A Scotland with its own dynamic on European engagement would be in a better position to protect its distinct national interests while making a deeper contribution to the direction of the continent – claims Toni Giugliano
The anti-independence campaign Better Together likes to use the term ‘separation’ as part of its drive to liken an independent Scotland to a state in global isolation. This could not be further from reality. Indeed, an independent Scotland’s relations with the rest of the United Kingdom and our international partners will be greatly enhanced with a ‘yes’ vote in September. ‘Yes’ campaigners are clear that the political union on these islands is broken and that the democratic deficit embodied by Westminster is incapable of meaningful reform. There is no real political will to fix it.
In contrast, a ‘yes’ vote will ensure that in Scotland we always get the government we vote for – with policies tailor-made to tackle directly specific challenges. An independent Scottish Parliament could remove weapons of mass destruction and use welfare powers to ditch the hated bedroom tax. An independent Scottish government could look to the Nordic examples of societies based on fairness and prosperity – and whose idea of growth is not based on a low-skill, low-wage economy.
Many of our campaigners also agree that there are parts of British relations that work well. We share a monarchy; we are part of a strong social union that encompasses a shared language; we share a currency, sterling; and we have been part of the European Union for more than 40 years. Yes, the hype over Romanian and Bulgarian migrants marks another depressing page in recent Westminster politics. Instead of condemning the ‘us and them’ mentality stirred up by UKIP – a mentality that incites hatred and often drives communities against each other – Westminster politicians have chosen to add fuel to the fire.
Indeed, EU migrants are net contributors to our economy. Between 2001 and 2011, European immigrants contributed to the fiscal system 34 per cent more than they took out – with a net fiscal contribution of £22.1bn. Over the years they have opened businesses, created jobs and become part of the fabric of our culture and society. Scotland is rightly proud of its migrant communities. The question is – do we want our welfare, immigration and Europe policies to be directed by Nigel Farage – whose party has zero representation and credibility in Scotland? Or do we allow our Scottish Parliament, elected by the people of Scotland, to take control?
May’s European elections will be a turning point. Not only are they a few months before the independence referendum, they will confirm exactly who pulls the strings of British politics. If UKIP triumphs south of the border, Britain’s future in Europe will be far from certain. With the mainstream parties all moving to the right – who exactly is sticking up for Britain’s future in Europe? Where are the heavyweights standing up for European integration? The ‘in-out’ European referendum has become a serious threat to our EU membership. If the overwhelming population of the UK votes for EU withdrawal, Scotland will be dragged out with it. That is not a risk we are willing to take.
Over the last 40 years the UK has been on the edges, never shaping the European debate, but simply reacting to it – and time and time again UK ministers have made the wrong decisions for Scotland. We have a prime minister threatening to take us out of the social chapter – the only legislation our workforce have to guarantee rights in the workplace. Would our first minister ever argue the same? We have a UK Chancellor taking Brussels to court for introducing a cap on bankers’ bonuses. Would John Swinney ever do the same?
A home secretary considering withdrawal from the European Arrest warrant. Would Kenny MacAskill ever consider doing the same? A rural affairs secretary calling for a reduction in the agriculture budget when Scotland already gets the worst farming deal in Europe. Would Richard Lochhead have argued the same? A work and pensions secretary targeting EU migrants as a way to appease Eurosceptic backbenchers. Which Scottish government, of whatever composition, would ever do the same?
Last year the UK, the Irish Republic and Denmark celebrated 40 years of membership of the European club. Ireland marked it with a successful EU presidency: a US-EU trade deal and the reform of both the Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy. The UK marked it with a prime minister announcing a referendum on Europe.
Ireland and then Lithuania, two small nations, as presidents of the council were able to set the agenda for 500 million Europeans. Countries smaller than Scotland but with more MEPs, their own European commissioner, their own seat at the top tables of Brussels and the power to influence the EU’s policy direction. Scotland should be doing the same: advancing policy, leading in areas where we have expertise such as energy, climate-change legislation, world-leading research and fisheries. Instead, we’re forced to rely on Westminster to represent us – a system which throws its toys out the pram and fails to protect our distinct interests.
Independence will give Scotland a unique opportunity to join the family of nations, embark on a partnership of equals with the UK and help shape and mould the Europe of tomorrow. As two independent member states, Scotland and the UK will be able to work together and combined they will have a stronger voice – and representation – to pursue common goals. With our own dynamic on European engagement we will be in a position to protect our distinct national interest while making a contribution to the direction of our continent. I will be voting ‘yes’ in September to guarantee Scotland’s long-term future in Europe. This time let us shape it – let us be at the heart of it.
Toni Giugliano is sectoral groups adviser to the Yes Scotland campaign and a Scottish National Party MEP candidate