Moray SNP News
Scottish Parliament Speech during European Union Debate - Thursday 26 May 2016
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—
Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con):
Will the member take an intervention?
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.
Ross Thomson (North East Scotland) (Con):
Will the member give way?
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. [Applause.]