The people of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland each individually and thus collectively under the UK umbrella opted to join the European Union (EU) in a referendum in 1975. Since then the EU has grown to become the biggest Single Market in the world, with 21 million companies generating £11 trillion in economic activity. It has created a freedom for the workforce of Europe (and retirees) to seek opportunities around the continent – many Scots choose to work and live in other EU nations and ~160,000 come from other countries to work and live in Scotland.
This Thursday (May 22nd) people across Europe will go to the polls to elect their representatives within the European parliament. Within the UK, Scotland has 6 MEPs – for each of them their ‘constituents’ are the Scottish people. At the 2009 EU election, Scotland elected two SNP, two Labour, one Liberal Democrat and one Conservative.
The only parties with distinct Scottish manifestos are the SNP, Greens and Conservatives. I had a look for the Labour and Lib Dems equivalents but found nothing on their websites – I found that they both have a UK manifesto. UKIP has a very thin document which states that it seeks to remove UK from Europe.
Given the significance of Scotland’s independence referendum this September, and the pledge of the Tories to renegotiate the UK’s membership terms or ‘reform the EU’ as Labour put it, I think it is extremely important to vote on the 22nd of May, and ensure that we get the appropriate representation during the imminent negotiations that will occur regardless of whether Scotland is independent or not.
The SNP manifesto gives a good overview of the areas of importance within the EU parliament. I’ve seen the SNP MEPs speak and write on a few occasions and they have demonstrated a good understanding of the EU functions and work to protect the rights of workers across Europe and also to ensure that Scotland’s economy receives the maximum return from our membership. This is one of the driving reasons for seeking independence within the EU – not only will Scotland have full fiscal autonomy but we will be able to ensure that decisions in the European Parliament reflect the interests of the Scottish economy. This article by Alyn Smith MEP on the sacrifices that the UK government makes to Scottish agriculture to retain the UK rebate is worth reading.
You only get to mark 1 ‘X’ in this election, but if I had a 2nd vote (as per the Scottish Parliament voting system) it would certainly go to the Scottish Greens. They have put together a fantastic and comprehensive manifesto – it puts forward a positive case, pledging to see that power is handed down to local level, but countries work together for flourishing public services and for decent conditions and wages for ordinary people.
When searching for the Scottish Labour manifesto I asked one of the current Scottish Labour MEPs (David Martin) if he could help me out. Curiously, he pointed me towards the PES website – which is an alliance of centre left parties across Europe but that isn’t the manifesto that he is standing on. The Labour manifesto is reasonable enough, but I suspect the reason that Scottish Labour are keeping quiet about it is because much of the document is dedicated to outlining how bad the current UK government are, which perhaps doesn’t play well in the context of the Scottish independence referendum. As they quite rightly put it: ‘A Conservative government after 2015 would be dominated not by trying to tackle the cost of living crisis, protect the National Health Service or getting jobs for our young people, but by an all-consuming and damaging obsession with whether we should leave the European Union.’
Which brings me on to the Tories. To their credit, the Scottish Conservatives did at least go to the effort of writing their own manifesto. A point that instantly jumped out at me was that one of their top priorities is to ‘support for the continued enlargement of the EU to new members’. Strange as at times they seem quite hostile to the idea of new nations being within the EU… The main focus is to offer an in-out referendum on the EU which will be based on some form of unstated renegotiated UK terms.
Sadly I’ve not had the chance to read Lib Dems manifesto but after seeing Paddy Ashdown on BBC Question Time say that he was proud of the Lib Dems introducing ~£9k per year fees for university students, despite promises that they would not introduce any fees, I’ve not got much trust in their word at the moment.
UKIP’s manifesto offers no explanation of how they will operate within the European parliament. They make no effort to claim that they will represent any interests as elected representatives; in fact the only pledge seems to be that they’d like to ‘create an earthquake’. It is scandalous that they have had such media attention with such a lack of substance.
The EU serves as a modern union of nations, protecting societal interests. The Unite poster below gives a flavour of some of the aspects that many in the UK take for granted but are only protected through the EU. As with any democratic system though, engagement from the electorate can only be a good thing. Given the context of potential forthcoming negotiations with the EU on our membership (either in or out of the UK), I think there have been few occasions that voting in the EU elections has been so important.