You won’t be surprised to hear that I intend to talk about Scotland and its current journey towards political independence.
For those who aren’t fully familiar with its history, ours is one of the oldest nations in Europe.
Our flag, the Saltire, can be traced back to the year 832.
Scotland’s relationship with England, its larger and sometimes conquering neighbour, has often been a fractious one.
Yet if there are two character traits Scotland is famous for, they are pride and defiance in the face of an oppressor.
n 1320, during the First War of Independence, the country’s nobles gathered to sign the Declaration of Arbroath, one of the most important expressions of freedom and independence in our continent’s history and, centuries later, a profound influence on the American constitution.
I don’t want this speech to be a history lesson, but the words of that declaration, sealed in wax and sent to Pope John the 22nd at Avignon, are perhaps one of the greatest expressions of human rights ever written.
They resonate down the centuries and still find expression today:
“For, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we, on any conditions, be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up, but with life itself”.
t’s amazing what effect a love letter can have, though, and things did get better!
England and Scotland let their wounds heal – well, some of them, anyway – and the odd skirmish and royal beheading didn’t stop a Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England taking place in 1603.
The Act of Union, which joined the two parliaments and formed a unitary state and single market in a sort of precursor of the EU, came into being in 1707.
Scotland was not meant to be assimilated into this new Great Britain, but to be an equal partner within it and, indeed, it has kept its own legal system and distinctive national church – both enshrined in the treaty – to this day.
Inevitably, though, the larger entity overwhelmed the smaller.
Scots did not necessarily object to this: for instance, they played an instrumental role in building and running the British Empire, as well as in two world wars.
Fundamentally, this political settlement survived largely unchallenged until the second half of the 20th century, when there was a gradual reawakening of Scottish national identity, and a growing interest in independence.
There are two very distinct elements to the Scottish autonomy movement which set it apart from nationalist campaigns in other parts of the world.
Firstly it is, and always has been, completely non-violent.
And secondly, it is rooted not in emotional idealism, but in the pragmatic aim of building a better, more cohesive society.
In short, it’s not about independence for its own sake, but as a key to unlocking the door to forging a better country.
My own party, the Scottish National Party, 80 years old next year, has long driven the agenda on independence.
The SNP’s revival in the 1970s led to a national debate about re-establishing the Scottish Parliament which, after an abortive and frankly rigged referendum in 1979, was finally delivered in 1999, a decision validated by the Scottish people in a referendum.
Since then, the transformation in Scottish polity has been remarkable.
The parliament, dominated since its inception by the centre-left, has won the trust of the people, and has wide ranging powers over education, health, justice, the environment, enterprise, culture, rural affairs and much more besides.
However, its remit remains limited. It lacks power of decision making over critical areas of competence.
Key decisions affecting Scots in areas such as economic policy, welfare and benefits, defence, foreign affairs and the constitution are still taken by politicians in Westminster.
More and more, Scots are seeing this existing devolved settlement as inadequate.
As their parliament has matured, so have their expectations and their confidence.
There is a strong and glowing clamour for full independence – a clamour which will be tested and hopefully rewarded in next year’s referendum on this very issue.
The road to the referendum has been a long one, though it has picked up speed in recent years.
The establishment of the Scottish Parliament allowed the SNP to become a major political force for the first time and moved the focus of decision making from London to Edinburgh.
The rules of the new parliament, drafted when Tony Blair was in power, were meant to ensure that no party achieved an overall majority, so forcing consensus through coalition.
And sure enough, the first two Scottish administrations were an amalgam, of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
But then, in the third parliamentary elections in 2007, the SNP won the most seats – albeit only by one – and decided to press ahead without a coalition partner, as a minority government.
This arrangement held for a full parliamentary term, though the lack of a parliamentary majority did mean that progress could not be made on a Referendum Bill during this mandate.
Then, in 2011, there was a dramatic change.
A proven record of competence in government, the powerful personality of the First Minister Alex Salmond and the party’s imaginative vision for Scotland’s future, chimed with the electors in a way which led to the SNP winning a landslide victory.
The party was so successful that it won an overall majority, despite a system designed to prevent this happening. We broke the mould!
The result of this absolute majority is that the SNP government has been able to implement its entire programme, with a referendum on independence as its flagship offering to the electorate.
The terms of the ballot paper have been agreed – it will be a simple yes/no to the question ‘should Scotland be an independent country’ and the date of the poll is fixed for 18 September 2014.
I mentioned a moment ago that Scotland’s independence movement is driven by aspirations to create an open, progressive, modern European society, rather than by, blood-and-soil nationalism.
It is about pragmatism, not history.
With this in mind, both the Scottish and UK governments have been determined to underpin the integrity of this referendum and to define its exact legal status.
This has been achieved through a critical concordat called the Edinburgh Agreement.
Signed in October 2012 by the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, and the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, this sets the terms of the referendum, including giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in it.
Importantly, it also commits both governments to respect the outcome, meaning that if there is a Yes vote, there will be no attempt by the government in London, to block the will of the Scottish people.
So with a Yes result, the way will be open for Scotland to begin negotiations with Westminster on the transition to independence.
Our aim is to have those talks concluded within 18 months, meaning that the first elections for an independent Scottish parliament will be held at the end of the current term, in May 2016.
That, we believe, is an entirely realistic timetable.
Discussions with the UK government over the terms of independence are hugely important, but they are of course, not the only discussions we will have.
We fully intend to retain our membership of the European Union.
Scotland is, and always has been, a European nation.
I know that, here at the very heart of the European Union and throughout the member states, there is a certain irritation and weariness, at the UK’s deliberately confrontational attitude to the EU, its refusal to engage, and its sometimes childish petulance.
Scotland does not share the UK Government’s destructive and embarrassing mindset.
Scots have a lot to contribute to the EU and a lot to gain from their continued membership.
It’s not just the Scottish Government that wants to play and benefit from as constructive role in Europe: public opinion favours this too.
I’m not pretending that we don’t have our Eurosceptics, and I’m also not pretending that everyone in Scotland thinks that all is wonderfully rosy in the European garden.
Of course it isn’t.
The case remains, for reform of some of the key aspects of EU policy and governance, and we will support that reform.
And we will always act in Scotland’s best interests, which we will fearlessly and tenaciously defend when necessary.
Our fellow member states would expect that, and we know they will respect us for it, as we would respect them.
But we will always negotiate in a spirit of goodwill and co-operation and within the framework of being a good European neighbour and citizen.
We want the EU to work for everyone.
Small nations have always historically commanded respect within the European institutions, and there’s a strong argument that they punch above their weight here in Brussels.
Scotland certainly has plenty to bring to the table.
For instance, our universities lead the world in terms of quality of teaching and research and are engaged in programmes which directly help to improve the quality of life of Europe’s people and boost its economy and society.
Our oil reserves are larger than any other country in the EU and, with independence, will help to secure our national prosperity for generations to come, through a sovereign wealth oil fund – an idea already helping to successfully underpin, Norway’s economy.
Scotland is also fully aware, that stewardship of natural resources also brings responsibility.
Despite the fact that remaining North Sea oil and gas reserves are set to last decades or more, and reinforce Scotland’s existing position as a global centre of innovation and excellence in difficult recovery and deep water technologies, we are already thinking of life beyond hydrocarbons.
Scotland already has some of the most challenging protective climate change legislation in the world and is a global leader in renewable energy.
Not in solar power, admittedly – much as we’d like to, we don’t really get enough sun for that. We’ll leave that to our southern European cousins!
What we do have a lot of is wind.
In fact, we’re the windiest country in Europe.
Please don’t let that put you off coming to Scotland on holiday – all that fresh air is good for you! But our blustery weather does present us with a truly massive commercial opportunity.
We have a quarter of Europe’s wind resource, and also a quarter of its tidal energy potential, along with 10 per cent of its potential wave power resource.
By any measure, that makes us a major player in the kind of clean, green energy from politically stable sources, which will fuel Europe in the future.
But we don’t just provide to Europe – we’re part of Europe.
We’re already in that club.
We Scots are citizens of the European Union, and overwhelmingly, we want and intend to remain so.
Opinion polls show that more than half of us want to stay in the EU and that with independence, that figure would rise to above 60 per cent.
We’re absolutely aware of the benefits that Europe’s freedom of movement, both of goods and people, brings, and we want to retain those benefits.
Freedom of movement rules don’t just give Scots the fantastic opportunity to holiday, live, work, marry and build families in other member states.
They allow EU citizens from other parts of the union to come to Scotland too.
Some 150,000 workers and students from a range of EU countries have chosen to do so. They have been welcomed and have enriched our culture, economy and society.
Scotland is a better place for their presence, and they, too will be able and welcome to vote in next year’s referendum.
I wouldn’t want to give the impression that we take EU membership for granted.
We know that existing treaties have to be respected and that other member states will need to agree.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to get a precise opinion on our membership from the European Commission – not because the Scottish Government can’t provide the details, but because it requires the UK Government, as the existing member state, to join with us in making the submission, and it has unfortunately, so far, not consented to do so.
Nevertheless, we will work diligently to acquire the agreement of other member states.
Our plan is to make a Notification of Intent to the EU quickly after we secure a Yes vote.
That will signal our intention to continue Scotland’s membership of the EU on independence, with negotiations to start as soon as possible.
Some of our opponents question why an independent Scotland should be a member of the EU, but surely a better question is: why shouldn’t we be?
As I’ve said, we are EU citizens.
We apply EU law and policy.
We have already demonstrated our willingness and capacity, through our existing devolved Scottish Government and parliament, to transpose and implement EU legislation.
We would be a net contributor to the EU budget, and would seek to be an enthusiastic and constructive partner, contributing to Europe’s development and growth.
But surely the strongest arguments aren’t those about law and process.
They are those of reality and common sense.
We are in the EU and we don’t want to leave.
Why would anyone want to throw out a small, engaged, bold new country, which has Europe in its DNA, and has so much to contribute to all the institutions?
There is another dimension here.
As I have explained, Scotland is a pro-European country.
The rest of the UK and the London Government take a different approach.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has chosen to engage in low politics, and tap into a populist well, of mainly English Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant, public opinion.
In order to appease voters attracted by the far right, anti-EU UK Independence Party – a grouping which threatens his own Conservative Party in England but barely registers in the polls in Scotland – Mr Cameron has said he will call a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union in 2017.
This EU referendum is unwanted and unwelcome in Scotland, and it provides another imperative for Scots to vote Yes in our independence poll next year.
If we fail to do so, we could find ourselves being dragged out of Europe against our Will.
But I am confident we will not be faced with this nightmare scenario because there will be a Yes vote in Scotland next September.
Opinion polls show, that the more Scots learn about independence, the more inclined they are to vote for it.
We will have to work hard to win over the electors, and we cannot for a moment be complacent, but a majority for Yes is undoubtedly there to be won.
I am an Advisory Board member of Yes Scotland, the official campaign for a Yes vote next year.
Yes Scotland is building the largest community based campaign in Scottish history, and has secured the support of various political parties in Scotland and indeed individuals of no political persuasion whatsoever, but who strive for a better future than our present.
This debate will be won in communities, workplaces, schools, universities and online.
And by the time polling takes place, I’m hoping my own life will have changed.
As I said at the beginning, I’m standing as a candidate for the SNP in the European Parliament elections in May, and I hope that we’ll secure the number of votes necessary to allow me to join our existing team here in Brussels.
It’s a fantastic prospect, and I really hope that the Scottish people will allow me to see much more of you after next summer!
Some people might think of me as a nationalist.
Am I? I’m not sure, in this multicultural and interconnected world, what nationalism actually is these days.
No one could doubt my love of the country I’m so honoured and pleased to call home, but I think I’d rather call myself an internationalist.
I’m a mix of cultures.
My Dad is Indian, my Mum Welsh; I was born in London and raised in Edinburgh.
I’m proudly Scottish, proudly Asian, proudly Muslim, and proudly European.
And I’d like to think that I’m doing a tiny bit, as we all are, to build a better world.
And I’m a Mum.
That drives me too because, like every parent, I want the very best for my children.
I want them to grow up in a Scotland, and a Europe, which offers them the opportunity to flourish and to be the very best they can be.
I want a Scotland and a Europe which protects their rights, guards their dignity, offers them outstanding social protections if they need them, and embeds in them, deep seated values of fairness, tolerance, liberty, compassion, equality and public service.
And I want them to be part of a continent, stretching from the glittering night skies of the Arctic Circle, to the cobalt seas of the Mediterranean, which they can truly call their own.
It’s their Europe.
It’s my Europe.
It’s Scotland’s Europe.
And it’s a Europe, which doesn’t just need what we have, but also needs what we are.
‘Sae come aa ye at hame wi freedom.’
We are going to win this referendum, and we are going to join you, back in the family of nations to which we belong.