Toni Giugliano, SNP candidate in the 2014 EP elections///
This year, 2014, will be momentous for Scotland. It will be not only about Scotland’s future in the UK, but also about Scotland’s place in the world.
It’ll be a choice between a UK increasingly marginalised at the European fringes and an independent Scotland working constructively with her neighbours.
The rise of UKIP south of the border is testimony to the polarisation of sentiments on Europe between Scotland and the rest of the UK. But equally it highlights the contrast between our political landscapes and our social and political values. The evidence of this divergence is the 2009 European elections where UKIP won a mere 5.2% of the Scottish vote. Scotland would have needed 15 seats for one UKIP MEP to have been elected. It is likely that this trend will continue in May’s election.
But there’s more to UKIP than Europe: policies on social justice, immigration, equality, the environment, the NHS and taxation are at odds with Scotland’s priorities. Is it viable for Scotland to be governed by Tories – rejected by the people of Scotland – shifting to the right as they run scared of Farage banging on the door of No 10? A party that would favour the abolition of Members of the Scottish Parliament – the very parliament that continues to shield us from regressive Westminster policies?
Of course, it’s not just UKIP. Senior Tory figures such as Nigel Lawson and Government Ministers like Michael Gove coming out as supporters of EU withdrawal should be a warning to all pro-Europeans. Britain’s relationship with Europe has never been easy; but this time it’s serious.
The question is – where are the Westminster heavyweights defending EU membership? Who is sticking up for Europe in government and in the shadow Cabinet? Why do we have a Labour party questioning the 2004 enlargement and stating that they ‘got it wrong’ on free movement to Britain? The debate on Bulgarians and Romanians illustrates that the big three parties are dancing to a UKIP tune. Britain’s future in Europe is far from certain. Indeed the in-out Europe referendum is a serious threat to our EU membership.
If the overwhelming population of the UK chooses to leave the EU, Scotland will be dragged along with it. That is not a risk I’m willing to take.
One of the big choices in the independence referendum is between UK isolation and Scottish participation in Europe. Over the past 40 years the UK has been on the edges, never shaping the European debate, but simply reacting to it, and time and time again UK ministers have made the wrong decisions for Scotland.
We have a Prime Minister threatening to take us out of the social chapter – the only legislation our workforce have to guarantee rights in the workplace. Would our First Minister ever argue the same? We have a UK Chancellor taking Brussels to court for introducing a cap on bankers’ bonuses. Would John Swinney ever do the same? A Home Secretary considering withdrawal from the European Arrest warrant. Would Kenny MacAskill ever consider doing the same? A Rural Affairs Secretary calling for a reduction to the agriculture budget when Scotland already gets the worst farming deal in Europe. Would Richard Lochhead have argued the same? A work and pensions secretary accusing EU nationals of benefit tourism when EU nationals contribute more to the UK economy than they get back in welfare and health services. Which Scottish government, of whatever composition, would ever argue the same?
Last year the UK, the Irish Republic and Denmark celebrated 40 years of EU membership. Ireland marked it with a successful EU presidency: a US-EU trade deal and the reform of both the CFP and CAP. The UK marked it with a Prime Minister announcing a referendum on Europe.
Ireland and then Lithuania, two small nations, as presidents of the Council set the agenda for 500 million Europeans. Countries smaller than Scotland but with more MEPs, their own Commissioner, their own seat at the top tables of Brussels and the power to influence the EU’s policy direction. Scotland should be doing the same, advancing policy, leading in areas where we have expertise such as energy, climate-change legislation, world-leading research and fisheries. Instead, we’re forced to rely on Westminster to represent us – a Westminster system which throws its toys out the pram and fails to protect our distinct interests in Europe.
Independence will give Scotland a unique opportunity to join the family of nations, embark on a partnership of equals with the UK and help shape and mould the Europe of tomorrow. As two independent Member States, Scotland and the UK will be able to work together, and combined, will have a stronger voice and representation to pursue common goals.
With our own dynamic on European engagement we’ll be in a position to protect our distinct national interest while making a contribution to the direction of our continent. I’ll be voting Yes in September to guarantee Scotland’s long term future in Europe. This time let’s shape it – let’s be at the heart of it.
Toni Giugliano is an SNP candidate in the 2014 European Parliament elections and the Head of Interest Groups at Yes Scotland. He was President of the Young European Movement UK in 2005-06.