European Union Constitution

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 29th April 2004.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 9:30 am, 29th April 2004

Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1218, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the European Union constitution, and four amendments to the motion.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I come to the debate, as do my colleagues, from a passionately pro-Europe point of view. I believe in and support the European Union, which has been a powerful force for good over the past half century. It has brought peace and relative prosperity to its members, which is why countries that 10 short years ago had tanks on their streets are now queueing up to join it.

The European Union is the most successful democratic confederation in history. I want to see Scotland play a full and active part in Europe. I do not want to see Scotland sitting on the sidelines, hoping—usually in vain—that someone else will speak up for us. I want to see Scotland right in there, at the heart of decision making, punching above our weight like Ireland, co-operating and compromising, but—when we need to—fighting our corner and defending our crucial national interests.

After all, that is the very essence of independence in Europe. It is what Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and all other member states in the European Union take for granted. It is what Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and all the other countries that will proudly take their seats at the top table on Saturday want so desperately. It is what all of us should be demanding for Scotland: normality, equality and independence in Europe.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

Does the member accept that, in the interest of reaching agreement on the treaty, Spain and Poland gave way on their national interests?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

That is because Poland, Spain and every other independent member state got the concessions that they needed and wanted to protect their national interests. Unfortunately, Scotland did not even have a seat at the table to argue for our national interests. That is why Scotland needs independence in Europe.

Being pro-Europe does not mean having to accept passively everything that comes out of Brussels. All countries have a duty and a right to stand up for themselves and to draw lines in the sand. That is exactly what Poland, Spain and Germany were doing when they brought the negotiations on the draft constitution to a grinding halt at the end of last year in a fight over voting rights. They were standing up for what they considered to be their national interests.

When the Polish Government said,

"better no constitution than a flawed constitution", no one accused it of being anti-Europe. The Polish Government was simply standing up for what it thought was in its national interest. That was also the case when Tony Blair drew red lines through the bits of the constitution that he did not like. He was not being a Eurosceptic when he did that; he was simply standing up for the national interest as he saw it.

So, when the Scottish National Party says that it cannot and will not support a constitution that sells out our fishing industry, that does not make us anti-Europe; it means that we will not sign up to something that is fundamentally anti-Scotland. The clause in the constitution that stipulates that the EU shall have exclusive competence over the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy is anti-Scotland. Even Jack McConnell thought so before he was called to heel by his masters in London. We have to remember that last May he said that he had written to the United Kingdom Government asking it to oppose that clause in the constitution. Later he said that he had made a mistake and that there was no need to get worked up about it because the constitution simply reflected the status quo.

Even if Jack McConnell is right, he should be ashamed of himself. How can any self-respecting First Minister of Scotland defend the status quo on fishing when the status quo, in the form of the common fisheries policy, has brought the fishing industry in Scotland to its knees?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Not just now.

The situation is worse than that. The draft constitution does not just reflect the status quo. I agree that the EU has total control over fishing, as it has had for the past 30 years, but it does so only under secondary law. If such control were to be put into the constitution, it would be entrenched in primary legislation, which would make it impossible to change. It would set the position in stone, which would amount to our handing control over fishing to Brussels in perpetuity. That would be the death knell for the industry in Scotland. That is why it would be anti-Scotland to do so.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Surely what the member has stated is exactly the same as the position today. The treaty would need to be renegotiated for competence for fisheries to be taken back into the national interest in Scotland and away from the UK. What difference is there between now and the time after the constitution is agreed?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I suggest that George Lyon should read carefully the terms of the motion that is before the chamber today. It repeats almost word for word the policy that his party passed last August. A bit of principle from the Liberal Democrats would go a long way.

Just as it is not true to say that to enshrine Brussels' control of fishing in the constitution simply reflects the status quo, neither is it true to say that to take it out would simply preserve the status quo. If that control were to be taken out, it would open up a real way forward for fishing in Scotland. It would take the feet from under the CFP itself.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Not just now.

The common fisheries policy rests on the EU's exclusive competence over fishing. However, exclusive competence is derived from case law. The constitution is to be the new rulebook for the EU—it will supersede what has gone before it. If it is ratified without any mention of exclusive competence, the case law would be overtaken and the current legal basis of the CFP would fall away. If we were to get the clause out of the constitution, that would strike at the heart of the CFP. Surely that is an opportunity that we should grasp.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I will take one more intervention, after which the member can sit down for a while.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I appreciate the member taking an intervention. Is she aware that, on 27 March 2001, the European Committee took evidence from the European Commission on the green paper on the common fisheries policy? I wonder whether she agrees with her colleague Mr Alex Salmond, who said at committee:

"The green paper was probably better received than any Commission document on fisheries policy that I can remember. I do not know whether that has been the general view around Europe, but it is my estimation of the reaction in Scotland."—[Official Report, European Committee, 27 March 2001; c 1002.]

What has changed between 2001 and today? Can the member explain the difference in the SNP approach to the common fisheries policy then and to the same common fisheries policy now?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

It would not have been hard for any green paper to be better than anything that had gone before. The few steps closer to destruction that our fishing industry has taken because of the common fisheries policy are what has changed things over the past few months. Perhaps Irene Oldfather should go and talk to a few fishermen before she comes to the chamber to pontificate.

The reality is that it is essential to get rid of the CFP, which is disastrous for Scottish fishing. Only by scrapping the CFP can future fishing agreements be based on national control and regional co-operation with other countries who fish in the same seas.

A few months back, Jack McConnell, in what must have been one of his less waffly and more insightful contributions to the debate, made the startling revelation to the Parliament that fish can swim across borders. Perhaps they can, but they cannot swim to the landlocked countries of the Czech Republic, Hungary or Slovakia, and it would take a pretty fit fish to make it all the way from the North sea to Malta or Cyprus. Those are examples of countries that have no interest in fish conservation in the North sea. They should have no more say over it than Scotland should have over the olive agreements that are entered into between the Mediterranean countries. It is time to replace the common fisheries policy with some basic common sense. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do just that, but we must be prepared to grasp that opportunity.

Yesterday, the First Minister said that there is not going to be any deal with the British Government on the issue. Might that be only because he is determined to stand in the way of one? He cannot see beyond his hostility towards the SNP to the interests of the country that he is supposed to lead.

I can just imagine the First Minister on the telephone to Jack Straw yesterday, saying that fishing is important in Scotland and that it was lovely to see the Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman concede that in the Sunday Herald. However, was he not just a wee bit worried about the tiny hint that something might actually be done for the fishing industry, because in his view what is far more important is not letting the SNP win any concessions? If he were to let that happen, some people might realise that it is the SNP and not Labour that defends Scotland's interests, which would not be in the First Minister's interests now, would it? We thought that it was only the Tories who think that the fishing industry is expendable.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Not just now—I have been very generous with interventions.

A First Minister who puts Scotland's interests first would not have been on the phone to Jack Straw, trying to pour cold water on the prospect of securing crucial concessions for one of his country's most vital industries. Instead, he would have recognised and seized the enormous opportunity that has just opened up before him to score a real win for Scotland.

Tony Blair's decision to hold a referendum on the constitution, having spent months telling us that there was no need to do so, might have made him look foolish, weak and on the run, but it presents a huge opportunity for Scotland to get a better deal from the constitution. Blair needs a yes vote—his political life depends on it. He is more likely to get it if he has Scotland on side, and he will have a much better chance of getting Scotland on side if the constitution that we are asked to vote on does not sell out our national interest. Let us not forget the fact that Tony Blair's European partners also want him to secure a yes vote. They will want to concede as much as they possibly can. The conditions could not be any better for Scotland.

Tony Blair will ask for the concession that will throw our fishing industry a lifeline only if we pressure him to do so—if we turn his weakness into our strength. That is what the First Minister should have picked up the phone to do, to press home Scotland's advantage. He should have been focused on getting a better deal for Scotland, not on trying to get one over on the SNP. That is the kind of behaviour that people expect from the general secretary of the Labour Party, not from the First Minister of Scotland.

The Parliament and all of us are under no obligation to dance to Jack McConnell's tune. We have an opportunity to unite today and to tell Tony Blair the price of our support. The Tories should back the motion—and I hope that they do—because it is about time that they made it up to the fishing industry for being the party that signed away control to Brussels in the first place.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I have listened with great interest to all that Nicola Sturgeon has had to say about fishing, and I absolutely agree with her principle of calling for the repatriation of control over fishing. She will know that we have supported that for years. However, what other issues around the draft constitution concern the SNP? Is everything else about it acceptable, or are there other red-line issues, about which we have heard nothing from Nicola Sturgeon?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Being part of Europe is about compromising, but it is also about standing up for the national interest. If we had a blank sheet of paper, I am sure that we would change some things about the draft constitution. Our red line is fishing; perhaps it is about time that the Tories decided what theirs is and stood up for fishing, instead of signing away—

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

We will take no lectures from the party that, under Heath and Thatcher, signed over our fishing industry to the European Community lock, stock and barrel. By supporting the motion, the Tories could start to make things up—a bit—to the fishing industry. That is why the Tories should support our position.

The Liberals should support our motion because, as I said earlier, it repeats almost word for word the policy statement that they passed last year. Let me read that statement to members:

"making the conservation of marine biological resources under the Common Fisheries Policy an exclusive competence of the EU is both undesirable and unworkable".

It goes on:

"Conference, therefore, calls on all Scottish Liberal Democrat parliamentarians to exert all possible influence on the UK Government to effect appropriate changes".

Well, here is the chance for those Scottish Liberal Democrat parliamentarians to exert some influence. The question is whether they are going to take that chance or whether, as usual, they will toe the line laid down for them.

Labour should support the motion because it was elected to a position of leadership in this country. When a party is in that position, it has a duty to act in the national interest, not just in its own interest.

In my view, there is no substitute for independence in Europe. There is no substitute for giving Scotland the ability to speak for herself, to fight her own corner and to build the alliances that are necessary in the new, enlarged Europe. Along the way to independence, we must be prepared to seize every single opportunity that presents itself to get us a good deal—a better deal for Scotland—and to advance Scotland's national interest. The draft EU constitution is one such opportunity. The SNP wants to vote yes to the constitution. We generally support the document, and we are proud of the role that Neil MacCormick played in its drafting—he was the only elected representative in Scotland to do so.

Fishing is our red line, and it should be the Parliament's red line. I move,

That the Parliament calls on Her Majesty's Government to negotiate out of the draft EU Constitution the clause stipulating that the European Union shall have exclusive competence over the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy, and ensure that the final draft of the Constitution is not detrimental to Scottish interests.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour 9:45 am, 29th April 2004

There was a lot of hot air and bluster there, I have to say. There was a huge element of dishonesty and of distraction from the real issues that we face in the European debate. Unlike the SNP, I hope to bring some candour to the debate and to set out once again some of the benefits that the European Union offers us. We heard what amounted to a fig leaf for the first 30 seconds of Nicola Sturgeon's speech; we then heard a fairly anti-Europe rant around the particular issues that she seeks to address in the motion.

Let us examine some of the issues that are, I think, much more important. Nicola Sturgeon did recognise in that short, fig-leaf statement at the start of her speech the fact that there will shortly be a larger EU market of 500 million people. It will be the biggest single market in the world—a market that Scottish firms will take advantage of, a vital market to Scotland's economic future and a vital market to Scotland's national interest. The enlargement of the EU is a cause for celebration. It poses a fresh challenge to the governance of the European Union, but we are willing to face that challenge—unlike Nicola Sturgeon and her party—and, with our partners in London, we are working to tackle it.

We need to be honest with each other and with the people of Scotland: enlargement means that the European Union must reform how it conducts its business, otherwise decision making will grind to a halt, throwing into doubt the benefits that we have enjoyed from our membership of the EU.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The question that the minister must answer is why Scotland should be the only country in the whole of the European Union that does not stand up and fight to protect its national interest. Why does he not address that question, instead of waffling in a manner that would make his First Minister proud?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Being part of the United Kingdom, with the powers that the UK Government has when negotiating in Europe, is much superior to having the powers that Nicola Sturgeon would advocate our having, under which we would have an independent, separatist and minority voice. We would have a small voice at the heart of Europe. I would prefer to be part of a bigger voice at the heart of Europe.

What would those who seek to oppose the treaty put in its place? As I and others have argued, given the size of the EU following enlargement, we need to reform the current arrangements. Those who would use the treaty process and a referendum to criticise the current framework should offer alternatives. A bland "We would renegotiate" is not realistic when the interests of 25 members are at stake, and it is not sensible to pretend that EU politics is a one-way street. Others have mentioned the fact that various nations have come to agreements. It is about working together, not working in separation, isolation and independence in the way that the SNP advocates. Working together is the reality of working with Europe, not the fantasy that we will hear from the Tory and SNP cohort in the course of the debate.

Some of the benefits to Scotland of EU membership are so great and so fundamental that it is important to restate them. Clearly, the SNP and others take them for granted. Tariff-free trade is vital to growing Scotland's economy. I have already mentioned the 500 million consumers to whom we have access. More than 1,000 companies export from Scotland to the EU each month. In 2003, that trade accounted for 53 per cent of Scottish exports and brought £7 billion into the economy. It is estimated that around 300,000 jobs rely on our membership of the European Union. Those who think that EU membership is irrelevant should explain that to the business community and to the people of Scotland. They should examine the figures. Exports to the countries of the European Union have grown from 35 per cent to 52 per cent since our membership began. That is good for the economy of Scotland, good for business and good for the people of Scotland.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

How much of that 52 per cent of exports is to our partners in the rest of the United Kingdom? Will the minister tell us why we need to impose so many new powers in the constitution, given that, as he has said, there was some room for change in the EU's working arrangements?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

First, in the context of an independent Scotland in Europe, the 52 per cent figure is valid. Secondly, many of the myths that Phil Gallie and his party have created around the huge changes that the treaty brings are simply not true.

EU membership means securing consumer value and confidence. EU standards allow Scottish consumers access to a greater variety and quality of products at competitive prices, while ensuring that those products meet uniform standards of product safety and consumer protection. Scottish producers know that member states cannot put up barriers to our exports. Therefore, membership of the EU is good for the economy of Scotland and good for the consumers of Scotland.

The advantage of freedom of movement means that Scots can live, work and travel with ease throughout the European Union, which benefits those who are building their businesses, those who are on holiday and those who are seeking work or are undertaking training or further education in Europe. Therefore, membership of the EU is good for the economy of Scotland and good for the people of Scotland.

In policy areas across the board, our being able to act in concert with our European partners has allowed all the citizens of Europe to benefit from cleaner waters, beaches and air. Just as we are stronger when we tackle pollution together, so is there a clear need for stronger European collaboration and solidarity in tackling the major threats of our time, including crime and terrorism. Member states are now working together through the EU to combat the drugs and arms trades and, following the 9/11 attacks, on measures to co-ordinate anti-terrorist actions. After the outrage of the bombs in Madrid, can there really be any question about the need for such collaboration? Membership of the EU is good for Scottish people and good for their safety.

The new treaty will allow us to tackle crime and terrorism much more effectively. That is why it is good for Scotland and is in Scotland's interests. It is a treaty for security, growth and prosperity. Let me be clear: the consequences of a no vote in the forthcoming referendum would lead us towards the exit point from Europe, placing all those benefits at risk and letting down Scotland and Scotland's national interests.

Let us be clear about what the nationalists are saying: they are saying that they do not want those benefits for Scotland and they have said that they will support the EU treaty and campaign for a yes vote only if we end the common fisheries policy. They are saying that they will be prepared to support a treaty to tackle crime and fight terrorism, improve workers rights and build trade only if we withdraw from the CFP. They are saying that they are prepared to see Scotland isolated from the rest of the world and from the world's biggest single market by withdrawing from the CFP. The fact is that the CFP provides some protection and guarantees for Scotland and, crucially, that we now have an opportunity to improve it through better regional management and through a greater say in all matters European, which the treaty would give by providing greater powers for devolved Parliaments.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The debate is about the draft constitution; we do not have the final document. Will the minister tell us and Scotland what changes his Executive will be arguing for between now and when the final constitution is tabled? Tony Blair's hand has been strengthened, as he can get concessions from Europe and will have a referendum, which in turn strengthens Scotland's Parliament's influence, so how is the Executive using that new influence to benefit Scotland?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

We are using our influence to secure greater involvement by devolved Parliaments within the European structures in relation to controls and powers, which I will come to later in my contribution. The way to achieve a better deal for Scottish fisheries and fishing communities is by working through the UK, not by isolating ourselves and turning our back on that prospect.

The motion has a lot to do with the upcoming election and divisions in the SNP. The Euroscepticism that Nicola Sturgeon's party displayed in relation to independence in Europe is simply outrageous. That was a long time ago, but the anti-Europe position of the SNP is now becoming clear. It has to decide whether it is for or against Europe, whether it will stand up for all Scotland or part of Scotland and whether it is prepared to stay in bed with the Tories and the Trots to campaign against the treaty.

There are areas in which Scotland will need to work with its UK and EU partners to ensure that legislation under the new treaty takes account of Scottish interests and needs. Of course, fisheries are part of that debate. Most important of all, effective and efficient enlargement is vital to all our industries, including manufacturing and, of course, fisheries. Those who are contemplating leaving the European Union are ignoring the compromises that politics sometimes brings and are pretending that they would somehow disappear. They are being dishonest if they say that if the UK were outside the EU, it would have a voice in the negotiations that affect our most basic interests. Those who would have us leave the EU would be selling Scotland down the river, and we would be in a situation in which key Scottish issues would be decided by 24 of our nearest and most important neighbours. Contemplating leaving the EU is the politics of the madhouse. Those who would have us leave the EU would be sacrificing our economy and grandstanding about false principle. They would be selling out Scotland and turning their backs on Scotland's workers, consumers and businesses.

We have been playing an active part in the processes of European reform, which will bring better and closer governance through the new treaty. As we know in this Parliament, devolving power and taking decisions as close to the people as possible result in better legislation for the citizens of Scotland. Our Parliament is closer to the citizens. It is important for everyone that the Commission consults widely before bringing forward the new treaty, and that must include direct consultation with Parliaments such as ours.

I have outlined the changes that the new treaty will introduce, for which we pressed hard and which we succeeded in getting in. Those changes will give Scotland an earlier say in and a greater influence on proposed EU legislation and are in our national interest—the very point that the SNP's MEP Neil MacCormick made in his submission to the convention that drafted the new treaty.

We know that the European Union has delivered peace and political stability for the peoples of Europe. As a result of that unique partnership, Europe has been able to grow its economy, support the creation of wealth and tackle discrimination and disadvantage. The European Union is now the largest single market in the world and has supported economic growth and job creation in Scotland, balancing economic needs with those of the environment. Scotland's place is as part of the enlarged Union, playing a role, growing our economy and ensuring that the people of Scotland benefit. That is Scotland's national interest. We should not stand on the sidelines, outside, ignored, impotent and insignificant. The nationalists would fail our entrepreneurs, our manufacturers and our fishing communities, but most of all they would fail Scotland.

I move amendment S2M-1218.4, to leave out from "negotiate" to end and insert:

"agree a Treaty that, in the context of an enlarging Union, is clearer and simpler than the existing treaties, to bring the European Union closer to the citizens of Europe; notes that the current draft Treaty simply makes explicit the European Community's exclusive competence over marine conservation as set out in the United Kingdom's Treaty of Accession, as part of the Common Fisheries Policy, which both Her Majesty's Government and the Scottish Executive are committed to reform to deliver effective regional management of, and a sustainable future for, Scotland's fishing industry; notes that the text makes reference for the first time to the role of sub-national parliaments and offers enhanced scope for collaboration to tackle international crime and the threat of terrorism, and welcomes the benefits to Scotland of EU membership, including economic prosperity, trade, environmental and consumer protection and citizens' and workers' rights."

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 9:56 am, 29th April 2004

We welcome Tony Blair's U-turn on the referendum, which Scottish Executive members opposed, because it gives us the chance to analyse the constitution in a public forum and, as Andy Kerr suggested, to dispel the myths that surround it.

The first myth, if not barefaced lie, is that the constitution is just tinkering to facilitate enlargement. Proof exists that enlargement was achieved in recent times and in the more distant past without the need for major change.

The second myth—which has been suggested by Mr Blair and repeated by Andy Kerr—is that the UK will be ejected from the EU unless we sign the treaty. That is absolute rubbish, which is proved by the fact that the Spanish and the Poles induced relevant and informative discussion following their original rejection of the draft constitution. We are now moving on to the next stride in the argument.

The third myth is that we Conservatives are anti-Europe and are set on pulling out of the EU. That is not so, but we feel that the powers of the unelected EU commissioners and the movement towards EU statehood have already gone too far. We are saying that we will go no further in abandoning mastery of our own affairs.

The fourth myth is that, in the words of the Italian ambassador who visited the Parliament, the constitution is not the first step to the "birth of a state". European statehood is not a scare tory—[Interruption.]—sorry, a scare story that has been invented by us Conservatives. It was the stated objective of EU grandees such as Schröder and Kohl, Giscard d'Estaing and Mitterrand, Prodi and the disgraced Santer and, much to my sorrow, the former Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath. It is a fair political objective for a party to set if, as with the Liberals and the SNP, that is its stated aim, but it must be an open objective and must not be shrouded in disguise, which the Blair Government has attempted to do. European ministers MacShane and Hain, as well as senior Cabinet ministers, tell us continually that there are no European-statehood implications in the constitution, but at least the former EU minister Keith Vaz has been more honest and acknowledges that to be an objective.

Today's debate centres on the SNP motion. I congratulate the SNP on giving Parliament the opportunity to debate the proposed constitution. I will demonstrate that there are aspects of it that would clearly remove powers from this Parliament, which were won so recently by those who campaigned for it. Other aspects would remove sovereign rights of the United Kingdom Government, which would have a profound effect on Scotland. To that end, I offer no apology for referring to some of the most important of those, in my eyes.

The SNP motion appears to aim at its only reservation about the EU constitution, which is about fishing. I am surprised that the SNP did not go further than that, especially in respect of the energy issues that are covered by the draft constitution. The implications for the existing and future development of our oil resources could well be extremely damaging—I refer to article 13 of the draft constitution. Before someone intervenes to advise that that will be only a shared competency for the EU, I make the point that it is just one of the many additional competencies to be handed over.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Very briefly, as I do not have long.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Can the Conservatives clarify whether, should Scotland be able as part of the negotiations over the draft constitution, to negotiate the scrapping of the CFP, the Conservative party will change its position and vote for the draft constitution?

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Scotland should be able to negotiate through UK Government ministers: that is the way forward, as Andy Kerr said. That would give us the strength that an isolated voice would not give us. What we want is the right Government at Westminster to put forward the right arguments.

I will pick up on the shared competencies to which I have just referred. Article 11.2 of the draft treaty states that

"the Union and the Member States shall have the power to legislate and adopt legally binding acts ... The Member States shall exercise their competence to the extent that the Union has not".

In other words, the Union sets the basic rules and regulations. Only if it has missed something will a member state—which previously had full competency—be able to act. I challenge the minister to address that point by demonstrating, using the text of the draft constitution, that that is not the case.

The deal that has been offered by the SNP to Labour reminds me of a similar deal that was struck before the last referendum in Scotland when Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the nationalists campaigned to tell the Scottish people that we were going to get a Parliament building for £40 million. Some of the aims and objectives of the Executive's amendment bear little relationship to reality in the context of the detail of the draft constitution. Had not the amendment borne no resemblance to the reality of the constitution, perhaps we would have had some sympathy with it. Now is the time to address the points—before the draft constitution is signed, not after. The draft EU constitution and the sovereign rights of all Scots and citizens of the UK are far too important to play knockabout politics with.

I will, having outlined the background to the debate as I see it, and having commented on two important implications of the draft constitution's acceptance—those for energy and fishing—highlight other aspects that I and my colleagues have grave concerns about.

The appointment of a European president in a role that will, in effect, build up to being a head of state, could well overshadow the role of our Prime Minister and would certainly blanket over any effects of our First Minister. An EU president could, in collusion with an EU foreign minister, determine UK foreign policy on the hoof—I refer to article 21 of the draft constitution. Article 27 lays down the powers of the EU foreign minister, who will be guided by a qualified majority vote within the Council of Ministers. The UK will, if we go ahead with the constitution, lose its prominent voice in world affairs, which has been built up and retained over centuries. What will be the effect of that on the Commonwealth and on our external relations with China and the USA? Those are the kind of questions that those who argue for the constitution must address positively.

Furthermore, under the draft there can be no separation from the EU position. Article 5.2 of the draft constitution demands "loyal cooperation" and requires member states to

"refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives set out in the Constitution."

That equates to a common voice on foreign affairs. Article 27.2—

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I do not really have time, but I will give way if the Presiding Officer allows it.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Yes—I agree to that.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I am grateful for the fact that Phil Gallie is constantly giving us references to the draft constitution, However, his quotes are rather selective. Article 5 begins:

"The Union shall respect the national identities of the Member States".

He has quoted only selectively from article 5.2, which follows. Let us start with the basic principles and not be dishonest in this debate.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

The minister is referring to the small condensed version of the European constitution. I suggest that he get hold of the full document and read it. Perhaps he will then be able to answer his own question.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

He is not right; he is absolutely wrong.

On taxation and the economy, article 11.3 states:

"The Union shall have competence to promote and coordinate the economic and employment policies of the Member States."

Never mind signing up to the euro, we will be obliged to conform with the economic and employment policies of the other member states. The present Commission has the objective of setting EU-wide levels of corporation tax, VAT and an energy tax. We see the dangers that are inherent in that. We understand that the draft constitution means that European taxes will be imposed on the UK. I feel sure that that is not something that most people in the UK would relish. I could quote article 3.2 and article 16—

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

However, I bow to the Presiding Officer's request. Those are the kind of issues that we must debate in Parliament if we are genuinely to address the European constitution and dispel the myths.

I move amendment S2M-1218.1, to leave out from "calls on" to end and insert:

"recognises that the only way to ensure a sustainable future for the Scottish fishing industry is to restore national and local control of Scottish waters by negotiating withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy and calls on Her Majesty's Government to hold the referendum on the EU Constitution following final agreement of its terms to give our people the opportunity to reject this centralising constitution and help to shape a new, flexible Europe of nation states working in partnership."

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 10:06 am, 29th April 2004

I wish that I could congratulate the SNP on proposing this debate on the draft EU constitution. However, although Nicola Sturgeon commenced by saying that she wants Scotland to play a full and active part in Europe, she continued by saying that the SNP wants Scotland to pull out of the common fisheries policy.

The common fisheries policy has not had a glorious history, but we need to reflect briefly on the reasons for that. Over the past two decades, the policy has not worked because the Commission has, based on scientific evidence, produced ideas that have been undermined by politicians who have not wanted to lose the votes of the fishing communities and who have not taken action on the evidence that has been presented to them. Those ideas have been undermined further by backroom bargaining with the Commission to get extra money to support the building of larger or new boats. As a result, over the past 20 years there has been no reduction whatever in fishing effort in the North sea and, until recently, it has crept up year on year. The common fisheries policy should address that and keep total fishing pressure down.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I have two questions to ask. First, does Robin Harper acknowledge that not £1 has been given to Scottish skippers, through the common fisheries policy, to build new vessels? The money has gone to other states; that is the problem with the common fisheries policy. Secondly, two months ago, Scotland's most eminent scientists—the Royal Society of Edinburgh—called for the EU's exclusive competence in marine conservation to be deleted from the draft constitution. Does Robin Harper agree with those eminent fisheries scientists that that exclusive competency should be deleted?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I do not agree; I will continue to argue that it is a political decision, not a scientific decision, that we are making. We act on the evidence that scientists present to us on the state of the stocks in the North sea, which is why we need a common fisheries policy.

Let us not forget that the cuts have always fallen short of the requirements of scientific advice. The SNP would do well to recognise that there is an old CFP and a new CFP. A core aim of the reformed CFP is to improve stakeholder participation in formulation and implementation of policy. If SNP members really cared about fishing communities, they would seek to engage positively in that process instead of their advocating a free-for-all and turning their backs when fisheries, and communities that are dependent on them, crash because of over-exploitation. We need to care for our fisheries and our fishing communities. We must, however, recognise that the Europe-wide fishing industry is currently too big and too efficient for the fisheries on which it depends.

I turn now to the draft constitution. European ministers have deemed advice such as this to be politically unacceptable, but it remains an unpalatable if unavoidable truth that we cannot continue to exploit the ocean at the rate that we have been doing. We have become too good at fishing, but we are not good enough at managing fisheries.

The SNP does not seem to be well up on the concept of management, as opposed to exploitation, of fisheries. Let us follow the SNP line for a moment: the seas are teeming with tartan fish and, out of spite, the EU is ganging up on Scotland to deprive us of our birthright. We therefore ignore the repeated consensus in the Scottish Parliament and ask Westminster to negotiate a deal on our behalf so that the EU cedes exclusive competence. We will ignore for the time being the concessions that will be made on Scotland's behalf in order to secure that deal. That means that under the terms of the new constitution, fisheries management would be in the hands of the regional advisory councils, which comprise 66 per cent fishing industry representatives. I congratulate the SNP; the fishing industry would then be completely unregulated except to the extent to which it would choose to regulate itself.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I suspect that Ross Finnie would be quite glad not to have to continue to go through all-night haggling sessions in Brussels with other ministers.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

As the member is now looking through his notes, will he give way?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I have just found the right page.

"It seems to me that what is important is to put more fish into the sea and to keep as much as possible of our fishing community—and its dedicated men who provide that wonderful food for us all—in business. To abide by the CFP is one of the UK's obligations under the treaty that established the European Community, and, if the CFP did not exist, it would have to be invented."—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 7 January 2004; c 331.]

That is a quotation from the UK Minister for Europe, and I subscribe to those thoughts. The SNP would do well to recognise that there is an old CFP and a new one.

Turning to the EU constitution, there is much to be supported in the current draft treaty, including the charter of fundamental rights, the increasing power of the democratic Parliament relative to the unelected Commission, and increasing transparency in the Council. However, I and my party have major concerns about areas such as the common foreign and security policy, commitments to support nuclear power, the removal of veto powers over privatisation of public services, and rights for asylum seekers and non-EU citizens. Given that we now have the beginnings of a sensible fisheries policy, I urge the Executive and the UK Government to negotiate on some of those issues, rather than waste negotiating effort and political collateral on promoting the ceding of exclusive competence over fisheries conservation.

I move amendment S2M-1218.3, to leave out from "calls on" to end and insert:

"recognises that management of fisheries, as a shared resource in the seas around Europe, transcends national boundaries; condemns the long history of Common Fisheries Policy management driven by political rather than scientific considerations; recognises that such political management has led to the current plight of fish stocks and fishing communities; agrees that the newly-reformed Common Fisheries Policy offers a brighter future given the proposals for conservation of stocks based on scientific analysis combined with fishermen's expertise to agree sustainable managements on a regional basis, and calls on the Scottish Executive and Her Majesty's Government not to abandon the goal of sustainable management of fisheries and to engage actively in negotiations to ensure that the final draft of the Constitution is not detrimental to Scottish interests on fisheries, renewable energy and other matters."

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 10:13 am, 29th April 2004

Being an internationalist and being pro-European has nothing to do with the European Union. The European Union is an undemocratic, corrupt and insatiable monster that seeks greater powers from the EU constitution to allow it to devour more jobs, more communities and the democratic rights of nations. It is a monster that many on the left had hoped could be tamed and dispatched for progressive purposes, but as most people now recognise, it is out of control and is a real and present danger to social welfare and public services. The appearance of a progressive character in the 1980s was in stark contrast to the dark reaction of Thatcher in Britain during that time. The EU's true free-market colours are now evident for all to see.

The EU is not just an undemocratic, corrupt and insatiable monster, it is a big-business monster whose desire is to plunder and privatise in search of maximum profits for the few, regardless of the consequences in lost jobs and broken communities for the many. The EU constitution would confer the necessary powers on the EU monster that would allow it to destroy democracy within nations and promote a big-business, privatisation agenda throughout Europe.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Not yet.

I call on those who believe in democracy, socialism and independence to oppose this dangerous constitution and to begin the process of renegotiating our membership of and relationship with the European Union, based on greater readiness to defy the diktats of EU bureaucrats and put Scottish workers and communities first. Like the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund, the EU is an agent of big business that promotes freedom for big business to expand into all areas of life and to control even more of our wealth and resources. The constitution is a licence for those aims; democratic socialists and those who believe in national sovereignty that relies on the citizens of each nation should oppose that constitution.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Although I agree with many of the things that Tommy Sheridan said about the effects of the constitution, I obviously come from a totally different angle. On big business, can he say why 85 per cent of big business now urges the Government not to sign up to the constitution?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

That depends on whether it is the far-reaching wing of the big business lobby or the old landed aristocracy that Phil Gallie's party tends to represent.

The debate is riven with contradictions. The rump of socialists who are left in the Labour Party oppose the constitution. The Tories are divided between the far-sighted big business wing that supports such expansion, and the neanderthal bulldog wing that opposes it for its own flag-waving reasons. The biggest contradiction is within the ranks of the Scottish National Party.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I will finish my point and then take Margo MacDonald's intervention.

"The SNP's policy of 'independence in Europe' has never been honest and as a party, attempting to sell a blatant lie, the SNP has played a big part in creating the cynicism of the electorate and the open contempt in which politics and politicians in Scotland are now held. Swinney's latest offer to deliver SNP votes for a 'yes' on the proposed EU constitution, providing Scottish fishermen get a better deal, must rank as the biggest sell-out of the Scottish people since 1707 ... The SNP really is scraping the bottom of the barrel now, being willing to hand over to central EU control Scottish energy resources, foreign policy and defence, law and just about everything that a sovereign nation requires to be worthy of the name—except fishing. And it calls it independence."

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

It is generous of the member to give way in his final minute. I wanted to provide the bridge between Mr Gallie and Mr Sheridan. The big business interests that are now saying that the EU is not such a good idea are saying so because they see that the economies of the EU countries are on the way down.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I will run your final minute from this point Mr Sheridan.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No. Mr Sheridan only has one more minute.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

The SNP is willing to sign up to a constitution that would completely deny Scotland's legitimate democratic right to be a nation in and of itself, as long as we exempt the common fisheries policy from that constitution. That is a selling of the independence jerseys and the SNP is undoubtedly riven with division on that proposal.

I will finish with a quote from Ieuan Wyn Jones, the leader of Plaid Cymru, which is one of the SNP's sister parties. On the new draft EU constitution, he said:

"This draft new constitution is a charter to tighten the grip of the larger nation states of Europe. The voice of the smaller countries will be reduced, while the needs of stateless nations like Wales or Scotland will be ignored completely."

It appears that Ieuan Wyn Jones is still determined to fight for independence for Wales. It is a pity that the SNP is not prepared to continue the fight for independence for Scotland.

I move amendment S2M-1218.2, to leave out from "negotiate" to end and insert:

"recognise that the European Constitution makes fundamental changes to the structures of the European Union that will further erode local and national democracy, strengthen the grip of the largest and wealthiest nation states of Europe at the expense of the smaller nations and stateless nations, undermine public services in Scotland by opening the door to wholesale privatisation, jeopardise the existence of our fishing industry by engraving in stone the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy, transfer powers over energy to the EU which in turn can be used to block any future moves to bring our oil, gas, and electricity industries into public ownership, lead to a further militarisation of the European continent and give carte blanche to large multi-national states such as Spain and the United Kingdom to deny minority nations within these states the right to genuine self-determination, and, in the light of the damage that this constitution will do to Scotland's present and future interests and given that opposition to the proposed constitution is even stronger in Scotland than the rest of the UK, calls on Her Majesty's Government to call a separate referendum for Scotland."

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat 10:20 am, 29th April 2004

I will have to give lessons to Mr Sheridan in how to pronounce Plaid Cymru properly in Welsh and with passion.

Increasingly, I look forward to the referendum campaign and to the idea of a Tory and Scottish Socialist Party partnership, with Mr McLetchie and Mr Sheridan sharing a platform. I am not sure that there will be many people in the audience, however; it will be light—very light—entertainment.

We are less than two days away from a moment that history will record not as a footnote but as a chapter heading. On Saturday, we will welcome back to the heart of the European family 75 million people, mostly from central and eastern Europe. That will mark the widest-ever expansion of the European Union. The new member states will bring with them new ideas, energy and—yes—they will bring new challenges. Nicola Sturgeon was right when she said in the chamber last week that the debates on enlargement and the EU constitution

"are closely linked and cannot be held in isolation."—[Official Report, 21 April 2004; c 7552.]

If an enlarged European Union is not to come to a standstill and, in the words of the Irish presidency,

"is to be better equipped to respond to the demands of its citizens and to play a more effective role in the world", we need the constitutional treaty.

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat

I will give way in a second.

Institutions and ways of operating that worked for a Europe of six members need modernising and streamlining to cope efficiently with a Europe of 25 members.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I have a great deal of respect for Keith Raffan's views on this subject, but he appears to be arguing from a point of view that assumes that we have a finalised version of the EU constitution. The constitution is in draft form. My point is that it is perfectly legitimate for Scotland, like every other country, to try to get the draft amended to better reflect Scotland's national interests. What is wrong with doing that?

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat

Obviously, Nicola Sturgeon is eager to hear my speech and is anticipating my remarks. I will, of course, address that issue shortly. By the way, I must say to Miss Sturgeon while I am at it that although we are a very hard working party, we do not actually meet in conference in August. I do not want her to be clueless, but to be clued up, so I will make available to her later our detailed motion on the common fisheries policy from our conference in March.

"If it is in Britain's interest to be in the EU, then it is also in our interest that the EU work well. Britain can achieve more together with our European partners than we can alone. The new treaty will help us to do so more effectively—but without creating a European superstate."

Those are not my words, but the words of Michael Heseltine.

"If you believe in the nation state, if you believe in greater accountability, if you believe that we should try to make the best of organisations that we are members of, then the constitutional treaty makes a huge amount of sense."

Again, those are not my words, but the words of Commissioner Chris Patten. That, of course, is what the treaty is all about: making Europe work better and ensuring that a widened Europe works well as a Europe of sovereign national states.

I agree, of course, with Miss Sturgeon that fishing is an important Scottish industry. Thirty years ago this year, I stood for Parliament in East Aberdeenshire, where I actually cut the SNP majority. I campaigned vigorously in Peterhead and the Broch—Fraserburgh. I know how important fishing was, and continues to be, to those communities. Within the region that I represent, the prawn fishermen of Pittenweem in the east neuk of Fife might be few in number, but their welfare is as important to me as is that of any of my constituents.

Fishing is an important traditional Scottish industry, but so are farming and financial services, both of which also face major problems. The constitutional treaty is about more than one industry; indeed, it is about more than our whole economic life. It is about answering the challenges of enlargement, drawing together all the previous treaties—from Rome to Nice—establishing the powers of the nation states and those of Brussels and defining what Europe can and cannot do.

The leader of the SNP told his party on Saturday that the Prime Minister would win the SNP's support for the constitutional treaty only

"if he vetoes the absurd plan to hand over Scotland's fishing industry to Brussels."

That was not an off-the-cuff remark; it was part of a carefully scripted speech. Therefore, we have a choice: either he spoke out of ignorance or he did so out of an intention to mislead.

Our very own act of accession, back in the early 1970s, makes it clear that there is no plan because there is no change. Let me quote:

"The Council, acting on a proposal from the Commission, shall determine conditions for fishing with a view to ensuring protection of the fishing grounds and conservation of the biological resources of the sea."

Marine conservation has always been an exclusive competence of the EU.

On Saturday, Mr Swinney grandiosely threw down the gauntlet to the Prime Minister. He pronounced:

"To win that referendum, Tony Blair needs to win in Scotland. To win in Scotland, he needs the support of the SNP."

That is from the leader of a party who—let me be kind—mislaid a quarter of his MSPs on polling day last year. That is from the leader of a party whose membership, we are told, has collapsed from 16,000 to just 7,000 on his watch. That is from a party leader who has been warned by his close friend and ally, Mike Russell, that he will have to go if he has another bad election result on 10 June.

Those of us on this side of the chamber, who will fight side-by-side in the referendum campaign, need no faint hearts. Of course the referendum is a challenge, but I say to my pro-European colleagues: remember 1975. I also remind the SNP and Tories of that time. Three months before the crucial referendum in that year, opinion polls predicted a 2:1 majority against our remaining in the European Community. After a great campaign—an energetic, enthusiastic and determined campaign—there was a 2:1 majority in favour of continued membership of the European Union. There will be such a majority again.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We now come to the open debate. We are slightly behind the clock, so members will need to be strict with their six-minute allocations.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 10:26 am, 29th April 2004

I was not sure whether Phil Gallie was referring to scare stories or to scary Tories, but there are certainly many scary Tories in the chamber. Of course, there is also much scaremongering. The minister's opening speech was all about Scotland becoming isolationist if we did not have the new constitution and the disaster that that would be for Scotland's economy and for Scotland full stop. Members will remember that, when the constitution talks in Brussels stalled, Tony Blair said that it would not be the end of the world if we did not have a constitution—it would be no big deal. However, all the minister can do is scaremonger. It is a great pity that the Executive has resorted to that kind of strategy.

We must destroy one myth by pointing out that the debate over the constitution is not a debate about being in or out of Europe. It is a debate about the draft constitution, which will be put to a UK referendum and over which Scotland will have a say.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Does Mr Lochhead nevertheless accept that, if there are referenda elsewhere in Europe later, that will be a major blow to the future prospects of the EU and the countries within it?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

That is why it is so important to ensure that the constitution is right before it is the subject of the referendum. That is why we must secure the appropriate changes. When that has happened, the new constitution will have the support of the people in Scotland and people elsewhere in Europe.

The reason why we have a Scottish Parliament is that the priorities in Scotland are different from those in the rest of the UK. That means that our priorities for the EU constitution might be different from the priorities of the rest of the UK. We now have some influence to ensure that our priorities are reflected in the final version of the constitution. We must use that influence. Tony Blair now has more influence, because Europe knows that he must win and must get the British people behind his vote. We should exploit that situation and ensure that that influence is devolved down to Scotland and that we have a voice when the draft constitution is negotiated.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I appreciate the member taking an intervention. Can he explain what the SNP's strategy would be in an independent Scotland if the other 24 countries went ahead without Scotland?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I wish Scotland was negotiating the constitution from a position of independence, because we would be able to secure concessions. Unfortunately, that is not the case, which is why we must plead with and put pressure on the UK to have Scottish priorities reflected in the draft constitution. That is what is before us in the next 18 months and that is what we should all concentrate our energy on.

For Jack McConnell, Scotland's First Minister, to call the Foreign Secretary and plead with him not to give Scotland concessions is appalling. Can anyone imagine the presidents of Catalonia, the Basque Country or Flanders in Belgium calling their foreign ministers and saying, "Look, we are negotiating the constitution over the next few months, so for goodness' sake, whatever you do, make sure there are no concessions for us"? That would not happen, because the presidents of those countries defend their national interests in such situations. It is dreadful that Jack McConnell is putting narrow political interests before the interests of Scotland in those negotiations.

Jack McConnell refuses even to talk about the issue and raise the debate. Two weeks ago, the Aberdeen Evening Express, which is a very good paper, invited all the political leaders in Scotland to give their views on the constitution and the referendum. Articles were submitted by John Swinney of the SNP, by David McLetchie of the Conservative party and by the Deputy First Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jim Wallace. However, as the Evening Express article stated:

"First Minister Jack McConnell declined to comment as the issue concerns a power reserved to Westminster."

Jack McConnell is a man who absolutely refuses to stand up for Scotland and even to talk about what will perhaps be the biggest political issue in this country in the next 18 months. That is a dreadful position for Scotland to be in.

Scotland has its own red-line issues. Of course fishing is the red-line issue for the SNP, because the industry is so important to Scotland's national interest. George Foulkes of the Labour Party told The Herald on Monday:

"I think there is an argument for repatriation of control over fisheries and that the SNP has a valid point".

We welcome that change in UK Labour Party policy. Perhaps it will be reflected in Labour policy for Scotland, where fishing is a national interest and is 20 times more important than it is in the UK as a whole.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am sorry, but I have to move on.

I tell the Minister for Finance and Public Services, Andy Kerr, that the constitution was created to meet three objectives. I know that members on the coalition benches have a short attention span, but I ask him to take a few moments to have a read of the constitution. The first objective is to bring stability to Europe; the second objective is to ensure that the European Union is workable after enlargement; and the third and most important objective is to make Europe closer to the people.

If Andy Kerr looks at the constitution, he will find that it does not meet many of the Executive's objectives. I want to know what Scottish ministers will do between now and the publication of the final version of the constitution to secure those objectives. I shall give some examples.

First, the Executive makes great play of the new commitment to subsidiarity in Europe. Subsidiarity is fantastic, we are told. It will give the Scottish Parliament a say, a role and a new influence that we did not have before. Nonsense! The constitution does not give the Parliament the power, which the former First Minister, Henry McLeish, requested, to have direct access to the European Court of Justice to enforce subsidiarity. So far, ministers have lost that battle.

Secondly, ministers have called for the Parliament to be directly consulted by the European Commission. So far, that battle has been lost and we are no further forward.

Thirdly, there is talk of new powers for national Parliaments. National Parliaments have not even been given a red card. They get six weeks' notice of legislation and, if a third of them say to Brussels that they do not want something, Europe just has to give a reason why it will proceed anyway—and by the way, Scotland's Parliament is not recognised as a national Parliament.

We need a Scottish Executive and a First Minister who will not squeak like a mouse but roar like a lion for Scotland and secure our national interests between now and the publication of the final version of the constitution.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour 10:33 am, 29th April 2004

Listening to Richard Lochhead's speech, one would think that this Parliament had had no discussions on the future of Europe and had not participated in the convention. I recognise that he was not a member of the European Committee when we deliberated on the matter for about a year and a half, but we produced a report that was welcomed by the President of the European Parliament and 90 per cent of which was adopted in the UK submission to the European convention. We also made joint submissions with the network of regional parliamentary European committees, with which, as Richard Lochhead knows, the Scottish Parliament is involved. It has to be said that much of what was in those submissions is in the draft constitution.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I realise that Richard Lochhead is coming a little bit late to the debate, but if he listens for a minute he will see how this Parliament has participated in the debate for the past three years. Never has there been more consultation on any treaty revision in the history of the European Union.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

If what Irene Oldfather says is correct, I congratulate the European Committee on its involvement in securing changes to the draft constitution. However, as she lauding the prior involvement of the Parliament in standing up for Scotland's interests, why on earth is she now going to stand in the way? At a crucial time when we have negotiating strength, she wants to stand in the way of Scotland making its voice heard and getting the really crucial changes that we require.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I certainly do not want to stand in the way of Scotland's voice being heard. However, although fishing is an important industry—and I will come to it in a minute, if SNP members will just take time to listen—there are other industries in Scotland that would be affected if 24 other member states went ahead and we were sitting on the sidelines.

We want to be at the heart of Europe, sharing ideas with our neighbours and contributing to what is a fundamental debate, as indeed the Parliament has been doing. SNP members are Johnnys-come-lately to the debate. The debate is all part of protecting our national interests, because negotiation is in the nature of Europe. It is not about who shouts the loudest or about telling people to break the law. Let us be clear about the fact that we cannot change or influence the debate from the sidelines.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

As Irene Oldfather has demonstrated, there are already plenty of arrangements for dialogue within Europe. My question is why the constitution takes so many more powers and gives them to the Commission. What does she feel about that and what can we do about it now?

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I am happy to answer the points that Phil Gallie has raised. The issue is complex and difficult to deal with in four minutes, but perhaps I could just pick a few matters that I think are important.

More framework legislation should ensure that laws take account of the individuality of regions and member states. That means that we will have better law making in Scotland, which is something that the Tories have been arguing for for years. They have been critical of the EU because they feel that it has not taken account of local circumstances. We are now introducing a positive factor into the constitution.

The Council will meet in public in legislative session. That will improve transparency. Again, that is something that the European Committee and the Parliament have argued for for the past three years. The adoption of EU legislation will be subject to prior scrutiny of national Parliaments and we have the agreement of the UK Government that this Parliament will be involved in those areas that are devolved to Scotland. The constitution is about better law making, but the Tories fail to recognise that.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I will not give way again, but I would like to pick up on some of the issues that Phil Gallie raised.

Phil Gallie is concerned about the president of the Council, but that role would strengthen the powers of national Parliaments vis-à-vis the Commission, because it would give continuity, stability and focus to the body that is responsible for the national Parliaments and the member states within the European Union. That represents a shift of power from the Commission to the member states. We cannot have enlargement without reform. The whole principle of the draft constitution—it is mentioned specifically in articles 9 and 3 and is referred to elsewhere—is the conferral of power from national Parliaments and member states to the European Union, not the other way round.

I will now make a point that I wanted to make in an intervention during Tommy Sheridan's speech. I am surprised that he should object to article 3.3, which states that the Union

"shall promote economic, social and territorial cohesion, and solidarity among Member States."

That means reducing inequalities between the rich regions and the poor regions in Europe, which is something that sister socialist parties across the whole of the European Union want us to sign up to. That is why the Tories are worried.

Phil Gallie also mentioned tax and the economy. The draft constitution states that member states shall conduct economic policies to contribute to the goals and objectives of the European Union.

There is clearly much on which we are not going to agree, but my view is that we must not let the Europhobes win the debate. A poll of German citizens rated the UK as the most powerful country in Europe. Scotland has a seat as part of one of the most powerful delegations in the European Parliament, in the Committee of the Regions and in the Council of the European Union. The nonsense that we are hearing today just will not wash. The fact that the nations and regions of Europe have a shared heritage as well as distinctive identities brings with it a commitment to peace, democracy, equality and social justice. That is what Europe is about. In those shared values lies our greatest strength and I support Andy Kerr's amendment to the motion.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 10:40 am, 29th April 2004

These are dangerous times on the roads for political hedgehogs. First we had Tony Blair's U-turn on the referendum. Now the SNP has made an even more tyre-screeching change of direction by saying that it might not support the European constitution after all. This is the party that has always said, "Brits out, Brussels in." Unfortunately, the nationalists' fear of losing votes means that they are selling Scotland short on fishing and making it clear that they would sign up to everything else in a constitution that would make the Scottish people more subservient to Brussels not just on fishing, but on every issue.

Nicola Sturgeon was right to say that the European constitution would set things in cement. Member states would have less control over their affairs and experience even more control from Brussels. For example, we would have to give up no fewer than 32 vetoes, while new rules, regulations and red tape would extend into areas that have so far been free from Euro-interference. All that would be set in cement. It is no wonder that most people in Scotland do not want the constitution. They have never called for such interference and have certainly never voted for it.

It has always surprised me that the SNP, which above all else preaches independence, could ever want a constitution that would make Scotland a sort of vassal state forced to comply with directives that might suit Paris or Berlin but not necessarily Peterhead or Campbeltown. Surely such an attitude contradicts John Swinney's recent comments about subsidiarity being his party's key belief. John Major wanted true subsidiarity, which means being in charge of whatever is adjacent and vital to the needs of a particular community or area. The present Brussels regime already interferes with that. After all, most of the legislation passed in this chamber emanates from Brussels. An EU constitution will not change that; it will only make matters worse.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

No.

In my region and elsewhere, I meet many practical people and businessmen who have to live with broad-brush EU directives, some of which are simply ludicrous. Although many of those people are finding that the directives are making their businesses uncompetitive, they ignore them at their peril.

However, with fisheries, the directives are not just making businesses uncompetitive; they are making the activity downright dangerous. I spoke recently to a fishing skipper who had been fishing out of Kinlochbervie to the west of 4° west. He told me that, thanks to new CFP rules, he had been forced to fish in an area that he would not normally have visited at that time of year. Because of bad weather, one of his crew was badly injured and all of them feared for their lives. He would not have been fishing such treacherous waters at the wrong time of year if the quota for monkfish in his usual fishing area had not been cut by 70 per cent in order to increase the quota in the area further south where the Spanish fish. Because he caught his quota in the first two days of a 10-day trip, he was forced to move into a more dangerous area. Anyone who has seen the film "The Perfect Storm" will know of the catastrophic results that could arise.

Another vessel catching haddock in the same area was recently penalised for—believe it or not—using nets whose mesh was too large. That ridiculous technical infringement emanated from the CFP. Although I could give further examples, I do not have the time. It is obvious not only that the Brussels-led CFP is threatening fishermen's livelihoods, but that bad management and ill-considered law are threatening their very lives.

There is abundant evidence that Franz Fischler aims to have a European fishing fleet into which what remains of our historic Scottish white-fish fleet will be integrated. Initially, he requires spare white-fish quota in the North sea to allow Spain, Poland and Estonia to fish there. Most fishermen say that the CFP system of total allowable catches and quotas, which is used to manage Scotland's white-fish fishery, is fundamentally flawed, because it does not discriminate between different species of fish in a mixed fishery. Because the system has caused the huge discards of dead fish, our fisheries spokesman, Ted Brocklebank, and our UK Government spokesman, Owen Paterson, are in the Faroes today looking at other management systems that would work better—Mr Brocklebank is doing something to help Scottish fishermen.

The main perceived benefit of Scotland staying in the CFP used to be that we had the lion's share of quota for cod and haddock stocks. However, ever since interference from Brussels has forbidden Scottish fishermen to catch those fish, that rather dubious benefit has disappeared.

Saving the Scottish fishing fleet and the people who depend on it means that we must radically alter fisheries management. However, we can achieve that only through having national control of our waters. That is Conservative policy and we will achieve it by getting the power at Westminster to change things. The SNP will not be in a position to do that. Its promise to repatriate fisheries to Scottish control, which has always had a hollow ring to it, has been wrong-footed by Tony Blair's U-turn on the referendum; the SNP is now rushing into a squalid deal and short-term compromise that fall well short of withdrawal from the CFP. The nationalists are desperate to sign up to an EU constitution because their policy of Brits out, Brussels in makes them the doormat at the entrance to the tunnel that leads to a united states of Europe.

Only the Conservatives have a long-term solution that will bring prosperity back to our fishing communities and only the Conservatives favour a vision of a new enlarged European partnership that concentrates on the efficient administration of the essential freedoms of the single markets. We need free movement of people, capital and goods with a minimum of interference in the internal affairs of member states.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 10:46 am, 29th April 2004

Yet again, the SNP has brought a serious debate to the chamber on a subject of crucial importance to Scotland and, yet again, ministers have refused to address the real issues and have simply engaged in scaremongering. Let me be straight: discussing the constitution will not scupper the EU. In fact, at last week's Prime Minister's question time, Mr Blair himself said that the talks on the constitution would offer an opportunity to secure a better deal. A better deal is what the SNP wants—and what every member in the chamber should want—for Scotland.

When John Swinney laid out for Tony Blair the terms of the SNP's support for a yes vote on the European referendum—which were, quite simply, that Scotland's interests must be defended—the First Minister again talked Scotland down and said that a deal could not be done. While the First Minister of Scotland is talking the country down, ministers in London are preparing to meet the SNP to find out whether a deal can be struck. Perhaps the First Minister should ask to be an observer at that meeting. He would do better to join talks with the SNP and other people in Scotland to work out the best possible deal for the country that could be taken down south and discussed with the UK Government.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

What makes the member think that someone saying "Can I have a word about fishing?" to someone else in the lobby of the House of Commons gives her the right to spin the story that her party is going to renegotiate the European constitution? She is talking rubbish.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The minister is misinformed, because Jack Straw's office phoned and asked us for a meeting. Obviously his masters at Westminster have not passed that information on to him, either. That makes it very clear that we do not have a Government in Scotland. We hardly even have an Executive; we certainly do not have an Executive that has the political courage to stand up for Scotland and to stand firm and represent the opinion of Scotland's people. Andy Kerr had some great words about working together and moving forward in Europe, but what is wrong with working together at home to secure the best deal for our country?

A Government that really governed Scotland instead of skulking away from its responsibilities would always seek to put our interests first. The offer that has been made on the European constitution and the fact that Mr Blair has said that the talks on the constitution provide an opportunity for a better deal mean that there is plenty of scope for putting Scotland at the front of the queue.

The debate is not just about fishing, although that is the red-line issue that really matters to the SNP—without renegotiation on fishing, we will not give our support to a yes vote in the referendum. We should also be talking about the treaty that established the European Atomic Energy Community, or Euratom.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Will the member take this opportunity to answer a question that has already been asked in this debate? Given that the SNP has made fishing the red-line issue, is it prepared to sign up to a constitution that sells out the energy industries in Scotland and hands over control of much of the energy policy in Europe to the EU?

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Those discussions have been going on for a long time. Unlike any other party in the chamber, the SNP had a party member right there in the talks on the European constitution, putting the full case. Lots of concessions have already been made, including concessions on energy.

The nuclear industry is subsidised by member states and is one of the most damaging industries in the world. It has already left a terrible legacy. Today, we are meeting people from Chernobyl who have been left with that terrible legacy—and yet we are still allowing state aid for the nuclear industry. Let us talk about that in our discussions with the British Government. For the life of me, I cannot see the justification for our paying to leave nuclear waste behind us while saying that it is unacceptable to support our fishing industry and to give it a sustainable future. Something is very wrong.

I say this straight from Scotland's party: we want independence in Europe. We are pro-European. I also say this to Mr Sheridan of the SSP: before he starts going on about internal problems that he seems to perceive in the SNP, he should get his own party straight. I have a quote here from Mr Hugh Kerr, who I understand is on the SSP's list for the elections to the European Parliament. While he was a member of the European Parliament, Hugh Kerr asked the President-in-Office whether he agreed

"that the situation in Britain is that not being part of the euro is damaging British industry".

We want to take Europe forward but we also want to stand up for Scotland at every stage.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I do not have time.

In the referendum, we want to be able to campaign for a yes vote. We believe in the general direction that the constitution will take Europe but, to obtain a yes vote, we will not sell out on our principles or on Scotland's interests. Unless fishing becomes a red-line issue, the SNP will not be able to support a yes campaign. We will stand up for Scottish workers and communities who are facing disaster under the current fisheries arrangements. We urge everyone else who has a say to stand up for those communities, too.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour 10:52 am, 29th April 2004

Scotland's place in the European Union is extremely important and extremely valuable to the people of Scotland. We receive £1,094 million in the current tranche of European regional development funding. Add to that the benefits from other programmes and the benefits of trade, stability and security that the EU has led to and we are talking about almost incalculable advantages for Scotland. However, the little Englanders on our right and the little Scotlanders on our left are prepared to put all that at risk as we approach the decision on the new constitution for the EU.

Does the EU need new constitutional arrangements? Of course it does. I have had the privilege of representing Scotland in the EU fisheries council, where I point out we had the advantage of having 10 British votes, more than three times the three votes of the Republic of Ireland—it is worth remembering that point. With the benefit of my experience, I know that the workings of the Commission and the Council are quite difficult enough in a Union of 15 states with 10 languages. Let us face it: the present procedures would grind to a halt in an expanded Union of 25 states with the addition of Hungarian and the Slav and other languages. The EU must be modernised and made more democratic. That is what the process is all about.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

No, I must get on.

From my time in the Council, I recall that the best feature of the present procedures is the presidency's practice of distributing generous measures of Scotch whisky to all delegations when meetings go past 2 am. Many a deal has been achieved on the basis of insomnia laced with the water of life. However, that is no way in which to take decisions on the fishing industry or anything else.

There is a rich irony in the fact that people who have spent years railing against the horrors of Brussels decision making are now digging in to prevent the replacement of the present procedures by a more efficient and accountable constitution. I confess that I do not relish the prospect of trying to persuade the people of East Lothian to go to the polling stations to endorse the new constitution—

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The member's comment about trying to persuade the people of East Lothian to support the constitution gets to the crux of the debate, which is the gulf between politicians such as John Home Robertson and the people of Scotland and Europe. Does that not show the importance of making the necessary changes to the proposed constitution so that people in Scotland will want to go out and vote yes?

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I will come back to the fundamental principles. People will be voting on those principles and not on shoddy little deals between parties. I am well aware of the highly motivated minority that will always vote against anything European; some of them are sitting to my right in the chamber just now. However, I reckon that a healthy majority wants progress on European stability and co-operation, although I suspect that many people would prefer to leave it to Parliament to scrutinise the treaty. However, that decision has been taken. The referendum will be hard work, but do we really have to start making dodgy deals with nationalists? I do not think so. Let us face it: SNP members cannot even deliver votes for themselves, never mind for bigger issues.

The referendum will be an historic decision on whether the EU moves forward and, in effect, on whether the UK remains a full member of the Union. This is the sort of issue on which people might expect their elected representatives to see the big picture and give responsible leadership. If we are looking for vision and statesmanship from the Scottish National Party, there is always a risk of being disappointed. Just look at the SNP motion. Never mind the big picture; never mind the potential for a better European Union; never mind progress towards regional management for fisheries in the North sea—to hell with all that. The nationalists are prepared to risk the mayhem that would follow a no vote in the referendum in the UK for the completely spurious proposition that there might be more fish in the North sea if the conservation measures of the common fisheries policy were to be torn up. Get real. There is already serious pressure on important fish stocks. Disruption of international conservation measures would only make matters far worse. I strongly agree with what Robin Harper said on that point.

The SNP motion is an unprincipled and opportunistic fishing expedition on the part of the nationalist leadership. For short-term political advantage, the party is prepared to set the last sprat in the North sea to catch the last mackerel in the North sea. I put it to the chamber that the SNP motion should be rejected, for two very good reasons. First, it would be the height of irresponsibility to ignore scientific advice about international conservation of fish stocks. Secondly, it would be disastrous for Scotland if Britain were to become detached or even semi-detached from the EU. This is no time for shoddy deals that would be an insult to the intelligence of the people of Scotland. Let us win this argument on the merits of the case for a better European Union.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 10:57 am, 29th April 2004

As my colleague Keith Raffan outlined so ably, the constitution is fundamental to Europe. It brings together all previous treaties into one and it clarifies what Brussels can and cannot do. Most important, it reforms the structures of the European Union to take account of the 10 accession countries—a point that has been ably made by many in this debate. Without those reforms, the European Union is likely to become increasingly unmanageable. It is therefore fundamental to the future of Europe that the constitution be agreed.

Europe is extremely important to Scotland. As the minister outlined, 53 per cent of Scottish exports are destined for European markets. The opportunities that will be provided by the 10 new countries mean that that figure can only grow. As the minister said, Europe is vital for Scottish jobs, the Scottish economy and Scottish prosperity.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

When George Lyon's party voted last autumn, not last August, to oppose the section on exclusive competence being in the constitution, did Mr Lyon vote for or against that, or did he do what he so often does and sit on the fence?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I can confirm that, at our spring 2004 conference, we restated the long-held position of the Liberal Democrats that powerful regional management is the way to solve the problems of the fishing industry. Nicola Sturgeon should study her history and stop quoting selectively.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I have dealt with the point and will make some progress. I will come to Richard Lochhead shortly.

The common agricultural policy provides substantial funds—some £500 million a year—to the Scottish farming industry to support jobs and prosperity in our rural areas. That is the big picture, and it is against that background that decisions on whether we are for or against the constitution should be judged. That is how the judgment should be made and that is why the Liberal Democrats will be in the pro-Europe camp when the referendum is held. Let us be in no doubt about the fact that the referendum will be about whether people are pro-Europe or anti-Europe.

In spite of Nicola Sturgeon's protestations that the SNP is still pro-Europe, the reality is that, unfortunately, the SNP has decided to sell out its pro-Europe principles and join the Tory Eurosceptics. That stance has little to do with a principled stand for Scotland and everything to do with saving John Swinney's skin.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Among the accession states, Poland is generally regarded as by far the most pro-Europe country in the whole of Europe, but the Poles stopped the EU constitution going through to secure concessions. Does that make them anti-Europe?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

The battle has to be fought and it is a question of what side one is on. [ Interruption. ]

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

The SNP is using the debate to score political points on the basis of a false argument that the constitution will lead to Europe taking full control of the Scottish fishing industry. As my colleague Keith Raffan pointed out, John Swinney stated at the weekend that he would support Tony Blair in the referendum only if he vetoed the absurd plan to hand over control of Scotland's fishing industry to Brussels. However, as Mr Lochhead points out repeatedly in fishing debates, it was the Tories who sold out the fishing industry when they handed over the powers in question as part of the act of accession in 1970. John Swinney knows that that is the case, but he is making a cynical attempt to mislead the Scottish people for his own narrow political interest.

The Scottish fishing industry's concerns are important, but they will not be addressed by renationalising fishing policy. Those concerns will be tackled only when the regional advisory councils are given the power and the teeth to manage the fisheries and when fishermen are part of the decision-making process. That is what we want to happen; the Liberal Democrats have supported that position for a long time.

The SNP has a proud record as a pro-Europe party. Does it really want to throw away that record by throwing in its lot with the Tories and Michael Howard? Do its members want to be seen as little Scotlanders who are in bed with little Englanders? I appeal to the SNP to think again before it is too late, as there is a battle to be fought. I urge SNP members to join the pro-Europe members of the Parliament; together, we can defeat those whose real agenda is to take us out of Europe.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 11:03 am, 29th April 2004

I congratulate the SNP on the motion for debate that it has lodged, which represents a great improvement on last week's motion. It should be acknowledged that the SNP is attempting to debate the constitution and the future development of Europe in a serious manner.

However, I thought that Nicola Sturgeon rather over-egged the pudding when she argued sincerely but erroneously that fishing was a big enough issue to allow us to barter at European level; in the context of European power politics, it is not. The SNP might have been wiser to approach the Labour Party in Scotland before John Swinney made his speech. If John Swinney had said to Jack McConnell, "Jack, we've got to work together on fishing," that might have cut out some of the rubbish that we have heard.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Has Margo MacDonald not been present in the chamber on the several occasions on which John Swinney and other members of the SNP have appealed for such unity on fishing?

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

There are wheels within wheels, as they say. There are back channels and there is First Minister's question time. FMQT is not the forum in which to attempt to build consensus.

Having congratulated the SNP and tempered my congratulations, I want to castigate the members who sit on Labour's front bench. Their display has been like that of Pavlov's dog. In snapping at the SNP for party-political reasons, they have sold Scotland short. We have not been particularly well served by the diplomatic abilities of the members on the Labour and SNP front benches.

Andy Kerr moved on from fishing to discuss the economy and the importance to it of the expanded European market. I draw his attention to article 11.3 of the draft constitution, which is on the economy; I think that it might have been mentioned already. It states:

"The Union shall have competence to promote and coordinate the economic and employment policies of the Member States."

That cannot be done without impinging on taxation. I suggest that that is one of the reasons why Gordon Brown is not among the leading supporters of the draft constitution. I imagine that he has a great interest in how that statement of intent impacts on his clear idea of how the economy should be managed. To be fair to Gordon Brown, it appears that the benchmarks that he established have been met more successfully than have those that were established in Europe.

It is important to examine what the draft treaty says—like it or lump it—because it seeks to create a new legal entity. Although I appreciate what Irene Oldfather said about the need for transparency in relation to Council decisions and so on, the new legal entity will have sovereignty that is comparable with that of other legal national Governments. That means that it will be a different animal to the body that preceded the treaty.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Margo MacDonald condemned the members on the Labour and SNP front benches for their contribution to the debate. Does she agree that the Conservatives have at least tried to address the issues that are contained in the constitution and that that is the way in which we should proceed with the discussion?

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I do. The debate is improving as it goes on. It will be a rolling debate, which we will continue to get better at as we go on.

I want briefly to mention subsidiarity, the principle of which is very important to a Parliament such as ours. The draft treaty says:

"Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence the Union shall act only if and insofar as the objectives of the intended action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States".

We know about Sewel motions and I suggest to members that that statement represents the EU version of Sewel motions. Even though it expresses the warm, cuddly, pink-fluffy-cloud intention of subsidiarity, it puts in writing—in a legal document—the fact that, when the politics dictate it, the EU can override member states.

At this point, I should direct the Parliament to the excellent publication, "Scottish Independence in Europe—A Policy Revisited", which was written by Jim Sillars—who is still a member of the SNP—in October 2000, which was after the Berlin wall had come down. That was when one could begin to think seriously about the hugely extended Europe that we have now. That event changed the ground rules, but I suggest that the intentions behind the draft treaty refer to the ground rules that were established before that event. That is why people such as Laurent Fabius, who was the French finance minister at about the time that Jim Sillars was writing his report, said:

"In the next six months, we will talk a lot about political union, and rightly so. Political union is inseparable from economic union."

Today we will only scratch the surface of the debate on the European constitution, but the SNP is to be congratulated on bringing the issue to our attention. That said, I will vote for Tommy Sheridan's amendment.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour 11:09 am, 29th April 2004

There should be unanimous agreement in the Parliament on the idea that we want to play a leading role in the European Union. Of course, such unanimity is lacking and it is perhaps a forlorn hope that it will ever be obtained. There should also be unanimity on our desire to have a prosperous fishing industry that has a long future ahead of it. There is agreement in the Parliament on that goal, but there is genuine disagreement on how to achieve it.

The SNP's motion seems to create conflict between those two goals when there should be none. The UK can adopt the EU constitution as it stands, including the part of it on the CFP, and support a successful Scottish fishing industry that has a prosperous future. That is what our subscription to the CFP is about. We always seek to get the best possible deal for Scottish fishermen within the CFP and we will press for changes that achieve that. However, if we had no CFP at all, we would have no relative stability, no Hague preference and no Shetland box. We should remember the progress that we can make through CFP negotiations. Progress was made this year with the improved haddock quota and, through further negotiations, progress was made on increasing the flexibility to catch it. We are making progress on increased local decision making within the CFP, with the establishment of regional advisory councils, which have been welcomed in the industry.

The CFP exists because we need international management of our fish stocks; it also encourages the necessary conservation of our fish stocks. We have to take a responsible attitude to those stocks, or there will be no industry in the future. The SNP argues that withdrawing from the CFP would be a panacea for the problems of the industry, but to do that is to visit a cruel deception on our fishermen. If there were no CFP there would be a free-for-all, or we would have to negotiate new agreements with every neighbouring country, because fish migrate between waters. Such agreements would have to deal with exactly the same problems and issues that the CFP does, and I do not foresee them resulting in a better arrangement.

On the basis of false arguments, the SNP would threaten our position not only at the heart of Europe and in signing up to the constitution, which is necessary, but in the European Union itself. As the Commission has made clear, countries cannot withdraw from the CFP and remain members of the EU. The SNP would threaten our signing up to the vital new constitution—which will be key in creating a new Europe that includes the new member states—on the basis that the constitution simply reiterates the current position on the CFP. The constitution does nothing new. It does not change anything. It simply confirms existing agreements that were established in the 1950s and which we signed up to in the 1970s. Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that.

For a party that says that it is so much in favour of the European Union and which tells us it wants an independent Scotland in Europe, opposing the constitution on that basis is bizarre. The policy positions that the SNP has taken would mean that Scotland would be out of Europe. The SNP would threaten our membership of the EU, when 287,000 jobs in Scotland are dependent on exports to the EU. SNP members' pledges of being pro-Europe ring hollow when they say that they will vote no in a referendum on the constitution simply because it confirms the existing status of the CFP.

Any members of the SNP who are genuinely pro-Europe must be bewildered by the stance that their party is taking. That stance will do no service to the fishing industry, no service to people who work in every other industry in Scotland, and no service to the vital goal of achieving a thriving European Union with new members. Anybody who genuinely wants to achieve that goal should endorse the constitution. I look forward to taking part in the yes campaign in the referendum, whether the SNP is part of it or not. Perhaps the SNP's true colours will be exposed if it joins the no campaign on the basis of political opportunism. All genuine pro-Europeans will be part of the yes campaign and will be doing the right thing, not just for the people of Europe, but for all the people of Scotland.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 11:13 am, 29th April 2004

Phil Gallie said that the Tories are not anti-Europe, but the problem is that every time they open their mouths they criticise the European ideal. They do that for two main reasons. First, there is a substantial element within the Tory party that is anti-Europe, as John Major found to his cost. That element has to be appeased at all costs, otherwise the Conservatives will descend into the chaos that led to their defeat in 1997. Secondly, the Tories know that lots of votes are to be gained by appearing to be anti-Europe and, cynically, they try to get as many of those votes as they can. They may mention as a footnote in every speech that they are not anti-Europe, but the rest of the speech is a diatribe against the European Union and all its works. They do all that without saying that all the significant changes in our relationship with Europe have been made under Conservative Governments—a point that they conveniently try to forget.

One of the dangers for the Conservatives of jumping on and supporting every tabloid criticism of Europe is that they totally ignore the benefits of being in Europe. One of those benefits—it has not been mentioned so far, but it is at the heart of the European ideal—is peace and absence of conflict. We are coming up to the 60th anniversary of the D-day landings. Sixty years ago, the previous 70 years had seen three wars between France and Germany, two of which became global wars. Who could have said 60 years ago that such a war would not happen again, especially following a post-war settlement that took vast territories from Germany, such as Silesia and East Prussia?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

How does Alasdair Morgan react to the accusation that he is cynically avoiding the detail of the treaty by talking about such things?

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

By saying that I have four minutes, and that the treaty is rather big for me to cover all the detail in that time. I would rather concentrate on some of the principles.

It is clear that there was the potential, 60 years ago, for further conflict. We should be congratulating people like Schuman, Mollet and Adenauer, whose vision arrived at the Treaty of Paris in 1951 that set up the European Coal and Steel Community, which was the first Community. The benefits still exist. There is potential for conflict between new countries that are coming into the EU next month, because they have exchanged territories over the past 50 years as a result of the second world war. The fact that those countries are joining the EU reduces the scope for conflict in the future.

We have heard from Labour members the argument about the strength of the UK and how it benefits us, and how we need its 10 votes. The problem is that there is precious little evidence of those votes ever having been used to Scotland's advantage. All the evidence is that small countries in the EU have managed to get good deals for themselves on their vital interests. We should bear that point in mind.

Andy Kerr said that if SNP members have a red line, they are being Eurosceptic and anti-Europe. The implication, however, is that Tony Blair, who has red lines, is being statesman-like and pro-Europe. I do not know how Andy Kerr explains that. The point is that the public who will vote in the referendum have red lines.

George Lyon suggests that we should support the constitution regardless of what is in it, but the voters expect a bit more judgment from their politicians. They expect them to stand up for some of the things that they think are important. Unless the Government recognises that, we will be out campaigning, in the year after the next general election, for a referendum that we will lose. I do not want to be in that position, because we cannot afford to lose all the benefits that the European Union has brought us but which the Conservatives never mention. That is why it is important that we produce a constitution that the voters—not the politicians—can sign up to. There is precious little evidence of the Government taking that view on board.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

My regrets to the four members whom I have been unable to call, but we must proceed to closing speeches.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 11:18 am, 29th April 2004

I start by saying:

"Article III-217,4 removes the previous exemption of 'educational services and social and human health services' from competences to be negotiated centrally by the EU commission in terms of international treaties. Previously the Treaty of Nice left these areas subject to national veto. This enabled education and social services to escape inclusion in the latest GATS treaty on the liberalisation of trade and services when negotiated by the EU Commission in 2003.

Dr Franz Stumman, secretary to the Health and Social Affairs Committee of the Assembly of European Regions, comments: 'seemingly unnoticed by the general public, the Draft of the Constitutional Treaty proposes major changes which, when adopted at the Intergovernmental Conference, will have serious implications for the future handling of all trade negotiations within the WTO and particularly in relation to GATS ... It would present a real turning point for the different national education systems and for cultural diversity in Europe as it paves the way for harmonisation and unlimited liberalisation of public services in these sectors. Once adopted there is no chance to get back to the old regulations'."

The draft treaty is anti-socialist and anti-public service, and no self-respecting socialist would be prepared to defend it. A socialist within the new Labour Party, however, is no more than a chameleon in political terms.

Much has been said about people being in bed with various individuals. If I was going to bed with somebody, I would want to know who it was and whether they would be the same person when I woke up. I would not know that with the Liberals and the Tories, that is for sure.

In my opening speech, I made some references to SNP policy. I repeat:

"The SNP really is scraping the bottom of the barrel now, being willing to hand over to central EU control Scottish energy resources, foreign policy and defence, law and just about everything that a sovereign nation requires to be worthy of the name—except fishing. And it calls it independence."

I did not say that those were not my words. They were spoken by Jim Fairlie, a former SNP councillor and convener of the Fife regional branch of the SNP.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Tommy Sheridan also omitted to mention that Jim Fairlie has not been in the SNP for about 15 years.

Will Tommy Sheridan respond to my colleague Linda Fabiani's comment and say why the SSP European Parliament candidate Hugh Kerr, when he was a member of the European Parliament, spent much of his time in Brussels arguing for British entry to the euro?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Absolutely—I was coming to that. The Scottish Socialist Party encourages democratic discussion and debate and we sometimes disagree with one another. I give the member an absolute assurance that, regardless of Hugh Kerr's differences with SSP policy, and even if he decides to criticise my style of leadership of the SSP, we will not suspend him; we will defend his right to have an opinion about the SSP. That is what membership of a diverse party is all about.

By proposing that we can somehow extract fishing from the draft treaty and saying that that will make everything all right, the SNP is selling the jerseys as far as independence is concerned. Article 5 of the draft treaty ensures the "territorial integrity" of the current member states, which ensures that the treaty will block independence. Article 11.3 will ensure that all economic and employment policy is vested in the hands of the European Union, which will prevent us from tackling the grinding poverty in Scotland. Article 11.4, which is on a common defence and foreign policy, will allow us to be dragged into wars and to be part of a nuclear defence policy, regardless of the opinion of the Scottish people.

Mr Blair supports the treaty because of his anti-trade union and anti-worker agenda. He was quoted in the Financial Times in February as saying to the Confederation of British Industry:

"decisions taken at a supranational level can often push through economic reforms that are harder for Governments to achieve".

He has made it absolutely clear that he wants to agree to the constitution so that he can say, "It wisnae us, guv—I'm sorry about those job losses and the loss of public education and health services, but it is all because of that big bad European Union." The SNP must face up to the reality of the draft constitution, which tries to enshrine a free-market privatisation agenda throughout Europe and would ensure that independence in Scotland and control of our natural reserves such as oil, gas and electricity, would be debarred. I again ask SNP members to give me their opinion of Ieuan Wyn Jones's comments. He said:

"This draft new constitution is a charter to tighten the grip of the larger nation states of Europe. The voice of the smaller countries will be reduced, while the needs of stateless nations like Wales or Scotland will be ignored completely."

Do the SNP members agree or disagree with that?

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green 11:24 am, 29th April 2004

I welcome the fact that the SNP has introduced a debate on the draft European Union constitution. The debate is important and one that we need to have. However, I have been a bit disappointed by the SNP motion and the consequent debate, which has simply been a reprise of a fishing debate and not the debate that we need to have on the constitution, the future of Europe and the kind of European Union that we want.

I welcome the fact that Tony Blair has bowed to popular and cross-party pressure and agreed to a UK referendum on the new constitution. I support other European Greens who call for a Europe-wide referendum on the new constitution. Everybody in Europe should have their say on the vision for Europe in the constitution. The fundamental point is that we must give people a choice. Robert Brown said that a no vote would be a major blow to the European Union. I do not agree, but I believe that it would be a major blow to the European Union if the constitution went ahead despite the fact that a majority of people in the countries of the European Union did not support it. We need democracy and we need people to support the move. If we do not have that support, we must redraw the constitution so that people will support it. I am worried when members such as Robert Brown express such fundamentally anti-democratic sentiments. Andy Kerr and George Lyon said that if we do not support the constitution, we will be out of Europe. The distinction that they make between Europhiles and Europhobes is not valid.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I did not say that. I said that the referendum will show whether we are pro or anti-Europe and that people must make up their minds about which camp they are in.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

We need to move away from such polarisation of the debate. We cannot allow that.

I do not believe that, as Tommy Sheridan argued, the European Union is fundamentally a monster. However, it behaves like a monster. When Pascal Lamy goes to the World Trade Organisation in Cancún, he behaves like a monster and ignores the wishes of the people of Europe by pushing the neo-liberal free-trade agenda. However, that does not mean that the European Union is a bad thing or that a constitution is a bad thing. The problem lies with the direction of the European Union and of the draft constitution, about which we must have a proper debate.

I welcomed Phil Gallie's and Margo MacDonald's comments about shared competence, which is a fundamentally daft idea. Imagine the warfare that would take place if this Parliament and the Westminster Parliament had shared competence. We must have clear definitions of who is competent for what; if we do not, we will see the competence creep that Phil Gallie outlined.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

The draft constitution contains a clear definition of who is competent when shared competence exists: the EU would be competent unless it chose not to act, at which point the nation state could act as an alternative. Shared competence provides the EU with the opportunity to act on its own.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

That is one reason why we need clarity in the constitution and why the present draft is flawed. We need a clear constitution that avoids the sort of issues that Alex Johnstone raises.

We do not want to militarise the EU and we do not want a nuclear or neo-liberal EU. I was glad that Linda Fabiani mentioned the Euratom treaty. I would have been pleased if the SNP had spent more time talking about such issues than it spent on the debate on fishing. I remind members that the Euratom treaty sought to create the necessary conditions for the development of a powerful nuclear industry in Europe. No other industry has received such support. I agree that we need a constitution to clear up, clarify and simplify European Union processes, but the Euratom treaty, which was signed in 1957, has gone virtually word for word into the draft constitution. That would enshrine in the European Union constitution the vision of a powerful nuclear industry, and we should challenge that.

As Robin Harper said, there is much to welcome in the new constitution, such as the charter of fundamental rights, which the Greens support passionately. We must recognise that common European resources need common management on the basis of good science, not national interest. The common fisheries policy has suffered for far too long because there has been not common management in the interests of science, but management in national interests. Countries and political parties have squabbled about who gets the biggest share of the cake instead of worrying about what is happening to the cake and tackling the decline in resources.

At the core of the SNP motion is the common fisheries policy. The SNP fails to make a proper case for our leaving the CFP. The SNP's policy is unsustainable and anti-environmental; it is also unworkable, because fish do not have passports. I support the amendment in the name of my colleague Robin Harper, and support a campaign for a good constitution for Europe and a European Union that works for the interest of people, not big business.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour 11:30 am, 29th April 2004

The debate has, for the second time in a week, opened up the sores in the Parliament on the issue of the future of the EU and the role of Scotland and the UK within it. I regret to say that I have not taken a huge number of positives from either debate.

We know that 10 new member countries will be admitted to the EU on Saturday. As Andy Kerr said, it is not possible, for them to be accommodated without reforming the EU's decision-making process. I do not see anything unusual or unnatural about that. The benefits that have flowed to countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal over the past 15 years are the sort of benefits that the new member countries will surely gain over a similar period.

I deplore all the arguments that are coming up, such as those made on the radio this morning and in today's papers, in which it is suggested that huge waves of immigrants will come into the country and that we will be swamped—all the usual hysterical nonsense. Similar statements were made in 1985 and 1986 after Greece, Spain and Portugal joined; it did not happen then and it will not happen now. We need to concentrate on the positive aspects of expanding the European Union.

In the treaty, we need to do more than just consolidate the various treaties that have been negotiated over the years. It is instructive to hear the Tories call as loudly as they have done for a referendum, given that they allowed the Maastricht treaty and the Single European Act to go through without referendums. Both had, potentially, far further reaching consequences than the constitution has.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

No, not just now. I will come on to the SNP's arguments soon.

We need the constitution to modernise decision making through the extension and simplification of qualified majority voting, the election of a full-time chair of the Council of the European Union, the reform of the Commission and a strengthening of the European Parliament's powers.

A new treaty will clearly define the extent of EU competences and will ensure that they do not extend to key areas in which member states want to retain their own sovereignty.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Mike Watson is clutching at straws by saying that Europe cannot operate without a constitution. I remind him that Europe enlarges on Saturday—in a couple of days' time. No matter what happens with the constitution, we will have to survive for several years without one, yet the EU is not expected to collapse.

I ask Mike Watson to say, on behalf of the Labour Party, what changes he is looking for between now and when the final treaty is published. We are talking about only a draft treaty—surely, no matter what it says, the Labour Party now accepts that. What changes does he want to see?

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

The Labour Party has certain red lines. Nicola Sturgeon talked of a red line on fishing as if that was the overwhelming issue and the most important aspect of the treaty. I tell members not to misunderstand my comment: I am not suggesting that fishing is unimportant, but it is not the overriding issue. Labour will want to ensure that there are agreements on fishing that are suitable not only for Scotland but for the rest of the UK. There are red-line issues on tax, social security, defence and so on, in relation to which we will ensure additional powers are not given to the EU.

That brings me to the SNP. I heard what Alasdair Morgan said, and I am clear that I do not believe that the SNP is an anti-Europe party. However, it is difficult for someone listening to the debate today not to reach that conclusion. I know the SNP's credentials on Europe; they are largely similar to mine. The point is that the SNP is in danger of losing those credentials within the debate and, as Margo MacDonald said, of over-egging the pudding by raising the issue of fishing to such a level. There is no prospect of the 25 nations agreeing not to have competence over fishing; regional management agreements are surely a much more profitable way forward in order to give Scotland a bigger say.

The SNP seems prepared to put everything at risk by calling for a no vote if it does not get what it wants on fishing. There are dangers in that approach. It is ironic that Alasdair Morgan characterised the Tories as fishing—if that is the appropriate term to use—for votes on the back of anti-Europeanism in the referendum. It seems to me that that is exactly what the SNP is doing. There is a danger in the SNP fanning the flames of the debate to such an extent. The issues related to fishing—however important—do not involve the vast majority of people in Scotland and will not be given a great amount of importance by them. However, that fact may be lost to many people in Scotland: they will hear the SNP call for a vote against the constitution, they will assume that the SNP is anti-Europe and the debate will be further sidelined. The SNP is putting the EU constitution at risk over its view about what might happen to fishing.

George Lyon pointed out the benefits of the CAP for Scottish farming and talked about the big picture, which is something that we must look at. The accusation that I make is that the SNP is not looking at the big picture as far as Europe is concerned.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The member has one minute left.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

I am sorry. I would have taken Nicola Sturgeon's intervention, but I have been told that I do not have time.

George Lyon also talked about being pro and anti-Europe. However, the debate is not about being pro and anti-Europe; it is about being pro and anti-EU. The Tories are anti-EU, although they may tell us that they do not believe that we should pull out of Europe. I could not believe it when Phil Gallie said that we must have no more erosion of

"mastery of our own affairs."

For goodness' sake: that terminology is from the middle ages.

The Tories are certainly an anti-Europe party; they consistently highlight all the deficiencies—as they see them—of Europe. In Scotland, we are not an anti-Europe people and Scotland is not an anti-Europe country. We have years of internationalism—going right back through everything from the auld alliance to the sides that we have taken in wars over the years.

There is no anti-Europeanism as such in Scotland. Like the SNP, the Tories are in danger of touching some very raw nerves. What worries me about the referendum is that the debate might get carried away and the issues might not be dealt with because of the way in which the media will highlight the arguments made by the SNP and the Tories. Let us get behind the campaign and win a yes vote in the referendum. A yes vote is a vote for the positive aspects of being part of the wider EU, to which we have made a big contribution in the past and to which we must make a further contribution in the years ahead.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 11:37 am, 29th April 2004

It is important that I reiterate at the outset what my colleagues Phil Gallie and Jamie McGrigor said during the debate about what precisely we see as being wrong with the new EU constitution. The SNP is right to identify the problem with fishing, but that is only one of a number of issues that require to be addressed.

First, we object to the very principle of an EU constitution. When free and sovereign nation states deal with one another, they enter into bilateral or multilateral international treaties: they do not enter into constitutions. A constitution is in the nature of the nation state itself; the principle of having a European Union constitution is therefore wrong.

The detail of the constitution indicates that EU law will have primacy—

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

No, not at the moment.

The constitution indicates that EU law will have primacy over domestic law and that, for the first time, the EU will have a single legal personality and will determine the rights of citizens on their arrest.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I will in a second.

For the first time there will be a near-permanent EU president and an EU foreign minister determining foreign policy. Shared competences will be extended, for example on energy policy, under article 13.2.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

No. Sit down, Mr Raffan.

All those measures are wrong, but only we are prepared to say so.

If there is any doubt as to where British interests stand, let us consider the ICM poll of company chief executives. Only 18 per cent of the chief executives said that the EU constitution would be good for their businesses, while 59 per cent said that it would be bad. That is a clear message from businesses.

I listened closely to what Nicola Sturgeon said—it was reiterated by Linda Fabiani—and I put to her directly the question whether fishing is the only red-line issue for the SNP. The answer was clear—yes, fishing is the SNP's only red-line issue. Therefore, the very principle of having an EU constitution has been surrendered; the primacy of EU law has been surrendered; citizens' rights on arrest have been surrendered; the creation of an EU president and an EU foreign minister has been surrendered; shared competences have been surrendered; and our energy policy has been surrendered. That is the message from the SNP.

As my colleague Alex Johnstone said, I cannot imagine that it will go down well in the north-east of Scotland that the SNP is selling out the energy industry to Europe by giving up our interests. I do not often agree with Mr Sheridan, but he is absolutely right: the SNP represents a sell-out of our national interest.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I wonder whether the Tories have read beyond the first 50 pages of the proposed constitution. After negotiations on energy, it was agreed that

"Such laws or framework laws shall not affect a Member State's choice between different energy sources and the general structure of its energy supply".

That was accepted by the UK oil and gas industry.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

That goes nowhere near far enough for my party. If Mr Crawford's party is satisfied with that, it is very disappointing.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Does the member recognise that article 17 of the draft treaty—the flexibility clause—would allow the newly constituted European Union to ignore any of those policies?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I am obliged to Mr Sheridan for that helpful contribution.

I will deal with a couple of points that have been raised. Mr Kerr and his colleagues on the Labour benches made the point—we have heard them make it before—that to campaign for a no vote would mean that we wanted to pull out of the EU. That is absolute nonsense. When the Danes voted against the euro, were they being anti-Europe? When the Irish voted against the Treaty of Nice, were they being anti-Europe? No, they were not. We can vote against the constitution and still be in favour of involvement in the EU: that is a perfectly legitimate position.

The SNP has been running around this week saying that Labour needs its help to win the vote in the referendum. What arrogant self-delusion the SNP shows, believing that it alone can sway Scottish opinion. How foolish it is for Labour to go down the road of pretending that there is any legitimacy to the SNP's position, saying "Mr Kerr objects, but what about Mr Straw's conversations with Mr Salmond?" Labour is being sucked in.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

No, thank you.

Mr Raffan was right on this point: the SNP vote is in decline and the party is shedding MSPs like leaves off a tree in a November gale. Poor Mr Martin is sitting in splendid isolation across the aisle from his colleagues—Campbell Martin should not worry; they will soon be coming to join him, one by one. That is the SNP that Labour seems so keen to sign up. I hope that Labour has learned its lesson.

Let us be clear about the myth that people in Scotland are pro the proposed EU constitution. The ICM poll said that 71 per cent of Scots are against the constitution and only 18 per cent are in favour of it, in comparison with a UK figure of only 68 per cent against. The Scots are even more anti the constitution than people in the rest of the UK. That gives the lie to the myth that somehow the Scots are more signed up to the euro project than people in the rest of the UK.

The SNP is betraying Scottish interests. It is out of touch with public opinion and it is swimming against the tide. It wants exclusive competence on fishing to be removed from the EU, but it will swallow everything else hook, line and sinker. The SNP is not to be trusted; only the Conservatives can be trusted.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 11:43 am, 29th April 2004

Given the rather narrow focus of the SNP motion, it was inevitable that we would end up with a somewhat hybrid debate that focused mostly on fishing, although some members have tried to widen the debate to consider issues that are of importance to Scotland in the context of the proposed constitution. The Executive amendment represents a genuine attempt not only to embrace the issues that are of importance to Scotland, but also to introduce the wider issues that are at stake. My colleague Andy Kerr put that position, which was well supported by Keith Raffan, Irene Oldfather, John Home Robertson, George Lyon, Richard Baker and Mike Watson.

SNP members have given a typical performance, which I think recurs in debates such as this one. They make one serious mistake in trying to claim at all times that only the SNP stands up for Scotland. I remind them that, like others in the Parliament, they are a minority. It is an insult to the majority of Scots to suggest that they do not stand up for Scotland, or to suggest that Scots who do not share the SNP's political views do not stand up for Scotland.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I will take an intervention from the member but I want to make progress first.

The SNP tells us that we must have exclusive control of fishing and almost suggests, by implication, that our fisheries would be in a much better state at a stroke if that were to happen. That is a cruel myth and a most unhelpful deception to practise on the Scottish people and Scottish fishing communities.

Let us try to separate the issues that are at stake. The SNP motion refers to

"the conservation of marine biological resources".

Of course, those resources have been widely defined and encompass everything from life on the sea bed and plankton to all species of fish—not just those that our fishermen target. All categories of fisheries are covered by that definition. It is a myth to suggest that Scotland alone can manage the biological resource in Scotland's best interest.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

No, I said that I would take an intervention from—

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I did not agree to take an intervention from Mr Sheridan.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Sorry. I did not realise that.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

It is a bit rich of the minister to say that parties other than the SNP stand up for Scotland, given that the First Minister of Scotland telephoned the Foreign Secretary and told him not to give concessions to Scotland during negotiations over the draft treaty.

George Lyon, who is a member of the minister's party, said that the minister would argue for powerful regional management. Will Mr Finnie, as the minister with responsibility for fishing in Scotland, make the case between now and when the treaty is finalised and negotiate more powers for Scotland's fishing communities—albeit that he might describe that as "powerful regional management"?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I will not take a sedentary intervention from Mr Sheridan, either.

The issue is quite clear: nobody can guarantee—as the SNP claims to be able to do—that we can satisfactorily conserve the marine biological resource on our own. That is a myth. To suggest to the Scottish people that that would be in their best interests is a cruel deception.

If we accept—as we do—that there must be an overarching policy for the conservation of the marine biological resource, the key issue is how that can be managed and implemented in Scotland. The Executive believes that it will be better managed in Scotland's interest by having a far greater degree of regional management. Simply to opt to go it alone would involve treaty renegotiation, with no guarantee that the relative stability of the current arrangements would be sustained—indeed, they were vigorously attacked during the recent negotiations on the common fisheries policy and they were successfully retained as a result of the Scottish Executive's contribution to the UK's fisheries policy. Neither the conservation of the marine biological resource nor the management of our fisheries can be done on their own, because even if we have stronger regional management, the notion that we could manage the whole of the North sea from the perspective of Scotland alone is another cruel deception.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Will the minister clarify whether he will negotiate powerful regional management for Scotland's fisheries during the months in the run-up to the referendum? He knows fine well—he has accepted this in the past—that that policy is not currently on the table. We may argue for the repatriation of fishing, but will he argue for powerful regional management?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I made that absolutely clear. That has been and remains our policy and we will continue to pursue it.

Let us move on to other matters. Phil Gallie talked about myths, but one of the great myths that the Conservatives continue to propound is the notion that there can be absolute sovereignty. In a global economy, that is a myth. It is just not good enough for Murdo Fraser to tell us that states enter into treaties, not constitutions. Has he misunderstood the situation? The proposed constitution will bring together a raft of constitutional treaties in a single, legally-binding document that will be no more legally binding than the instruments that it collates.

At the end of the day, the SNP has posited the whole debate on the question whether we are acting in Scotland's best interests. It is in Scotland's best interests to recognise that the conservation of our marine biological resource can be achieved only at the European and international levels. To claim otherwise is not in Scotland's best interests.

It is, however, in Scotland's best interests to accept and address the scientific evidence on declining stocks. By rubbishing and ignoring that evidence, the SNP is not acting in Scotland's best interests. Another cruel deception that is not in Scotland's best interests lies in claiming and—sadly—maintaining that the management and implementation of fisheries policies can be done only on a narrow, Scotland-alone basis and in failing to recognise that international co-operation is required and that that can be achieved and better facilitated already by the European Union.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The Executive's amendment defends Scotland's fishing interests and respects Scotland's interests in the wider issues that are at stake in the constitution. It has a wider perspective that recognises that we wish to be fully engaged in Europe, and I commend it to members.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 11:51 am, 29th April 2004

Mr Watson referred to this debate and to previous debates that have taken place. A difficulty appears to be that in each of those debates, members have discussed the next debate that is to come. In the debate on EU enlargement, many members spent their time discussing the terms of the negotiations on the constitution. In this debate, in which we are debating the terms that we should negotiate for the constitution, some members—Mr Kerr and Mr Lyon in particular—have debated whether we should support the constitution, suggesting that our support should be absolutely arbitrary and confirmed. For the avoidance of doubt, I make it clear to Mr Fraser that fishing is a major red-line issue for us and that we are highlighting that issue because of its importance to the Scottish people. That does not mean that we will not consider the fine print and detail of other issues and address them—that is taken as read.

I take issue with what Mr Kerr and Mr Lyon in particular have said. Whatever he may have said in an intervention, Mr Lyon appeared to argue that the decision was whether one was for or against the constitution and that the decision should be made now. To me, that appears utterly preposterous. We are entering negotiations that will be not only multinational but multilateral, and we do not know what the outcome of those negotiations will be. Until there have been negotiations, a commitment cannot be made. We do not know what question will be put to the people—indeed, it seems to be a matter of debate whether the question will be put by Mr Blair or whether it will come from the Electoral Commission; that matter must be addressed, too. However, it would be utterly bizarre to take a fixed position before we have seen the final position that has been negotiated with the various members of the European Union.

The debate started with my colleague Nicola Sturgeon making clear the three points that the SNP views as important: the reason why the Parliament has a role; the importance of our taking action; and why there is an opportunity. She made it clear that our role is important because it is our duty and right to defend our national interest. She made it clear that it is important to address the issue of fishing because the First Minister is failing to attend to it and has left us with the status quo, which the majority of people in this country believe is entirely unacceptable. She also made it clear that Tony Blair's weakness is our opportunity.

In response, Andy Kerr gave us the usual diatribe about the importance of being represented by a large nation state and about only the big countries in the European Union getting good deals. I am always surprised when such views are regurgitated by Labour members in particular, because others in Labour's serried ranks frequently say that the Celtic tiger metamorphosed only as a result of the fantastic deal that it managed to negotiate with Europe and all the spondulicks that come to it as a result of Europe bailing it out. I do not know who negotiated the wonderful deal that Wendy Alexander and others have mentioned. Perhaps Germany represented Ireland or the United Kingdom took it under its wing, but it would appear impossible that a small, independent nation in the European Union such as Ireland—which is even smaller than Scotland—managed to achieve such a tremendous deal.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

If the member looks back, I think that he will find that the reason that Ireland got such a good deal was that it was one of the poorest countries in Europe—that is why it needed help.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The difficulty is that the new deal continues while Ireland's gross domestic product far surpasses ours, and the situation is not getting any better. Ireland is overtaking us and leaving us far behind. A warning will come on Saturday.

Where Ireland has gone, other nations, such as Estonia, Lithunia, Latvia and Poland, will also venture, unless we take steps.

Mr Kerr also seemed to suggest that the EU could implode and that there could be intense difficulties, but that is utter nonsense. It is clear that the position that is being put forward by Mr Blair, into which we wish to insert a Scottish agenda, must also be addressed by Denmark, Sweden, Poland and other nations that have a Eurosceptic position and which would have great difficulty in winning a referendum if they chose to have one.

It was not surprising that Robin Harper's party was not represented by his colleague from the north-east because the points that Robin Harper made about the fishing industry are certainly not what we have heard on the streets of Fraserburgh and Peterhead. When he has a pot shot not only at the scientists and the politicians but, by implication, at those who fish for a livelihood, he should remember that the perception in the north-east is not that Europe has created a free-for-all, but that Europe has given F-all. That is the major cause of controversy on the streets.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Not at the moment.

What Tommy Sheridan said was dealt with by Irene Oldfather and fundamentally addressed by my colleague Alasdair Morgan. Mr Sheridan described the European Union as undemocratic, corrupt and an insatiable monster. Such language is better, and more frequently, used in connection with the Soviet Union rather than the European Union. There are problems in the European Union and there is a democratic deficit, but to view it as an insatiable monster is utterly absurd. As Alasdair Morgan said, it has been of benefit in bringing peace to the European continent and in moving the EU on from being an economic union to becoming a union that is also social.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Does the member at least agree that it is possible to be a small, independent country such as Norway and not be anti-Europe? Does he agree that being anti-European Union does not make a person anti-Europe?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I accept that. However, to an extent, the major problems that social democracies face in the modern world come from the WTO and the general agreement on trade in services. The best way to address such problems is transnationally rather than simply one nation, no matter how big or small it is or whether it is Scotland, the United Kingdom, Albania or North Korea, acting alone. I and people in other political parties have always been concerned that the SSP's hostility to Europe leaves many on the democratic left and in social democratic parties throughout north and south Europe aghast and perplexed.

My colleague Richard Lochhead made an excellent and lucid contribution—there is a bit of flattery—on the importance of addressing the issue of fishing in the context of the constitution. An opportunity exists. With respect to fishing, the status quo is unacceptable. We have an opportunity to ensure that the First Minister stands up and takes action rather than simply acquiesces. I think that Mr Kerr suggested that a discussion or a phone call between Jack Straw and SNP members was not up to much, but such a discussion would probably be more significant than discussions between Jack Straw and Dick Cheney or, when it comes to the actions of Ariel Sharon, discussions between George Bush and Tony Blair. International negotiations take place in a variety of ways.

As we approach 1 May, we must be clear. There will be a debate in the months and years to come about whether we should vote for the constitution. Currently, there is an opportunity to decide what the terms of and conditions in the constitution will be. We must defend Scotland's interests. What greater responsibility rests on a national Parliament than that of standing up and representing the people and their issues? If we pass that responsibility back and pass the buck, a decision will be taken over which Scotland will have had no influence. Given the importance to Scotland of the interests and circumstances that are involved, we should support the motion and support partaking rather than spectating. We should seek to ensure that Scotland and our major national interests in the fishing industry are represented. When we have seen the final deal, we should decide at that juncture and in discussions whether we are for or against the constitution. At the moment, it is the duty of all, particularly the First Minister, to stand up for Scotland and to negotiate the best deal, especially on the fundamental issue of fishing.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Before I take the point of order from Alex Fergusson, I wish to make what is effectively a point of order of my own. In the course of his remarks, Mr MacAskill used an expression that is a commonly known euphemism for an obscenity. That language is not acceptable and it will not be tolerated in the chamber from now on.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

Presiding Officer, you have just made my point of order rather better than I would have made it myself.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Thank you. In that case, I now pass the chair to the Presiding Officer.