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There are only 28 days until the polls open for the European Union referendum and votes are cast across Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom on whether we should remain in or leave the European Union. Although the opinion polls in Scotland show a lead for support to remain, there is no room at all for complacency in Scotland, and polls are tight across the UK.
The leaders of all the parties that are represented in the chamber are committed to Scotland’s continued EU membership
. Their arguments for a remain vote may differ, as we will hear today, but the bottom line is that we are faced with a stark choice: do we remain in or leave the EU? There will be no qualifications on the ballot paper, which will simply ask: do we leave or do we remain? Of course, there may be voices to leave heard today.
The EU is not perfect. It is always changing and it needs to improve to ensure that it focuses on what matters to people, such as jobs, the economy, energy and general security and the environment. The Scottish Government is clear that being in the EU is far better for the people of Scotland than being out. Scotland wants and deserves to see arguments that are rational and reasoned and that respect the intelligence of one of the most politically engaged electorates in Europe. Today, I will concentrate on the benefits of Scotland’s EU membership and I hope that the Parliament can unite behind our call for a vote on 23 June to remain in the European Union. I will address what the EU has delivered in the past, what it is delivering in the present and what the prospects are for the future.
The EU is founded on the principles of solidarity and mutual support. It was born out of the needs of European countries to prioritise co-operation over conflict in the post-war years and to shape a better world for their children and grandchildren. The EU is much more than a simple trade association; it is based on the principles of strengthening peace, security, justice and prosperity for all. Those aims are embedded in the important rights that EU legislation guarantees for the people of Scotland, covering areas ranging from civil liberties to consumer protection.
EU social legislation has been a force for good and has prevented the exploitation of workers. The EU has guaranteed that workers cannot be forced to work longer than a 48-hour week, that they are entitled to 20 days paid leave per year and that women are entitled to at least 14 weeks of maternity leave. It is the EU that guarantees those rights, and it is most certainly not a given that those rights and protections would continue under a UK Government outside the EU.
In 2013, the UK increased the minimum entitlement to parental leave only as a direct result of European directives. In other cases, such as on minimum annual leave and conditions for agency workers, the UK complies with the European minimum and no more. EU action has been a major driver of progressive legislation that directly benefits the people of Scotland. Earlier this week, Dr Allan made that case in Brussels during his first visit in his new role as Minister for International Development and Europe.
As of now in the present day, we know that those rights are guaranteed to all Scots who choose to work, live and study elsewhere in the EU. We all know many Scots who have benefited from opportunities to live, work and study elsewhere in the EU. EU membership has opened up those benefits to us and, if we want them to be available to our children and grandchildren, we have to communicate their worth to the people of Scotland between now and 23 June. This week, the Scottish Government has published information and web pages setting out the benefits of EU membership.
Migration from the EU has also benefited the communities, businesses and people of Scotland. EU migrants make a substantial net contribution to the UK’s public finances and address crucial skills gaps in Scotland’s economy. In my portfolio, the tourism industry needs access to European workers. According to a report this month from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, in 2013-14 recent EU migrants contributed over £2.5 billion more to the UK Treasury in taxes than they received back, contributing to paying for our public services. They are welcome contributors to our economy and society.
I agree with the cabinet secretary’s observations about the contribution that EU migrants make to Scotland and, indeed, the UK, but can she illustrate to the chamber whether there has been any assessment of the impact on our NHS if Brexit were to take place, given the number of doctors, nurses and other health staff who come from other EU countries?
NHS Scotland has been among those contributing to the case that is being made to the UK Government for a migration system that works for Scotland and our public services. Tavish Scott’s point is well made that our NHS in particular is dependent on the very skilled—and very welcome—medical staff in our hospitals who come from other EU countries, and that is why we need to recognise the positive contribution that EU and indeed other migrants make to Scotland. Having said that, I find it interesting that UK nationals who live and work abroad are referred to as expats while those from the rest of the EU who work here are called migrants.
Moving on, I believe that protecting our environment and tackling climate change are global challenges. European decisions have helped us to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by almost nine tenths in the past four decades, and nitrogen oxide levels have decreased by two thirds in Scotland since 1990. We have to act collectively to solve such problems; after all, environmental issues cross borders and geographies. The EU sets standards for European nations and its projects encourage the co-operation and innovation necessary in developing new technologies, including renewables.
That is of particular benefit to Scotland. Only this week, over £500 million-worth of EU investment in the Moray Firth Beatrice wind farm was announced. That project will eventually be worth £2.5 billion and will deliver many employment and community benefits to Caithness and Scotland as a whole.
Being in the EU puts Scotland in the vanguard of the global effort against climate change. Ahead of last year’s Paris summit, the EU was, as the representative of 28 member states, able to negotiate far more effectively than any of those member states would have done on their own. Co-operation across borders is a necessity in today’s interconnected world. Whether we are talking about climate negotiations or the current refugee crisis facing the EU, international problems require countries to work together more, not less.
As for the issue of sovereignty, I believe that Scotland should be an independent country precisely so that it can decide for itself the bodies and organisations it can pool or share its sovereignty with as an independent nation in an interdependent world.
The economic benefits of EU membership are well known.
I think that I have just made that case. There are 28 independent countries in the EU that can decide for themselves to be part of a market. If Mr Findlay wants to join others to take the UK and Scotland out of that 500 million, he can go and align himself with Boris Johnson.
More than 300,000 Scottish jobs are deemed by the Centre for Economics and Business Research to be associated with exports to the EU, 42 per cent of exports from Scotland go to the EU, and of course Scotland, unlike the UK as a whole, is a net exporter to the EU. That is an economic lesson that Mr Findlay might want to take up.
This week, Ernst & Young revealed that foreign direct investment in Scotland rose by 50 per cent in 2015, securing more than 5,000 jobs, and its survey also found that 79 per cent of investors cited access to the European single market as a key feature of the UK’s attractiveness. I am not saying that all that would crash to a halt if the UK were to leave the EU, but I believe that our EU membership makes investing in Scotland a more attractive and easier prospect. Indeed, I am frequently told as much when I meet partners around the world—and that was especially true during my visit to Japan last year.
There is clear evidence that exporting helps business to become more innovative and successful. Our priority as the Scottish Government is to create jobs in Scotland by leveraging our EU membership to grow our exports, and being in the single market is vital for Scottish businesses to have the best possible opportunities in Europe.
Seven of the top 10 destinations for food and drink, our most significant exporting sector, are in the EU. The new innovation and investment hubs that we are establishing in Dublin, London and Brussels will contribute to that effort and are an example of our Government’s international ambition, which our EU membership facilitates.
In facing the future, being within the EU offers us a better chance to tackle the international big challenges of energy security, climate change and other pressures.
There is no agreement or detail from the leave side about what it is offering for the future. An arrangement similar to the one that Norway has with the EU would leave us subject to all the same rules and as contributors to the EU budget, but without any say in setting those rules or how the budget is allocated. As the former foreign minister of Norway has said, Norway pays but has no say. Norway is the 10th highest contributor to the EU budget. It has to pay in to have access to EU funds such as horizon 2020. Norwegian farmers do not receive common agricultural policy payments. We should also remember that Norway has decided to join Schengen and is now subject to freedom of movement rules.
On calls to be outside the single market, the idea that the UK should model itself on Singapore does not even get off the ground, particularly given the importance that the Singaporean Government places on its membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
I said at the outset that different parties will come to the debate with different perspectives, but I hope that, across parties, we can unite behind the motion and provide leadership to Scotland for the vote ahead.
On that point about different views, the cabinet secretary seemed to indicate that anyone who takes a leave view is aligning themselves with Boris Johnson. Does that mean that anyone who is taking a remain view is aligning themselves with David Cameron? Surely this debate must be much more than one old Etonian versus another old Etonian.
We could take a historical perspective. The Archbishop of Canterbury is currently addressing the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Perhaps some people might want to take the historical perspective that what is happening in this debate is about an English civil war and a civil war within the Tory Party.
The issue is stark. It is bigger than the internal dynamics of the Conservative Party. As the member says, the debate must be about the future not just of this country but of the European Union as a whole and our impact on the wider world.
I pay particular tribute to this Parliament and the European and External Relations Committee in the previous session for its work in bringing together different voices, with different perspective, to achieve consensus across Scotland.
Let me be clear. As a Parliament, we have to show political leadership to the people of Scotland. We intend to do that through today’s motion.
I appeal to all involved in the debate. I appeal to the leave campaign to cease its smears, speculation and downright ludicrous arguments. I appeal to the remain campaign to realise that if the biggest risk is complacency at the polls, its incredible project fear tactics will dissuade voters from turning out at the polls, not persuade them to do so.
The EU is not perfect, but it is a remarkable achievement. Over six decades it has secured co-operation over conflict. It has pursued a shared sense of collaboration, exchange and purposeful endeavour to work in concert to advance the interests not just of our own population but of the world. It is on that positive basis that the Scottish Government’s view is that Scotland as part of the UK should remain in the EU.
That the Parliament supports Scotland and the rest of the UK remaining part of the EU.
I thank the
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs for her welcome. It will indeed be fun for me, after nine years shadowing the health portfolio, to share a different portfolio and to lock horns with her.
My speech will not outline the Conservative Party position. The cabinet secretary was perfectly correct to identify that the leaders of all political parties are in favour of remain, as I am, but I am advocating a personal position.
It has been 40 years since the previous referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. In 1975, 67 per cent of people said yes and 32 per cent said no. In fact, the only areas to vote no in that contest anywhere in the United Kingdom were Mr Allan’s Western Isles constituency and Mr Scott’s Shetland Islands constituency.
The turnout in 1975 was 65 per cent. There is a question mark about whether people are sufficiently engaged to ensure that we have a turnout of that level this time. It is important that we do because, as the cabinet secretary said, this is a fundamental decision.
The referendum in 1975 was the last vote in which I did not participate. After that, I was old enough to vote, but at 16 in 1975 I was able to watch the debate with interest.
When I hear many people who talk about leaving suggest that that would lead to some sort of economic utopia for Britain, I think back to 1975—and an economic and social utopia it was not. The legacy in the minds of some might be the music of Slade, T Rex, Wizzard, Roxy Music and David Bowie, but the top-rated television programmes, which show how distant life now is from then, were “Till Death Us Do Part” and “The Black and White Minstrel Show”. It was a very different Britain in a very different age. At that time, our industrial record measured the working days that were lost through dispute in millions.
When we look back to the vote 40 years ago, it is important to remember that the second world war had taken place only 30 years earlier. For many of my grandparents’ generation, who had fought and raised families during conflicts, the European alliance held the prospect of a permanent peace and a degree of co-operation.
Although the fears that existed in 1975 proved to be unrealised, we in Europe sat next to the Soviet Union, and there was a perceptible and genuine fear of further conflict across the European mainland. The European project and participation in what was then the European Economic Community were seen to be a decisive step forward for the country. In that, we were correct: what were the battlefields of Europe are now the holiday playgrounds of Europeans. That is a significant change in life across the European continent, but people too easily dismiss it as irrelevant and set it aside as if it were inevitable.
The economy was broken in 1975; I do not remember it prospering. We had just come from the three-day week, in which businesses could work for only three days. I remember the power cuts and candles in the home. I remember Edward Heath saying:
“Britain has reached the end of the road” and
“The rest of the world is very sorry, but the rest of the world regrets it is unable to oblige any longer”.
I remember the Labour Party having to return from crisis meetings at the International Monetary Fund.
Forty years on, our nation is transformed not despite or because of but within the European Union. All the progress that we have made as a nation has been made within the EU. I do not argue that all our success is due to the EU—far from it—but membership was born from exceptional political courage here. The idea that the EU has somehow acted as a brake on our prosperity and interfered with all our economic, taxation and industrial policy is absolute nonsense.
In the EU, the UK drove through the single market, which has been the key economic driver of change. It is easy to forget the queues of lorries that were at every border post in every European nation; lorries sometimes had to wait for days before they could transport goods between countries of Europe. All that has been swept aside. Britain has been on the winning side of much of the argument about how we transform and develop Europe and policy in Europe in the past 40 years.
I hear some colleagues talk about a colossal loss of sovereignty, but I sometimes do not know how sovereignty is defined. Does it mean that we should seal our borders or stick it to anyone who has an interest in human rights? I do not know whether that is what is meant by sovereignty. In my life, day-to-day policy, whether it be education, health, economic or taxation policy, has been decided here or at Westminster, without any great interference from Europe. In meaningful terms, sovereignty over policy in this country rests with people in this country. Interference from Europe is sometimes exaggerated for effect—the dead hand of Europe—rather than referred to in realistic terms.
On justice issues and on some rural economy and border issues, there are fights to be had, but they are far better addressed by our being in the EU and arguing our case than by biting off our nose to spite our face.
There are divisions of opinion, and the balance of where the arguments will eventually rest is yet to be decided, but international trade agreements are part of what the blocs of trading partners in the world actively participate in. Huge benefits can accrue from that.
In the balance of my time, I do not want to repeat the litany of competing apocalyptic arguments on either side. All or any of them may be true, but they become a blizzard and a distraction in the debate.
I admit to an error of judgment. I thought that, while the Scottish referendum was a referendum that engaged the heads and the hearts of people in this country, the arguments in the European referendum would be much more nuanced—that they would be technical and devoid of emotion. Yet, as the vote approaches, I find that I care far more about the outcome than I ever thought I would.
What sort of Britain do I want to live in? Do I want to have an internationalist view or an isolationist view of our place in the world? Do I want to see us withdraw from our friends and markets? Do I want to see us unpick relationships that have been developing very rapidly with the other nations, after so short a time within the European community? In that at least I believe that my arguments are consistent in relation to the two referendums; there is sometimes an inconsistency in the nationalist argument.
I regret that we keep coming back to independence. To my astonishment, I discovered in this week’s
Radio Times that Nicola Sturgeon is to star in a science fiction drama on Saturday, in which she will be playing herself in an adaptation of John Wyndham’s “The Kraken Wakes”. In the drama, there has been an apocalypse. The world has been invaded by aliens; the polar ice caps have melted; most of Britain is under water; and Nicola Sturgeon will broadcast to the nation. I have heard what she says. She says, “This represents a material change in circumstances and I therefore intend to—” [
I came into politics to improve life for the generations who follow me. I look to one of the architects of the European project—one of the 11 founding members—Winston Churchill. In 1942, at the height of the conflict, he said:
“Hard as it is to say now ... I look forward to a ... Europe in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible”.
Churchill also stated:
“Britain will have to play her full part as a member of the European family.”
Do I look to Winston Churchill or do I look to Boris Johnson for my inspiration? I look to the former, not the latter. I will be voting for a future that I think is the right one for my sons and for the grandchildren I hope yet to see.
I realise that, in doing that, there is a balance—there is a shift between centre-right and centre-left Governments across Europe and both have their part to play. It is not a case of saying, “I don’t want any lefties having any say over what happens in here,” any more than it is for others to say, “I don’t want any of these people on the right having anything to do with it.” There will be a balance over history as we move forward.
I understand all that but, ultimately, I want to be an internationalist, not an isolationist. Therefore, I will vote with all the others who whole-heartedly decide on 23 June that the right decision for this country is a vote to remain.
I welcome this chance to set out the positive case for the European Union.
Labour is Scotland’s internationalist party. We believe in solidarity beyond borders. We believe that sharing sovereignty makes us all stronger, wealthier and safer. We believe in Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
Sovereignty shared is sovereignty gained. Walking alone in the world would not mean freedom; it would mean powerlessness. It is a truth that we understand in our own lives—we need each other because together, with others, life is so much more fulfilling.
The vision of nations across a continent coming together has never been an easy one, but it has survived economic turmoil, the fall of communism and expansion to welcome nation after nation.
The changes that we lived through together in the first 60 years of our European family and in the 43 years since we joined are nothing compared with the upheaval that we are living through now, with the shift of power and prosperity to the east, the spread of jihadism, growing inequality, a more confrontational Russia, climate change, conflict within nations, the refugee crisis, disillusionment with democratic politics and the rise of the far right and anti-European parties that fill the void.
This is a test for all of Europe, but all of Europe’s eyes are currently on us. How will we react to the uncertainty of our world? Will we turn our back on our neighbours and turn in on ourselves, or will we face the world together?
Will we be the outward-looking nation that made us so successful in the world and took us into Europe in the first place, or will we retreat? That is a question that all individuals and institutions will have to answer.
As with all parties, there is a variety of views on Europe in the Labour Party, and we will hear a bit of the socialist case for leave from my friend Elaine Smith later this morning. However, in contrast to the civil war in the Tory Cabinet or the confusion of nationalists who argue that we can share sovereignty with every European nation except our nearest neighbours, Labour will campaign enthusiastically for our place in the European Union.
This is a decision about where we believe the best future for the United Kingdom lies: in or out of Europe. Those in the leave campaign have attempted to make it a test of whether we believe in our country at all, and they question our patriotism. Those of us who believe in sharing sovereignty with our neighbours defeated those arguments two years ago, but in doing so we learned a hard lesson—that populist arguments cannot be underestimated. In this debate, therefore, the remain side must win the arguments that appeal to the head, but we have also learned that such an approach must be combined with a story that reaches people’s hearts.
We will make the economic case: the importance of trade within the EU is essential to Scottish jobs, as it is worth nearly £12 billion and second only in value to trade with the rest of the UK. We will argue the case for workers’ rights: Europe guarantees basic standards at work for millions of Scottish workers and workers in other nations, regardless of who is in government. Those European guarantees include four weeks’ paid holiday for all; the equal treatment of part-time and full-time workers; the legal principle of equal pay for equal work; maternity leave; and protection from discrimination due to age, race, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation.
We will argue that, in a world of constant change and confusing new threats, we are more secure in bigger alliances than in standing alone. We will argue that we can tackle the threats to our environment only by working together and that the weight of 28 nations working together has enabled us to secure global action on climate change.
We will argue that case with reason but also with passion. We will make all those arguments, but we will also argue that there is something beautiful about being part of the European family. It is found not in the grey offices of officials in Brussels or in the columns of national balance sheets, but in the hundreds of millions of lives that are made more colourful, fulfilling and exciting in the cities and towns of Scotland, in the UK and in the 27 other nations.
My generation and that of my parents before me have become so used to being part of Europe that we do not stop to wonder at the achievement that the EU represents. We co-operate across an entire continent, sharing freedom and opportunity together. The continent, whose history is written in conflict and chaos, is now defined by peace and prosperity. The nations on the shores of the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the Black Sea, whose citizens lived under totalitarian regimes and military dictators, now take for granted their human rights and free speech, and democracy itself.
We have been a part of that; indeed, we built it. It is not perfect—of course it is not—but it is as extraordinary an achievement as any in our history. We are a more European country for having built that union. We are the richer for it, not just from the bump in our gross domestic product—as important as that is—but from the shared experiences, the mixing of cultures, the people we have come to know, and the amazing experiences and opportunities that the EU has brought to us. I fear we may not realise all of that until it is gone.
I do not listen to those who say that, on 23 June, Scotland will vote overwhelmingly to remain. There is no such thing as a guaranteed win in politics, and this is too important an argument to sit it out. It is too important for half-hearted support and too important not to lead. For my part, I will make the case with everything I have: the Labour case for Scotland and the UK in Europe.
I congratulate all the party leaders on showing leadership on Scotland and Europe and putting the positive case for remain. I also congratulate Fiona Hyslop on her well-deserved reappointment to the Cabinet, and my other friend and colleague Alasdair Allan on his new position in the Scottish Government. I am sure that they will both wave the flag for Scotland on the international stage.
I should also say how much I look forward to representing my Moray constituents, after a nine-year absence from these benches, and to contributing to the debates on the issues facing Scotland in the times ahead.
Fifty per cent of Scotch whisky is produced in Speyside, with much of it going to EU markets. The water in the water of life is of supreme quality thanks to the EU environmental legislation that applies to our rivers and watercourses. Moray’s famous food businesses, such as Walkers Shortbread and Baxters, export a lot to EU markets. Therefore, our access to the single European market and issues around EU membership are of direct relevance to thousands of families in Moray and to the local economy.
Today, we are debating our country’s relationship with Europe, which is one of the biggest issues facing Scotland’s future, with the in/out referendum only weeks away. The Scottish dimension to the EU referendum needs to be widely debated and broadcast. There are many unique and distinctive issues for people in Scotland to consider before they decide how to vote on 23 June. However, the debate is not just about the future of Scotland or the UK but about the future of Europe. The result of the vote on 23 June will affect every single person in Scotland and across these islands, and has the potential to affect every single one of Europe’s 500 million citizens.
As someone who believes that Scotland should be a nation state in its own right, I strongly believe that Europe’s nation states must work together, sharing and pooling sovereignty where appropriate, to meet the economic, social and environmental challenges of the 21st century.
It is indeed ironic that the UK is holding a referendum—just as many nations did in the 20th century to secure lasting peace and prosperity—given that it was instrumental in founding the United Nations in 1945, subsequently joining the European Community in 1973, in the first big expansion, in recognition of the fact that it can be in the national interest to share sovereignty. It really saddens me that those high ideals have been crowded out in a referendum debate that is now dominated by immigration, especially when we consider the origins of the EU. Boris Johnson and his colleagues want to walk out of Europe, but they should knuckle down and help our fellow human beings in their hour of need.
It is also ironic that Boris Johnson recently published a biography of his hero, Winston Churchill, who in 1940 proposed a Franco-British union with shared currency and citizenship and joint economic and financial institutions. Of course, that idea to help win the war was put to Churchill by one Jean Monnet, who went on to be a founding father of the European Union with the aim of preventing another European war.
Peace in Europe is the biggest dividend, but EU membership has resulted in many benefits for our citizens. When it comes to issues such as workers’ rights, consumer protection, welfare and the environment, which Fiona Hyslop and Kezia Dugdale mentioned, Scotland is much closer to the mainstream European social democracy position than it is to the neo-liberal politics of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage and the kind of Britain that they want to see. I have no doubt that most people in Scotland are much more supportive of the policies that have been agreed by our progressive European partners and neighbours than they are of some of the more regressive positions that have often been adopted by Westminster.
The negotiations, compromises and occasional climb-downs that being a member of the club necessitates have often prevented UK ministers from imposing damaging policies on Scotland. In my nine years of involvement in European negotiations, I came across many examples of cases in which other EU member states shielded Scotland, whether in relation to the £500 million for farm payments that continues to flow to Scotland each year because UK Chancellors of the Exchequer were outmanoeuvred and outvoted at EU negotiations—
I apologise, but I have no time to do so.
There is also the considerable progressive social and environmental legislation that I think we can all agree would never have seen the light of day if it had been up to Whitehall. The stark reality for Scotland is that transferring decision making from Brussels to Whitehall—especially to the UK Treasury—will often be against Scottish interests.
I have two further quick points to make. I have heard Brexit spokespeople, including the current UK fisheries minister, George Eustice, claim that Brexit would give Scottish ministers a greater role on issues such as fisheries. My difficulty with that argument is that the UK Government could give Scottish ministers a greater role under the current arrangements, but it has chosen not to do so. Therefore, the promises about what would happen post-Brexit ring hollow for me, and they should ring hollow for all our fishing communities.
I apologise, but I have only one minute left.
I come to my final point. Many people in Scotland have genuine concerns about particular EU policies, how the EU institutions work or the direction that Europe is taking. Those are genuine, understandable concerns, which I am sure that many members across the chamber share—I know that I do.
The case for remaining in the EU is absolutely overwhelming, but our support for remain must not mean that we are unwilling to cast a critical eye towards the EU. I know from my experience of dealing with EU institutions that it can take ages to fix damaging regulations, that there is a need for more decentralisation, and that we need more of a focus on the issues that matter to ordinary people in Europe. Therefore, further reform of the EU is absolutely necessary, but the best way forward for Scotland is to reform, not reject, the European Union. EU membership delivers benefits for Scotland.
I repeat what Fiona Hyslop said. This may be a forlorn hope, but I urge the campaigns to cut out the myths, exaggerations and scaremongering in the remaining few weeks and instead have a debate that is based on vision, facts and high ideals.
In 1949, Robert Schuman said:
“We are carrying out a great experiment, the fulfillment of the same recurrent dream that for ten centuries has revisited the peoples of Europe: creating between them an organization putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace.”
I hope that all of us in the chamber will support that high ideal, and that on 23 June Scotland will support it, too. [
It is a great honour to make my maiden speech in the Parliament as one of Glasgow’s two newly elected Conservative MSPs. Given that I have taught European and British constitutional law at the University of Glasgow for the past 13 years, I suppose that it is apt that I am making my first speech in a debate on the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union. On the subject of the University of Glasgow, I refer members to my declaration of interests in the register of members’ interests.
The city that I represent, which is the city that is my home, where I got married and where my four children were born, has a proud European heritage. It was the first British city to be named European city of culture, in 1990. A quarter of a century later, Glasgow is still making European waves. Just this year, it was ranked as top large European city of the future. More than 5,000 EU students come to Glasgow each year to study in the city’s three universities. Altogether, Glasgow’s 130,000 students come from 135 countries around the world. It is no wonder that we are the Rough Guides friendliest city on the planet.
On 23 June, I shall vote to remain in the European Union. That will not be with the same passion and pride with which I voted on 18 September 2014 to reject the Scottish National Party’s proposition that we break up Britain, but nonetheless with clarity that to stay is the right course for Glasgow, Scotland, the UK and, indeed, the EU itself. In my judgment, the European Union is broken and needs fixing. With soaring unemployment in southern Europe, a failed currency union—there are lessons there for Scotland, too—immiserating the lives of millions of Europeans, and a migration crisis the like of which the continent has not faced since the second world war, the EU has problems aplenty. However, the great failure of the vote leave campaign has been its complete inability to explain how our leaving the European Union would help to fix any of those problems. Just as I wanted Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom because that is in the UK’s interests as well as in Scotland’s interests, so, too, I want the UK to remain in the EU because that is in the European public interest as well as in Britain’s interests.
We should remain precisely because the EU needs fixing. We Britons can lead the way in fixing it. The Prime Minister’s renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union shows how that can be done. That renegotiation secured for not only Britain but the whole of the European Union that the single market will have Conservative values at its core. It will be a more competitive and better regulated single market, with fewer administrative burdens, lower compliance costs for business, and unnecessary European legislation repealed.
Clipping the wings of the European Court of Justice is another of the Prime Minister’s achievements that will certainly benefit Britain, and it will be to the advantage of the continent as a whole if others follow where British Conservatives have led. That the UK now has a much-needed opt-out from ever closer union will mean that, in cases that concern the United Kingdom at least, the European Court of Justice will have to enforce the law as the member states have made it rather than the law that the judges would like to see. I, for one, fully share the frustration that our own Supreme Court recently expressed at the irresponsible overreach of some of the ECJ’s case law.
It was a Conservative Government that took us into the European Economic Community in 1972, and it is a Conservative Government that has now, successfully and against the odds, delivered a renegotiation of the UK’s constitutional and legal relationship with the European Union. A generation ago—yes, 41 years is a generation ago—the British people decided to remain in the EEC. We should reaffirm that decision next month, not because the European Union is perfect, but because its problems, like our own domestic challenges, require British Conservative solutions. We require solutions that get government off people’s backs and leave them free to pursue their lives; solutions that encourage free movement—of goods, of services and, yes, of workers, too; and solutions that are designed to ensure not only the redistribution of wealth, but the creation of wealth in the first place.
Those are the values of union. Economic prosperity and security for all lay at the heart of our case for a no vote in 2014, as they lie now at the core of the case for a remain vote next month. They are my values and the values of my party, and they are the values that have brought me into Scottish politics. Economic prosperity and security for all are the values that I shall seek to promote, in the interests of Glasgow and Scotland as a whole, every day, as a member of the Scottish Parliament. [
The Presiding Officer:
Thank you, Mr Tomkins—and thank you for speaking precisely to time. I remind members that there is an expectation that every member who wants to speak in the debate will be able to do so. We are aiming for speeches of around five minutes.
I call Christina McKelvie.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I welcome you to your new role in the chair.
There is much about the EU debate that remind me of Alice through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll: up is down and in is out. The two right-wing factions of one party fighting over who is more Eurosceptic reminds me of Alice at the crossroads—or should I say Boris at the crossroads? “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”, asked Boris. “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat, who was named Nigel. “I really don't care where,” replied Boris. “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go,” said Nigel the cat. However, which way we go matters a whole lot to all of us here.
On 23 June, the Prime Minister will ask us a question that is based not on the flimsy deal that he secured at the December Council of Ministers, but on a false premise. The more honest question would be: “Do you agree with the flimsy reforms that I have secured?”
I heard on the radio this morning that the children’s word of the year is “refugee”. Imprinted on the minds of our young folk is a humanitarian disaster of a kind that has not been seen since the second world war, and they want action to be taken to help—from the mouths of babes we hear much wisdom.
Earlier this year, I hosted with the Scottish European Educational Trust an event at the Scottish Parliament—the our Europe premiere and awards ceremony, which was a huge success. Teams of young people from all over Scotland made films about what the EU means to them. I urge all my colleagues to take the time to watch those enlightening films, which spoke of peace, of rights, of rebuilding Europe, of creating opportunity and of democracy.
The films lead me to think of some of the great things that the EU has produced. As you know, Presiding Officer, workers’ rights are very close to my heart. Here are some of those rights—and my thanks go to the Trades Union Congress for providing such clear detail—
Maybe the member should sit and learn something—rudeness will not get him anywhere.
However, thanks to the EU written statement directive, employees must be given a written statement setting out their pay and working conditions within 28 days of starting work. The working time directive, which was implemented in the UK in 1998, introduced a maximum 48-hour working week—normally averaged over 17 weeks—a daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours, a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours and rest breaks during the working day. Those are the regulations that some Tories would like to take away from people.
On maternity rights, the EU pregnant workers directive of 1992 led to substantial improvements in health and safety protections for expectant and new mothers in the workplace.
I turn to equal pay, about which there is a lot of misinformation. The right to equal pay for men and women for equal work was indeed formulated in the UK. It was made a fundamental right and is enshrined in article 157 of the EU treaty, which is directly enforceable in UK courts. The founding treaty of the European Economic Community stated that member states with equal pay legislation should not be undercut by others that underpaid women workers and exploited their weaker labour market position. Article 157, together with the equal pay directive and ECJ case law, have had a significant positive impact on women’s pay and pension rights in the UK. I know that the Equal Pay Act 1970 pre-dated the UK joining the EU, but it had a glaring omission because it did not cover equal pay for work of equal value. That is where the difference lies.
Let us look at discrimination. The UK already had sex and race discrimination laws in place when it joined the EU and it introduced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 before the EU took action. However, legislation on age, religion and belief and sexual orientation discrimination was introduced as a direct result of the EU framework directive for equal treatment in 2000.
Let us not even start on human rights. Human rights are something that we should all agree on. The European convention on human rights and the charter reaffirm our collective rights in this place and at this time.
As we have heard, there are a lot of things to be proud of in being a member of the EU. My question to members is whether we should vote to leave and give the UK Government, unfettered by EU regulations, carte blanche to withdraw all those rights—and when the UK Government talks about “regulations”, it means those rights. Instead, should we vote to remain and fight to reform and create the Europe that our young people want? I say oui, tak, ja and si to remain.
Scotland elects four tiers of Government; the one that the public knows least about is the European level, with most people struggling to say how many MEPs are returned from Scotland, let alone their names or what they actually do in Brussels.
Unsurprisingly therefore, many people either could not care less about the referendum or know little about the issues at stake.
In this debate of two and a half hours, leave speakers have about 10 minutes or, with the grace of the Deputy Presiding Officer, perhaps 12. Therefore, the member will forgive me if I do not take an intervention on this occasion.
To add to the confusion, despite her vow that the 2014 separation referendum would be a once-in-a-lifetime event, the First Minister—asserting as usual that she speaks for all Scotland—assumes that Scotland will vote remain and says that, if the rest of the UK votes leave, it will justify another separation referendum. Ironically, she is therefore sending out a clear and unambiguous message to everyone in Scotland who voted against separation or who is sick to death of talk of a second referendum that, to avoid such a referendum, they should vote leave. However, each individual will make up their own mind how to vote.
I do not pretend to have all the answers, nor am I a member of any official leave campaign but, having considered the arguments, my reasons to vote to leave are as follows.
I will start with the economic argument and the EU itself. From 1980 to 2015, the EU’s share of world economic output dropped from 30 per cent to 17 per cent. At the end of 2015, the EU’s share of world trade was the same as it was in 2006. Every other continent in the world grew economically over the past 10 years.
Only 5 per cent of British businesses and fewer than 10 per cent of Scottish businesses export to the EU, but family businesses, small and medium-sized enterprises and other businesses are stifled by the burden of EU regulation. That in turn damages our economy and costs small businesses millions of pounds every week. Worse still, despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, Britain, as a member of the EU club, cannot sign independent trade deals with emerging markets.
Given those facts, it is impossible not to conclude that the EU is a failing and outdated institution. Members should remember that Britain joined the European Economic Community for trading reasons. A vote to leave would restore the freedom to trade with the rest of the world. Logically, because the EU exports more to the UK than we do to it, there would be tremendous advantages for the EU in continuing to trade with the UK.
However, the key argument for voting to leave goes far beyond the economic one and centres on the free movement of people. The European Union’s other 27 member states together have a population of 500 million, while the UK has a population of 65 million. With an ageing population, we need more migration, but the free movement of people means that we cannot choose the people with the skills that we need to grow our economy. Instead, anyone from that 500 million population can come and live in the UK. I understand why people from other parts of the EU would want to come here to improve their standard of living.
No, thank you.
However, the situation has the potential to put unsustainable pressure on our schools, health service and housing, for instance. Translation costs alone already impact on public services. The access that those economic migrants gain to our benefits system in turn impacts adversely on pensions and other benefits that UK citizens have worked—in some cases, for a lifetime—to secure.
Furthermore, the UK pays more into the EU than it gets out. Including our rebate, that equates to a net £24 million per day. That vast amount could and should be used to determine our own policies as a sovereign Parliament, including policies that affect our fishing industry and the communities that it supports throughout Scotland and beyond. Those communities will continue to suffer economic hardship as long as we are under the control of the EU’s common fisheries policy.
The EU’s common agricultural policy short-changes UK farmers compared to their competitors. In 2014, we gave £4.6 billion to the CAP but our farmers received £2.9 billion back. Additionally, the Prime Minister has confirmed that, if we vote to leave, the UK Government will ensure that farmers continue to receive as much support as they do now.
Finally, it is not the EU that has kept the peace for the past 40 years, but the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It sorted out Bosnia. Bilateral treaties and agreements already exist with countries that are not part of the EU for justice and defence. Quite simply, it is in the interests of the EU countries to co-operate and share information to combat terrorism and extradite criminals.
In conclusion, it is impossible for anyone to predict with any certainty what the future will hold, whether we are in or out of the EU, but we are a talented and innovative people with financial institutions that are respected worldwide—
As I rise to deliver my first speech in the Scottish Parliament, I feel the sense of awe that I have seen on the faces of my fellow newcomers to this place; they have given excellent speeches, both yesterday and this morning.
My journey to this chamber has been a long one, and I am grateful for the kindness of parliamentary staff, journalists and indeed members of all parties for the good will that they have shown me in these first weeks. It has been good will tinged with surprise, I might add, at my appearance here, but that surprise was eclipsed by my own when I was plucked from the ranks of new Liberal Democrat MSPs and immediately promoted to the front bench. That was something of a shock. [
Before I address the substance of the debate, I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Colin Keir. He is a kind and generous man and I wish him every success in his future. I also pay tribute to the previous Liberal parliamentarian to represent Edinburgh Western, Margaret Smith. Margaret served in this Parliament for 12 years and delivered many of the changes that brought about free personal care for the elderly. All of us can attest to the honour that it is to represent the great communities of Edinburgh Western. The constituency is steeped in history that goes back to Roman times and it flanks the beautiful fringes of the Forth estuary. It is in the shadow of our own world heritage site: the Forth rail bridge. I am sorry to say that, following my election, the area is no longer available to the SNP for parliamentary group photographs. I am sorry about that.
My first act as a parliamentarian for Edinburgh Western is to make the case that my constituents—and yours, Presiding Officer—are demonstrably better off as part of the European Union. One hundred years ago almost to the day, my great grand-uncle, a private in the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles out of Saskatchewan, at the age of 23, was killed along with 80 per cent of his battalion on the first day of the battle of Mont Sorrel on the Ypres salient. His name was Alexander Bennett and I am named for him. Just a generation later, his sacrifice was met by that of two of my grandfather’s four siblings, who were killed on active service, this time in world war two.
It is a measure of the success of the European project that I am only the second generation in the recorded history of my entire family to never have to contemplate taking up arms against our nearest European neighbours. It is a comfort that I would extend to my three children, Finn, Kit and Darcy, and to theirs to come. It is from the shared desire for a continued and lasting peace that the originating treaties of the European Union emerged. First, there was the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, so that no country could ever again build a war machine, and then there was the treaty of Rome, which led to a single market in which the free movement of goods, people, capital and services has come to represent the most important charter for freedom that the world has ever seen. It is a solidarity of nations that has become a family.
The Brexiteers such as Margaret Mitchell and her colleagues paint a very nice picture of what it would be to reclaim all our sovereignty, but it is a doctrine of isolationism, pure and simple. I put it to you, Presiding Officer, that in this increasingly globalised world, human traffickers will never recognise that isolation. Climate change will not recognise it, and neither will terrorists. If we were to leave, we would be a tiny archipelago of islands adrift in a sea of economic uncertainty. That is why those on the Liberal Democrat benches are so proudly and full-throatedly backing the remain campaign.
I am delighted, and heartily glad, that my first speech is on an issue on which there is such consensus, and that I find myself on common ground not just with those in other Opposition parties but with those on the Government benches. I hope that there are many days like this to come in my parliamentary service because, with consensus, this place can move mountains and it has done so. When I worked in the children’s sector, from outside the chamber I helped to broker a consensus that led to a change in the age of leaving care and that will change lives as a result. However, there will be days of discord, and that is good and right because, as John F Kennedy said, without criticism and debate no Administration can succeed and no republic can survive. It is incumbent on Opposition parties, particularly in a minority Government situation, to challenge and scrutinise, so I will offer that debate and scrutiny. It will at times be fierce, but it will always be reasoned and it will always be Liberal.
However, today, let us put aside those differences and embrace that common ground on which we find ourselves. A sense of real optimism is currently sweeping the Liberal Democrats, and I know that it is sweeping other parties as well, because we have so much to gain by remaining as members of the European Union, so we must gather together to vigorously campaign for a remain vote on 23 June. Thank you. [
This is by no means my first speech in the chamber, but it is my debut speech as the constituency member for Motherwell and Wishaw. I pay tribute to my predecessor, John Pentland, who served as an MSP in session 4. I have known Mr Pentland for many years, having shared a council ward with him before we were both elected to the Parliament in 2011. Although we have been political sparring partners in that time, we have always had a very amiable relationship and I know that he is still a passionate campaigner for his community. I wish him and his family well in the future.
I thank the constituents of Motherwell and Wishaw for putting their faith in me to be a strong voice for them in the Parliament. I am honoured to speak today, when so many new members have made their maiden speeches. We have heard from Mr Cole-Hamilton, Mr Tomkins, Mr Johnson and Mr Greer and there are more to come.
There are many elements of the European Union, some of which have already been discussed today. Many points have been made about the big issues and the big idea of Europe, which is to do with collaboration and the movement for peace and unity, but I would like to highlight the minutiae of one benefit that the EU brings to us today in Scotland. The horizon 2020 innovation programme makes available €80 billion to fund research and innovation across the European Union. It encourages breakthroughs, discoveries, first-class scientific developments and laboratory innovations and, more important, it encourages collaboration across Europe. The project is about global competitiveness and making the European Union a driving force for economic growth and job creation. It has political backing from across Europe and from all members of the European Parliament. It is a blueprint for Europe that puts sustainable and inclusive growth and jobs at the heart of our research investment.
We want world-class science and we want to remove barriers to innovation and make it easier for the public and private sectors to work together to deliver innovation and growth. The EU framework programme for research and innovation is complemented by collaboration across those areas, which is breaking down barriers and creating a genuine market for knowledge, research and innovation. The key areas that the programme focuses on are excellence in science, industrial leadership and societal challenges. On societal challenges, the aim is to help tackle the major issues that all European nations face, such as climate change, sustainable transport and mobility, making renewable energy more affordable, ensuring food safety and security, and coping with the challenge of an ageing population.
I think that all those issues were raised in yesterday’s debate on what members across the chamber believe is at the heart of taking Scotland forward. After all, Scotland’s priorities are Europe’s priorities, and we can meet those priorities only if we continue to work together in the European context. We have heard about the issue of health and demographic change, which was raised by Nicola Sturgeon; food security has been mentioned this morning; Ruth Davidson and Graeme Dey highlighted the need for secure, clean and efficient energy yesterday; the issue of smart, green and integrated transport was key to Patrick Harvie’s speech; and, in his excellent maiden speech, Maurice Golden concentrated on climate change. Those issues sit at the very heart of where we want to be as a nation.
More important, we need secure societies in which freedoms and European citizens are protected. As Kezia Dugdale has said, that is about not only human rights but trade union rights, the very rights that Westminster is seeking to take away from us.
I want to finish with a very tangible example of what horizon 2020 brings to Scotland. Last October, the centre for research in education inclusion and diversity was awarded a grant from the horizon 2020 programme that will allow a three-year project encouraging lifelong learning for an inclusive and vibrant Europe to be taken forward. The centre is part of a European consortium involving England, Flanders, Austria, Denmark, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Spain, and the project will explore policy interventions in adult education with a focus on training young adults. That sort of approach sits at the heart of what this Government wants to do in education.
We are at the heart of Europe—and we should stay there.
It is a privilege to be called for the first time as the new member for Edinburgh Southern in this Parliament—a privilege that comes with a sense of duty and responsibility to my constituents to ensure that I deliver on their priorities. There can be no better debate than this one in which to make my maiden speech, because Edinburgh Southern regularly polls as one of the most pro-EU areas in not just Scotland but the whole of the UK. From the many, many doorstep conversations I had during the election, I can attest to that.
I acknowledge and pay tribute to the work and dedicated service of my predecessor, Jim Eadie. It is a tribute to him not just that consistently warm words have been said about him by members throughout the chamber but that many of the warmest words have come from my fellow Labour members—a tribute indeed given that this lot stopped saying nice things about me after about five minutes, let alone five years.
Edinburgh Southern is a diverse constituency. It is a network of communities and an area of contrast. On its northern boundary, we have Fountainbridge—a site that once sustained jobs in the brewing industry but is now one of the city’s largest gap sites. Edinburgh Southern is also an area of leafy suburbs, sustained by high-quality, professional, high-productivity jobs. Europe matters to my constituents because, whether for investing in future jobs or sustaining existing strengths, our membership of the European Union is vital. For the avoidance of doubt, this Johnson is definitely more Alan than Boris.
We need to change the terms and tenor of the debate on Europe. To date, the focus has been on personality and overblown rhetoric. Both sides talk in telephone number statistics and race to see who can claim the biggest financial calamity if the other side wins. It is not good enough.
There is a reason why my constituency is one of the most pro-Europe, and that is because Europe is real. In the middle of Edinburgh Southern, we have the King’s buildings—a hub for science at the University of Edinburgh. It alone provides a multitude of reasons why Europe is a positive force. Universities are institutions with a global perspective. In academia, collaboration is what builds better learning and better research. Edinburgh university alone receives £45 million a year in research funding from the EU. Universities gain strength from their diverse student communities. At Edinburgh, there are 4,500 non-UK EU students; and more than 1,000 Edinburgh students participate in the Erasmus programme every year. For them, the opportunities of Europe are clear and concrete.
Our responsibility in the debate is to make the issues real and to point out the benefits of European co-operation and integration. It is too easy for those benefits to be taken for granted and dismissed.
The benefits and opportunities are not confined to academe. Representing an Edinburgh constituency, I am all too aware of the importance of the financial services sector. Some 100,000 people are employed directly by financial services in Scotland, with another 100,000 in supporting roles. Edinburgh is a major centre of asset management in Europe. That activity and those jobs rely on Europe. So-called passporting enables our skills and expertise to be applied across the borders of Europe. Our service sector has become fundamental to our export drive, and our financial services expertise is at the core of that.
On talk of trade, Brexiteers snort that the Germans will still want to sell us Volkswagens and will continue to buy Dyson vacuum cleaners. However, in reality, the export of services is far more important and is far more likely to get snarled up in cross-border regulation—with justification, because it is important that cross-border financial activity is controlled and regulated. Ripping us out of Europe would put thousands of jobs at risk in what is indisputably one of Scotland’s vital industries.
In Europe, we enjoy better working conditions and better public services, we are more productive and we have higher standards of living than exist anywhere else in the world. Through the European working time directive and the standards that are set out in the social chapter, we enhance and guarantee working conditions. It is not just that those standards are created here; it is that they are strengthened by being consistent across the continent and by the fact that we act collectively.
Although we need to make Europe real, we also need to make the debate bigger. We are living in an increasingly globalised world. The ability to move products across the world puts huge pressure on wages and working conditions. The argument for Europe from those of us on the Labour benches is obvious: by working together, we achieve more; through co-operation and collective interest, we are stronger. Those ideas are embedded in the Labour movement and they also underpin Europe.
In a time of ever-increasing globalisation, we have a choice: we can compete in an unwinnable race to the bottom; or we can work with others for mutual benefit. We are faced with issues that are global in scale: climate change poses a massive threat to our way of life; the global financial crash is still with us, almost 10 years on; and the crisis in the middle east has triggered the biggest movement of refugees since world war 2. Those are the issues of our time, and the only way to tackle them is together. To contemplate withdrawing from the EU—the most effective supranational institution that we have—is quite simply a move in the wrong direction. Isolation makes it harder to deal with those issues. We achieve more by removing borders and frontiers than we ever can by putting them in place. [
This is my first speech as a member of this Parliament, but it is not my first speech in this chamber. Uniquely among the Parliaments and Assemblies in these islands, this Parliament regularly opens itself up to wider society, which created an opportunity that I took advantage of as a school student a few years ago. I assure members that I will not pass judgment on whether the standard of debate was higher among 16-year-old school students than it is among those present in the chamber today.
My time in school was not too many years ago and, to many, I seem to be known only as the youngest member of the Scottish Parliament. However, I am more proud of the other record that I set: I am the first Green MSP for the West of Scotland, and I cannot thank enough the volunteers and the voters who made that possible.
We promised to make this Parliament bolder, and that is exactly what the Green MSPs intend to do. However, a more pressing issue is that of the referendum. It is not one of our choosing, but its result will have a profound effect on Scotland. At the UK level, the referendum debate has been nothing more than a contest between two wings of the Conservative Party, two flavours of a failed economic model and two different kinds of hostility to immigrants and refugees. We are expected to choose between an isolated, inward-looking UK or a Europe of the corporations and the bankers. In that debate, it is no surprise that many progressives are tempted to vote to leave, even if I respectfully disagree with those on the left who will ultimately decide to do so.
Those of us who believe in a progressive Europe—a people’s Europe—must stand up for everything that we have already won. We must explain what this referendum is truly a choice between.
Europe has strengthened workers’ rights, as Fiona Hyslop mentioned in her opening remarks. The working time directive means that workers across the continent are protected from overwork and are guaranteed adequate time off. Looking at those leading the leave campaign, members can understand why the trade union movement is, on the whole, campaigning so vigorously to stay in. As a trade unionist, I have no desire to give Westminster unrestricted ability to decimate our workers’ rights.
Europe has also brought limited, but welcome, regulation in the financial sector. Green MEP Philippe Lamberts is known by the
Financial Times as the man who beat the banks, for successfully introducing a cap on bankers’ bonuses. That is just one of the small efforts that have been made to rein in the financial sector at the European level. It is the kind of progress that can be made only at the European level and not through individual action by member states.
Europe has brought huge benefit to our environment: it was European regulation that forced the UK Government to eliminate acid rain and smog; it was European regulation that stopped the dumping of raw sewage into our oceans and made our beaches cleaner, safer and more attractive; and it is European regulation that makes our air more breathable and less polluted.
What exactly is the red tape that opponents of the European Union talk of? Is it all of the above? Is it the health and safety legislation that has reduced the number of workplace deaths by two thirds in two decades? Is it the limited attempts to bring the bankers to heel? Is it the legislation that makes our air breathable, protects our wildlife and keeps our beaches clean? That is exactly the kind of red tape that they are talking about, and it is only a fraction of what the EU has brought us.
The hardest argument to explain in this debate is probably the most important, as has been mentioned already. European co-operation has brought us decades of uninterrupted peace, which is unprecedented in western Europe. That is why, only this week, the Church of Scotland reaffirmed its commitment to Scotland and the United Kingdom staying in the European Union.
Members may have noticed that I am a bit younger than the average MSP. Given that reputation, which will not leave me for some time, I asked a number of other young people what they would contribute to the debate if they were given the chance, and one response really stuck out:
“Europe provides young people with endless opportunities to connect with and learn from others … Its diversity and cooperation is something we need to celebrate … Everything from Erasmus to the freedom of movement means Europe is somewhere for young people to explore, learn and find employment … Leaving would limit us politically and economically but it would limit us socially as well.”
The Scottish Youth Parliament found that an overwhelming majority of young people are in favour of remaining in the European Union—I declare an interest as a former member of that Parliament. This is a generation with no interest in isolating itself.
Although it is deeply flawed and requires major reforms—both democratic and economic—it is our European Union, and reform can and does happen. The Greens are under no illusions about the lack of the reforms that we have demanded, but we have made progress. The European Parliament is more powerful than it has ever been before, and there is much more still to come. Its Green MEPs have led the fight against secretive and dangerous trade deals such as the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. I would be interested to hear from members who intend to vote to leave the EU how they think the UK’s unilateral trade deals would be any different.
That is the debate that we should be having—one not between the Conservatives’ vision for Europe and their vision for Britain but between their vision and the vision of a people’s Europe that we can build together by staying in. [
It is a pleasure and an honour to speak after Ross Greer’s first speech. I am not the oldest member—fortuitously—but all older members will be stretched and tested by the changed nature of this chamber. I say to Ross Greer that, 40 years ago, at almost exactly his age, I voted in the first European referendum, and I rebelled against my party: I voted yes when the SNP leadership voted no. I am relieved to be more in tune with the main stream of my party now, after 40 years, as I whole-heartedly support the remain campaign.
Nevertheless, there was consistency in my and the SNP’s inconsistency. The decision to recommend a no vote in 1975 was based on an assertion of Scottish sovereignty, which in that case refused to accept terms negotiated by a UK Government without reference to Scotland. Among those terms was the abandonment of the Scottish fishing industry, which was seen as expendable. Communities that I represent have paid a price for that every single year since.
Once again, the SNP is asserting our sovereignty, this time by making a positive case for Europe that is rooted in our desire to be an independent member, as befits an ancient nation. We assert our sovereignty not only by making that case but by refusing to be dragged out on the coattails of an increasingly raucous and isolationist campaign against membership. Our case is rooted in Scotland's positive, pro-European history: joint citizenship with France in the 16th century; the attendance of Scottish students at universities across the continent, something that I was very pleased to encourage when I was education secretary; and, even earlier, an appeal for nationhood that was made and heeded in Rome.
Our attitude is also rooted in the present, in the work of people such as the former member of this Parliament, Madame Ecosse—Scotland’s longest-serving MEP and a passionate advocate of the European Union. Her belief in Europe was born out of her circumstances as a woman born in 1929, only a decade after the end of a world war that had its origins on the continent. Living through another war as a young woman, she knew that a legally based, inclusive, irreversible collaborative structure was the thing that would guarantee peace in Europe; it was essential. It was as essential to her as it was to my father, who carried shrapnel in his leg from the beach at Dunkirk. That is not an aspect of Europe to be sneered at or ignored; it has saved lives, has stopped lives and families being ruined and has saved humans from suffering, too. The underpinning principles of European collaboration are designed to protect the rights of citizens fundamentally from the attack upon them that was genocide. I find it astonishing that anybody could argue to remove the European convention on human rights, given its origins. [
The European Union is not like the union that we live in on this island—an incorporating union. We cannot express our sovereignty within this union, because it has been removed. Indeed, our very view of sovereignty lying with the people, not in the Parliament, has been usurped. However, in the EU, sovereignty is freely pooled for shared advantage and there is participation, as equals, in decision making. That is the type of union that benefits independent states and all those who live in them.
The EU also invites others to share in and benefit from its existence. Although Winnie Ewing is mostly remembered in the Highlands and Islands for speaking up for the area and for introducing objective 1 assistance that resulted in a great boost to the infrastructure, it is her achievement in securing the hosting of the Lomé convention in Inverness in 1985 that is best remembered outwith Europe. She believed—I know that she still believes—that encouraging other states to recognise that Scotland still aspires to full statehood and wants to enter into the family of nations positively enhances our prospects and success as a nation. She famously wanted, in her slogan from her Hamilton by-election in 1967, to “stop the world” because “Scotland wants to get on.”
We still want to get on. We need to aspire to be co-decision makers, and it is Europe that provides the context for that; indeed, there can be no other relevant context, as Jim Sillars eloquently showed a generation ago with his enthusiasm for independence in Europe, which I, at least, still espouse. Where Europe falls short, it is the open, democratic nature of Europe that can pick up, criticise and analyse those faults and find ways to do better. Isolationism can never do that.
I rejoice in the fact that our European co-operation is founded on a shared history, grounded in the desire for peace and justice, surrounded by cultural, environmental, social and economic ambition, and rounded off by a generous vision of our obligations to fellow human beings and to the world. I rejoice that that co-operation reflects my vision—and, I believe, my party’s—of how an independent Scotland would and will work with others when that time comes. To choose to remain is to choose the positive: to choose to carry on investing, with our resources and hard work, in a better future. It is a clear and easy choice. In fact, for those who want to see an independent Scotland emerge into the family of nations, there is no choice at all.
No. I apologise, but my time has been cut today. I am really sorry.
There is nothing progressive about continuing austerity. If we wish to tackle gender inequality and have a progressive economy that invests in people and in our public services, it is vital that we stay in the EU.
I will touch briefly on the European convention on human rights before coming to a close. The ECHR was drafted in the aftermath of world war two and is symbolic of the visionary and progressive ideals of post-war Europe. The ECHR protects everyone’s human rights: young and old, rich and poor, male and female. The ECHR is at the progressive core of what makes Europe a force for positive change in the world and its importance should never be understated.
Women have to start making the passionate, positive and progressive case for Britain’s continued membership of the EU through promoting the Labour Party and the EU’s shared values of co-operation, solidarity and equality. It is time for women in Scotland to take centre stage in this debate; it is time to put women’s issues and women’s voices at the forefront of the debate.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First, I offer my congratulations to you and your fellow Presiding Officers on your election to your positions. I wish you all the very best in your new roles.
Every country in the European Union and the global community strives to achieve a combination of national autonomy and international collaboration. Our response to the referendum must be framed as facing both inward and outward, considering the impact that EU membership has in Scotland and the UK and the impact that we have on other EU members.
A progressive union is built on the principles of co-operation and solidarity, and those principles lie at the heart of my decision to vote to remain a member of the EU. Membership has provided the opportunity for continent-wide collaboration on an improved trade market; better jobs; progress on women’s rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights; and sustainable development.
More than 3 million jobs in the UK are linked to our trade with the EU, and the EU market buys half of Britain’s exports. Millions of livelihoods are interlinked with EU membership, and we must continue to pioneer that world-leading trade system. It is not perfect, and I disagree with TTIP, but to be out would make things increasingly difficult for us.
Beyond providing jobs, the EU’s social chapter means that those jobs come with workers’ rights, as many other members have described. Those rights include paid maternity leave and now paternity leave; rights for part-time workers; and anti-discrimination laws. Where people argue that we could have those things in a separate UK, I point out that workers in other countries might not be so lucky—our voice is louder in chorus.
In environmental policy, the EU has been a driving force for progress. The environment does not have a public infrastructure to be monitored, which serves to heighten the importance of EU-regulated targets and deadlines. Those issues are not confined to lines on a map, and nor should their regulation be.
Our membership of the EU means influence and accountability. Scotland and the UK have shaped EU emissions targets by advocating more ambitious policy, and at the Paris climate conference our voice was louder as part of the union. Credit goes to on-going EU regulation for tackling pollution levels and chemical manufacture and use. Fifty years ago, our air had the highest level of sulphur dioxide emissions, as the cabinet secretary highlighted, and we were surrounded in some places by sewer-like inshore waters. Ross Greer stressed some of those issues in his speech. Policymakers reacted to problems after the damage was done, and a more voluntary approach was taken to regulation.
Today, citizens of the EU are protected from those health and environment risks. The ambient air quality directive sets legal limits on air pollution concentrations and is an important incentive for action to protect public health and the environment. The Scottish Government is at present breaking those legal requirements in several areas of Scotland, which currently exceed the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide as set out in the directive. That is a serious environmental and social justice issue. Our EU membership ensures that the Scottish Government is accountable for that failure, and it forces us to address improvement rapidly.
The EU has played a significant part in slowing and reversing biodiversity and habitat loss. The biodiversity strategy to 2020 and the EU habitats and birds directives have played a vital role in the collective management of land, sea, and air. Nature knows no boundaries, and it is completely logical that we make collective arrangements for its protection and for the health management of our natural resources. The ash dieback situation was an example of how quickly we can act on such issues as an EU member state.
For many in South Scotland and in other coastal and rural communities, the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy will be important in their decision. I am sure that, during his time as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, Richard Lochhead will have put the case well.
For reasons of production in the aftermath of world war two, as we know, farmers were given subsidies, and those payments retain their importance today. We must ask whether, if powers are repatriated, our farmers will still receive such payments. Common agricultural policy payments today go far beyond supporting production; they now include environmental incentives, which of course benefits us all. I have serious concerns that, without the EU, our farmers and our fishing industry would suffer.
The referendum is about who we want to be. Do we want to be an outward-looking country that is ready to pool a small amount of our sovereignty and work with other countries to tackle the big questions, while always remembering that significant word “subsidiarity”—I took some time to learn it, but I now know what it means—or are we to be inward looking, focusing on the past and trying to hide from the big questions of tomorrow?
We should not give up our influence over the character of Europe—a union born from the ideals of peace and democracy, with a significant role to play in fighting for a fair, sustainable and secure future. Let us stay.
We have a referendum in four weeks. I think that the choice of date was extremely poor. In many parts of the UK—London, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as Scotland—we have just gone through major elections, but we are where we are.
Just this morning, I was checking out of a hotel and the receptionist asked what I thought of the EU and the referendum. She said that she could see reasons for voting to stay in but that she also had reasons for voting to leave, so she was undecided and a bit confused about which way to go. I think her position is not unusual among members of the public.
My very first vote, as an 18-year-old, was in 1975, in the last European referendum, so it has special meaning for me to be voting again in a similar referendum 41 years later. I just hope that it does not set a precedent that 41 years should be the period between referenda.
Why am I enthusiastic about the EU? There are a number of reasons. First, I feel European. I think that it makes a difference to have lived and worked outside the UK. In my case, that was for three years in Nepal in the 1980s when I was part of an international non-governmental organisation that had folk from all over the world working together. In that situation, you realise how much Europeans have in common.
I accept that we should not stereotype people but, for me, the Dutch are generally the group that I have felt closest to. Their country is also a small country, they share many words with us, and they have a similar sense of humour and a similar religious history and mix—they have strong reformed and Catholic traditions. All of us probably have European countries that we feel close to, and the fact that there are 2 million UK citizens living in Europe and some 2 million people from other European countries living in the UK says a lot about mobility in Europe these days.
My second reason for being enthusiastic about the EU is to do with history, on which Mike Russell has been much more eloquent than I could be. When we read the stories of Montrose, Mary Queen of Scots, David Hume and figures in church history such as John Knox and John Ogilvie, it is clear that they all operated at a European level.
My third reason is the fact that, as has been mentioned, there has been peace since the second world war. I was born only 12 years after world war two, but it seemed like ancient history to me when I was younger. European history appears to be a story of war after war after war. The EU in its various forms has played a major part in changing that. The danger for those of my age group and younger is that we forget how torn apart Europe has traditionally been, and we downplay the EU’s success in addressing that at our peril.
Fourthly, I feel safer in the EU than I do in the UK. I accept that the EU institutions are not perfect, and I would strongly support improvements, such as giving more power to the Parliament, but at least the EU is attempting to be democratic, whereas here in the UK we do not even have an elected head of state, and one of the two chambers at Westminster is not elected. I would rather be in a more democratic system such as the EU than in a less democratic one such as the UK.
Civil servants such as those who work in the European Commission are appointed in every country in the EU by elected members—by Government. That is quite normal. What happens in the Commission is no different from that.
On the same theme, the EU—unlike the UK—favours smaller nations. For example, at the Council of Ministers each country gets one seat. In the European Parliament, degressive proportionality—if that is the right term—is used, which means that voters in countries such as Malta and Luxembourg have considerably more influence than citizens of the six largest countries do. We do something similar with the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland but, in general, that is not the way in which the UK operates. Of the 28 countries in the EU, only 12 have populations of more than 10 million and a further four are significantly larger than Scotland. Therefore, Scotland is very much a normal type of country in Europe, whereas the UK is clearly hopelessly imbalanced in favour of England.
Fifthly, there is the concept of confederation against federation, although I am not sure that we use the word “confederation” quite so much these days. The real power in Europe sits with the member states. There are relatively few subjects in which the EU has exclusive competence, and it is the member states that agree what are to be exclusive, shared and supporting competences.
I am running out of time.
As Fiona Hyslop, Christina McKelvie and Mary Fee mentioned, the EU has proven to be fairer for workers than the UK has been, and finally, the UK is really too small in a world of big players. Therefore, I very much support Scotland and the UK remaining in the EU.
First, I declare an interest as a farmer and food producer.
It is great to be back in the chamber and able to take part in debates again.
I turn to the subject in hand. I am very much in the remain camp in the European debate. Apart from other reasons that I will deal with later, it is my own experience that places me there. In my business life before politics, I was involved in the creation of three working co-operatives, among which were farmers markets. To my surprise and delight, when I have worked with farmers—who are people who do not naturally work collaboratively—I have found and proved to my satisfaction that, when one works together, the total is greater than the sum of the parts. It is the same in politics and business and with countries.
That is why I was and remain totally opposed to Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom. Scotland working in union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland has achieved much in the past and will achieve much in the future. Through working co-operatively and collaboratively with our neighbours, the total is greater than the sum of the parts.
That is why I also believe that the United Kingdom should be part of the EU. Working within the EU has helped the UK to become the fifth wealthiest country in the world, and working together has created a total for the EU and the UK that is greater than the sum of their parts.
We can all see the problems of working together at whatever level—local, national or international—and any co-operative or union such as the UK or the EU is always work in progress. It is never the finished article, because new obstacles and challenges that have to be overcome come along. Those are problems to be solved, not given up on. Throwing the baby out with the bath water because the problem appears too difficult to resolve is not a solution. Instead, we in the United Kingdom need to play a positive and active role in the EU, where we have much to bring to the top table. If reform is needed, propose solutions rather than exit strategies, and if challenges exist, face up to them together rather than run away from them. Create the political will to lead the 500 million people whom politicians across Europe represent to deal with the current problems.
Making the case to remain is straightforward because, by remaining in the EU, we will continue to develop trade with the EU and grow our economy, and provide jobs and a secure future for our children and grandchildren. We will continue to develop our relationship with America and other English-speaking countries as one of their gateways and access points to Europe, and we will continue to develop and grow our financial products and services market, which is vital to employment in Scotland and England. As Richard Lochhead said, we will continue to export our Scottish food and drink to Europe, which is our biggest market by far, and protect and enhance our precious jobs in urban and rural Scotland.
We can bring UK help and expertise to bear and help to solve the problems of the euro, a bankrupt Greece, and the refugee crisis. Everything is doable with the right mindset. It is time to get on with solving the problems of Europe rather than adding to them by leaving the EU.
In less than a month’s time, we will have to choose to leave or remain in the EU. The decision will boil down to who has made the most credible argument. I believe David Cameron and George Osborne when they say that it is in the best interests of our economy, our country and our future to remain part of the EU, not just because they are Conservatives but because they now have a six-year track record of delivering for and restoring the fortunes of the United Kingdom, of which Scotland is such a vital part.
I believe the many others who have the best interests of Scotland and the UK at heart, including President Obama, Angela Merkel and François Hollande. I also believe our senior military and defence staff who believe that our security is enhanced by being part of the EU. I believe Christine Lagarde of the IMF and our many distinguished business leaders who support remaining part of the EU. Indeed, as the rest of the world is coalescing into larger and larger trading blocks, with an ever increasing number of bilateral agreements, why would we willingly erect barriers to trade and risk our security at the same time?
The leave campaign simply has not demonstrated any reasonable strategic case for breaking away from the EU, so I urge the people of Scotland and the UK to vote to remain in the EU for the benefit of all UK citizens, our children and grandchildren.
So far this morning, we have heard a number of interesting and insightful contributions from across the chamber in relation to the upcoming referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
I particularly welcome the excellent contributions from our new members.
I am unambiguous about and unapologetic in my support of Britain’s continued membership of the EU. For me, the argument in favour of Britain’s staying as an EU member is rooted in my personal beliefs and values, shared by the Scottish Labour Party, of co-operation, solidarity and equality. Fundamentally, I believe in the maxim that
“by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”.
My first substantive argument is that working women in Scotland and across the UK are better off with Britain remaining in the EU. The facts are clear and the arguments are compelling. This year, the Trades Union Congress produced a comprehensive report that spotlighted 20 ways in which women workers have explicitly benefited from Britain’s membership of the European Union. For example, the report highlights that although the British Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970 in response to the action taken by women at the Ford factory in Dagenham in their fight for equal pay, the act did not actually give women the right to equal pay for work of equal value. In fact, it was EU law that ensured that working women in Britain received that right. The equal pay directive, which was adopted by the EU in 1975, made it clear that the right to equal pay meant that women would receive equal pay for work of equal value.
The European Union has delivered for women in the past and continues to promote co-operation, solidarity and equality for working women all across Europe. For women in Scotland and across the UK, the EU has secured equal pensions for part-time women workers; better protection from sexual harassment; paid time off for antenatal care; better health and safety protection for pregnant workers; and better protection from unfair dismissal because of pregnancy. Britain’s continued membership of the EU is therefore in the interests of working women across Scotland and the UK, and I urge all working women in Scotland to make a passionate, positive and progressive case for remaining in the EU in order to defend the protections that our membership of the EU has given us.
The second substantive argument that I will develop is that, whether people like it or not, there is an inherent risk to leaving the European Union. The evidence has shown that one of the main risks of leaving is more austerity and, as members across the chamber are aware, austerity disproportionately affects women. That is not a risk that I am willing to take. This week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that if Britain votes to leave the EU, that could result in public finances being reduced by around £20 billion.
Last year, a fair deal for women—an umbrella group consisting of 11 women’s rights charities, such as Women’s Aid, the Fawcett Society and Rape Crisis—highlighted that, in 2015, Britain fell to 26th place on the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index, lower than almost all its European neighbours. A fair deal for women was clear in its assertion that women have been disproportionately affected by the austerity agenda. The group’s spokesperson, Florence Burton, stated that austerity will “further cement women’s poverty”. Women simply cannot afford for the austerity cuts to get any deeper or continue any longer.
I listen and learn. As the newly elected member for Renfrewshire South, it is an honour and a privilege for me to participate in this important debate in our national Parliament.
Before addressing the question of Scotland and the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union, I will say a few words about my predecessor, Hugh Henry, and the constituency that I am proud to represent. In a career spanning more than three decades, Hugh Henry served his party, community, constituency and country with distinction. As a councillor, a council leader, an MSP, a minister, a shadow minister, a committee convener and a former politician of the year, he leaves a formidable legacy. I wish him and his family the very best for a long and healthy retirement. [
Renfrewshire South constituency encompasses the proud and diverse communities of southern and western Renfrewshire. Several of its towns and villages are of some renown. Kilbarchan, which is well known today for its restored weaver’s cottage, was, in 1875, the birthplace of Mary Rough. From Kilbarchan, the Rough family moved to Elderslie, which is also in my constituency, where Mary, at Wallace Place, would marry David Barbour of Johnstone and assume the name that we all know her by today. More than a century later, the ideals of two of Renfrewshire’s most famous children would be as one, with a union of progressive politics and the idea of an independent Scotland.
My constituency is also home to Linwood, in which, from the ashes of deindustrialisation inflicted from afar, is emerging a centre of community-led regeneration. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting the Linwood Community Development Trust, which was brought into being and has been driven forward by a group of local women whose drive and determination are matched only by their ambition for their community. In some respects, Linwood is a microcosm of Scotland—it is an empowered and engaged community where people are coming together to shape their collective future.
In the months and years that are ahead, I look forward to sharing with the chamber the many stories from the many communities of Renfrewshire South. I look forward to working towards creating a fairer and more prosperous Renfrewshire South, just as we are all united in this place in working together to create a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.
For a fair and prosperous Scotland—indeed, for a fair and prosperous United Kingdom—we must not turn our backs on our European partners. There have been—and, I am sure, there will be further—erudite and considered contributions to the debate that will articulate many economic, fiscal and social justifications for remaining in the EU. In my remaining time, and as a new and young MSP—although I am not as young as Ross Greer, who has left his place—I would like to convey a sense of what the EU means to me and to many people of my generation.
My earliest memory of any political event is of the television news reports from Berlin in November 1989. As a wee boy watching the TV, I did not understand the context or the historical significance of what I saw, but I remember the sense that important events were unfolding. I recall recognising, in a sense of shared humanity, the hope and joy that were etched on the faces of those who surmounted and tore down the wall. I share that experience because, in its simplicity, innocence and humanity, it recognises what is most fundamental in the debate.
The European Union cannot be reduced to a set of trade deals and diplomatic arrangements. What began as a means to ensure that French and German coal reserves could never again be used as capital in war making is now the most successful community of independent nation states ever to be assembled. It is testimony to that success that so many nations have aspired and continue to aspire to membership.
To be a citizen of the European Union is to be one of 500 million people who each has a stake in this great project that gives expression to our ancient shared identity as Europeans. It is for us, with our multilayered identities as Scots, Brits and Europeans and as citizens of the EU, to make a choice. Will we recommit to the shared project of peace, prosperity and social justice or will we allow ourselves to be seduced by the siren calls of isolationism and division? Are we prepared to work in partnership to confront the challenges of this century and to embrace opportunity together, or will we indulge in the myopia of some imagined mid-Atlantic future?
A month after the collapse of the Berlin wall, Leonard Bernstein famously conducted an international orchestra in two performances of Beethoven’s ninth symphony in East Berlin, when Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” was notably transformed into an “Ode to Freedom”. The symbolism of that speaks to us now as clearly as it did then. Generations past and present have seen the bloody consequences of a Europe divided, but we have all lived and shared in the prosperity of a Europe united. As citizens of this great community of independent nations, let us stay together and work together for a prosperous and peaceful future. [
This is the first time that I have addressed Parliament in my role as one of the three Scottish Conservative MSPs for Central Scotland—how good does that sound? However, I fear that, maybe not for the last time, I could be severely outnumbered today. That few MSPs are on the side of the leave campaign demonstrates that Parliament, on this issue at least, does not reflect Scotland at large.
I am 52. That may surprise members. It surprises me sometimes. In my heart, I am still the disco-dancing cool dude of my 20s, although my head tells me otherwise. I will be going with my head at any MSPs’ parties. My age puts me in the bracket of the majority in this chamber who have never had the opportunity to vote on the UK’s membership of what is now the EU. My parents did and my grandparents did, but they were sold a pup.
No one asked the British people if they wanted to join the Common Market, as it was then. They were asked what we are now being asked—“Do you want to remain?” They were asked if they wanted to stay in the Common Market. If I was asked that today, I would say yes but that is not what was on offer then and it is certainly not what is on offer now. Our leaders knew then that it was not merely a trade organisation. They knew that it was a full-blown political project and they deliberately did not let on, so it is right that we are now, thanks to a Conservative Government, getting the choice—the choice to accept or reject what Britain did not vote for.
We must accept the result whatever the outcome. This must be a once-in-a-generation vote, just as the Scottish referendum should have been a once-in-a-generation vote. On this issue, it is the Scottish Conservatives who most reflect public opinion in Scotland, more so than any of the other groups in this Parliament.
Scottish Labour used to have a strong Eurosceptic element. It now seems to have abandoned its past. I would have thought that SNP members would accept the unarguable logic of Jim Sillars. He says that it makes no sense to suggest that we should leave a union with our closest neighbours only to jump into an even larger and more remote one elsewhere, giving back the powers that have just been asked for. However, SNP parliamentarians, even if they agree with their former deputy leader, are not allowed to say so—[
.]—although I read in
The Scottish Sun this week that apparently one of them agrees. Will they break cover today, I wonder?
The choice on 23 June is to stay or leave. The question that voters must ask themselves is really very simple—how do I want to be governed? That is what it comes down to in the end. We can argue about prices, the economy, immigration and security and there are valid arguments on both sides in all those areas but, ultimately, it comes down to this: do I want decisions affecting my country to be taken by people outwith these borders? Do I think that it is right that unelected and unaccountable European judges can overturn the decisions of democratically elected politicians? Do I think that it is right that policies can be decided by unelected bureaucrats and imposed on this country?
When the Scottish Government put forward its proposals for minimum alcohol pricing, I saw it as more nanny state politics from the SNP but I absolutely thought that it had the right to do it, having been elected by the people of Scotland. For that measure to be blocked, in effect, by the European Court of Justice was a disgrace.
Why do so many in the political class want to remain? It could be because the EU serves them and their armies of bureaucrats very well. Those in the bubble are hardly likely to want to burst it. The EU is nothing but a political project. It is a first-class-only gravy train with no stops, where the buffet car serves only the finest food, never mind the cost, and it is one way—to ever-closer union. We have the chance to pull the emergency cord and jump off, to set ourselves on another, freer course, able to spend the fare money—£350 million a week—on whatever we like. Leaving would hand this Parliament powers over, for example, agriculture and fisheries. Why would anyone in this chamber not want that?
There is a sign in the European Commission building in Brussels that reads, “Europe—Your Country”. That is what they believe. It is not what I believe and anyone who agrees with me should be voting to leave on 23 June. [
I, too, welcome you to your new role, Deputy Presiding Officer.
With less than a month to go, we are coming into the home straight of the debate that will decide our future in Europe. The debate this morning has provided an extremely useful opportunity for this newly elected Scottish Parliament to discuss the issues at stake ahead of the decision, and I congratulate all those members who have delivered their maiden speeches during the course of the debate.
There is clearly some divergence of opinion across the chamber, just as there is some divergence of opinion across Scotland. Like many others in the remain camp, I do not pretend that the European Union is perfect. That point was well made by my colleague Adam Tomkins in his excellent maiden speech. Nevertheless, I believe that, on balance, the Prime Minister has negotiated a better deal for the United Kingdom in the European Union, which will allow Britain to continue to play a leading role in one of the world’s largest international organisations, with our having a special status within the EU framework.
The Prime Minister has stressed that there is a need for further and continuing reform, but there is little doubt that Britain is best placed to pursue that from a position of influence inside the EU fold. If we were to leave the EU but still have access to the single market, our level of access would likely not be the same as it is now—we need look only at Norway and Switzerland as examples of that. We would still have to pay into the EU budget and accept the free movement of people as the price of that access, we would still be subject to all the EU’s rules, but we would have no say over the creation of those rules.
I think that, on balance, the overall package of the European Union is able to address the challenges in member countries better than we could do individually as separate nations.
I understand that, for some, the UK’s ongoing participation in the European project is an emotive matter, with questions of sovereignty and control at its core. My colleague Margaret Mitchell highlighted her concerns in her speech, as did Graham Simpson in his maiden speech. However, it seems to me that far from halting the constitutional creep of the EU and restoring the UK’s sovereignty over its decision making by leaving, we would find ourselves more constrained than we are with the status quo.
Mr Findlay rightly highlighted the SNP’s hypocrisy over the EU referendum. It is odd, to say the least, that the SNP is now strongly promoting one union, when it passionately argued against another that more clearly benefits Scotland. It argues that one union in which Scotland has 10 per cent of elected representatives is somehow undemocratic but another union in which we have less than 2 per cent of MEPs is acceptable; and that one union that represents £46 billion-worth of Scotland’s trade is worth leaving but we should not risk leaving another union that represents £13 billion of trade. However, the SNP has not stopped there, because it is publicly pinning Scotland’s constitutional future on the outcome of the EU referendum. Mr Russell highlighted during his speech earlier the SNP’s continuing desire to break up the UK.
I believe that for many people in Scotland and across the UK, the case for remaining in the EU is not so much an emotive one as a practical one—it certainly is for me. Therefore, instead of looking at abstract ideas, let us look at concrete benefits. As the UK’s major trading partner, the EU accounts for 44 per cent of UK exports; more than 3 million jobs in Britain are linked to our trade with other EU countries; and, overall, the independent Confederation of British Industry estimates that, through lower prices and increased trade and investment, each household across the country benefits, on average, by £3,000 a year from EU membership. Daniel Johnson highlighted in his maiden speech the economic benefits for his constituency, but the same arguments apply across the whole of Scotland.
The Prime Minister has consistently argued that the main, overriding purpose of European Union membership is to secure prosperity. Since the eurozone crisis boiled over in 2009, the EU has perhaps become more connected with financial instability than economic prosperity, but the figures show that, despite the widespread economic turmoil that has defined the past few years, EU membership still benefits us not just at a national level but in people’s pockets, too.
For many of my constituents in the Borders with farm businesses, the EU also offers a critical level of support, through the common agricultural policy. In fact, nearly 40 per cent of the European budget is dedicated to the agricultural sector. In addition, EU membership offers tariff-free market access for Scottish produce, which had an export value of £5.1 billion in 2014—a fact that every business across the country should be, and will be, aware of.
The NFUS rightly argues that the European negotiating position has allowed international trade agreements to be opened with around 50 partners in recent years, opening up new markets for Scottish produce. We do not know what the alternative would be if the UK voted to leave. What trade barriers would be imposed? The future is extremely uncertain, and that is bad for the agricultural sector and bad for our economy as a whole.
So much of the leave rhetoric surrounding the UK’s membership of the EU has focused on the constraints that it supposedly places on our sovereignty—on our freedom to exercise autonomy and independence on issues affecting our laws, our borders and our global trade. However, to my mind, weighed against the costs, the benefits of staying in the EU are clear. Together with many of my Conservative colleagues, I will continue to make a strong and convincing case to remain in the EU.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
I am very grateful to members for their contributions to the debate in the chamber today. Is it not the case that the chamber really does rise to the occasion when we are addressing the big issues facing our people and communities? I hope that the new members, who have spoken extremely well today, can see that as the way forward.
There clearly is overwhelming—though not absolute—enthusiasm in the chamber for continuing membership of the EU. Many good points have been made during the debate. It is incumbent on those of us who can contribute to ensure that our voices are heard loudly and clearly in the short time that is left ahead of the vote on 23 June.
I will mention first speakers. We heard from Adam Tomkins. The best bit of his speech was his reference to Glasgow being the first European city of culture.
As many others did, Daniel Johnson paid tribute to his predecessor, which was much appreciated by members around the chamber. He spoke specifically about the role of universities and about the financial sector in Edinburgh.
Ross Greer made an excellent speech and I welcome him to his post for the Green Party. He was eloquent about how young people want to reach out, communicate and connect in the world. That part of the debate must not be lost.
How powerful was Tom Arthur’s reflection, which reminded us of what it felt like when the Berlin wall fell? He also reminded us of young people’s desire to contribute and connect and of the personal perspective that many people have on the debate.
On the other side of the debate, Graham Simpson set out his case. It is always important, even when we disagree in the chamber, that we listen with respect and argue the points.
There have been some outstanding speeches in the debate, in particular from Richard Lochhead, who is a close colleague and has, for a long time, been a strong champion for Scotland in the EU. He spoke about his constituency of Moray and its exports—Walkers, Baxters and the whisky industry—which are important to Scotland.
Richard Lochhead also talked about historical reflection, as did Mike Russell. It is important that, in the debate, we think about what the EU has achieved and why it exists from not only an historical perspective but the perspective of the present and the future.
Kezia Dugdale brought a reflective perspective to the debate. She articulated not only the beauty and importance of the mix of cultures that is alive in Edinburgh and other cities but how the EU has brought peace and prosperity from conflict and chaos.
Some hard points were also made and some concerns were also raised in the debate, particularly by Margaret Mitchell, who seemed rather confused. She wanted to complain about and blame the EU for the UK’s trade figures without acknowledging the importance of the growth of emerging markets and then based her argument on the need to have unilateral trade agreements with those new and emerging markets.
From the other end of the spectrum—how often do the right and left meet?—Elaine Smith expressed concern about what would happen with future trade agreements within the EU, but the question is what would happen outwith the EU. Do we really think that some of the protections that we seek for the NHS and other services would be part of any trade deal that an unfettered, free-market Conservative Government made with the US?
I want to move on.
On the point that Graham Simpson made about minimum unit pricing, which was reflected by others, I point out that the measure has not been blocked. The ECJ’s preliminary ruling indicates that it will be for member states’ domestic courts to make a final decision on the issue.
The desire to connect and to ensure that we can build—as Ross Greer said—“a people’s Europe” are aspirations and are the type of issue that we are arguing about. What type of country do we want to be part of? What type of leadership do we want our country to provide? How do we want our country to shape the world around us?
When we consider the debate through the prism of civic Scotland, we see a number of organisations reflecting a strong case for EU membership. The Scottish Council for Development and Industry has said:
“SCDI is entirely confident that in stating that if the UK remains in the EU it would be better for the Scottish economy it accurately represents the position of the majority of our members ... In SCDI’s view, the EU is an essential foundation for Scotland’s international trade and investment.”
David O’Neill of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has said:
“Given the importance of the issue we took a paper on the EU Referendum to our full Convention and I am pleased to say that there was agreement from the political groups within COSLA that we would campaign to remain within the European Union.”
The Scottish Trades Union Congress has said:
On 24 May, Rev Sally Foster Fulton of the Church of Scotland said:
“For the last 20 years we have recognised the European Union’s achievements in promoting peace and security. We reaffirmed that position today.”
The president of NFU Scotland, Allan Bowie, has said:
“A robust debate amongst our board of directors and wider membership looking at the economic arguments around the EU has seen NFU Scotland come off the fence in favour of remaining ‘in’ the EU at the current time. That is a position shared amongst other UK farming unions.”
We heard from Clare Adamson about the importance of horizon 2020. The debate is not just about the history and the present benefits of the EU; it is about what we can do to shape the future, to challenge and to take on the big issues and the big economic opportunities for the future. It is about invention, research and the leading lights of democracy, debate and innovation. Yes, those things are all capable of existing outside the EU, but how much better is it to have the ability to connect with so many of the cities, the institutions and the creative economies that are abroad in the EU?
I turn back to some of the arguments that were made in the debate. Claudia Beamish made an informed point about natural resources and the importance of the EU to our environment. John Mason touched on the fact that, although we talk about the EU in the abstract, we are actually talking about collaboration with our friends—with people in the Netherlands, with the Germans and with the French. People make those connections and help to shape what we do going forward. In that regard, I also want to reflect on Mary Fee’s excellent speech. She made a passionate case on what the EU means to working women. We have to take the abstract and institutional and make it personal and real, as Mary Fee did.
It is rare, perhaps, that we have a debate in which we can get consensus across the parties in the chamber, and I am pleased that we can do so today. We are responsible for articulating the case and bringing the voices of the people of Scotland into the chamber. We have all spent a number of weeks on the doorsteps, and I have talked about the civic institutions and their voices. We can argue for our parties’ positions and our personal positions, but our foremost responsibility is to reflect wider Scotland and to bring people’s voices into the chamber, and that has been done in the debate today.
I want to look at the task ahead and at how, from our different perspectives, we can agree on the importance of Scotland’s membership of the European Union. If, like me, members support Scotland and the UK remaining in the European Union, we must argue that case enthusiastically and with passion, but also with reason. We must make the rational case that Scottish voters expect from politicians in debates in the chamber and, more important, out in society and in the economy at large.
Through our EU membership, the people of Scotland have enjoyed many opportunities, including the right to live, work and study abroad and the chance to co-operate with like-minded people across Europe, and that opportunity must be there for future generations. We should never forget the birthplace of co-operation across Europe. In that regard, I reflect on the speeches of Mike Russell and other members. We must remain grounded by that perspective and remember the importance of a union of 28 members that has sustained peace and prosperity. It is important that future generations can enjoy the same benefits and assume a leading role in the EU.
I will finish—perhaps unusually—by commenting on a speech by a Conservative member. In his excellent speech, John Scott said that it is important to help to solve the problems of Europe rather than adding to them. The voice of Scotland is important, and the debate is not just about what we get from Europe in material terms, but about what we can contribute and what we can give to the wider world. That, ultimately, is the big argument and the big horizon. That is the big picture of why we should co-operate with our colleagues across Europe and remain in the European Union.
12:29 Meeting suspended.
14:00 On resuming—
Thank you, Presiding Officer, for giving me the opportunity to set out a different perspective in the debate. As my colleague John Scott said, it is good to be back in the chamber making a speech in a substantive debate.
I have been listening to the wider EU debate, and one of its worst aspects is the way in which it is dominated by the right—often with racist undertones. It is important that a legitimate left-wing case for leaving is voiced in the debate. The key argument of the official stay campaign—I should say that I am not part of any official campaign—seems to be that things can only get worse if we leave, but that argument ignores the role that the EU has played in intensifying austerity and reactionary politics.
I appreciate that many of my Labour colleagues are enthusiastic about staying—as has been outlined by Kezia Dugdale. However, from a left perspective, there is a need to assess what the EU is and, based on that, what route is most likely to offer the best prospects for the working class and employment rights. I am not convinced that the best route involves being part of an undemocratic superstate, with mass unemployment, falling living standards and growing inequality. We have only to look to the Greek tragedy and the 50 per cent youth unemployment rate in Spain to see that.
Undoubtedly, many people on the left will hold their noses and vote to remain in the hope that reforms will come. I understand that, but with its having an unelected bureaucracy at its core and a largely decorative Parliament, to vote to remain would be to avoid the reality that the EU structures are closely bound to capitalism. The original title of the EU—the Common Market—told socialists then that it was an essentially capitalist institution that was designed to reverse the socialist advances that had been made in western Europe after world war two. Of course, Britain was originally locked out of the European Economic Community club by French vetoes because the French believed—correctly—that Britain would use its influence to advance the interests of United States capital.
In contrast, the interests of workers are important to the EU only in so far as the consent of workers—or the absence of organised opposition—can be achieved. At this point, someone usually mentions the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty; however, that treaty was introduced to develop the single market and monetary union, and the social chapter was included because it was recognised that increased labour movement resistance to worsening economic conditions could derail the whole EU project.
In Britain, equality, health and safety laws, the working-time directive and other benefits that are included in the social chapter seemed to be very attractive because of the aggressive market-led capitalist approach of Tory Governments. However, it is also important to note the limited nature of the social chapter: key areas in relation to class struggle, such as pay and the right to strike, were not included. In reality, most of the key rights that we still enjoy—for example, paid holidays and equal pay—do not stem from the EU, but from struggles that were undertaken collectively by trade unions in Britain. Of course, the EU has provided some individual—as opposed to collective—rights, such as the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, or TUPE, but that was only in order to limit resistance to EU-imposed privatisation and competitive tendering. Individual rights for agency workers were introduced to mitigate the effects of casualisation, which the EU helped to create.
The EU works on the basis of the primacy of the market, and collective labour organisation is seen as an impediment to effective markets. We have seen endless pro-business directives ending public ownership of rail and utilities, introducing compulsory competitive tendering in the public sector and allowing companies to pay workers from other states at rates that are lower than the locally agreed rate.
As we have heard in other speeches, that agenda has impacted directly on Scotland. The Scottish Government claims that it was the EU that enforced the retendering of Caledonian MacBrayne services with the threat of privatisation. That is one of the reasons why RMT is so keen for its members to vote leave. Currently, CETA and TTIP are being negotiated secretly by the unelected European Commission. If they are agreed, they will be a huge threat to our public services here in Scotland. The treaties are a corporate power grab that will undermine our democracy and give businesses a right to sue Governments. That is absolutely terrifying.
The EU is not Europe: it is a political construct that is imposed on the people of Europe to undermine democratic national Governments, and it seeks the effective elimination of any genuine elective democracy. I say in the strongest terms that that runs contrary to the true definition of internationalism. Since its foundation, the EU has had a clear direction of travel, which is to open up public services to privatisation, to erode collective bargaining and to centralise power. Unfortunately, not enough of the debate on the EU referendum—on either side—addresses those fundamental points.
Fighting to remain will inevitably allow that agenda to continue in the face of minimum opposition and with little hope of any real reform. Voting to leave could help to reassert the power of working people over that of big business. Politically, that would be much more likely if we elect a Labour Government in 2020.
In his case for leaving, John Foster says:
“it is ... essential to put forward and win a positive, progressive case against Cameron’s EU—a vision of renewed democracy, a restored welfare state and a redevelopment of public control over the economy, a vision that can combat racism, cynicism and division and unite all working people.”
Whatever way people vote, they should be aware of the true nature of the EU. Personally, I intend to vote leave and will not support the motion tonight.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I congratulate you on your elevation to your position. I will crave a boon from you at some point in the future; let us get in credit at the outset.
Like fellow rebel Mike Russell, I voted yes in 1975 not because the arguments were absolutely decisive and compelling, but because, as a child who was born in the immediate aftermath of the war that ended in 1945, the value that I placed on international collaboration in the cause of peace overrode other considerations.
John Mason talked about 41 years. Interestingly enough, 41 years before the 1975 referendum there was another referendum, which was on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the League of Nations. It was not organised by the Government, but was a mass franchise that was open to the voting of everyone in the United Kingdom. Of the electorate, 38 per cent chose to vote and 96 per cent of those said that they wanted to remain part of that international organisation. I crave our achieving such an overwhelming result on 23 June, but I am not holding my breath.
To Elaine Smith I say that a further 41 years back the inaugural meeting of the Independent Labour Party took place in Bradford, chaired by Keir Hardie. There must be something about 41 years in politics.
The debate around how we should engage with each other is not particularly new. In 1606, in the Westminster Parliament, it was said:
“If we admit them into our Liberties, we shall be overrun with them”.
There was a fear that if Scotland and England joined together, the English would be overrun with Scots. In that debate in 1606, the member went on to say:
“witness the multiplicities of the Scots in Polonia.”
Today, part of the debate concerns the number of people who are using the provisions for free movement of people across Europe to come to our shores, and the 2 million UK citizens—including substantial numbers of my family—who have moved elsewhere. However, in the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, substantial numbers of Scots migrated to many of those countries, and to Poland in particular, to the extent that there are areas called Nowa Szkocja—New Scotland—in Warsaw and Krakow, as well as in Danzig, which is now part of Poland. If the Scots are anything, we are a people of international interests.
I am happy to recruit Margaret Mitchell and Graham Simpson to the campaign to abolish the House of Lords. Margaret Mitchell said that an argument against the EU is that nobody knows who the members of the European Parliament are; I would bet that we will not find many people who know the names of people in the House of Lords. I do not even know those who might claim Scottish connection, and I am involved in politics. Graham Simpson made remarks that support that, too.
When I made my first speech in the chamber, on 14 June 2001, I referred to fisheries policy bringing zonal management. There has been some progress on the common fisheries policy, which will continue, but it would be fair to say that the overwhelming majority of skippers in my constituency, who catch fish in the North Sea and elsewhere, are likely to vote no, because the common fisheries policy is one of the great failures of the EU. On the other hand, for those who produce fish products and export fish, the free movement of goods across borders allows fresh products that would perish rapidly to make it to the markets of the EU and to generate huge economic benefit. The fishing industry, therefore, is deeply divided between those who produce products and rely on access to the wider market and those who share the bounty of the seas in a way that is unfair to them. Reform is needed and is probably coming. I encourage the UK, which will have the European presidency in the second half of next year, to take a much more proactive role in promoting the interests of those who catch fish in our seas.
Thank you, Presiding Officer—I welcome you to the chair this afternoon.
The formal record of today’s debate will appear to show a high degree of consensus on a hugely important issue—a brief and uncontroversial Government motion with no amendments from Opposition parties, and an overwhelming vote in favour of the motion, with every party leader voting the same way. There will not be much to suggest that we are dealing with one of the most critically important decisions that our generation will face, or that many people in Scotland have still to make up their minds.
I thank Fiona Hyslop for welcoming me to my post. As she said, referendums reduce debates to a binary choice—for or against; in or out—even though many people can see arguments both ways. Those who vote in favour of continued membership of the EU will do so on the basis of having quite different visions of the futures of Scotland, Britain and Europe, as will those who vote to leave. Labour’s support for remaining in the EU is firmly based on the collective view of our party conference and, as Kezia Dugdale said, on the proposition that
“Sovereignty shared is sovereignty gained”.
As Mary Fee said, we believe that,
“by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we achieve alone”.
That ambition for achieving more together is not limited to the people of Scotland, Britain or the European Union—our “common endeavour” is a universal principle that applies to all. For example, Gordon Brown recently wrote of the vital role that the European Union can play in working for stability and hope in the middle east and Africa. Those are vital objectives for those regions and for Europe, itself. That, too, speaks to our common humanity.
In today’s debate, Daniel Johnson laid out the benefits of membership of the European Union for his constituents in terms of investment, education and jobs: what is true of Edinburgh Southern is true of Scotland as a whole. I congratulate him and all the new members who have spoken in this debate, all of whom made strong contributions from their different points of view.
I welcome members from different parties who have stressed the need for reform of the European Union to support people—here and across Europe—against the damage that is being done by austerity policies from national Governments. We want a European Union that builds on Europe’s best democratic traditions, not simply a common market for the free movement of capital.
The socialist case to remain is the polar opposite of the Conservative case to leave, which was put today by Margaret Mitchell and Graham Simpson. We reject the idea that free movement of people is a one-way deal or a burden on public services. We recognise that free movement of workers must go hand in hand with shared high standards of workers’ rights, and we believe that government must invest in public services and not simply let market forces take their course.
Our aspiration is to widen the circle of shared values, of common endeavour and of equal rights as far as is practicably possible. For example, we want—as a number of members have said—to protect the rights of people at work: the right to paid holidays, the right to parental leave, the right to equal treatment and the right to safe working environments. As a party, we will use the powers of the Scottish Parliament where we can, and we will work with other parties here that share that agenda. However, whenever we get the opportunity to legislate on those matters for the whole of the United Kingdom, we will do that as well. That way, 10 times as many people will benefit. We will embed those rights in European law when the opportunity arises, because that will benefit 100 times more people than live in Scotland alone.
The rights of people at work in Scotland are enhanced every time we succeed in winning the same rights for people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as every time we succeed in winning those rights across the EU. The wider the reach of progressive legislation, the harder it is for unscrupulous employers or governments to promote a race to the bottom at working people’s expense, and the harder it then becomes to impose policies of austerity at the expense of working people.
It is for those reasons that trade unions share not only the Labour Party’s values, but in the main—Elaine Smith mentioned some exceptions—our views on the European Union, including what needs to be done to make it work better. As Jeremy Corbyn has said, there is a “socialist case” not only for the European Union but for reform and progressive policies within the European Union. As Dave Ward of the Communications Workers Union said last month:
“The EU is far from perfect—but it’s necessary for tackling inequality, tax avoidance, climate change and preventing workers being exploited across Europe.”
Those points have been made in the debate and they unite many members in this chamber. It is not for its own sake that we in the Labour Party back any state or union, European or otherwise; it is for the good that it can do and the difference that it can make. For Labour, that is what the debate is all about.