First Minister News

Nicola Sturgeon’s statement on General Election Result 17/12/19

Presiding Officer, with your permission, I wish to make a statement on the outcome of last week’s general election.

Let me begin by thanking the returning officers and everybody involved in organising the election.

Their efficiency, integrity and hard work, in this case at short notice, are essential to the smooth conduct of our democracy.

I also congratulate successful candidates, from all parties.

And I commiserate with unsuccessful candidates. As somebody who stood unsuccessfully in two Westminster general elections, I have a good understanding of how they feel.

In addition, it’s worth recognising that this was the first December general election in more than 90 years.

I suspect that the candidates and activists who are still thawing out will hope that it is some time until the next winter election.

However, notwithstanding the challenges of bad weather and dark nights, it is important to note that turnout in Scotland actually increased, a fact that I am sure will be welcomed by all of us.

Presiding officer,

The election was comprehensively won in Scotland by the SNP.

Indeed, you have to go as far back as the election of Ted Heath in 1970 – the year I was born – to find a party that got a higher share of the vote across the UK than the SNP did in Scotland last week.

That is, by any measure, a significant vote of confidence. I and my colleagues will work each and every day to repay the trust that has been placed in us.

It was also an endorsement of our election message – that Scotland does not want a Boris Johnson government and we don’t want to leave the EU; and that, while opinions may differ on the substantive question of independence, we do want Scotland’s future to be in Scotland’s hands.

By contrast, while the Conservative Party won a majority UK wide, they were once again heavily defeated here in Scotland, having fought the election on the single issue of opposition to an independence referendum.

They lost not just vote share, but also more than half of their seats.

In fact, the Conservatives have now lost 17 consecutive Westminster elections in Scotland – stretching back to 1959.

But in spite of that, we face a majority Tory government implementing a manifesto that Scotland rejected.

Furthermore, 74 per cent of votes in Scotland were cast for parties that either supported remaining in the EU or were in favour of a second EU referendum.

90 per cent of seats were won by pro EU or pro EU referendum parties.

But regardless, we are set to be dragged out of the EU against our will.

Presiding Officer, such a democratic deficit is not just undesirable, it is also completely and utterly unsustainable.

The fact is that this election demonstrated a fundamental point.

The kind of future desired by most people in Scotland is very clearly different to that favored by much of the rest of the UK.

It is essential therefore that a future outside of Europe and governed by an increasingly right wing Conservative government is not foisted upon Scotland.

Instead, we must have the right to consider the alternative of independence.

That is why, later this week, in line with repeated election mandates – reinforced once again on Thursday – I will publish the detailed democratic case for a transfer of power from Westminster to this Parliament to allow for an independence referendum that is beyond legal challenge.

This parliament will also vote on the final stage of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill which puts in place the framework for a future referendum.

There are already some signs that those who previously opposed an independence referendum are, when faced with the democratic reality of Thursday’s result, now re-thinking that position.

I welcome that. But let me be clear about this.

I do not assume that an acceptance of Scotland’s right to choose will always equate to support for independence – just as I do not assume that everyone who voted SNP last week is yet ready to vote for independence.

I recognise the work that those of us who support independence still have to do to persuade a clear majority in Scotland that it is the best way forward for our country.

But, nevertheless, it is clear that there is a growing, cross party recognition that election mandates must be honoured, that there has been a material change of circumstances and that the question of independence must be decided by the people and not by politicians.

Given the nature of what we are facing in terms of UK governance, this is now a matter of some urgency – which is why this government wants people to have a choice next year.

Back in the early 1990s, when Scotland was also facing the prospect of a fourth Tory government with no mandate here, there was a coming together of political parties, communities and civic Scotland.

That resulted in the establishment of this Parliament.

It has achieved much.

But a new, Brexit focused Tory government presents risks that few would have predicted at the dawn of devolution.

So I hope in the coming days and weeks we will see a similar coming together around the idea of Scotland’s right to choose a better future.

Of course, we must also re-double our efforts to protect Scotland as best we can with the powers we already have.

This government is determined to do that and I would ask other parties in this chamber to support us in that task.

To cite just one example, the Resolution Foundation last month published research showing that under Conservative plans for social security, child poverty could reach a 60 year high. By 2023, more than one in three children across the UK could be living in poverty. I am sure that no-one in this chamber will find that remotely acceptable.

That means our Child Poverty Action Plan and our work to implement the new Scottish Child Payment will be even more important than it was already.

And of course it now seems inevitable that at the end of January, Scotland will be taken out of the European Union against our will.

Throughout the Brexit process the Westminster government has ignored the wishes of the people of Scotland and the views of this Parliament.

Now it seems the Prime Minister is determined to quickly push through the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

This Parliament will have to consider whether or not it will give consent to this Bill.

If the UK Government was to press ahead without that consent it would be further proof of Westminster’s contempt for devolution and its willingness to tear up established constitutional rules in its pursuit of Brexit.

The hard, possibly no deal, Brexit favoured by the Prime Minister poses a real danger to our economy and to social and environmental safeguards, at a time when we must substantially step up our efforts to tackle climate change.

Brexit will also put parts of our health service in the sights of US trade negotiators. It could mean, for example, that the NHS has to pay higher prices for drugs.

And of course Brexit is the cause of significant uncertainty and worry for our fellow EU citizens who contribute so much to modern Scotland.

Scotland must respond to and seek to overcome these challenges.

To that end, just as we did in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote in 2016, the Scottish government will in January convene a number of round table meetings, bringing together key groups that represent different aspects of Scottish life.

This will include civic society, trade unions and the business community, religious and minority groups and our partners in local government.

We will also engage with the Standing Council on Europe, to ensure that we take whatever steps we can to retain our relationships within Europe and identify ways to ensure our voice and our interests continue to be heard.

And we will listen to the conclusions of the Citizens’ Assembly when it reports in the spring about what kind of country we should be seeking to build.

There is also a particular and immediate challenge that will require cross-party co-operation.

This parliament is required to deliver a budget before the start of the next financial year, and Scotland’s local authorities would expect to set their budgets in late February or early March.

At this point, the UK Government has not confirmed when it will produce its own budget – and with it the block grant adjustments for Scotland – but it may not be until March.

While contingency planning and alternative options have been under consideration for some time, meeting this timetable will require parties to work together.

So in the spirit in which this Parliament was established, and notwithstanding the many disagreements between us, I hope we can find common ground and work together on a range of issues.

Presiding officer,

This is indeed a watershed moment for Scotland.

We are facing a Conservative government that Scotland did not vote for – indeed overwhelmingly rejected – and which many fear will pose a real danger to our country and the fabric of our society.

This parliament has a duty to protect the values that people in Scotland voted for.

I believe we can only fully do that with independence, and that is why later this week I will take the next steps to secure Scotland’s right to choose.

However independence is not an end in itself. It is all about building a fairer and more prosperous country and so we will also do everything we can to achieve that with the powers we have right now.

We must tackle child poverty, protect our NHS and help it overcome the challenges of rising demand; and we must support an open, innovative and export orientated economy.

We must also ensure that Scotland remains an open, welcoming, inclusive country, where people treat each other with kindness, dignity and compassion.

That is not a task for any one party – although as Scotland’s government, my party will take a lead.

But it is a job for us all. My commitment is that I will seek to work with members across the chamber and with civic Scotland as we face the challenges ahead – and as we seek to build the better, fairer and more prosperous Scotland that people voted for.

First Minister Statement in Scottish Parliament 24/09/19

First minister Nicola Sturgeon comments on todays UK Supreme Court Decision that suspending parliament was unlawful:


Brexit: Statement from the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales

Statement from the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales
(28 Jun 2019 Article from Gov.Scot)

Joint call to UK Government ahead of British Irish Council.

Speaking ahead of the final British Irish Council before a new Prime Minister takes office, the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers have called on the future Prime Minister to rule out a ‘no deal’ Brexit under any circumstances.

In a joint statement, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said both their governments would work together, and with others, to keep the UK in the EU.

The two First Ministers said:

“We are becoming increasingly alarmed by the increase in hard-line rhetoric about a ‘no deal’ Brexit and a debate focussed on policy proposals for leaving the EU which have no basis in reality.

“Severe economic damage is already being done as a result of Brexit uncertainty impacting economic opportunities as companies will be making decisions on their future on long-term competitiveness – as workers at British Steel, Ford, Honda, and elsewhere can witness.

“We believe leaving the EU without a deal would be disastrous for the economies within these islands and for the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people.

“A ‘no deal’ Brexit would deeply damage the reputation of the UK as a reliable international partner and undermine the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process on the island of Ireland.

“The next Prime Minister must pull back from the brink of a ‘no deal’ Brexit and be honest with the public. If they continue on their current path, the UK looks increasingly likely to crash-out of the EU in just four months’ time.

“The EU will not simply cave in to demands to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement, and claims that we could both leave without a deal and still benefit from tariff-free trade with the EU have been disproved.

“The new Prime Minister must change course and rule out ‘no deal’ under any circumstances.

“It is now clear that, due to the deadlock at Westminster, there should be a new referendum on EU membership and both our governments would support remain. We will work together and with others who share that aim.”

Article Source:

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

(Article: 19/03/19) 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

(Article 06/03/19) 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.