Saturday, 18 January 2014

Nicola Sturgeon to the (Still Baffling) William Hague

Following his sally North last week, despite in his boss's words the referendum being a matter "for the Scots" alone, the Deputy First Minister has written to the baffled William Hague.

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities 

Nicola Sturgeon MSP 
Rt Hon William Hague MP
Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Foreign & Commonwealth Office 
King Charles Street,
London,
SW1A 2AH

16 January 2014 

Dear Foreign Secretary, 


I understand you are in Scotland tomorrow to launch the latest paper in the UK Government’s Scotland Analysis series, which is designed to “inform the debate about Scotland’s constitutional future.” It is in the spirit of informing the debate about whether Scotland should be an independent country that I am writing this letter. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum on September 18, people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will always be Scotland’s closest friends and neighbours. I also have no doubt that, in the event of a Yes vote, governments of an independent Scotland will work extremely closely with future Westminster governments. In European, international, defence and a range of other matters, our interests will often coincide and we will be able to work together constructively. 


However, in relation to your government’s desire to “inform the debate” there are some important questions both about the role of the UK Government in that debate, and about what will happen in the event of a No vote, that people in Scotland deserve answers to. I would be grateful therefore if you could answer the following points to enable voters in Scotland to have as much information as possible about the two futures on offer on September 18. 

Firstly, in relation to the UK Government’s role, the Prime Minister has insisted he will not take part in a debate with the First Minister because, he says, it is a matter for voters in Scotland and not him or his government. This position is increasingly hard to sustain given the succession of Westminster ministers continuing to make day trips to Scotland to oppose independence. Therefore, do you accept that the UK Government has a duty to debate the issues rather than engage in a what the Secretary of State for Scotland has described as a "lecture tour”? 

Secondly, I have been alarmed and disappointed to read reports that the UK Government has approached other governments seeking their support in arguing against Scottish independence. You will be aware that the Memorandum of Understanding between our two governments commits them to “close co-operation […] with the objective of promoting the overseas interests of the United Kingdom and all its constituent parts”, and that the Edinburgh Agreement similarly commits our two governments to “working together on matters of mutual interest and to the principles of good communication and mutual respect”. If these reports are true and the UK government is seeking to encourage governments around the world to oppose Scottish independence, it would appear that the UK Government is acting in breach of these agreements. If these reports of the UK government seeking to encourage Governments around the world to oppose Scottish independence are true, it would appear that the UK Government is acting in direct contravention to the Edinburgh Agreement and against Scotland’s interests. In light of this I would be grateful if you would detail the extent of the UK Government’s efforts to enlist the support of foreign governments and will you, as Foreign Secretary, give an assurance that such activity will not continue? 

Thirdly, as you will know the Scottish Government has set out our approach to independence in Scotland’s Future, the most detailed and comprehensive proposals for a country’s independence that have been published. We have set out a clear and common sense approach to Europe in which Scotland will be an active and productive member of the European Union. That is overwhelmingly in Scotland’s best interests. By contrast, the Deputy Prime Minister has described the UK government’s position as flirting with an EU exit whilst the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has warned it is “unsettling investors and threatening jobs and growth”. It is clear that the agenda on Europe within your government and at Westminster as a whole is being driven by a fear of UKIP which does not exist in Scotland. Any discussion of Europe and foreign affairs by your government must acknowledge the impact of the in/out referendum on membership of the European Union that your government proposes. It seems to me that your paper - to have a shred of credibility - must make explicitly clear that very real risk to Scotland of remaining in the union. I would be grateful for your confirmation that an exit from the EU is a possible consequence of Scotland continuing to be governed by Westminster. 

Fourthly, there is an overwhelming public desire for those opposed to independence to set out in detail the consequences of a no vote and the future for Scotland in that event. The Scotland Analysis papers to date have not set out any information on the UK Government’s proposals for changes to the way Scotland is governed if the public choose to vote No In the absence of that information I have appended twelve questions for you to answer during your visit. I hope you will agree that answers to these questions about the implications for Scotland of continuing to be governed by Westminster are necessary to genuinely inform the debate: 

  1. Given your campaign for an In/Out referendum on the EU, what will be Scotland’s position if a majority across the UK vote to leave the EU but a majority within Scotland vote to stay in? 
  2. If you cannot renegotiate the UK’s terms of membership to your satisfaction will you recommend the UK’s withdrawal from the EU? 
  3. The Deputy Prime Minister says the Conservative Party is flirting with EU exit due to your Government’s plans to have an in/out referendum on the issue. Is he right? 
  4. Will Scotland continue to receive the lowest farm payments of any country in the EU? 
  5. By how much will support to exporters be cut as a result of the Chancellor’s call for a further £25 billion of cuts and a permanent cut in public spending?
  6. Does the fact that the UK has operated a trade deficit every year since 1997 suggest that the UK’s arrangements for supporting exports needs to be re-examined?
  7. The National Audit Office recently highlighted that: “UKTI and the FCO have not always worked together in a systematic manner, either centrally or at posts” and that this “could undermine close working, coordination of effort and prioritisation of work”. How damaging has this been for exporters and what steps are being taken to rectify it?
  8. Why is the Westminster government harming Scottish exports and tourism by imposing Air Passenger Duty at a level which makes it the highest tax of its kind in the world?
  9. What parliamentary or constitutional safeguards will be put in place to ensure Scotland is never again dragged into an illegal war?
  10. How much will people in Scotland be expected to contribute to the £100 billion cost of renewing Trident despite the fact that the Scottish Parliament has overwhelmingly opposed the renewal of these weapons? 
  11. Will the post-study visa be re-introduced in line with the wishes of Scottish universities
  12. What specific account is taken of the specific needs of the Scottish economy when UK immigration policy is being determined?

I look forward to receiving your answers to these questions and to the continuing debate over whether decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland or at Westminster. 


Nicola Sturgeon