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I recently had the pleasure of proposing a Toast to Scotland at the highly successful Burns Supper organised by Tweeddale Branch SNP, in Peebles. Among many fascinating facts about Robert Burns is that the first country in the world to honour him with a commemorative stamp was the Soviet Union, in 1956. More recently, in 2009, Robert Burns was the first ever person to appear on a commemorative bottle of Coca-Cola. And, the American
President Abraham Lincoln had a lifelong admiration for the work of our national bard.
Scotland is still deservedly weel kent around the world for many things. Not bad for a country supposedly "extinguished" by the 1707 Treaty of Union! The exciting political developments in the run-up to our independence referendum are being closely watched, and are adding to the international awareness of, and interest in, Scotland.
The referendum choice of Yes to independence is all about giving Scotland a normal voice in the world, and an ability to make choices as a nation. With independence we will have the choice to invest our national wealth and to build up an oil fund for future generations. The choice to remove weapons of mass destruction from our territory. The choice to maintain health and welfare systems for our residents, based on caring for those in need.
Independence will also give us a choice, and a voice, in international bodies such as the European Union. Only independent member states have the right to be represented at the top table in such crucial talks as the ongoing reforms of EU Common Fisheries and Agriculture policies. Only independent member states are represented at the summit meetings where heads of government are tackling the economic and social challenges facing Europe and the world.
The EU is evolving constantly. In my 14 years of experience as an SNP Member of the European Parliament there have been dramatic political changes at EU and Scottish levels. When I was first elected there were 15 member states, and now the EU club consists of 27 member states, with the formalities nearing completion for the 28th member state - Croatia.
Experience shows that the most successful member states in the European Union are those which constructively engage at all levels of decision-making, ensuring that their key interests are fought for, while building partnerships with fellow members in order to achieve mutual benefit. Ireland is once again showing the way, taking its turn in the rotating Presidency role. Scotland too has much to gain from the experience of having full rights to a voice and a choice when it comes to EU representation.
I know from contacts in Brussels that there are many who look forward to welcoming us as partners. The unique situation which pertains here – with a legally approved referendum designed in Scotland, with the outcome being respected and agreed by both the Westminster and Scottish Governments, means that there can be no legitimate obstacle to Scotland's transition to independence.
Just as the 2011 Scottish Parliament election result, because of its decisive margin, swept aside opposition to holding the referendum, so a decisive Yes vote for independence in the referendum next year will ease the transition to international normality for our Nation. Let us inspire voters in Scotland to vote Yes!