‘Scotland in the EU – its origin in contrast with the present’

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On 13 January 2015, the Centre was delighted to welcome Jim Sillars (former Deputy Leader of the SNP) to discuss ‘Scotland in the EU – its origin in contrast with the present’, continuing our ‘Scotland and Europe’ series of lectures. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

Sillars’ views towards the European Union have changed over the years, but he has remained steadfast to two key principles:

1) Only maximum sovereignty can tackle fundamental social problems (e.g. poverty)

2) A European ‘superstate’ threatens this sovereignty

For Sillars, the elite in Brussels, even now, aim to alter the power-balance of the world through the projection of European commercial and military might, but their single-minded approach is diametrically opposed to the wishes of many in Europe. A lack of political homogeneity across Europe makes the creation of a European superstate a ‘profound mistake’.

In 1988, Sillars highlighted the ‘great shift in world economic power’, as the rapid growth of economies in Asia presaged the ‘century of the Pacific’. In contrast, Europe was in danger of being left behind due to an aging population and a reluctance to adapt to new technologies. He argued that this process was irreversible, but Europe did not face an ‘economic abyss’, and internationalists should welcome the growth of indigenous countries that had traditionally been badly exploited. In 1992, he made a similar speech, which did not go down well with his audience – he quipped that in his experience of politics, the public only ‘likes the truth they like’ – but his analysis was never intended to be a ‘magic pill’.


In 2000, he produced a pamphlet that denounced the creation of the Euro and the ongoing drive towards a single-state. In his view, the Eurozone was highly unstable from the beginning, doomed to fail, and the ‘triumph of politics over economics’. The economies of countries like Greece, Portugal, and Spain are fundamentally different to that of Germany or the Netherlands. The former grouping have been badly hit by the Eurozone, leading one Portugese commentator to declare that the Euro ‘crucified’ the people.

In the present day, Sillars highlighted the failure of the Yes campaign to anticipate the EU question during the independence debate. He argued that pro-independence advocates should have seriously considered membership to the Europe Free Trade Association, as it would have provided access to the greatest benefit of the EU – the European markets. At the very least, EFTA could have been used as a bargaining chip during negotiations. As a comparatively small, oil-producing country, Scotland would fit perfectly into EFTA (currently the biggest member is Norway), while the entry of the UK would be a ‘terrible imbalance’.

Major parties need to revisit their policy towards EU membership. Since 1981, SNP policy has been in stasis. In recent years the EU question has been dominated by right-wing parties like UKIP, discouraging the left from tackling the issue for fear of association with the right. Sillars slammed this as ‘political cowardice’ and called upon rank-and-file party members to demand consultation on this issue.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

On 20 January 2015, we will be launching our seminar series with a wine reception in Room 202, 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. On 27 January 2015, our series continues with Emily Wingfield’s ‘The daughters of James I and their books’. This will also be held in Room 202, 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome.

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