BEING elected as one of the three SNP members representing our country in the European Parliament at this crucial time is an enormous privilege.
First published in The National, 2 June 2019
Like my two colleagues, Alyn Smith and Christian Allard, I am determined to repay the trust the people of Scotland have shown us by advancing Scotland’s interests in the European Parliament, and to work relentlessly to ensure we are not forced out of the EU against the clear will of the Scottish people.
For me, the election also marks the continuation of a political journey that began in 2004 when I went to Brussels as head of policy for Alyn Smith during his first term as an MEP. So, when it became clear there would be elections to the European Parliament despite Brexit, and having fully recovered from a serious illness that kept me out of politics since 2016, I needed little persuasion to put my name forward for selection as an SNP candidate. I am hugely grateful to our members who supported my candidacy.
The experience itself was greatly rewarding. I was thrilled to be part of a passionate and energetic campaign that saw our activists the length and breadth of Scotland out on the doorsteps determined to secure an SNP victory that would send a clear message to Westminster and to Brussels that Scotland did not vote for and does not want Brexit.
And the response was incredibly positive – a triumph for the leadership our First Minister has shown and for her clear and unambiguous message that Scotland must not be dragged out of the EU against our wishes.
And, if that does happen, the people of Scotland must have the right to a second vote on independence. That is the message the First Minister has clearly and consistently sent to the people of Scotland literally from the day after the EU referendum back in June 2016.
And with the UK in a constant state of chaos, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is absolutely right to make clear that – regardless of how Brexit turns out – the Scottish Government has a responsibility to keep all options on the table, including giving people the opportunity to vote for an independent Scotland.
But this was not just a victory for the SNP. It was a victory for a positive vision of our country’s future as an independent member of the European family of nations and in which our voice will be heard and will matter.
While there are many lessons to draw from the calamitous Brexit debacle created by this utterly incompetent Tory Government, there are two in particular I’d point to.
First, any form of Brexit will be hugely damaging to Scotland’s economic and social prospects, as jobs are lost and investment falls. Our young people will be forced to forfeit the tremendous opportunities that EU membership offers them, and many industries and social services will suffer from labour shortages as free movement ends.
Second, the conduct of the UK Government throughout the Brexit negotiations has demonstrated that they have no interest in listening to the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government. Contrast that with the influence that Ireland – a small EU member state – has had on the EU side of the negotiating table. It is ample evidence if any was needed that independence in the EU will greatly enhance Scotland’s sovereignty.
Successive Irish governments have understood all too well that sovereignty shared within the framework of the EU increases rather than diminishes their ability to positively shape those forces that affect their economic and social future. It is a lesson Scotland can learn.
And positively shaping Scotland’s future is at the top of my agenda as I take my seat in the European Parliament.
The reality today is that the European Parliament enacts legislation that impacts on many aspects of our lives, much of which we take for granted – jobs and growth; the environment; social policy and workers’ rights; the freedom to travel to, and live and work in, any EU country; protecting consumer rights; supporting local economic development; and protecting fundamental rights, to name just a few EU policy areas.
I will ensure Scotland’s voice is heard and our interests are represented in legislative proposals as these, and other issues, make their way through the European Parliament.
Membership of the EU also provides us with a unique framework for tackling the various domestic and global challenges that confront us and which no single country can effectively address on its own – be this climate change, terrorism, human trafficking, cyber-security or curtailing the excesses of the multinational giants such as Google and Facebook. These are challenges to which Scotland can make a positive contribution, and I – along with Alyn and Christian – will make sure Scotland continues to be at the forefront of parliamentary debates on these crucial issues.
As with all parliaments, much of the day-to-day activity in the European Parliament involves scrutinising, debating and enacting a raft of legislative proposals that impact on our citizens. In that regard, my primary duty is always to ensure Scotland’s interests are reflected in that legislation to ensure we enjoy the maximum benefits from our EU membership.
As a former minister in the Scottish Government with responsibility for climate change and the environment, it will come as no surprise that the environmental agenda is one area that I intend to follow closely at EU level. Scotland is a world leader in legislating for a low-carbon economy, with a 2045 target for net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases enshrined in law. I want to work with colleagues across the European Parliament to ensure equally ambitious targets become the norm for all EU member states and that we begin to roll back the existential threat that global warming poses to many communities, not least in many of the world’s poorest countries.
In a similar vein, it is important we continue at EU level to make progress towards delivering the objectives of the Circular Economy Action Plan published by the European Commission in 2015 – paving the way as it does towards a climate-neutral economy that protects our environment and essential ecosystems. And I want to ensure the vital EU resources for research continue to benefit our world-leading university sector.
I also want to contribute to discussions about reforming the EU to ensure that it better meets the aspirations, and addresses the needs, of our citizens. Too often the European Parliament is depicted as remote and inaccessible, when it should be seen as approachable and responsive.
I know, of course, that as I take my seat in the European Parliament, the UK is scheduled to leave the EU on October 31, and that the Tories seem determined to leave under the worst possible terms, regardless of the potentially disastrous economic and social consequences. That simply cannot be allowed to happen. Along with Alyn and Christian, I will be working as hard as I can to reverse that position, continuing to back a second People’s Vote with the option to remain in the EU, as well as to support revoking Article 50 if a no-deal Brexit is the only alternative.
Finally, I will endeavour to represent our country in the distinguished and effective way that has characterised all previous SNP MEPs, and to prepare the EU for Scotland’s membership as an independent country.
I am acutely aware I’m following in some very illustrious footsteps, none more so than Dr Winnie Ewing, Dr Allan Macartney and Professor Sir Neil MacCormick, indisputable giants of the Scottish national movement.
For me, as the first woman since Winnie Ewing to represent the SNP in the European Parliament, this is a particular privilege, and one that I am immensely looking forward to.