THERE is no contradiction between a country being independent and then securing their self-interest by pooling, sharing and co-operating with other countries. Quite the reverse – true sovereignty means acting in your interest, not acting alone.

When he was the European Commissioner for External Relations in 2000, Chris Patten (now Lord Patten of Barnes) gave a lecture at Trinity College Oxford arguing too much weight had been placed on sovereignty in the British debate on Europe: “Sovereignty, in the sense of unfettered freedom of action, is a nonsense. A man, naked, hungry and alone in the middle of the Sahara desert, is free in the sense that no-one can tell him what to do. He is sovereign, then. But he is also doomed. It is often preferable to accept constraints on freedom of action in order to achieve some other benefit.”

As Margaret Thatcher said in 1975: “Almost every major nation has been obliged by the pressures of the post-war world to pool significant areas of sovereignty so as to create more effective political units.”

Some five years later the former Taeoiseach of Ireland Dr Garret FitzGerald gave a speech at the Merriman Summer School in Lisdoonvarna in County Clare. The traditions of such schools are something Scotland would do well to learn from – take time out by the sea to debate big long-term issues thoughtfully.

What FitzGerald said resonates strongly today as we observe the unstinting support from the other 26 member states of the European Union for Ireland, throughout the Brexit negotiations: “However paradoxical this may appear, future historians will, I believe, come to the view that the ultimate justification for Irish independence lay in Ireland’s participation as a member state of the European Union.

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“It was through accession in 1972 to what was then the European Community that the Irish State finally completed the process of separating itself from Britain, upon which it had remained almost totally economically dependent for half a century after the achievement of political independence.

“It was by freeing itself from extreme economic dependence upon its near neighbour and securing access to a much wider European market that the Irish State was, for the first time in history, empowered to take its place as an equal partner in economic terms, and not just politically, with the rest of Western Europe.”

For a deeply intelligent thinker, Ireland’s broader sharing and pooling across Europe secured their interests far more than being subsumed or dependent on a narrow and relatively and secularly declining neighbour.

Both speeches echo strongly into the chaotic storms engulfing UK life at present. These storms are wreaking havoc that will damage the fabric of the economy and society for a generation to come.

They could see the big two political parties at Westminster torn in two or more parts.

They ought to see the independence of the Scottish parties from their London motherships. The political system and culture will not be able to cope with the implications of this for stable good governance for the long term.

As Britain’s standing in the world plummets so will the quality of its government and its ability to promote its own economic and social wellbeing.

Meanwhile as the European Union wrestles with what to do next with its most recalcitrant partner, the stark reality of the Patten and FitzGerald points could not be clearer.

The National: Former Taeoiseach of Ireland Dr Garret FitzGerald, pictured with Margaret ThatcherFormer Taeoiseach of Ireland Dr Garret FitzGerald, pictured with Margaret Thatcher

Twelve of the 27 members of the EU have populations the same or smaller than Scotland and yet had more power over Scotland’s future at the EU meeting in Brussels last night than Scotland did as part of the United Kingdom. It bears repeating an obvious truth – a government Scotland does not support is taking our society and economy out of the European Union against our democratically expressed will. This democratic deficit will not stand.

The poll tax did for Thatcher’s government and more than any other policy created the conditions for the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament to happen. The democratic offence of Brexit and its inter-generational consequences are far more serious and severe.

FitzGerald concluded his speech in 2005 saying: “We have not merely benefited materially from closer involvement with the countries of Europe but within this multilateral relationship we have been able to develop a healthier and genuinely warmer relationship with the neighbouring island.”

So just as independence within a community of equal partners created greater opportunity to make good Irish independence, so it can for Scotland.

It is incumbent on Scotland’s political, business and civic community to now pursue our own collective economic and social self-interest. To do so will require increased ambition for many, improved imagination for most and significant collective endeavour. It will be a challenge, it will take effort, but it will be worth it.

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Trading in nonsense 

ROUGHLY 44% of UK exports are to the European Union; 12% of the exports of the rest of the UK are to Scotland; 74% of Canadian exports are to the United States. Around 60% of Scottish exports are to the rest of the UK. The UK’s trade deficit with the rest of the world is the second largest in the world.

Trade is a good thing. We need more of it and barriers to it in any direction are a bad thing.

The Prime Minister recently rejected the idea of no barriers between the UK and the EU saying the “Boles plan” would “have destroyed the main pro-UK argument in a Scottish independence referendum: stay in the UK as the only way to maintain full access to Scotland’s largest market.

So barriers to the UK’s largest export market are needed to ensure potential barriers to Scotland’s largest export market to ensure no barriers are maintained.

Keep up will you, these people are in charge.