Five years ago today, a vote took place which sent shockwaves around the world.
I’m talking, of course, about the Brexit referendum.

This was a vote held in an attempt to heal a decades-old rift in the Tory party over Europe – and one which David Cameron thought he would win comfortably.

Scotland benefitted enormously from our EU membership. Our businesses had seamless access to the world’s largest trading bloc. Our universities were able to exchange students and collaborate on research to the benefit of all.

Freedom of movement allowed us all to live, work and go on holiday across the continent hassle-free – and our businesses and public services were able to attract badly-needed workers from the EU. We went from being a country of net-outward migration to one where more people arrived than left.

I’m proud to live in a wonderfully diverse and welcoming city -– one which has been massively enriched by those who, over many years, have chosen to come from overseas to make Glasgow their home.

On that day in 2016, Glasgow, just like Scotland as a whole, said loudly and clearly that we wanted to Remain in the EU. But the narrow Leave vote across the UK has seen us dragged out of the EU against our will.

I felt devastated by this result – and I still do. But very quickly I realised that the Scottish Government needed to roll our sleeves up and do everything we could to protect Scotland’s interests in the uncertain period ahead.

We engaged extensively with businesses and organisations in Scotland to identify the practical issues they were facing and to see how we could help.

We worked with counterparts across the UK to call on the Tory government to listen to our joint concerns. We spoke to senior politicians in Brussels and across Europe to hammer home Scotland’s desire to remain in the EU.

And we tried to reassure EU citizens in Scotland that, whatever rhetoric they were hearing from elsewhere, Scotland very much valued their contribution to our society, and we wanted them to say.

Looking back, it’s clear that the problems of Brexit were compounded by the fact that the Tories couldn’t agree on what they wanted, and hadn’t done any serious planning.
They promised things they knew would be undeliverable, and they made demands of others that they knew were completely unreasonable.

We tried to engage constructively throughout the negotiations, but our suggestions were brushed aside by a Tory hierarchy who quite simply wanted out of the EU at any cost – with not even a global pandemic causing them to hit the brakes.

With the transition deal ending in January, we are already seeing serious consequences of the UK’s hard Brexit.

Companies in Scotland are suffering from increased red tape and costs when doing business in the EU – and figures published last week showed that UK food and drink sales to the EU plunged by almost half in the first three months of this year.

Ending Freedom of Movement has not only curtailed our own rights, but we are already struggling to fill vacancies in everything from agriculture to social care.

EU citizens already living here are being forced to apply for Settled Status. We’re offering support to those living in Scotland – but we know thousands have yet to apply ahead of the June 30 deadline, potentially leaving them facing a Windrush-style legal limbo.

Looking ahead, we know that Brexit will continue to cast a long shadow over our economy and our society.

The few trade deals that the UK has signed with other countries so far don’t even come close to replacing the significant loss to our GDP as a result of leaving the EU.

We were promised that powers and funding returning from Brussels would flow to the Scottish Parliament – but instead the UK Government is seizing hold of them.

Our first priority at the moment is getting Scotland safely through the pandemic - and thanks to the sacrifices everyone has made and the success of our vaccine programme, I am optimistic that better times lie ahead.

And as we consider what kind of country we want to be, the experience of Brexit should give us food for thought.

The EU isn’t perfect, but over the last few decades it has ensured a lasting peace on the continent, and brought enormous economic benefits to countries of Scotland’s size.

Indeed, one of the ironies laid bare by Brexit is that EU member states smaller than Scotland – like the Republic of Ireland, the Baltic nations or even Malta – have far more rights over the direction of the EU than Scotland does over the UK.

We know there is a lot of good will across Europe towards Scotland.

As an independent member of the EU, with a seat at the top table, we could contribute enormously to the shared challenges we face.

And instead of suffering the damage of Tory governments we don’t vote for, Scotland will be in charge of its own destiny while working closely with both the EU and the UK in a genuine partnership of equals