NICOLA STURGEON: DOUBT OVER SCOTLAND’S PLACE IN EUROPE COMES ONLY FROM WESTMINSTER
Sunday, 20 January 2013 17:57
NICOLA STURGEON MSP WRITES - AS PRINTED IN TODAY’S SUNDAY HERALD
In the speech that the Prime Minister was due to deliver on Friday – and let me record my support for David Cameron's decision to postpone it because of the pressing urgency of the Algerian crisis – he was reportedly going to say that the UK risked "drifting towards the exit" of the European Union.
Indeed it does – underlining the point that the real question mark about Scotland's place in Europe comes from being governed by the Westminster system, and therefore from a No vote in next year's independence referendum.
I agree with Nick Clegg's comment last week that uncertainty about the UK's position in the EU could have a "chilling effect" on jobs and investment – although the irony of Mr Clegg being the Deputy Prime Minister in a government that is presiding over this very uncertainty will not be lost on people.
Being an integral part of the single European market is of particular importance to Scotland – not least because, as the Ernst & Young survey has recorded two years in a row, Scotland is the top-performing part of the UK in terms of winning inward investment jobs.
Thanks to the professionalism of our inward investment and trade promotion body Scottish Development International, Scotland succeeds disproportionately across the nations and regions of the UK in securing these new jobs.
Put bluntly, we cannot allow a situation to develop where Scotland suffers disproportionately from the "chilling effect" described by Mr Clegg.
The reality is that David Cameron is not basing his European position on the interests of the UK economy, never mind the Scottish economy. It is a crude political calculation – an attempt to concoct a formula to counteract the threat posed to Tory votes south of the Border by UKIP.
We may have something of the same opportunistic approach from Labour – earlier this month, a former Labour Party official wrote that Ed Miliband is "seriously toying with the idea of calling for an in-out referendum on Europe", on the basis that were he to "successfully outflank the Tories from the Right on such an explosive issue, the implications for David Cameron would be incalculable".
We have a different – and, I believe, better – politics in Scotland, across parties: inclusive, outward-looking and, because it is in our interests, pro-European.
We can never be complacent, but while UKIP is dictating the terms of the European debate south of the Border, it has never moved beyond the far fringes of Scottish politics.
At the last European election in 2009, UKIP moved into second place UK-wide in its share of the vote. In Scotland, it came last behind the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Greens. The party lost its deposit in every seat it contested in Scotland in the 2010 UK General Election and the 2011 Scottish Parliament election.
While it is getting record poll ratings south of the Border, in Scotland UKIP barely registers. Scotland is a European nation, and our position in the EU should not be determined by politicians at Westminster looking over their shoulder in electoral fear.
Of course, for all that they understand the economic benefits of EU membership, people also want to know that our national interests within the EU are protected.
That is why we should aspire to equality of status in Europe as an independent member state, so that we can do exactly what every other EU country does – speak with our own voice, deploy our own votes, negotiate our national priorities, and protect and promote our vital interests.
Of the 27 existing EU member states, 20 are small countries – 11 of them a similar size or smaller than Scotland. We need only look to Ireland at present – which holds the presidency of the EU for the first half of 2013 – to see the clout every country wields, regardless of size.
To a large extent, influence comes from respect – and the UK is fast losing the respect of our European friends and partners. Obama's America has added its voice to European concerns.
I believe that an independent Scotland – with our rich array of resources, talented people, and world-class learning institutions – will be a respected member of the European family. Scotland will benefit from being part of the European Union – and Europe as a whole will benefit from Scotland.