This is a historic time for Scotland. The eyes of the world are on our nation as we prepare for the referendum on Sept. 18 that will determine whether we become an independent country.
It is the opportunity of a lifetime—and the biggest democratic opportunity any generation of people living in Scotland has ever had.
Scotland may be a small country, but it has given a huge amount to the world. Scottish inventors made the first television and the first telephone. A Scottish biologist discovered penicillin, and a team of scientists based in Scotland produced Dolly the sheep, the world’s first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell.
And we continue to boast a huge array of natural and human resources, making us perhaps the best-prepared country in history to become independent.
With a population of about 5.3 million, Scotland has only around 1% of the European Union’s population. However, it has roughly 60% of the E.U.’s conventional oil reserves, about a quarter of the continent’s offshore renewable-energy potential and some of the richest fishing waters in Europe.
Allied to that, we have fantastic strengths in life sciences, creative industries, food and drink and tourism—and we have more top universities per head of population than any other country.
There is no doubt that Scotland can more than afford to be an economically successful independent country. It is more prosperous per capita than France, Japan and the U.K. itself—and the global credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s recently concluded that even without North Sea oil and gas, an independent Scotland would be a wealthy nation and would qualify for its “highest economic assessment.”
The problem is that, despite that great native wealth, too many people living in Scotland today do not feel the benefit of it.
Parts of Scotland still have life-expectancy statistics that lag well behind those in the rest of the U.K. and Europe, and the U.K. as a whole has become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world.
And for as long as Westminster continues to control Scotland’s economy and other key policies, we will continue to have a situation in which all the people of Scotland do not benefit from our inherent strengths.
The case for independence is fundamentally a democratic one, meaning that decisions affecting Scotland will be taken in Scotland by the people who live and work here.
A Yes vote will mean investment in priorities like child care, and substantial savings by not spending on Westminster priorities like Trident nuclear weapons. Independence will also allow us to protect our vital public services, including Scotland’s National Health Service, at a time when the privatization of the health service in England threatens Scotland’s budget.
An independent Scotland will have a seat and a voice at the top table in Europe for the first time ever. The alternative, if we do not vote Yes, is risking seeing Scotland dragged out of Europe against its will in an in-out referendum as Westminster dances to a Euroskeptic tune, led by the U.K. Independence Party. That would have disastrous consequences for jobs and investment, cutting us off from a single market of more than half a billion people.
A vote for independence will also be flowing with the tide of history. When the U.N. was formed, it had 51 independent members—in the past 70 years or so, that has grown to 193. Of the 10 countries that joined the E.U. as new members in 2004, more than half had become independent in the years after 1990 and more than half are smaller or about the same size as Scotland.
Scotland’s referendum is a defining moment for our nation. Polling day itself will be a time when Scotland is sovereign for the first time in more than three centuries—and the decision the people make that day will determine whether we hand that sovereignty back to Westminster or move forward in a new 21st century partnership of equals.
Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, penned the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne,” which has been adopted as a festive anthem for millions in every corner of the globe as people herald the dawn of each new year—yet another example of Scotland’s contributions to the world.
We must make sure that 2014 is the year when we take responsibility for shaping our own future, and that when Scotland next greets a new year, it will be as a nation poised to rejoin the international community as an independent country.
Sturgeon is the Deputy First Minister of Scotland.
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