Scotland should remain a team player in European politics
Following the General Election, the Government has embarked upon a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the European Union. The outcome of this renegotiation will be put to the people of the UK in an in/out referendum in either 2016 or 2017.
During this period of renegotiation and during the referendum campaign itself, Endeavour Public Affairs will be publishing a series of articles from a range of influential people on both sides of the debate. The third article is from Ian Hudghton MEP.
Ian Hudghton is a Scottish National Party MEP. He is also leader of the SNP delegation in the European Parliament and President of the Scottish National Party as a whole.
To follow Ian Hudghton on Twitter – @hudghtonmepSNP
The SNP’s voice in the referendum debate will be both strong and positive, as we believe Scotland and the rest of the UK should remain within the EU. We will therefore be advocating the positive case for continued membership of the EU, between now and the eventual referendum.
It is disappointing that the Prime Minister and UK Government have bulldozed ahead with the so-called renegotiation process without consulting any of the devolved administrations, considering the crucial importance of this decision, for all of us in the UK, with a ‘Brexit’ potentially having wide-ranging consequences on the constitutional settlements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
David Cameron’s proposed franchise for the referendum on EU membership has also failed to include the voices of 16-17 year olds along with UK-resident EU nationals (including 153,000 in Scotland). As last year demonstrated in Scotland, young voters were able to participate in a vital political debate as well-informed and mature citizens. Even the normally absurd House of Lords have recognised this flaw, as the House recently voted 293 to 211 in favour of changing the EU Referendum Bill to allow people over the age of 16 to vote.
Scotland is a team player in European politics and we want the UK Government to engage more with the EU. The refugee crisis is but one serious example of the absence of satisfactory UK Government action. In contrast to the disgraceful absence of compassion shown by Westminster in response to the refugee crisis, Scotland has openly welcomed families fleeing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS. Over 100 Syrian refugees recently arrived from Amman, Jordan in Glasgow and the group is the largest yet to arrive as part of the UK Governments resettlement scheme. The handpicking approach of the UK Government to those hundreds of thousands Syrian and Iraqi refugees from camps in Jordan simply does not adequately address the problems at hand.
But the “hard sell” of Euro-scepticism is long established and has been consistently and hysterically trumpeted by some of the UK press. For those who are weighing up their options when the time comes to vote, I hope that they become more informed between now and then on what the European Union does in practice, how decisions are made and how all parts of the UK greatly benefit from the membership of the EU.
Students at universities across the UK might be contemplating an exciting ERASMUS exchange with another EU Member State. Many will have directly enhanced their academic experience as a result of €572 million of competitive funding won by Scottish universities over the past eight years. The right to live, work and study in any Member State is embedded in the EU terms of membership, and many thousands of people, from all parts of the UK, now live in other EU countries.
Access to the EU Single Market is of particular importance to Scotland’s fishing communities. Exports of Scottish seafood, including aquaculture, to the EU were 116,000 tonnes in 2014 and worth an estimated £462 million. Approximately 75 per cent of Scottish seafood exports by value go to EU markets, again underlining the crucial importance of Scotland’s relationship with the EU.
Moreover, Scotland runs a trade surplus in goods with the EU with figures from 2014 showing our exporting was approximately £8.3 billion and importing £5.2 billion. The indisputable economic access to the world’s largest trading area with 20 million businesses has allowed 300,000 Scottish jobs, 2,230 foreign owned companies with a combined turnover of £100 billion to prosper.
Access to EU funding programmes also makes a significant difference to Scotland’s rural economy, with €3.5 billion under the Common Agricultural Policy being distributed between last year and 2020. European Regional and Social Funding has enabled Scotland to access a funding package of €1.9 billion from 2014 to 2020. A UK ‘Brexit’ from the EU would jeopardise all of this.
The European Union is a constantly evolving construction, with ideas for reform regularly being tabled and constructively debated by all 28 Member States. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon spoke to a large audience in Brussels earlier this year, where she outlined the Scottish Government’s clear proposals for reform including more local decision making, a greater focus on developing the Single Market and local discretion in implementing regulation. The SNP does believe that these reforms would be beneficial to all Member States and importantly – such reforms can take place within the existing decision-making process and Treaty framework.
A constructive approach to membership of the EU can provide added value in tackling the major challenges of the day as a Union of member states, each with a guaranteed right of input to joint decisions. Likewise, in addressing issues such as climate change, the security of our energy supplies, youth unemployment and environmental protection. There are many practical benefits to consider between now and the eventual vote, and I and SNP colleagues will continue to make the positive case for Scotland remaining within the European Union.
Published: Thursday 03 December 2015
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2015
Photograph: © Copyright of Ian Hudghton MEP
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.