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I am reflecting on how strange it will be not to hear Margo MacDonald’s voice and distinctive position in this debate on Europe.
In the next few weeks, citizens of Europe, including those in Scotland, will vote for new members of the European Parliament. I thank all the current six members of the European Parliament from all parties in Scotland for their service to Scotland over the past five years. A new European Parliament will be formed with a new Parliament President, and later this year a new European Commission President and college of commissioners will be appointed. The EU budget from 2014 to 2020 has been agreed, agendas for the next session are being formed, and many are already established. It is therefore an appropriate time to think about where the EU stands, the challenges that it faces, the opportunities that it affords, and the role of Scotland, our institutions, including Parliament and Government, and our 5 million citizens of the EU.
I hope that whatever our interparty disagreements, as evidenced in the amendments, we can articulate a Scottish European voice that recognises and does not reject the role of Europe; that articulates a positive and productive reform agenda to improve the EU, but from within it; and which sets out a progressive and reasonable voice on the EU that rejects the shrill, prejudiced, fearful and aggressive voice on the EU that frequently emanates from politicians in other parts of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Government thinks that the progressive voice and the reasoned argument for reform can best be delivered with Scotland as an independent country. That is what I will articulate today, although I suspect that other parties will disagree with that.
Let us remind ourselves why Europe matters. We need to remind ourselves of the importance of bringing together European nations that had previously been in conflict, and that the agenda for peace and security still has an underpinning role. Europe’s work on common concern about the environment, the challenges of the developing world, co-operation on international security and tackling terrorism, and expanding trade affects people’s wellbeing, safety and jobs. Europe has opened up borders for trade and commerce with the single market approach, and has expanded international trade. It has also set regulatory frameworks that much of the world has copied.
I note the amendment that was lodged by the Green Party and will listen to the argument, but we are supportive of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, although we agree that it needs more scrutiny. That is more difficult for a devolved, rather than independent, Parliament.
I am interested in the cabinet secretary’s comments and regret that there will not be a vote on the Green amendment. Has she discussed with Mike Weir, Eilidh Whiteford and Angus Robertson their reasons for adding their names in support of a motion from my colleague Caroline Lucas at Westminster that expresses the very same criticisms and concerns about TTIP and its potential to transfer democratically accountable power to unaccountable corporate interests?
That is why I want to give the opportunity to discuss scrutiny; people can challenge the transatlantic trade and investment partnership without disagreeing with it. We have, in the European Union, lent our support to its development. However, there are opportunities for greater scrutiny and for ensuring greater democratic accountability for some decisions.
Scotland is a European nation and has been an integral part of the European Union for 40 years. The EU is the main destination for Scottish exports; it accounted for 45 per cent of international exports in 2012, with an estimated value of around £11.7 billion. Our exporters continue to sell successfully into the markets of mainland Europe, but we could do better; that is one of the economic cases for independence. We still underperform and could do better, which is one of the cases for export improvement in the EU.
Scotland is also a growing part of the European economy. Since 2006, the value of Scottish exports has increased by 35.1 per cent, and we imported more than £5 billion-worth of goods from other member states in 2013 alone.
We operate as a force for good in the EU in sharing knowledge and ideas through our important work on climate change and energy. We must work internationally on the environment and climate change. The EU’s role and, indeed, Scotland’s role in influencing, exemplifying and providing practical researched proposals and plans to deal with those challenges cannot be underestimated. The EU agendas on energy, climate change, the marine environment, research and creativity, and freedom, security and justice are important to the Scottish people. With our EU action plan, we are working on those as core policy areas for the Government.
On healthcare, Scotland NHS 24 is heavily involved in the European innovation partnership on active and healthy ageing, and it is leading the group on information and communication technology enabled care.
Strong bilateral relations with our EU counterparts are important for Scotland, too. In the past year alone, I have travelled to Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Finland and to Brussels to deepen economic and cultural ties with EU member states. Our recently published “Nordic Baltic Policy Statement” sets out where we co-operate with neighbours on key areas and where we are keen to do more.
Workers’ terms and conditions have been greatly supported by the EU, so when anti-EU politicians talk about strangling bureaucracy, just make sure that it is not the 48-hour maximum working week that they are looking to do away with. The EU is not perfect by any means; it needs to be reformed. However, the issue is what needs to be reformed and how it could and would be reformed.
The Scottish Government has produced a blueprint for reform, “Scotland’s Priorities for EU reform.” It sets out, chapter by chapter, practical areas for change. The big difference between us and the UK is that we do not think that there needs to be a threat of an in/out referendum and treaty reform to secure such change. I do not know what the Labour Party would want to reform or how, but I look forward to hearing about that.
The biggest risk to Scotland’s membership of the EU lies with the obsession of Westminster politicians and the threat of a party that did not hold its deposit in recent by-elections and which spouts offensive, narrow-minded arguments and interests that have no place in a tolerant, internationalist and outward-looking country.
The challenge to Scotland is either to vote yes to independence or to risk being silenced or sidelined in Europe for all time. Independence would give Scotland a seat and a voice at the top table in Europe for the first time, which would ensure that our case is heard when our vital national interests are discussed. The Opposition wantss to project fear of Scotland’s continuing membership as a reason to vote no, but that does not seem to be working, as the narrowing of the gap in recent opinion polls has shown.
The Labour Party amendment references outgoing Commission President Barroso’s television interview comments. Those comments were clearly a political opinion that was stated for political reasons, and without reference to or analysis of Scotland’s position in the EU. How do we know that to be the case? I can reveal that, when approached to explain what research and analysis had been conducted to support the statement by President Barroso, the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union confirmed in writing that it does not hold documents of any such analysis. I will place copies of the correspondence in the Scottish Parliament information centre this afternoon.
The cabinet secretary appears to be in the mood for revealing information. For the past year, I have been asking for the First Minister’s speech to EU ambassadors, which might have shone some light on the discussions between Scotland and the 28 EU member states. The minister will know that it is required that Scottish membership of the EU be agreed by all member states. Will she reveal a copy of that speech today?
If Willie Rennie speaks to ministers in the UK Government, he will be told that it is not acceptable, nor is it the norm, to reveal discussions that take place with other Governments on diplomatic matters. I meet countries’ ambassadors and ministers all the time; they would not take kindly to my revealing the content of our discussions. However, we discuss such matters amicably and we build trust. Trust is very important in our relationships with other countries.
Given that the Council of Ministers would make the decision on the agreed process for membership; that we know that the UK has not even asked the Commission to analyse the proposals in “Scotland’s Future”; and that no work has been produced by it, the opinion that is mentioned in Labour’s amendment is just that—a political opinion by a politician who has a close alliance with the UK Government. Members will recall that the same Mr Barroso hosted the Bush-Blair summit in the Azores before the Iraq war.
The reality is that it is in everyone’s interests, throughout the whole EU, for Scotland and its citizens to remain part of the EU. An independent Scotland would continue her membership and become the 29th member, and would negotiate the specific terms of our membership from within the EU. Surely it is time even for the better together Labour-Tory alliance to move on and to recognise that, as the evidence to the European and External Relations Committee shows, the issue is not whether we would be a continuing member, but the method by which we would continue membership and how the transition would work. There is a strong and increasingly supportable case that the method and timescale that are set out in the white paper are reasonable and achievable.
The legal responsibility, under the EU, to serve the interests of Scottish citizens from 18 September, should there be a yes vote, is one that lies not just with the UK Government for the remaining 18 months before independence, but with all EU members. I do not think that sitting on their hands for 18 months would be either responsible or credible; neither do many of the committee witnesses. As James Crawford, the UK’s legal adviser, said, 18 months seems “realistic”.
Of course, we will be seen as an asset as an independent country; we have two-thirds of the EU’s oil reserves, 20 per cent of natural gas production and a huge share of the continent’s renewable energy, at a time when energy security is becoming increasingly important. A short and smooth transition to membership of the EU would be beneficial to other member states. The cohesion of the European single market requires that.
Continued uninterrupted access to Scotland’s fishing grounds for European fishermen and, which is important, the onshore processing jobs that rely on fishing—not to forget that access to Norwegian fishing waters relies on bilateral arrangements about Scotland’s waters—also makes continuity of membership common sense.
Our focus is therefore not on whether we will be a continuing member, but on what type of member we will be, what reforms we will pursue and what policy agenda will be our focus. Just as other countries including the Netherlands, Germany and Finland are engaging constructively on EU reform, so could we engage, as an independent nation. Like us, those countries argue that reform can be delivered without treaty change. The Conservative idea that we will win friends and influence people by threatening the EU with our withdrawal is plain wrong, and explains why the UK is increasingly being treated as an outsider.
There are practical examples for reform that would not require treaty change in the realms of common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy, in relation to which we advocate more regionalisation and greater flexibility, with further delegation of power to national and regional levels, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach, which does not take account of regional diversity and priorities.
I refer Drew Smith to the white paper, “Scotland’s Future”, in which we talk about “continuity of effect”, which means that there will be no detriment to other members in areas such as operation of the budget. Surely by now the member understands that to become a member of the eurozone a country must have voluntarily been a member of the exchange rate mechanism for several years, which we do not intend, and would not be expected, to do.
In relation to the proposals in our paper on EU reform, we make a distinction between the legislative and policy competences that are assigned to the EU by the treaties, on one hand, and the manner in which the EU institutions discharge their legislative prerogative, on the other. In some areas of policy, focus on use of directives rather than regulations would allow more flexibility for Parliaments such as this to scrutinise them and to reflect on local circumstances.
Independence will give Scotland its own voice in Europe, ensuring that Scotland participates at every level in the EU policy process, and that the Scottish Government is able to promote Scotland’s national interests in EU affairs. In an independent country, our farmers would have benefited from the EU pillar 1 minimum rate of €196 per hectare, which would have meant an extra €1 billion in support over the convergence period. Under the existing CAP agreement, Scotland is set to go to the bottom of the EU league table on the average pillar 1 payment rate.
Direct representation in the EU will protect Scotland’s economic and social interests against the uncertainties and adverse consequences of the Prime Minister’s proposed in/out referendum on Europe, which raises the risk of the UK exiting the EU, with potentially significant adverse consequences for jobs, investment and prosperity. If Scotland remains under the rule of a Westminster system that withdraws from the EU, our influence in the world will be severely diminished.
What will the EU look like in 2020 and beyond? It will certainly be different from the EU of today. I foresee a more accountable and democratic Europe. I foresee a Europe that is back on the path to prosperity, with continued security in terms of social justice, energy and high youth employment—a Europe for future generations.
I look forward to working alongside members of this Parliament to ensure that Scotland’s voice continues to be heard in discussions about the future of the EU. I welcome this opportunity to debate the important role that we can play within Europe.
That the Parliament recognises the importance of Scotland having a strong voice in the EU; believes that Scotland has built a positive foundation for engaging on EU matters and continues to play a progressive role internationally; recognises Scotland’s strong commitment to learning and sharing experience and expertise with other European countries, as highlighted in the Scotland in the European Union paper and the Nordic Baltic Policy Statement; further recognises that, as an independent member state in the EU, Scotland would be able to join the other 28 member states in participating directly in all EU legislation and policy negotiations, ensuring that it is well placed to foster coalitions of support across other member states that will further Scotland’s national interests; believes that Scotland will contribute constructively to the common European interest, drawing on the priorities for improvement and for reform set out in the paper, Scotland’s Priorities for EU Reform, and recognises that direct representation in the EU will protect Scotland’s economic and social interests against the uncertainties and adverse consequences of a UK in/out referendum raising the risk that the UK may exit the EU.
This is, of course, the first debate in the Parliament since the sad death of Margo MacDonald, and as such it is the first of many debates in which we will not have the benefit of Margo’s distinctive and always interesting contributions. Her take on Europe and all things European was unique and made for an interesting evidence session at the European and External Relations Committee a number of months ago when I was a member of the committee, which helped to put some of our other discussions into perspective. We will miss Margo—not just today, but for a very long time.
With elections to the European Parliament only a month away, it is opportune that we debate Scotland’s voice in Europe and consider the benefits and responsibilities that membership of the European Union brings for member states. We do so in the context of two referenda—one that, if it takes place, will decide whether the UK stays in Europe, and another that will decide whether Scotland stays in the UK.
Should the UK stay in Europe? In my view, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” Should Scotland remain part of the UK? My answer is again “Yes.” Membership of the EU has been largely positive for the UK. It has pushed forward important issues such as workers rights, human rights and environmental matters, and it has played an important role in respect of financial regulation. Looking at those areas of work, it is interesting to note that SNP MEPs refused to support a minimum extension of maternity and paternity rights and voted against making trademark protection in the EU cheaper, easier and more efficient but—strangely—they supported fiscal harmonisation within an EU-wide framework. I am not sure how that squares with their policy on corporation tax, but I will say that I do not know how any of that is compatible with standing up for Scotland. If we pool our resources in Europe and act co-operatively, we can encourage growth and development across Europe and beyond.
In recent years, the EU has also had some marked success in international diplomacy and has made a difference where other more obvious players could not. The work that Baroness Ashton has done in securing an agreement with Iran over nuclear weapons, and her diplomatic efforts in the Serbia and Kosovo dispute have earned high praise and chime well with the founding principles of the EU.
Of course, the EU could do things better, and here I agree with the cabinet secretary. It could operate a simpler structure and be less bureaucratic, and it must become more transparent and open to scrutiny. However, on the whole, it is a force for good and we would be poorer for not being a member.
That brings me to the referendum that will happen this year and the one that this debate, like every other Scottish Government debate, is actually about. I am pleased that the Scottish Government has recognised that Europe is important to Scotland and I am delighted that it now accepts that Scotland will not automatically become a member of the EU and that there will have to be a period of negotiation.
Patricia Ferguson will of course be wholly familiar with the acquis communautaire that is the constitution of the EU. Is she familiar with section 50, which is the only section that touches on the question of leaving the EU, for which two years’ notice must be given by a member state? How would Scotland become outside the EU? Is the UK Government going to give notice to the EU that Scotland is to leave, in the event of a yes vote?
I gently point out to Mr Stevenson that, in actual fact, the UK is the only state in these islands that has signed the treaties of the EU. If we divorce ourselves from the rest of the UK, we divorce ourselves from the signatory to those treaties.
I have to say to Mr Stevenson that I think that we will both have to wait and find out what the actual situation is, because the one thing that is absolutely clear is that there is no cast-iron decision on that point. [Interruption.]
Having noted that the Scottish Government now accepts that there will have to be a period of negotiation—I do not know whether Mr Stevenson was trying to suggest that that is not the case—I add that I am sorry that it wasted £20,000 of taxpayers’ money trying to avoid answering the simple question whether the Scottish Government had taken legal advice on EU membership, especially as we now know that, at the point when Catherine Stihler MEP asked the question, the answer was that it had not commissioned legal advice. Frankly, that was a ludicrous position for any Government to adopt.
How will Scotland, in the unlikely event that it gambles on separation, become a member of the European Union?
Talking of independence, I have always found it slightly odd that the SNP does not want to pool sovereignty with the UK, where we have about 9.5 per cent of the MPs, but is happy to do so with the other member states of the EU, where—by my admittedly generous calculation—we would have less than 2 per cent of the MEPs and only seven votes in the Council of Europe compared to the UK’s 29 votes.
I am sorry that that is the kind of logic that has come to bear on the SNP’s position. It seems bizarre that the SNP would want to pool sovereignty in a situation in which we would lose influence. At the end of the day, influence is power. The biggest country in the EU that we would have to work with would be the UK, so let us just cut to the chase. If we do not negotiate with our near neighbours, I do not know who we will negotiate with. I leave it to the SNP to square that constitutional circle.
Let us return to how our membership of the EU is to be won. It seems to me that the EU has a fairly straightforward mechanism that applies to states that want to negotiate membership. As we know, article 49 of the Treaty on European Union lays down the mechanism by which a country that seeks membership would join. However, the Scottish Government says that we do not need to do that.
The Scottish Government will tell the European Union that, in our case, it should use article 48 and that it should simply allow us to join by way of a treaty amendment to be agreed by common accord by the representatives of the Governments of the 28 member states. The SNP’s argument is that the Scottish people have been members of the European Union for 40 years or so and should be allowed to continue as such, despite the fact that, as I said, as a nation we are not signatories to any EU treaty.
No, thank you, Mr Stewart.
The fact of the matter is that article 49 of the treaty is the only existing mechanism by which membership can be negotiated. Just saying that its provisions should not apply in our case does not make it so. [Interruption.]
I have already taken a number of interventions, thank you.
Let me speak more specifically of the terms of Scotland’s membership. The SNP wants—no: it demands—that Scotland automatically retain all the opt-outs that the UK enjoys, including the budget rebate, the euro opt-out and the Schengen agreement. We want high CAP payments to our farmers and high CFP quotas, as well as to keep the rebate. In effect, the SNP wants to tell the other 28 members of the EU what mechanism should be employed to facilitate our membership, and to dictate the terms on which we join—which would be more favourable than those that many of the countries that we expect to agree to that enjoy—and that all that should be concluded in 16 months because that is what would suit Mr Salmond best. To me, that is hardly a good starting point for negotiation and it is certainly not the constructive contribution that the Scottish Government’s motion suggests.
I am conscious that the Presiding Officer is asking me to wind up. There are many other points that I wish to make; I will do so in my closing speech.
I move amendment S4M-09748.1, to leave out from first “Scotland” to end and insert:
“a strong Scotland being part of a strong United Kingdom with continuing membership of the European Union; believes that the EU has demonstrated that nations must work together if they are to advance progressive policies in relation to workers’ rights and social policy that now apply in all member states as a result of decisions made by the EU; considers that the UK must continue to play its part in the decision making processes of the institution; believes that Scotland’s interests are best advanced through UK membership of the EU; notes concerns expressed by the European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, who said that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the EU, and recognises that an independent Scotland would be unable to negotiate EU membership until March 2016 and that the subsequent transitional arrangements would not be in Scotland’s interests.”
I thank the Scottish Government for enabling Parliament to debate the European Union. With an imminent election in May and the referendum in September, it is important that we do so.
Like some other members—although we are very much in the minority in this Parliament—I remember voting in another referendum on 5 June 1975. I think that the cabinet secretary is too young to have shared that experience. That referendum nearly 40 years ago was to gauge support for the country’s continued membership of the European Economic Community or, as it was much better known, the Common Market. The question was simple: “Do you think that the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?” Overwhelmingly, people said yes, and I was one of them. I felt very strongly that there were clear advantages in having a Common Market. I also felt that, if peoples in different countries could work in economic harmony to their mutual benefit, they were far less likely to harbour hostile intentions towards each another.
At that time, there were nine EEC countries. Today, the European Union comprises 28 member states that are bound together by a miscellany of treaties, conventions and protocols. In character, it is far removed from being a common market. One area of concern has been the inexorable ceding of sovereignty from individual member states to a centralised EU core state. I gather from what the cabinet secretary says that she values individual sovereignty.
It is no surprise that the gulf between the common market concept that was endorsed in a UK referendum nearly 40 years ago and the current reality of the EU creates a tension. Indeed, in a poll last year, more than half of Scots said that they thought that there should be an in/out referendum. Interestingly, in that poll, 63 per cent of SNP voters said that they thought that there should be an in/out referendum.
In my view, the EU patently requires reform; again, the cabinet secretary agrees. I think that the reformed version should be put to a referendum. I want the UK to remain in the EU. I think that it would be difficult for many UK companies to trade with EU countries if we were outside the coop. Important protections have already been secured: the UK rebate, the exemption from the requirement to join the euro and the exemption from the Schengen provisions. Regardless of whether the cabinet secretary agrees, the independence agenda places those protections at risk. Losing them could cost Scotland nearly £1.5 billion in lost output and could threaten thousands of jobs across the Scottish economy.
What do we know? We know that if Scotland becomes independent we will be required to negotiate new membership. The article could not be clearer about that. We know that that will require the unanimous agreement of the other member states.
I am referring to article 49, which is explicit. The cabinet secretary may want to read it when she has a moment.
We do not know what conditions might be imposed. The Deputy First Minister indicated in the chamber that joining the euro would be a red-line issue, yet membership of the eurozone is an obligation under the Lisbon treaty and no new member state has been granted an exemption from such membership. Croatia was granted deferred euro membership, but will still have to join the currency.
It is worth noting that the three biggest member states in the EU are Germany, France and the UK. Regardless of the cabinet secretary’s passion on the issue—I do not for a moment dispute that she is passionate—an independent Scotland would rank in size between Slovakia, which is the 19th biggest member state, and Ireland, which is at number 20. Does that matter? I think that, in the real world, it does. The UK’s size perhaps explains why it has been a very effective negotiator in protecting UK jobs and interests. Inevitably, that begs the question how an independent Scotland would fare in negotiating membership and, if it were accepted as a member, what influence it would exercise once it was in the EU.
The Prime Minister’s proposal that the UK be given a say in 2017 on whether to be in or out of a reformed EU seems to be sensible and desirable to me, but if Scotland becomes independent, we will be given no say at all on the terms and conditions that Alex Salmond has signed us up to. That seems to me to be completely inconsistent, paradoxical and unacceptable. That is not just my opinion. Just today, it is reported that a former leader of the SNP, Gordon Wilson, is to say:
“Scots should be given a referendum on membership of the European Union if the country votes Yes”.
I can see the logic of that; I am surprised that his logic does not extend to the current leadership of the SNP.
I believe today, as I did nearly 40 years ago, that the intrinsic principles of European union are sound, but that what those principles have morphed into requires adjustment and reform and a new democratic endorsement, as Gordon Wilson quite rightly—and bravely—recognises.
The Prime Minister has already delivered significant reform and protections for the UK, which include measures in respect of fishing and the financial sector in the UK and—significantly—Scotland, and he promises more of that, together with an opportunity for democratic endorsement. By contrast, the Scottish Government's independence agenda threatens those protections and denies the people of Scotland that democratic say. How illogical and unfair is that?
I am in my final 30 seconds.
The issue that we are debating is an important one. It is right that we are debating it and I am glad that we have the opportunity to do so, but it is not an easy one to resolve. Constitutional change will not be a panacea. Improving Scotland’s best interests in the EU will take influence and clout.
I move amendment S4M-09748.2, to leave out from “Scotland’s strong commitment” to end and insert:
“that the most positive foundation for Scotland influencing the EU has been the role of the United Kingdom as a lead presence in the EU; notes that the UK Government has protected the UK’s exemption from joining the euro, secured the UK rebate and exclusion from the Schengen border obligations, achieved a historic cut to the EU budget, protected thousands of UK jobs by opting out of a revised Lisbon Treaty, passed the European Union Act 2011 to ensure that there can be no further ceding of powers from the UK to Brussels without a referendum, and believes that Scotland has benefited significantly from these successes and achievements; further notes the universal acceptance of the need for reform of the EU to enable it to work more effectively and enhance the opportunities available to the UK and other EU member states; believes that this is an important and exciting opportunity for the EU; notes that the UK is leading the reform agenda and that the Prime Minister has pledged a UK referendum in 2017 on membership of the reformed EU if his party is returned to government; notes the desire of the Scottish Government for independence and, in such an event, believes that the uncertainty surrounding Scotland’s admission as a new member state of the EU, including timescale and as yet unknown conditions that other member states may attach to admission together with the removal of Scotland from the proven influence of the UK as an EU member, can only weaken Scotland’s position within the EU, both in general terms and at a critical time for securing necessary reform, and considers it paradoxical and unacceptable that, while the Scottish Government argues that it is right to give Scottish voters a referendum on independence from the UK, it will, in the event of independence, then deny Scottish voters a referendum on whatever terms and conditions are negotiated.”
Can I suggest one wee mechanism of democracy to Annabel Goldie? If she wants an in-out referendum on Europe in 2016, she should maybe put that in a Tory manifesto for an independent Scotland in the election of 2016. That is maybe a way to go.
The people of Scotland are finally being heard right across the globe. There is real interest in just what will happen on 18 September. With the dawn of a new independent country will come a host of exciting opportunities: our place at the top table in Europe is just one. Scotland will never be the same; it will be much, much better.
We will cease to be a nation divided and, instead, will become one that is united in its determination to serve the people of Scotland from within their own communities and on the international stage. We are weary of being hijacked by Governments in Westminster that we did not elect. We have had enough of being told that we must follow policies that deprive the most needy, that bring additional suffering to the elderly and disabled and that will put 10,000 more children into poverty. We have had enough of having Trident missiles in our backyard because Westminster does not want them in theirs. I do not want them in anyone’s backyard. We are tired of being pulled into illegal wars and being told to run dawn raids on asylum seekers.
Indeed. I am getting to the subject matter of the debate, Miss Goldie—have a wee bit of patience.
As I said, we are tired of being pulled into illegal wars and being told to run dawn raids on asylum seekers and send migrants back to their homelands, whatever the dangers for them there. Will the UK still be the fourth most unequal country in the developed world in 2020, or will it have moved closer to the top spot, with an even wider gap between the richest and poorest? Will the UK still, Miss Goldie, be a member of the European Union in 2020? We do not know, but we do know that Scotland does not want to depart from the EU.
I share the member’s concerns about Scotland having a political agenda imposed on us that we have not voted for. Does she share my concern that the whole European Union is in danger at the moment of handing over to pals of corporate lawyers political power that should be democratically accountable? Is the nature of European democracy not at least as important as the question of democracy here in Scotland?
I am sure that my friend and colleague Patrick Harvie will be happy to know that the European and External Affairs Committee has been discussing that very topic and that it may be on our agenda for future meetings, post-referendum.
Now, we are stretching forwards, looking to a future that is in our own control; one in which we elect our own Governments and make the choices that the people of Scotland actually vote for, including the choices in Europe.
Speaking of hijackings, I should say that if we stay in the UK we will have a referendum that we did not want that could see us dumped out into the cold winds of the north Atlantic with no lifeboat in sight. In other words, we could find ourselves out of the EU, with our markets threatened, trade tariffs introduced, no freedom of movement to live and work in other European countries, and separated from the very basics of human rights that currently protect us.
Will the member explain to the chamber why she has no confidence in giving Scotland a referendum on EU membership but has every confidence in giving Scotland a referendum on independence? That is completely inconsistent.
As I said, we have manifestos coming up for 2016. If Miss Goldie wants a referendum on the EU and if the people of Scotland want it, we can go for it then. I do not think that they do want that, however, and Miss Goldie knows that.
If we were out of the EU, our farmers would lose their single farm payments and ordinary workers would lose the right not to have to work exploitative hours. There would be costly visas for people’s two-week holiday in Spain and a loss of access to health and education services in other European countries on the same basis as that of the citizens resident in those countries.
That is a bleak picture, but there is a much more positive and optimistic one sitting tantalisingly close on the horizon of 18 September. We have a choice of two futures: one is alienating, isolationist, limiting, restrictive and depressing; the other is positive, inspiring, encouraging, optimistic and liberating. It is not a difficult choice to make: we just have to put our X in the yes box.
One of the best things about being convener of the European and External Relations Committee is that I have the opportunity to listen to people who have real knowledge of and passion for the European Union. The prospect of Scotland being an independent country within the European family is one that I find immensely exciting and interesting. Scotland’s relationship with the EU will leap into a new dimension with independence. We will go from being a tiny voice, with two—soon to be three, I think—members among the UK’s 78 MEPs, to being in a position comparable with that of Ireland, with its 11 MEPs: a small, independent nation that can have the presidency of the EU and be highly effective and influential.
We will have a voice for our own interests. We will no longer be beholden to other member countries. Instead, we will promote what is right for Scotland and we will be heard. Indeed, at some stage, we will take the six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union, which rotates among the member states. What pride that will give us. We have been members of the EU, via the UK of course, for 40 years and we are not about to be ejected. All the evidence that I have heard so far suggests that.
The benefits of membership cannot be overestimated. Even though our current position has denied us important funding advantages, especially in respect of CAP payments, we have gained through structural funding and we have been pioneers in the process of Europeanisation. It is pleasing, if not surprising, that Scotland is so much more European.
We benefit from human rights legislation, the working time directive, the European arrest warrant, employment rights and legislation on human trafficking. We now have a Scottish Parliament, a Minister for External Affairs and International Development and a real relationship.
I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government is holding this debate just 30 days before 375 million people across Europe go to the polls to elect a new European Parliament. It is one of the biggest exercises in democracy in the world and it could be even bigger if we could convince more people of its importance, and encourage them to come out and vote on 2 May to elect six MEPs to speak for Scotland in the European Parliament, not just two.
When the motion that is before Parliament today talks of
“the importance of Scotland having a strong voice in the EU”
I could not agree more. Unfortunately that phrase from the Scottish Government’s motion is the only one that I can agree with as the rest of it is wishful thinking, supposition and assertion that wilfully ignores the facts and misgivings that have been raised by many experts about the Scottish Government’s position on the EU.
We know that the SNP was caught out before on the issue of legal advice on membership of the EU, and it still has not published any legal advice that it might or might not have. From its November 2013 paper, “Scotland in the European Union”, we know that the Scottish Government now recognises that membership of the EU will require negotiation with other member states and the EU institutions to agree the terms under which an independent Scotland will become a full member of the EU. There is no doubt that an independent Scotland would be a part of the EU in future, as expansion of its membership is what the EU desires. However, recognising that we will have EU membership at some point in the future and knowing when we will arrive at that juncture and under what terms is a huge and important difference, and the SNP cannot dismiss it with a wave of its hand.
Whether the SNP likes it or not, reapplying for membership of the EU is likely to be a protracted process, and separation puts at risk many opt-outs and benefits that the UK has secured over the years. Even the SNP’s allies in Europe are saying as much.
Again, that is just an assertion of Mr Stewart’s. The reality is that East Germany and West Germany coming together after the Soviet era is not comparable to Scotland voting in a referendum to break away. Comparing apples and oranges does not serve any purpose whatever in the debate. What does serve it is to listen to people who know a bit about it.
Recently, the Flemish nationalist MEP Mark Demesmaeker, who is part of the European Free Alliance with which the SNP is affiliated, said that membership negotiations will be more difficult if Scotland insists on EU opt-outs. Another Flemish MEP, Jean-Luc Dehaene—a former prime minister of Belgium—has pointed out that there is already opposition to the UK’s budget rebate and that there is no opt-out of the euro or the Schengen free travel area for any new member of the EU, which is what Scotland would be.
Yet, undeterred by that reality, the Scottish Government blithely continues to assert that Scotland’s existing relationship with the EU as part of the UK, including its opt-outs, will be the basis for Scotland’s post-independence membership.
Not when it joined, but that is not a clever debating point: Christina McKelvie should know, as convener of the European and External Relations Committee, that all new member states have to sign up to work towards becoming members of the euro. Joining the euro might not happen on the day that those countries join the EU, but they have to become members of the euro. Membership of the EU is not an à la carte menu for new states, and there is no opt-out of the EU’s monetary union.
In addition, EU officials have declared that there will be no change in the rules that govern cross-border pension schemes. The National Association of Pension Funds, which represents 1,300 pension schemes and assets of £900 billion, knows a bit about such things. It has said that the EU’s announcement means that cross-border schemes will require to be fully funded, which is a significantly more demanding level of funding than is expected of the single-country scheme that we currently have as a member of the United Kingdom.
Schemes with members north and south of the border would become much more expensive to run, which would have
“major implications for pension schemes as part of the debate on independence for Scotland.”
Those implications cannot be ignored, although SNP members might wish that they could. Contrary to the SNP’s assertion, they are a fact. The pension system that operates across a UK that is part of the EU works well by pooling resources, thereby protecting the pensions of Scots who have worked all their lives to enjoy their retirement.
More than 4 million jobs in Britain depend directly or indirectly on trade with the rest of the European Union, not taking into account the public sector jobs that are supported by the taxes that are generated by that economic activity. Two thirds of all manufacturing jobs in the UK are sustained by trade with the rest of the EU, and as the European Union continues to expand we need to position ourselves to take advantage of that so that we can sell more goods and services and create more quality jobs with decent rates of pay.
Separation calls all that into question, and no amount of deluded assertion in Scottish Government motions can change that fact.
I am delighted to speak in this afternoon’s debate about the importance for our economy and society of Scotland taking its place in the EU as an independent member state. First, I want to clarify that it took Sweden, Austria and Finland a mere 13 months to negotiate the terms of their membership, and that was from a position of being outside the EU. Scotland can therefore expect to take less time, as is highlighted on page 85 of the Scottish Government’s “Scotland in the European Union” paper.
The very positive contribution that EU membership makes to Scotland and that Scotland makes to the EU has been set out in considerable detail both in “Scotland’s Future” and in “Scotland in the European Union”. In my view, Scotland stands to gain more as an independent member of the EU than it is possible for it to gain as a member state as part of the UK, and far more than it would gain as part of a country that might well vote to leave the EU in a little more than three years from now.
As an independent EU member state, the Scottish Government will have a full voice in crucial EU legislative and policy negotiations at every level in the EU decision-making process. Scotland’s First Minister will participate in meetings of the European Council, along with the other 28 heads of Government; those are the meetings at which key decisions about Europe’s future are taken.
Scotland currently has no voice in those discussions, although many smaller countries are represented at the table. Following independence, Scotland will have its own seat on the Council of the European Union, which will ensure that the Scottish Government can represent the interests of our people and the Parliament when new EU rules and regulations that will affect large parts of our economy and society are being agreed. An independent Scotland can expect to double its number of members of the European Parliament. How can it be fair that Luxembourg, which has 500,000 citizens, elects four MEPs, while Scotland, whose population is 10 times Luxembourg’s, has only six MEPs? Independence will correct such glaring anomalies.
As the amendments to the motion demonstrate, opponents of Scotland’s independence assert that all that is nonsense and that Scotland is too small to be effective as an independent EU member and is better served by remaining part of the UK, where it is safe and secure in the knowledge that the UK Government protects our interests in Brussels. Opponents assert that independence will see Scotland banished from the EU and that a country in which many millions of EU citizens reside and with which all EU members enjoy mutually advantageous economic relations will be cut adrift from an organisation of which we have been an integral member for more than 40 years. For what crime will such draconian punishment be meted out? Simply exercising what is arguably the most fundamental of all democratic rights, of which the EU is a self-proclaimed champion—namely, the right to democratic self-determination.
Both assertions lack any credibility whatsoever, as the expert evidence that has been presented so far to the European and External Relations Committee has demonstrated. The notion that size alone matters in EU negotiations is patently absurd. At every stage, the EU decision-making procedure is based on compromise and consensus among sovereign countries. Coalitions are formed when common ground exists. Independence would ensure that Scotland could contribute directly to EU policy making and align itself on every EU vote with like-minded countries, including the remainder of the UK, if that was in the best interests of the people of Scotland. However, if the best result required a different stance to be taken, the Scottish Government would be able to take that different stance and cast her vote accordingly. That is what independence in the EU means and it is what Scotland needs.
It is to stretch credibility to breaking point to suggest that Scotland is better off in Europe as part of the UK. Since the days of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, and under successive UK Governments, the UK has been moving to the outer margins of EU influence. I fully expect that to culminate in the UK exiting the EU in the next few years—a decision that will wreak havoc with Scotland’s economy. Only independence will ensure that Scotland remains part of the EU. Rather than jeopardising Scotland’s EU interests, independence is the only way of protecting them.
In the publications that I mentioned and in later papers, the Scottish Government has shown that it has a positive vision for Scotland as an independent member of the EU. That positive case rests on the many contributions that an independent Scotland will make to the collective benefit of the entire EU.
Benefits derive from the excellence of our theoretical and applied research; the contribution of our highly skilled workforce; our deep-seated commitment to tackling the challenges of energy security, climate change, active and healthy ageing and demographic change that face all European societies; and developing the wider economic and social opportunities that exist for an independent Scotland in the EU.
I am as aware as anyone that the EU needs reform—reforms that will close what has become an unacceptable divide between the EU level of governance and the citizen; reforms that will ensure that the EU takes action only when there is a clear need for it to do so and even then in the least intrusive and least burdensome manner possible; and reforms that will ensure that the Governments and Parliaments that are closest to citizens engage in shaping the EU integration agenda in a constructive and mutually beneficial manner.
Those are the reforms that I want to take place at the EU level. It is essential that an independent Scotland has a place at the EU top table to drive forward that reform process.
I am pleased to speak in the debate. As we head towards September, many questions have been asked about Scotland’s place in the EU. For example, only last week and again this morning, concerns were raised about the fishing sector. As we move towards the referendum, it is important that such questions are taken into consideration and that facts and measured answers outweigh political lines and spin.
As the Scottish Government wishes to change our constitutional arrangements, the burden of proof falls on it to address the concerns that have been raised about EU membership. We owe it to everyone who has a vote in September—including those in leading industries and sectors—to be honest, open and transparent.
Scotland’s role in Europe has not been diminished due to being part of the UK. We have been able to work in partnership and there have been many positive and important outcomes. Currently, as part of the UK, we have 29 votes—a voting bloc that no other country can better. On balance, it is more positive for our sectors to keep that strong voice at the top table. The alternative would mean dropping to seven votes—the same as Croatia, Ireland and Lithuania.
I will come on to the CAP payments. The issue is that the Scottish Government can give no guarantees to Scottish farmers about what the situation will be once we have had to renegotiate our way into the EU. It is unfair of the Government to make big promises of increased payments that it cannot justify.
The benefits of remaining within the UK, with its voting power, are clear. Even if an independent Scotland were to join with Ireland, Croatia and Lithuania, it still would not have the voting bloc or the strength of voice that it currently has.
That strength allows us opportunities within the EU. For example, recently, we were able to play a much stronger hand in the dispute about mackerel, in which UK representation and influence backed up the argument. Also as part of the UK, we were able to deliver a conservation credit scheme, which was of great benefit to Scottish fishermen when it came to the debate on days at sea.
Our quotas need to remain at a level that will ensure the future of our fishermen. By being part of the UK, we are able to benefit from flexibility that might not be available post independence. Currently, quotas are negotiated as part of the UK and then divided among the home nations. The recent concordat provides stability in that situation. Our sector in Scotland benefits from having a bigger UK quota and a relative stability that can be vital in a sector in which the catches and values can fluctuate, as was highlighted only last week by the news that the value of Scottish landings had dropped by 8 per cent.
As part of the UK, we also have the opportunity to lease quota among our partners throughout the UK. That is a unique arrangement. The other option that is available to member states is to trade quota, but that obviously means giving up some quota. Under the leasing arrangement, Scotland is able to catch more quota from throughout the UK and more than its original allocation. That leasing arrangement is a valuable commodity for our sector, as it gives it access to higher quota, but it would disappear under independence. The opportunity to lease among partners would be turned into having to trade with competitors.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that we do not know what the outcome of negotiations for EU membership will be. At least we now have an acceptance that there will be negotiations, but we are asking businesses and sectors to take a leap in the dark. We know that the membership process will be protracted, difficult and political. It is not realistic to suggest otherwise.
The SNP asserts that the negotiations will be finalised by March 2016, but that seems pretty unrealistic to someone who has followed the recent CAP negotiations. Negotiations in Europe are never that simple. What will happen to sectors that are dependent on the EU if the negotiation is longer than the promised 18 months? What will happen to the quotas and the continuing CAP negotiations?
The new member states may all agree that an independent Scotland could join—I say “may”, as many of the national states have their own separatist movements on which they have an eye—but there are no guarantees about what the conditions would be. Nations that want more money for farmers or more quotas for their fishermen will regard it as an opportunity to better their lot at Scotland’s expense. The rebate, which is worth £135 to every Scottish household, will be up for grabs.
Scotland cannot go into negotiations without recognising the need to compromise. To think otherwise is politically naive and potentially damaging to some of our biggest sectors. Will we compromise on the rebate, our fishermen or our farmers? When Nicola Sturgeon went to the European Council, she argued about retaining the rebate; she did not argue for more support for fishing or farming.
SNP members will no doubt highlight, as the cabinet secretary did, the UK Government’s recent decision on the convergence uplift. I do not defend that decision; it was wrong and there was cross-party support for questioning it. However, although we agree on the problem, we do not agree on the solution. I think that a solution can be found within the UK that will deliver a level playing field for our farmers. Separation from the UK would make our farmers leave their biggest export market—one that, at the moment, has no trade or currency restrictions—and would erect barriers where, at the moment, we have partnership. The lack of a plan B on the currency is extremely damaging for business, and SNP claims of how much better off every farmer would be are nothing more than assertions when we do not know what the terms of a negotiated EU membership would be.
The Scottish Government cannot have it both ways. The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment often talks of the concessions that he has achieved in Europe, most recently on greening, yet at the same time he talks about our interests not being served. He cannot make both claims. Surely it is easier for a Scottish minister to influence the small UK team that goes to the Council of Ministers than it is for Scotland, with seven votes, to try to influence the other 28 member states, which have no national interest in Scotland.
Scotland has a great role in Europe, and influence. We can and should be proud of our achievements.
This debate occurs against the backdrop of European elections to a Parliament that is likely to see an increase of representation of a Euro-sceptical nature across Europe. It is appropriate, therefore, to stress the Scottish Government’s desire to play its part as a constructive member of the European Union and, we hope, as an independent member state.
The document, “Scotland’s Priorities for EU Reform” ably illustrates that Scotland’s priorities are those of reform, not of treaty change; of a greater use of subsidiarity and proportionality; of cutting back regulations; and of using directives where comprehensive harmonisation of the laws of the member states is not absolutely necessary.
Implicit in the competence review that has been embarked on by the coalition Government at Westminster is the possibility of treaty change, if not the likelihood of such change. Despite the language of David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech in January 2013, it is unclear what has been achieved so far. We know, of course, that he referred to the single market as being at the core of the EU, a view that is fully supported by the Scottish Government, which knows the importance of being part of that market with regard to attracting investors. Indeed, were any part of these islands to be outside of that market, there can be no doubt of the damaging consequences. It is no surprise, therefore, that Vince Cable and Nick Clegg voiced concerns about that.
We know, however, that Cameron wants there to be a shift in the balance of competences, particularly with regard to the environment, social affairs and crime. What that will mean in practice remains to be seen, but what we know is that the Conservatives want to give an impression of being tough on Europe to prevent slippage of votes to UKIP. As Nick Clegg has said, the Conservatives are “flirting with exit”.
Scotland, of course, is not at that top table. We have had recent experience of the difficulties that are caused by our not being at the top table, in the form of the UK’s decision not to allocate the full pillar 1 convergence uplift to Scotland, even though this Parliament took a different view and the UK received that money only because of Scotland’s low per hectare payment rate.
We know that, rather than fully embracing renewables, the coalition at Westminster prefers to support the nuclear industry unfairly. It is clear that, as an independent member state, Scotland would have different priorities and would seek to learn from other small states, such as Denmark, which intends to make Copenhagen the world’s first carbon neutral capital and is promoting the use of closed-circuit television on fishing vessels to prevent discards. We could learn a lot from Denmark, Ireland and others with regard to how to approach EU negotiations as a small country.
I refer those who think that separate Scottish membership might damage relations with the rest of the UK to what Dara Murphy TD, of Fine Gael, said to the European and External Relations Committee. He noted that Ireland’s best relationship in the EU is with the UK, and that, on most issues, the two countries share a common position. He said:
“We all know the history, but now when we go into Europe, we go in as equal partners and member states.”—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 27 February 2014; c 1860.]
Indeed, that is the way that it should be. We should recognise their common interests but should not be afraid to disagree when those interests diverge, whether that be on fishing, farming or even arrest warrants and student visas.
There is no time to go into detailed arguments about article 48 versus article 49, continuity of effect or opt-outs, but we should perhaps remember that it is quite clear that the European Union treaties make no specific provision for the consequences for EU membership when, by a consensual and lawful constitutional process, the democratically determined majority view in part of the territory of an existing member state is that it should become an independent state. Therefore, I have to say that I am disappointed with the Labour amendment, particularly in relation to its reference to the remarks of President Barroso on “The Andrew Marr Show”, which, of course, are not referred to in full. We all know that, in support of his remarks, Barroso made reference to Kosovo and to Spain’s refusal to recognise Kosovo internationally.
Kosovo, formerly part of Serbia, is not an EU country and is not seeking EU membership. Barroso’s remarks were disowned almost immediately by many in the Commission, including the justice commissioner, Viviane Reding. They were described by Jim Currie, in evidence to the European and External Relations Committee, as “unwise” and “inaccurate”. I believe that the Labour amendment is unwise and inaccurate.
Just in case the Conservatives are resting on their laurels in not referring to Barroso, I remind them of the comments that Barroso made in October, that David Cameron’s plans to claw back UK powers from Brussels are “doomed to failure”, as all 28 member states would fail to back Britain’s “unreasonable” demands. I suspect that the Conservatives would not agree on that.
I also gently point out that there are no doubt unionist parties with candidates for the European elections who are seeking election in South West England, which includes Gibraltar, but I doubt that those candidates will be supporting the Spanish Government’s approach to issues of self-determination.
It would be helpful if the better together parties—now that David Cameron has helpfully indicated that, in the event of a yes vote, his Government would support Scottish membership of the EU—could tell us what they would do to facilitate entry, rather than playing up perceived obstacles or seeking to avoid the question, as Alistair Carmichael did in evidence to our committee.
Scotland should become an independent member of the EU. To achieve the best for Scotland, it must do so.
I am delighted to be speaking in the debate this afternoon. As a businessman who, until recently, travelled constantly through Europe and who speaks a number of European languages, I have experienced at first hand the many benefits that we enjoy as being part of the EU. Once, when I was travelling on business, a Japanese customer phoned up and said, “Hello, can I speak to Cameron Buchanan?” The receptionist replied, “Sorry, he’s in Europe.” He said, “But I’m calling Europe.” In Japan, they have absolutely no idea why we would say that. We are in Europe; we are part of Europe.
The SNP constantly bemoans Scotland’s lack of a seat at the top table, but that is nonsense. Scottish ministers have participated in the vast majority of EU council meetings. They all sit side by side with UK ministers in the EU, but—and this is critical—as part of the UK.
Furthermore, not only are our interests represented at the top table during international negotiations in Brussels, but altogether we form the largest national representation and carry significant weight. Scotland on its own would be one of the smallest voting states in the EU in terms of population—not just Luxembourg and Malta—with virtually no clout, as opposed to Scotland being part of the UK, which carries a large voting participation. The UK has 29 votes on the EU’s Council of Ministers, whereas countries with around Scotland’s population have only seven, sometimes even fewer. That makes the UK one of the four largest voting blocs, alongside Germany, France and Italy.
The UK uses its influence on behalf of Scotland on a whole host of issues of particular interest to people and businesses in Scotland, such as budget contributions, agricultural subsidies, structural funds and, in particular, fisheries. We have membership of a country that has a strong international voice and that is able to defend our interests in areas such as financial services, which have an enormous impact on the Scottish economy. More than 150,000 people are directly or indirectly employed in financial services in Scotland.
Twenty years ago, we voted on the single market—not a market for singles; my aunt thought that it meant that I could take a French girl out without telling my mother. The EU gives UK businesses access to the world’s largest market. European markets account for half of the UK’s trade and foreign investments, providing around 3.5 million jobs. The right of free movement of EU citizens is valuable for employers, as it enables them to recruit from a far wider pool. Recently, mobile phone roaming charges were abolished, which benefits both businesses and individuals in Europe. For 40 years, we have been working alongside our European colleagues with notable success.
That said, I accept that in recent years the feeling that the EU is too powerful and far reaching has permeated British politics, particularly in the EU’s concentration on petty regulations. That is why the UK is trying to reform the EU from within, not from without, and I fully support those endeavours. The national interest is for Britain to be in Europe, not run by Europe. That is why the Conservatives want to get powers back from Brussels to Britain, particularly over social and petty employment legislation.
Certainly. One example is the fact that we have to have two people to stand by ladders. They are bringing in all these stupid little petty regulations. That is one example; there are probably many others.
The Conservatives do not want such petty regulations. Contrary to what we might hear from the SNP, Labour and Liberal Democrat benches, we are far from alone in seeking a better arrangement. The figures on public support for the EU show it to be what our Prime Minister has repeatedly called “wafer-thin”—and that is not just in the UK. Eurobarometer reports that in the Netherlands 56 per cent of people think that the EU is going in the wrong direction. The Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, has written:
“Monnet’s Europe needs reform to fit the 21st century”.
The out-going Commission President Barroso, whom we keep hearing about, has said:
“We will not go back to the ‘old’ normal, we have to shape a ‘new’ normal”.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz says:
“I’m an enthusiastic pro-European, but I think the EU is in a catastrophic situation”.
Italy’s former Prime Minister Letta is clear that
“we need to reshape the Union”.
In Scotland, 58 per cent want a referendum on the EU, which we have already heard. That includes 63 per cent of SNP voters—that is only 2 per cent less than the Tories. They may well vote to stay in, but that shows that they do at least want a say. That is not something cooked up by the Tories to appease Westminster back benchers; the people of this country want their say.
The Conservatives are the only party that will give Scots a real choice on whether they wish to stay in the EU and reform it and the only party that will offer a genuine chance for Scottish people to shape their relationship within Europe.
We believe that the most satisfactory outcome would be the UK remaining in a reformed EU. We have already shown that reform is possible. Gone are the days when the Labour Party simply waved through EU legislation, without proper analysis. [Interruption.] Yes, it is true.
The Conservative Party and indeed the coalition have worked hard to make sure that we properly scrutinise legislation from Europe that will impact us here in Britain. David Cameron has already taken tough action to stand up for Britain in Europe by cutting the EU budget to protect British taxpayers, vetoing a new EU treaty that would have given more powers to Brussels and refusing to spend British taxes on bailing out the euro. It was under this Government that we introduced a “referendum lock” to make sure that no powers can pass from Britain to Brussels without the consent of the British people in a referendum and we ended UK participation in the EU bail-out funds, so we will never have to bail out other EU member states. We also vetoed a new EU treaty because it did not safeguard our interests. We cut the EU budget, protected the British rebate, which, of course, an independent Scotland would lose, and reduced red tape on small businesses.
We kept the UK out of the euro and launched a review of what the EU does and how it affects us in the UK. Even with the UK rebate, membership of the EU costs us around £14 billion annually.
In 2012, the main hall of this Parliament held an exhibition of two of the remaining letters of William Wallace that of course included the Lübeck letter, which was issued by Wallace and Sir Andrew Murray after the battle of Stirling Bridge. In that letter, they ask the Hanseatic trading port of Lübeck to resume trade with Scotland. A similar letter is known to have been sent to Hamburg, but it was regrettably destroyed in the second world war. The Lübeck letter, which dates from 1297, reminds us how long Scotland has been reaching out to our European neighbours in friendship and trade.
Scotland has a proud history of engagement in Europe that has been centuries in the making. All research in this area points to a modern Scotland that is pro-European and remains committed to the European Union.
According to an Ipsos-MORI poll published on 14 February 2013, just over half of Scots—53 per cent—said that they would stay in the EU. A similar poll from November 2012 on attitudes in England found that 43 per cent would vote to stay in the EU. I do not think that that 10 per cent statistical difference comes in any way close to revealing the gulf between the attitudes in Scotland and the attitudes in the rest of the UK regarding our future within Europe. One has only to look at the widespread condemnation of and revulsion at the UKIP European election posters to know that Scotland is nowhere near the level of euroscepticism expressed south of the border. We should be very concerned about the message that such images, recent decisions of the UK Government—such as the use of the veto without consultation with the Scottish Government ministers—and Conservative plans to opt out of EU police and justice co-operation send to our EU partners.
Last year, EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding warned that the decision to opt out of justice co-operation was nonsensical and risked leaving the UK sidelined on security issues. The UK’s influence in Europe is diminishing. In a strongly worded criticism of Tory proposals, the commissioner said that Britain’s response to the international horsemeat scandal would have been imperilled if ministers had succeeded in withdrawing from EU law and policing co-operation.
What is the member’s view of the position laid out in the paper “Scotland in the European Union”, which was published by the Scottish Government, which says that the Scottish Government would wish an independent Scotland to retain the opt-out in the justice and home affairs areas?
The problem is where the UK is going with this. No transition has been planned for what will happen if we choose to opt out at this stage.
Last autumn, the home secretary, Theresa May, told the Commons that the Government intended to exercise Britain’s opt out from more than 100 police and criminal justice measures under the banner of repatriating British powers from Brussels. Viviane Reding said:
“It’s going to damage Britain ... All these elements of collaboration between security forces and police co-operation have been built up in order to combat crime and catch criminals … everyone has said this will result in the UK being sidelined.”
In 2010, the UK sent out European arrest warrants for 256 people, which resulted in 116 people being extradited to face justice in the UK, including one of the men who attempted to bomb the London transport network in July 2005. Opting out would not be automatic, could cost the UK a large sum in compensation and might leave an interim period when there was no co-operation at all. That situation is simply untenable.
Viviane Reding went on to criticise Chris Grayling for his suggestion that the UK could leave the European Court of Human Rights rather than submit itself to judicial expansion on human rights. Judge Dean Spielmann, president of the European Court of Human Rights, said of that threat:
“We have a unique system of protecting human rights ... Britain should be very careful not to lose its credibility by taking such a move.”
We are in a position in which UK influence in Europe is being diminished by the UK Government’s stance.
That has been raised in this Parliament, too. In March the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee heard evidence of the Scottish Government’s deep concerns that Westminster’s actions would cause significant difficulty in bringing to justice criminals who flee to other EU jurisdictions. At the time, committee member Sandra White said:
“Sufficient safeguards don’t appear to have been put in place and we need to hear first-hand what impact Westminster’s actions will have on Scotland. That is why I hope that my colleagues on the Justice Committee will agree to invite the Home Office Minister behind this to appear before us when she visits Scotland.”
I am in my last minute. Sorry.
We took much evidence on the European and External Relations Committee and I would like to finish with a quote from Laura Cram, who is professor of European Politics at the University of Edinburgh. She published a paper called “When Push Comes to Shove: Context and Continuity in Scotland-EU Relations”, in which she said:
“Clear consensus emerged in evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee, that transition and interim relationships would play a key role in any post-independence negotiation with the European Union. It is true that an independent Scotland may not receive all that it asks for in any new negotiations. However, any change will bring not only risk but also opportunities.”
As a member of the European and External Relations Committee and an MSP whose constituents benefit greatly from the advantages of being part of the European Union, I am delighted to have the opportunity to highlight the benefits that Scotland enjoys as part of a strong United Kingdom in Europe. I have spoken in the past of the importance of being part of a large and dynamic jobs market in the EU and I believe that the pooling and sharing of resources and the advantages that we gain from being part of a culturally rich and diverse union will help us secure a competitive advantage against the growing markets in Asia and elsewhere.
I believe in a positive case for Scotland in Europe. I also believe that we must continue to argue the positive benefits of the EU as well as negotiate the changes that we would like to see to benefit our nation. I want the best possible deal for Scotland, and all the evidence that is available to me demonstrates that, as far as EU membership is concerned, the best deal for Scotland is to remain part of the United Kingdom within a European Union.
Successive United Kingdom Governments have argued for the best possible deals for Scotland within the EU since 1973. To this day, we maintain opt-outs in certain treaties and rebates that are not available to newer members, which bring a distinct political and economic advantage for the United Kingdom and therefore Scotland.
I understand that there are areas in which we must work harder in the UK to ensure that Scotland receives all the available benefits from the settlement, but those benefits far outstrip the disadvantages. That argument was highlighted in evidence that was given to the European and External Relations Committee by Dara Murphy TD, from the Irish Parliament, who was quoted earlier. He stated:
“There are two types of alliance within the EU. Alliances of small member states come together either geographically or through a shared interest ... Then there is our alliance with the UK, which is based on the fact that it is one of the three or four big powerhouses in Europe. We all know that the powerful countries often carry a significant degree of influence within the EU—and rightly so”.—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 27 February 2014; c 1860.]
Mr Murphy highlighted what many of us already know—that Scotland has a stronger and more powerful voice in Europe as part of the United Kingdom.
To take the Irish example, how can the member explain why farmers in Ireland get two and a half times more funding than Scottish farmers? Does that not explain that a smaller country inside the EU can defend its farmers and fishing communities better than the Westminster Government is doing now?
There are two points. In the evidence that the members of the Irish Parliament gave, they talked about the common agricultural policy. I think that Claire Baker also touched on that. The reality for my constituents is that there is £11 billion of trade with Scotland across Europe, which is really important. However, it is equally important to remember, as we move forward, that there is £47 billion of trade between Scotland and England.
The debate has recently been centred on arguments about whether Scotland would achieve a smooth, automatic transition to EU membership through article 48 of the Treaty on European Union or would face a more rigorous application process through article 49. The experts have agreed to disagree over the correct route of entry, but the one thing that most agree on is that any negotiations would be tough. It seems to me that we should acknowledge the facts to the people of Scotland and not simply pretend that everything will be the same, because it will not be. If we choose to separate from the rest of the UK, the negotiated settlements that Scotland would have with the EU post independence would not be the same as they are now. As an active trade unionist and shop steward since my teens, I have always understood that there has to be compromise. In this instance, I believe that there would need to be compromise as we move forward.
When the cabinet secretary visited our committee at its previous meeting, she stated:
“I do not believe that there needs to be compromise, because it will be in everybody’s self-interest that we have the same terms.”—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 3 April 2014; c 1959.]
The people of Scotland know that that is simply not the case. There are many voices in Europe whose best interests would not be served by Scotland having the same fisheries quotas, treaty opt-outs and economic settlements that we now have as part of the United Kingdom, and we would need the other 28 countries to agree whatever we were able to negotiate as our position within the EU.
The Scottish Government refused recently to include a provision in the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill to guarantee a living wage. In doing so, it stated that European Union restrictions would block such provisions. If the Scottish Government cannot guarantee that our lowest-paid workers are given a fair wage as a result of European legislation, does it seriously believe that it can convince the people of Scotland that it would be able to negotiate all the opt outs and the other benefits that we have as a country that forms part of the United Kingdom?
It is in Scotland’s best interests to remain part of the United Kingdom and, through the UK, to be part of the European Union. That is best way to have a positive agenda for Scotland.
Before I begin my speech, I will comment on Alex Rowley’s speech. He quoted a member from Ireland saying that one of the great things that the Irish can do is make alliances with, for example, the UK, to form a powerful block in the European Union. Of course they can do that, but do the Irish then go on to say that, because they can form such alliances, they want to be represented in the European Union by London? Of course they do not say that. They form alliances when it is appropriate for them to do so, but when they want to vote differently from the UK, they can choose to do so. We cannot do that; that is the big difference.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the debate because, as a member of the Committee of the Regions in the EU, I visit Brussels regularly and I see for myself how much stronger Scotland’s voice in the EU would be in an independent Scotland.
The European Union has 28 member states, ranging from large states such as Germany, with a population in excess of 80 million, to states such as Cyprus, which has a population of just over three quarters of a million people. Therefore, Scotland would certainly not be the smallest state in the EU. Furthermore, increasing evidence highlights that the smaller EU member states, such as Finland, Sweden and Denmark, are relatively more successful in European Union negotiations than are the large member states.
The EU aims to promote the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. Over the past 60 years, it has grown to become the world’s largest single market with more than 500 million consumers. If Scotland were independent, the Scottish Government would be involved fully as an equal partner in the decisions taken by the European Union. We are represented in negotiations by the Westminster Government, but when it is faced with competing priorities between, for example, what is best for Scotland and what is best for the city of London, Scotland loses out. That would never happen with an independent Scottish Government, whatever its political persuasion.
Successive Westminster Governments have failed to protect the interests of Scotland and the current Government is still failing to deal fairly with Scotland when it comes to the EU. In the newly negotiated agricultural subsidies for 2014 to 2020—the pillar 1 of the common agricultural policy that other members have mentioned—the UK Government received pillar 1 convergence uplift only because of Scotland’s low per hectare payment rate. We must remember that about 85 per cent of Scotland’s land has less favoured area status as compared with about 15 per cent of land in England. Despite that, the Westminster Government has decided to allocate that convergence uplift money pro rata across the UK, so that Scotland’s farmers and crofters will not receive the full payments that the EU intended them to have. In effect, farmers in East Anglia are receiving payments designed for crofters in the Western Isles. If Scotland had been independent when the latest CAP budget was being decided, we would have benefited from a principle that, by 2020, no member state would receive less than an average of €196 per hectare. That would have brought Scotland an extra €1 billion between 2014 and 2020.
Fishing is another industry that is vital to Scotland’s economy but here again Scotland’s interests are not properly represented. Despite the fact that two thirds of the UK fishing industry is based in Scotland, the Scottish ministers have not been allowed to speak on behalf of the UK in Europe, even when the interest to be discussed is almost exclusively Scottish. None of that is surprising when we learn, as we did when papers from Ted Heath’s Government were released under the 30-year rule, that a Scottish Office memo from the time stated that the Scottish fishing industry
“must be regarded as expendable”.
Scotland, its interests and its people have not been Westminster’s priority for a very long time.
The Scottish Government’s aims for Scotland fit very well with the EU’s growth strategies. In 2010, the European Union set a 10-year growth strategy for the EU entitled Europe 2020. The strategy set seven flagship initiatives to maximise the potential of the EU’s member states and the initiatives closely match our own targets for Scotland’s growth.
For example initiative 3 is the “digital agenda for Europe” and aims to speed up the roll-out of high-speed internet and to reap the benefits of a digital single market. Scotland, with its remote and scattered population, would benefit enormously from the realisation of such an initiative, and the areas of Scotland that would benefit the most are those that are most in need of investment and development.
The food and drink sector contributes 18 per cent of Scotland’s overseas exports but a bit less than 1.5 per cent of the overseas exports of the UK as a whole. It is therefore vital to Scotland’s business interests that Scotland retains the access to the common market that membership of the EU brings. In 2010, the EU 27 accounted for more than 25 per cent of total world output.
We cannot afford to be shut out from that market. However, if Scotland remains in the UK and there is, as seems likely, a referendum on Europe in the next Westminster Parliament, there is a real possibility that Scotland could vote to stay in the EU but end up outside the EU. Our access to a market of around 500 million people would be threatened, as a result of our being outvoted by the rest of the UK.
If we were independent, we would have our own voice in Europe to protect our interests and argue our case. At the moment, Scotland’s interests are never a priority. Scotland benefits from being part of the European Union, but an independent Scotland would benefit much more. No longer would we stand on the sidelines while others weighed our interests against their priorities. No longer would we have to hope that the UK Government would put Scotland first; we would know that a Scottish Government would always do so. Who among us would let their business interests or personal financial matters and relationships with others be dealt with by an intermediary? That is Scotland’s position with regard to the EU, as long as we stay in the UK.
Europe Day is celebrated on 9 May each year. It is a celebration of peace and unity in Europe. I hope that in 2016 we will be able to take our place as a fully independent member of the EU and happily join in the celebrations with all our European neighbours, including the rest of the UK.
Like Annabel Goldie, I voted yes in 1975. There are many areas of agreement in this debate. Many members think that continued membership of the EU is desirable and that we benefit from the shared desire to solve common problems and tackle issues that concern all member states. Many of us recognise that the EU has achieved improvements in human rights and workers’ rights—not petty restrictions but workers’ rights—throughout Europe, as a result of working together. I think that many of us also believe that the democratic accountability of the EU’s institutions is important and that the EU is not merely a single market but a social and political union, in whose governance citizens of member states have a voice, through the election of representatives to the European Parliament.
I am sure that many of us are disappointed that European issues are not given sufficient importance in our national media, which focuses on nonsensical stories about straight bananas and the like. It is sad that in Scotland there seems to be an almost complete lack of interest in the European parliamentary elections next month. Several constituents to whom I spoke last weekend thought that they had received their referendum polling cards several months early; they did not realise that their cards were for European Parliament elections.
The democratic and financial accountability of the EU and its institutions could be improved. However, even if the system is not perfect or even nearly perfect, it is extremely desirable that nations should work together, address issues across borders, enshrine the rights of their citizens and ensure that those rights are not undercut by neighbouring states. Where there is a social union as well as a common trading area, decisions should be taken democratically.
What puzzles me is why SNP members who believe that to be desirable at European level reject the concept of political union within the United Kingdom. If it is good to send a dozen or so Scottish MEPs to a European Parliament of 766 members, why is it such a bad thing to send 59 Scottish MPs to a UK Parliament of 650? If a small number of Scottish MEPs can have influence in Europe, why surrender the influence of 59 MPs in the United Kingdom, particularly when the Scottish Government seems to wish to retain a part of so many of the UK’s institutions and unions?
The Government’s motion contains assumptions and assertions and, I am afraid, the usual view that what the Government would like to happen will happen. Anyone who questions the assertions and asks for detail on how they were arrived at is subject to a torrent of alliteration and accused of scaremongering. However, it is not just members of the better together campaign who are asking questions. Significant voices are raising issues about the Scottish Government’s assertions about Scotland’s membership of the EU and how long it would take to negotiate.
At a recent debate organised by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Professor Neil Walker of the University of Edinburgh pointed out that there is no legal precedent for the situation where an EU member state splits and both states wish to remain part of the EU. For example, Greenland did not seek membership of the EU when it left Denmark. He also argued that, if normal international rules of state continuity apply, the rest of the UK would be likely to remain the member state as it would have the larger share of the population, and therefore Scotland would have to reapply for membership.
It could also be argued that, because the UK is a current member state and it was Scotland’s decision to leave that member state rather than a decision of the rest of the UK, it is Scotland that would leave the EU. Maybe the Scottish Government now accepts that, because it seems to accept that it would need to negotiate membership.
Does the member recognise the evidence that was given to the European and External Relations Committee by Graham Avery, honorary director general of the European Commission, who wrote Commission opinions on the membership applications of 14 countries and 19 negotiation frameworks for accession? He said:
“It is obvious that the commonsense solution would be for Scotland’s membership of the EU to be effective on the same day as its independence, and it is obvious that 5 million Scottish citizens, who have been European citizens for 40 years, should not be treated in the same way as people of non-member countries”.—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 30 January 2014; c 1731.]
All that the cabinet secretary demonstrates there is that there are differences of opinion. I quoted one academic opinion and she quoted another. That is why we cannot be certain what will happen. To assert that we want something to be a certain way does not mean that it will happen that way.
We do not know how long splitting up the assets and liabilities and institutions of the United Kingdom might take. The Scottish Government asserts that it will take 16 months to negotiate, but it takes two to agree the terms of separation and the UK Government has to play a part and have some say in that. We do not know how long an application for membership of the EU would take. The Government might like negotiation to start on 19 September and be completed by March 2016, but that does not mean that that will happen.
The process would also depend on the attitudes of the other member states. They may well be friendly and favourable towards Scotland, but it might be more important to them to send a message to independence movements in their countries. Spain will not even allow Catalonia to hold a referendum. Does anyone really believe that Spain would send out the message that an independent Catalonia could easily join the EU?
If the application process was not completed within the timeframe that the Scottish Government asserts it will happen within, what would happen to my constituents? What would happen to the payment of agricultural subsidies and rural development funds? Would the EU continue to pay out if Scotland was not yet a member state?
I will quote somebody else who knows a thing or two. Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, has described the application process as potentially “protracted and tortuous” and he said that, when complete, it would leave Scotland as a “small voice” that required to attract support from many and disparate allies.
I say to SNP members that to raise these important issues is not to scaremonger but to be realistic. We need answers, because the issues are so important to the decision that we will take in September.
I thank the Scottish Government for bringing the subject of Scotland’s voice in the EU to the chamber for debate today. I like to think that I am the French voice in the Parliament, and I am also a voice of the fishing industry. I spent 30 years working in the fishing industry in this country, but I do not recognise what some members in other parts of the chamber said when they talked about the benefits to the fishing industry of Scotland being part of the UK, and about the UK negotiating Scottish fishing rights with the EU for the past 40 years. Many people on the quaysides in Fraserburgh and Peterhead and in the fish processors in Aberdeen will ask how some members of the Scottish Parliament can tell us that the fishing industry is better off being part of the UK and having UK ministers negotiating in Europe. I can tell members that that is not the case. One reason why I am here in the Scottish Parliament is that Westminster is not working for the Scottish fishing industry.
The member mentioned seven votes. The votes are not working for the Scottish fishing industry. That is what it has been telling us from the start. After independence, we will have a lot more than seven votes. If the UK is on our side, we will have the voices of the UK and the voices of the MEPs representing an independent Scotland. An independent Scotland will have more MEPs to represent the Scottish fishing industry and the farming industry, ensuring that our farmers get what their neighbours in Ireland get. That is very important.
Did the member listen to the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation when he said that what mattered was not who was in the chair, but what was said and how effective it was?
I listened to Bertie Armstrong—I always listen to Bertie Armstrong and I know exactly what he said. It does not matter who is in the chair, yet we all recognise that Richard Lochhead has been the best cabinet secretary for rural affairs, representing the interests of the farming and fishing industries. Unfortunately, he has had to represent the interests of our farmers and fishermen not in Brussels but at Westminster, as he must negotiate with the Westminster politicians to get help from the EU, and the Westminster politicians do not share his views. In an independent Scotland, our cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead will really be the voice of the fishermen and the farming industry.
I must go on.
It is common sense that an independent Scotland will become a member of the EU after independence. That was very much highlighted when two French politicians came to Scotland. One of them was Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, a senior French senator from the Union for a Popular Movement Party, who came to see us at the beginning of the year and who made the position of the French Senate very clear.
During a debate among the French senators, which members can read online if they get a translation via Google or if they ask me, one of the senators, André Gattolin said:
“The comments of the President of the European Commission, Mr Barroso, are too far fetched; the European Union does not provide rules for the departure of a member state. I do not see how we could impose on Scotland an accession process as if Scotland was a new member.”
Madame la Senatrice Garriaud-Maylam concluded the debate by saying that the threats that were made by Mr Barroso were inappropriate and resulted from pressure from London. She added that they were not credible and that
“If Scotland votes for independence, it will remain in the European Union.”
The senatrice thought that that would be in the rest of the UK’s interest, too.
Another French politician, Madame Axelle Lemaire from the French Socialist Party in the Assemblée Nationale, appeared on the BBC’s “Politics Scotland” programme in March and denounced the actions of President Barroso. She said:
“It’s up to the Scottish people and to the people who live in Scotland, in general, to express their views. There is a very heated but democratic debate going on, and I don’t think it was up to President Barroso to say what he thinks about it.”
The French MP added that Barroso was after David Cameron’s support to head NATO. Unfortunately for the former Prime Minister of Portugal, he did not get the job—the former Prime Minister of another non-nuclear small country, Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, did. Madame Axelle Lemaire’s political judgment has been recognised this month, and the French MP who came to see us a few months ago is now the minister for the digital economy in President Hollande’s Government.
The views that have been expressed by French politicians on both sides of the political spectrum demonstrate that France is united in accepting the idea of an independent Scotland staying in the EU. There also seems to be agreement that it is for the people of Scotland to decide without outside interference.
The title of today’s debate is “Scotland’s Voice in the European Union”, but there have been several different debates going on. Some members have debated whether we should have an independent voice in the EU and have tried to compare and contrast wee, tiny Scotland with big, powerful Britain, as though that is the choice that we have to make. I only suggest that, after independence, when the interests of Scotland and those of the rest of the UK converge on priorities or policies, our combined voting clout in the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the Commission will, at the very least, not be diminished. When our interests diverge, it makes no sense at all for Scotland’s position to be represented by a larger block that has a different priority or policy to pursue. Therefore, for me, that question is settled—Scotland should represent itself at EU level.
Other members have debated whether we can represent ourselves and have suggested that it would be an extremely complex, difficult and time-consuming process. Michael McMahon was keen to criticise Christina McKelvie for making a comparison with what happened at the time of the reunification of Germany. There are, of course, vast differences between that situation and the Scottish situation, but there are a couple of points of comparison. First, there is no specific treaty provision for either situation. The solution to the German situation had to be found on the hoof, as it were, and on a pragmatic level, as will be the case with Scotland.
Another point of comparison is the fact that, at the time of the reunification of Germany, politicians from other EU countries said that the process would be terribly complicated and time consuming. We even had a British Prime Minister hosting conferences to ask the question, “How dangerous are the Germans?” The French President was asked for support to combat the German threat. What nasty rhetoric that was. It was said that a timescale of at least five years should be put on the process and that it would be a long and complex one. However, when it came to the crunch and the East Germans voted for a unification Government, a pragmatic solution was found. The EU is a democratic and an expansionist body, so in my view a pragmatic solution will be found.
Beyond the questions about whether Scotland can or should gain an independent voice in the EU and how it could do so, there is another question about how we would exercise that voice in the EU, what positions we would take and how we would engage in the debate about Europe’s future. That debate, much like our independence debate, is about power—not just where power is exercised, but how and in whose interests.
That brings me to the point that I had hoped to make in an amendment about the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. It surprised me a wee bit that the Government’s paper, “Scotland’s Priorities for EU Reform”, had only nine lines on trade and investment and that it made no reference to that crucial document that is being negotiated between the EU and the US, which, through a mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement, has the potential to hand over what should be democratically accountable power from the Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg, and even from the Council of Ministers and the Commission, to tribunals of corporate lawyers who will meet in private. In effect, that would open up the possibility of corporations being able to sue national Governments for having the nerve to have any impact on their profits by having social and environmental regulations.
One of the important reasons for my being pro-Europe is that the EU has a track record of demonstrating a high commitment to social and environmental regulation. If we start to undermine that in the TTIP, that is likely to set a precedent for other trade deals, particularly those that will impact on developing countries, whose Governments will not have the ability, the clout or the resources to stand up to the pressure of corporate interests.
I will give just one example. The Scottish Government consistently tells us that it has a strong regulatory approach to fracking for shale gas and that, if fracking for shale gas is pursued in Scotland, there will be buffer zones and high regulatory standards. There is a danger that, if the TTIP goes through in its present form, those self-same fracking companies that have wreaked such havoc in the United States will have the ability to sue Governments in the EU for imposing a higher regulatory standard on their activities.
There is a danger that even if there was the political will in Scotland to oppose that, we would not have the legal mechanism to do so. Can the proposed trade deal be stopped? I would argue that the parliamentary defeat of the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement demonstrated that such mechanisms can be defeated at European level. Voices are starting to come out against the proposed trade deal in the American Congress, too. This is exactly the time to be challenging the content of the proposed transatlantic trade and investment partnership between the EU and the US, and I believe that the Scottish Government should do so. There are alternatives to that deal. I encourage members to look at alternativetrademandate.org for ideas about a more humane trade arrangement that Europe could champion and which would be more in keeping with human rights, environmental protection and social justice.
I very much welcome this debate, having spent the past 12 months as a member of the European and External Relations Committee examining how an independent Scotland would or could play a future role in the EU. I am not sure whether the committee’s convener or the Scottish Government intended that our inquiry would expose the many myths perpetrated by the SNP, but it has been a very useful exercise for doing just that.
It is clear from the evidence given to the committee by many experienced, influential and key experts that there is no right that would allow an independent Scotland to be automatically admitted to the EU. I am thinking of contributions made by leading academics such as Kenneth Armstrong, professor of law at the University of Cambridge, who said that article 48, the so-called fast-track means by which an amendment to the treaties would be sufficient for Scottish membership, would be legally implausible and “incredibly politically risky.” Professor Armstrong went on to say that article 48 is
“a way of renegotiating the treaties between existing member states and not ... with ... some other non-member state.”
I am also reminded of what Patrick Layden, Queen’s counsel, said:
“If we decide seriously to leave the United Kingdom, one of the consequences that is reasonably clear and generally agreed is that Scotland will not be part of the European Union.”—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 23 January 2014; c 1695 and 1692.]
The Labour amendment rightly makes reference to the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s clear statement on Scottish EU membership, which was supported by his European Council counterpart Herman van Rompuy. Further, earlier this month, Señor Barroso’s deputy, Viviane Reding, wrote to the EERC convener, stating:
“When part of the territory of a Member State ceases to be part of that State, e.g. because that territory becomes an independent state, the treaties will no longer apply to that territory.”
I think that that is pretty clear.
Not at this point.
As far back as 2004, Señor Barroso’s predecessor, Romano Prodi, was saying exactly the same on the issue.
Some of the SNP backbenchers who spoke earlier would not take interventions. Roderick Campbell mentioned evidence from Ireland, but he may remember that an Irish delegate told the committee how envious the Irish were of the UK block vote of 30 votes and the negotiating power that that gave the UK. On what Bertie Armstrong, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said, his remark was made in answer to a suggestion that it should always be the Scottish officer who sat in the chair for the UK during EU fisheries negotiations, so there we are.
Additionally, there is the arrogant view that all other member states would simply acquiesce to Scotland’s request to simply carry on with its membership of the EU in the event of independence. We heard at the committee about how other nations, such as Spain, could use their blocking powers to demand more rights and about their sensitivities regarding nationalist ambitions. Jean-Claude Piris, the former legal counsel to the European Council, said that the French could not agree to Scotland’s entry without having a referendum in France.
I wonder how the member can point to a legal basis for depriving me of my European citizenship. There is no such basis in the acquis communautaire. Can he point one out to me?
The last thing that I want to do to the member is to remove his European citizenship.
The Conservative amendment rightly states the benefits that are associated with EU membership by Scotland being part of the UK, including staying out of the euro, securing the UK rebate and remaining outside the Schengen border zone. What guarantees are there that those benefits would not be lost by our pursuing independence?
Specifically on the rebate, the respected think tank New Direction has calculated that if it fails to renegotiate the terms of its membership, Scotland will lose out financially. The UK rebate is worth £295 million to Scotland every year, which is worth thinking about. On top of that, an independent Scotland might, alongside other member states, have to contribute to the remaining UK’s rebate, which would cost a further £46 million every year. Has the SNP thought that through?
Let us dispel at last the myth that Scots do not want a referendum on a reformed EU. Last year’s polling suggested that 58 per cent of Scots agree with holding such a referendum, including 43 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters, 52 per cent of Labour voters, and a staggering 63 per cent of SNP voters. So, as Annabel Goldie said, why can we not have a referendum on that question when the SNP is so keen on having a referendum on independence? It does not make sense.
As a committed European, I believe that the British people, including a majority of Scots, will vote in favour of membership of David Cameron’s reformed EU. I will be out campaigning for that rather than arguing for the SNP position, which will leave Scotland in the cold should we go down the lonely route of independence and separation.
Well, the fact that the SNP’s position on an independent Scotland in the EU is based on assumptions, the consequences of which we do not know, is one of the many reasons why I hope that the Scottish people will see sense and reject independence on 18 September. I support the amendment in Annabel Goldie’s name.
As is often the case with these debates, although it has been interesting, I am not sure that it has shed any light on the arguments that we are debating.
However, a number of points were made during the debate that are worth reflecting upon. I was quite surprised to hear that the convener of the European and External Relations Committee believes that Scotland has only two MEPs; the rest of us happen to think that there are slightly more than that. Perhaps she thinks that only those two matter. I am not sure which it is, but that was certainly the impression that she gave members this afternoon.
I agree with Christina McKelvie on the issue of workers’ rights, as I said in my opening contribution. One of the issues of most importance to workers in Scotland, as elsewhere, is the living wage. I wonder whether Christina McKelvie has any interest in pursuing the issue of the living wage, and whether the Scottish Government will take it through during stage 3 of the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill next week.
If I am not mistaken, we have the working time directive. The point that is worth making is that, in the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill, which I think will come before Parliament in the next few weeks, the Scottish Government has the opportunity to do something about the living wage if it chooses so to do.
We have heard that somehow Europe prevents that from happening, but it frankly beggars belief that Boris Johnson can introduce the living wage for workers in London and the Scottish Government cannot do the same for workers in Scotland. If we really care about workers’ rights, wherever they are legislated on—and I accept that Mr Wilson does care about workers’ rights—we must be consistent and think about the actions that we take.
Michael McMahon was absolutely right to draw our attention to the rules on pensions. Pensions are certainly one of the issues that people often raise with me on the doorstep; they are worried about their pensions. They do not understand why anything about their pensions has to change, because they do not understand the arguments that the Scottish Government is trying to make them believe.
Similarly, we need to know what the rules will be on VAT, because the UK has a distinct experience of operating VAT and we have no contribution from the Scottish Government that indicates what would happen if Scotland were foolish enough to separate and then try to be a member of the EU. What would the VAT situation be?
In my view, it would be a foolish thing to do, because, in my view, the Scottish Government has not laid before the people of Scotland all the facts that people need to make that democratic judgment. I fully respect the right of the Scottish people to exercise that judgment, and I have argued that point for many years in this Parliament, at a time when the Scottish Government was not willing to offer the people of Scotland a referendum. It is not the referendum that I am criticising, nor is it the Scottish people; it is the fact that we are being asked to make the decision based on so many assertions and so few answers.
I move on to Aileen McLeod’s contribution. I always listen to her carefully and with a great deal of interest and respect, because she has experience and knowledge of Europe. However, the whole issue is about how we use the political leverage that we have. What would be different if Scotland were separate from the rest of the UK? What would make SNP MEPs in Europe vote differently on maternity and paternity rights? That would not change. We need to look at how power is exercised and why.
Claire Baker talked about fisheries and was absolutely right to mention the uncertainty of the settlements, but that is one of a number of areas in which we do not have the correct information as yet; we have nothing other than assertions.
Alex Rowley talked about the pooling and sharing that are important in Europe, as in the rest of the UK. If we go into negotiations on Scottish membership with an attitude of no compromise, whether we take my view that article 49 would apply or the Scottish Government’s view that it would not, the other 28 countries would still have to agree on the terms on which we would join.
If Mr Yousaf had let me finish before intervening, I would have told him that I am talking not about Scotland being denied membership, but about Scotland negotiating membership and all 28 countries having to agree on the terms of that membership. That strikes me as a difficult negotiation, particularly if the Government says that it wants to hold on to all the opt-outs—out of the euro, out of Schengen and out of all the other things that we have opted out of in the UK. All those issues would have to be negotiated, and nobody else in Europe has similar arrangements, including countries on which we are depending for support, so the idea that they will vote to allow us to have such opt-outs is naive. It will be much more difficult, particularly if we go forward with the idea that we are not going to compromise on anything.
We already know what the Deputy First Minister’s red line is, and we have heard a few more in the course of today’s debate.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I have to ask Christian Allard, if Richard Lochhead has such a hard job negotiating within the UK delegation, how on earth will the Scottish Government cope when negotiating with 28 individual fisheries ministers, all with their own agendas? That seems absurd.
I would like to think that the turnout for the European elections in 30 days’ time will be higher than normal and I would like to think that our speeches today will have encouraged people to take part in the debate, but I am sorry to say that I doubt very much that that will be the case.
I welcome the wide range of speeches in the debate, most of which have shown the strength of commitment to Scotland’s role in Europe. The European Union has often been the subject of controversy, but it has brought us many fruits, such as peace, stability, access to half a billion consumers for our many exporters and benefits in culture and education, which Elaine Murray referred to.
The EU has brought the free movement of people across its member states’ borders, and immigration is vital to Scotland’s economic and cultural success. Our immigration needs differ from those of the rest of the UK, and I reject the frequent and populist anti-immigration sentiment that we have seen in recent months in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. I am concerned that we are hearing it in the weeks before the European elections, too. Scotland has a vibrant and thriving migrant community that continues to make an important contribution to our economy and our diversity as a nation.
The Parliament has a positive and ambitious perspective on the role that Scotland could play in the EU. Our role in the EU is also informed by the recognition that, to truly fulfil our potential as a nation, we need the full powers of independence.
As has been highlighted in the debate, there are policies on which we need our own voice and members across the chamber have described a number of them. I agree with the Labour Party’s concern about workers’ rights and I have serious concerns about what the Conservative Government might do to the provision of those rights.
Claire Baker and others raised CAP reform and fishing. Scotland has 60 per cent of the UK’s total seas and is responsible for two thirds of the UK’s fishing quota. Do we seriously think that we should maintain our membership of a union in which, as Stewart Maxwell said, Conservative Governments have said that fishing must be regarded as “expendable”?
On CAP reform and the recent settlement, is there a clearer demonstration than the CAP convergence criteria of the fact that we need to have reform and our own voice in Europe? Our farming community has lost out on €1 billion because of the UK’s negotiating stance. That is unacceptable.
As for having a voice and a seat at the top table, Richard Lochhead is—along with a Swedish minister—the most experienced minister at European Union discussions, yet the UK Government denies him the right to speak. How can that be a strong voice in Europe? It is also important to have our own voice on other areas such as renewables and the digital agenda.
Patrick Harvie made the important point that Europe is pragmatic, democratic and expansionist. He was right to say that the debate is about not just the means by which we have a voice in Europe but what we do and say there when we are an independent member. He referred to the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, which I hope that the Parliament will return to. We support the initiative, but it needs more scrutiny, which is far more difficult for a devolved Parliament than it is for an independent Parliament. He might be interested to know that, on a recent visit to Paris at the French Government’s invitation, I discussed with other ministers trade issues under that partnership relating to the digital market and culture.
It is important to acknowledge the recognition that Scotland will be a member of the EU. There will be huge benefits for Scotland and Europe in Scotland taking her place at the top table. The European Commission has not taken a view on Scotland because it has not been presented with a request to do so. Claire Baker said that the burden of proof is on the Scottish Government, but only the UK Government can ask the Commission to take a view, and it has not done so.
Scotland’s position is unprecedented. No article in the EU’s treaties allows for part of a member state that votes for self-determination to be unwillingly removed from the EU. The references to article 49 are all about a provision that would not apply in Scotland’s situation. Commentators who have expressed those views are simply expressing an opinion.
I reiterate that I have left in SPICe the response from not only the European Commission but the Council of Ministers on the fact that analysis has not been developed on the matter. Their opinion disregards the fact that there will be 18 months between the vote and independence. As the Scottish Government and UK Government have signed the Edinburgh agreement and both committed to respect the result of the referendum and to work co-operatively together in the interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK after a yes vote, there would be an obligation to seek to resolve Scotland’s position before the date of independence. It is telling that even David Cameron in a recent television debate made the point that he absolutely supports Scotland’s membership of the EU.
I will refer to some other points that were made, particularly about some aspects of the UK’s current position.
The UK is in danger of sleepwalking to the exit of the European Union. Cameron Buchanan made some references to Japanese business interests. He may be aware that the UK Government is currently consulting on the balance of competencies prior to the negotiations that we have heard about. One of the few countries that has agreed to engage in the balance of competencies review is, funnily enough, Japan. What is Japan’s view on the UK’s proposals? It is seriously concerned that the UK’s position would damage its access to the European Union. Perhaps Cameron Buchanan might want to reflect on that.
Given the dire warnings that we have heard from Conservative members about the danger of uncertainty in the debate, what does the cabinet secretary have to say about the terrible uncertainty of Mr Cameron’s proposals to renegotiate the European Union? How can he stand up as a political leader and offer a European policy that has no guarantees whatever?
That is a point very well made. Nobody to whom I have spoken in Europe thinks that treaty negotiation by threat of leaving the EU by referendum is any way to influence people to change.
Youth unemployment, on which we would want support for the European youth guarantee—a position not taken by the UK; climate change targets; renewables; the recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and the need for increased investment and innovation in digital areas are all matters on which Scotland could speak with its own voice were it to be independent.
As set out in “Scotland’s Future” and the “Scotland in the European Union” paper, the rest of the UK will remain a close ally. Where our interests coincide with those of the UK, together we will form a more powerful voice for action but, when Scotland has a distinct view, we will have a new ability to build alliances and make our case. The difference is that, either way, Scotland’s voice will be heard.
As well as being able to pursue its own interests, Scotland will work with other member states—our partners and our friends—on common issues and common interests. We know that the European Union needs reform, but that can be achieved within the existing treaty structure.
I am about to close.
We can pursue that agenda. Threatening to walk away from the European Union if we do not get our way is no way to bring about the change that is needed. We will act constructively. We will act for the progressive interests in the European Union.
We may have differing views about independence, but I hope that there will be much on which we can agree in the future. Would it not be better if, the next time that we had a debate on the European Union, we were preparing and planning what our collective, united voice will be as independent members of the European Union?