Why Scotland must remain within the EU

I AM proud to have been selected to stand in the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament for the SNP.

As a former MSP and minister in the Scottish Government, I recognise only too well the singular importance to Scotland, and to our people, of remaining in the European Union.

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First published in The National, 23 April 2019

And I want to play an active part in ensuring we stay there as an independent member state.

Like me, most indy supporters are probably very angry right now.

We are rightly furious that we were told in 2014 that the only way to protect EU membership was to vote against independence. Not only was that a lie, we find ourselves only five years later faced with the real threat of being forced out of the EU against the very clear wishes of the Scottish people and by the very people who tricked so many of our fellow Scots.

That deceit must not prevail.

But many people also feel fed up with Brexit– jaded by the truly extraordinary mishandling of this entire process by the Prime Minister that has made the Westminster system an object of international ridicule. Not only has Theresa May played directly to the hard Brexiteers in her own party, but time and again she has put the interests of her fractured and frustrated Tory Party ahead of everything else, including Scotland.

It needn’t have been that way. From the outset our First Minister has been willing to compromise. We didn’t want Brexit at all but our government was willing to negotiate a way forward in order to protect Scotland’s vital interests.

That meant agreeing customs union and single market membership either for the UK as a whole, or for Scotland. Those plans were set out as long ago as December 2016, but they were arrogantly dismissed by the Prime Minister. Since then, her dogmatic inflexibility has bedeviled every attempt at getting a solution.

But, however outraged or jaded some people are, the most important task remains protecting our place in Europe, making this election crucial. We can speak up against Brexit, make our Scottish voice heard and lay down a marker for independent membership of the EU.

My special skill in that is the experience I have built up working in the European Parliament, specialising in European issues when an MSP and negotiating for Scotland in the EU Council of Ministers when a minister, including on such vital issues as climate change.

I know the EU well. It isn’t perfect, but the last half-century of peace and prosperity on our continent has been, in the greatest part, because of the existence of an organisation that puts co-operation ahead of competition between sovereign states.

Many of our jobs and much of the way we live our lives – including the welcome we give to those who come and work with us – relies on membership of the EU single market. The damage of Brexit to our young people who presently have the right to go anywhere to live, study, work and love across the EU will be incalculable. No wonder so few voted for this.

These elections give us the opportunity – if I might reverse the inspirational words of my good friend and former boss Alyn Smith MEP – to keep a light burning for Europe in Scotland, so that we can show our fellow Europeans that we want to continue to work with them.

In 2014 we were promised a Union of equals. The past three years of Brexit has shown just how empty that slogan was. Contrast Scotland’s lack of any influence over the UK Government’s approach to Brexit with the immense influence Ireland has had on the approach taken by the EU27.

Soon Scotland will face a choice – either to be a marginalised part of a marginalised country or to have an independent voice in the EU family of nations, that not only protects our economic and social interests, but allows us to shape our own destiny.

Dr Aileen McLeod is an SNP candidate in the European elections