European Movement UK

Britain's future is with Europe! Join the debate and put your opinion forward!

by George Lyon, Liberal Democrat MEP for Scotland

ALDE Member and Coordinator of the EP’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee

Vice President of the EP’s Budget Committee///

For those of us who believe that Scotland and the UK are far better off as part of the EU some of the debates we see in the media on a regular basis can be frustrating.

But the hysteria we have seen in some corners of the Conservative Party is not coalition government policy. The very simple reason behind this is that Liberal Democrats in government are standing up for our place in the EU in Whitehall and across government.

As a party of government, Scottish Liberal Democrats like Danny Alexander and Alistair Carmichael are working to make the case for Scotland and the UK remaining at the heart of Europe.

We have a Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister who has made clear that there is no question of a UK opt out on the European Convention on Human Rights. Liberal Democrat Home Office Ministers are making the case for the European Arrest Warrant and a Liberal Democrat Business Secretary is making the positive case for immigration within Europe.

Of course there are things about the EU that we would like to change. This is why, along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues in Brussels, I worked on the budget committee to deliver a smaller EU budget that will see increased spending in those areas that will generate jobs and growth across the continent. But with 8 out of 10 businesses reporting that leaving the EU would put jobs at risk, cutting our ties with Europe would come with a substantial price tag attached. With 3 million jobs across the UK linked to on our membership of the EU, it is easy to see why we think this should be a priority.

In a recent blog post, SNP candidate Toni Giugliano raised a number of questions about the relationship that Scotland and the UK have with the EU. I agree with him that we are far better off in Europe than out of the EU. But his argument that independence for Scotland is the only way to give people here a better deal from the EU simply does not add up.

The SNP’s record on Europe is not one they should be proud of. Scottish Ministers went to court and spent tens of thousands of pounds preventing the release of advice on independence and the EU that turned out not to exist. Their recent independence White Paper claimed that there would be a seamless transition to full membership for Scotland on the same terms we enjoy at present in the event of a vote to separate from the rest of the UK. Less than 24 hours later, the Prime Minister of Spain added his voice to the growing collection of EU Ministers who have poured cold water on the SNP’s assertions.

The President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy is amongst those who has made clear that a state seceding from another member state would be a third party in relation to the EU and outside of the terms of the EU treaties.

I speak as someone who is unashamedly pro-European. If Scotland were to vote to split from the UK, I would fight tooth and nail to ensure that we could secure entry to the EU. But the fact is that EU membership would not be in the gift of the rest of the UK. Nor would things like the UK rebate or opt-outs on border controls and the Euro. Scotland’s European fate would rest with the 28 other member states, each of whom could veto the terms of any new membership deal.

When it comes to an independent Scotland and the EU, the picture is clear. The biggest imminent threat to our place in Europe and the benefits that we currently enjoy as part of the UK is not an EU referendum that might happen at an undetermined point in years to come. It is the referendum on Scotland’s place in the UK that will take place in September this year.

As part of a strong UK, we can work together to deliver the changes we want to see at the EU and keep the many benefits that we enjoy at present. Or we can choose to go it alone, becoming a smaller fish in a big pond and facing tough negotiations to secure even a fraction of the opt outs that we get as part of the UK.

There are many reasons why I think devolution within the UK offers Scotland the best of both worlds. The security of our EU membership and the strength that comes with being part of one of the biggest EU member states is one of them.

Despite the best efforts of the SNP to paint England as desperate to duck out of the EU, Scots should not forget that UKIP does not equal UK. Seeking to suggest otherwise might suit the SNP’s short-term goals but it is not in the long-term interests of families and businesses in Scotland.

When it comes to the EU, we should be clear that the choice facing Scotland this year is not UKIP or bust. As a party of government, the Liberal Democrats are working to make the case for a strong Scotland remaining at the heart of the UK and the EU. In Britain, in Europe and in work.


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