There is less than a month to go until the voters of Scotland, including EU citizens resident here, will decide whether Scotland should be an independent country.
I am confident that, on September 18, a majority will vote in favour of independence and that, in March 2016, Scotland will take its place in the international family of nations.
Most significantly, independence will see Scotland becoming an independent member of the European Union, allowing the Scottish Government to represent Scotland's interests directly on all EU legislative and policy issues decided upon in Brussels.
We want Scotland to be in the EU, we want to play a full role and we want to help shape the EU of the future. The Scottish Government has a positive and constructive vision for an independent Scotland inside the EU that I firmly believe is shared by the overwhelming majority of Scottish voters.
The EU is at a critical juncture in terms of its future direction. As demonstrated in the results of the recent elections for the European Parliament, there is a growing disconnect between the EU and its citizens and it is facing a number of economic, social and democratic challenges.
I publish a paper today setting out the Scottish Government's agenda for EU action and reform to address these challenges. Our agenda is informed by two primary considerations.
First, if EU economic and social policies are to command legitimacy within and between member states, these policies must be responsive to and reflect the aspirations and concerns of EU citizens.
The EU institutions must focus on renewing the union's collective endeavours to stimulate economic growth; enhance EU competitiveness; tackle the high and persistent level of joblessness across the EU; and address climate change and deliver energy security.
They must also recognise in their policies the devastating impact that the recent economic and financial crisis has had on the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our societies and commit to building a social Europe that enables member states to protect their workers' rights to a living wage and combat poverty and ill-health.
The EU cannot only be inward-looking. It is crucial to Europe's future growth and job-creating potential that it continues to pursue international trade policies that develop existing, and create new opportunities for our exporters, be that in the context of bilateral agreements or within the WTO multilateral trade system.
Secondly, restoring public confidence in the EU institutions and governance must be a key priority for the incoming European Commission and European Parliament.
Regulatory reforms are needed to address the stock of EU legislation that imposes unnecessary burdens on enterprise and citizens and ensure that the EU only legislates where necessary and, even then, in the least intrusive way possible.
This can be achieved within the existing framework of the EU Treaties and it contrasts sharply with the approach advocated by the UK Government, an approach that I believe is fundamentally damaging Scotland's interests within the EU. As a government we have made it clear that we do not support the call for the renegotiation of the EU treaties or an in/out referendum on EU membership.
This would not be a route chosen by an independent Scotland. Instead we see Scotland's future as being a strong and vibrant member state within the EU, helping to shape EU legislation and policies and driving forward reforms in partnership with other member states that are central to our collective economic and social wellbeing in the coming years.
The independence referendum is the greatest opportunity we have had to build a more prosperous, fair and better Scotland. At its heart, the case for independence rests on the belief that it is better for all our futures if decisions about Scotland are taken by the people who care most about Scotland; the people who live and work here. That means having an outward-looking international focus where we look on the EU as an opportunity to co-operate and achieve, not a threat to be overcome.
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