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Scottish Parliament Speech: Rural Affairs and the Environment: “Inquiry into the Impact of the Treaty of Lisbon on Scotland” (December 2010)

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I add my congratulations to the committee on the lucidity of its report. The Lisbon treaty was signed on 12 December 2007 when the market-driven economy seemed at its zenith, although as we now know, it was already crumbling from within. The treaty was a bid to bring a united Europe abreast of the United States of America as an economic motor, and in that context there was a role for Scotland as a financial services centre. What remains of that bid today?

At the time, Gordon Brown’s Labour Government rather looked down on the European business of widget making, preferring the grown-up game of speculating on asset-backed securities - what a lovely secure concept! However, that was in fact like loaning millions to Homer Simpson. The result was that investment banks, including the high-street retail banks, now regarded by many as a form of international banditry, slumped. Bankers, however, survive and as Professor John Kay argued in 2009, their recovery is heading towards a double dip at least.

In this quite different world, Lisbon’s Europe still presents possibilities for Scotland. As the great constitutionalist Lord Bryce wrote in his book ‘The American Commonwealth’, never underestimate the powers of convention and manoeuvre in semi-federal structures. There are formal treaties, such as Lisbon, and two other factors - the balance of power in Europe and the tendency of small countries with distinctive resources to use that balance to bargain for particular rights. We have heard of the two-speed Europe, which demonstrably exists, but there is also an evolving and intriguing two-directional Europe: a Franco-English nuclear alliance with would-be great power pretensions and enough aircraft carriers to go with it, and a German-Scandinavian industrial, ecological, potentially low-carbon, Europe. What has changed is the influence of energy on the balance of European power. If the 2008 bust was a replay of the South Sea bubble of the 1720s, we now face the sort of revolution that faced James Watt and the steam engine - a large and feeble contraption - in the 1760s, and the evolution of a new marine energy technology that is only beginning to get into its stride.

Using current technology, Scotland has about 20 per cent of Europe’s marine energy resources, but with improved turbines and power storage systems - pump storage has almost doubled in efficiency to 90 per cent - we could greatly increase that. We also have the potential to provide carbon capture for up to 15 years of the CO2 emissions from northern Europe. We are the most convenient break-bulk centre for goods to and from the far east, making use of the opening up of the north-east passage between China and the ports of the Rhine delta. In other words, if we were to subtract Scotland from Europe in five or six years, Europe would look significantly different.

Those factors mean that in securing our political and economic chances, only independence will enable us to manoeuvre with success. However, we must keep a wary and, I hope, emulating eye on the success of Norway, and the over-centralisation and lobbyism of what I would style the Brussels-London-Paris triangle, because all those places are far closer to each other than to us.

Home > Politics > Scottish Parliament Speech: Rural Affairs and the Environment: “Inquiry into the Impact of the Treaty of Lisbon on Scotland” (December 2010)