire and develop Scotland’s people to build the most entrepreneurial society in the world.

The First Minister made the announcement at the Impact Summit, part of first Scotland CAN DO festival, at Barras Art and Design in Glasgow. The event brought together around 400 entrepreneurial leaders, change makers and innovators to share their ideas.

She said:

“Scotland is known for its vision as a world-leading entrepreneurial and innovative nation, one in which growth and innovation go hand-in-hand with fair work and delivering in a way which benefits everyone.

“We want Scotland to be a country that is at the forefront of social and technological progress – to invent, design and manufacture the technologies and products of the future – not simply to consume them. And we want to do all of that in a way which benefits all of society.”

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Alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing

Scotland is the first country in the world to implement minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

There will be a minimum 50 pence per unit price to tackle the damage caused by cheap, high strength alcohol.

Research shows the minimum unit pricing is expected to save 392 lives in the first five years of implementation.

The First Minister said:

“I am extremely proud that the eyes of the world will once again be on Scotland with the introduction of this legislation

Our action is bold and it is brave, and shows once again that we are leading the way in introducing innovative solutions to public health challenges.

It’s no secret that Scotland has a troubled relationship with alcohol. There are, on average, 22 alcohol-specific deaths every week in Scotland, and 697 hospital admissions and behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family, and a community badly affected by alcohol misuse.

Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum unit pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families.”

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