Russia’s unprovoked, illegal war of aggression against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and, with it, many of the long-held assumptions underpinning our political, economic and energy security.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion has led to decades of orthodoxies being ripped up as the Western world comes to terms with the new brutal realities on the eastern flanks of the European continent, and attempts to anticipate the short- and long-term consequences for both the people of Ukraine and the global order.
The war in Ukraine has in many ways brought into sharper focus the pre-existing challenges we face – both local and global. For example, Putin’s invasion has only strengthened the imperative for the world to move beyond the age of dependence on fossil fuels. By highlighting the perils of our reliance on Russian oil and gas, the war has increased the urgency of a safe, just transition to a renewables-led future.
Putin’s war has also cast new light on the realities of Brexit and the particular challenges posed to Scotland and the rest of the UK by being taken out of the world’s biggest single market. Indeed, the events of recent weeks have underlined the importance of independent countries cooperating in supranational organisations such as the EU.
And the Kremlin’s senseless invasion, a standing threat to the values embodied by liberal democracies everywhere, has also underscored the need for democratic nations to pursue our domestic politics with as much passion and vigour as ever. This is a time to stand up for, and demonstrate, the power of vital, robust democracies.
Liberal democracy is anathema to Putin and his regime. That much is clear from his warped, grotesque rationale for his invasion, and from his intensifying censorship of the Russian press.
This makes it even more important to engage as passionately and disputatiously as ever in vigorous political debate within and among the world’s democracies – debate buttressed by a commitment to facts, reason and civility. We must assert – and, more importantly, we must show – that strong national-democratic institutions are crucial building blocks of prosperity and fairness.
In the UK, that means addressing the deep-rooted issues of poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity that have been allowed to fester for far too long. Such problems have in many ways come to define early 21st-century Britain. Despite all the talk of “levelling up” from the Conservatives, the ugly truth is that the UK is one of the most unequal countries in western Europe.
Indeed, on many important measures of socio-economic well-being – such as life expectancy, social mobility and welfare provision – we lag behind our European neighbours, including many of the nations of central and eastern Europe: countries formerly in the ambit of the Soviet bloc and which are now most exposed to the Ukraine crisis.
In Scotland, my government – with much still to do – is pressing ahead with an agenda that aims to address these problems directly, and to close that gap. We have taken forward the limited social-security powers Holyrood now has to tackle issues such as child poverty through initiatives including the Scottish Child Payment – described as “game-changing” by campaigners in its scope to keep children and their families out of poverty. We are also advancing a fair-work agenda, seeking to tackle the long-standing discrimination that has held back women from advancement in the workplace and society more generally.
However, while we must always maximise our own ability to act, there is a limit to what we can accomplish while so many powers lie beyond our control. That is why we are determined to achieve independence for Scotland by offering the choice of a better, fairer future. This is in line with the democratic mandate we secured at last year’s Scottish parliament election, in which the SNP won the highest share of the vote of any party in the history of devolution and a record number of pro-independence MSPs were returned to Holyrood.
Independence will not be without challenges and hurdles. But I have no doubt it can help deliver that better future for the people who live here. I also believe it can have a positive, transformative effect on the rest of Britain. I have often spoken of how the bonds of family, friendship and culture – which include my own family story – will endure after independence. I believe that now as strongly as I ever have. There is no reason at all why, after Scottish independence, those ties will not continue to flourish.
An independent Scotland, moreover, will be a reliable and dedicated international partner – which is ever more relevant in today’s world. As well as being the closest friend to the other nations of these islands – an independent Scotland will always be part of the British Isles – Scotland will, we intend, take its place as a member state in its own right of both the European Union and Nato.
And our European partners know, now more than ever, that they can depend on an independent Scotland as a beacon of peace and democracy, as together we face the greatest challenge posed to those principles since 1945.
This article appears in the 23 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, A Dream of Britain