Euro glittering prize a springboard to referendum success

Euro MP looks forward to the two big campaigns of next year

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Published by Independence Magazine, January/February 2013

After nearly 10 years being lucky enough to represent Scotland as an MEP in the European Parliament, I'm moreconvinced than ever that to get the best deal and make the best contribution we need to speak for ourselves.

Picture of Alyn Smith MEP in Edinburgh

So the European elections in 2014 are close to my heart. In June next year, more than 500 million people will go to the polls across 28 different member states, including the newest member, Croatia. 

This vote will take place in Scotland around three months before our own referendum on Independence.  There’s no question about it: we simply must do well at the European poll. A good result will give us the final momentum we need to finish well and win.

For my part, I'm hungry for more.  We're here to win back Scotland's freedom, and we haven't done that yet.  I plan to be a candidate again, but this isn't about me - it is about the golden opportunity the Euros elections represent for the Party and the cause.

There is every chance that with continued hard work and by putting Scotland first we'll do better than well.  At the last Euros in 2009 we handsomely won the election in terms of votes, and were achingly close to winning the three seats out of Scotland's six.  I think that third seat is, this time, even nearer to our grasp. And who knows? Perhaps there may even be more.

Scottish politics is being driven by us, the SNP.  We are of course delighted to work alongside friends and colleagues of all parties and none in the Yes campaign in the run-up to the referendum, but in this election battle, we’ll be on our own. On  this occasion, we won’t be fighting on a common platform.

We’re battle-hardened, have a fantastic winning team, and can count on the hard work and dedication of SNP members and supporters up and down the country.  Like you, I’ll be out there promoting our SNP message. The Euros are about who is going to represent Scotland in Europe and we're best at that.

I confidently predict that the campaign in Scotland will be the international story of the European elections EU-wide and far beyond. 

The SNP is a team game, and whenever one of us wins, we all win.  Continued focus by our Councillors and MSPs on delivering good government, spurring our economy and building the case for independence will deliver support and votes.

We stand on the shoulders of giants in this party, harvesting the crop sown by decades of hard work, tears and toil by those who went before.  Any elected member has the privilege, and the bounden duty, to contribute to our continued success.

In the Parliament Ian Hudghton and myself have tirelessly fought Scotland's corner and won results that matter.  We have a good story to tell as a Party and your European Parliamentary Group has a record of achievement you can be proud of.

Now let’s look at what we’re up against. I have a bet with a friend that the UK coalition will collapse over Europe.  First, the LibDems. They have welched on their deepest principles, but nowhere is the coalition more Janus-faced than on EU policy.

But there has to come a time when even the LibDems will rediscover a spine, and - remember -  the Euros will not be fought by the two parties as a coalition.  The simmering resentments across the Westminster government will be front and centre of the UK Euro election campaign. 

People aren't daft, though. They will see the LibDem so-called principles for what they truly are - posturing weasel words, empty and venal. People voted for them and got the Tories, They were punished for that in the Scottish parliamentary elections in 2011 and in the council elections last year,  and they'll be punished again for it in the Euros.

Now the Conservatives. Where do I begin?  David Cameron has represented the UK - which includes us,  remember - appallingly in EU talks.  The smarter Tories (and yes, there are a few), have realised, too late, that they have over the years fed a eurosceptic beast which has mutated into the deeply unpleasant UKIP, and now they are terrified of it.

I've watched Cameron and his pals come to Brussels over the years for ostensibly serious talks to solve serious economic issues, and then make self indulgent speeches about utter nonsense for the benefit of the Daily Mail.

They have made Britain look selfish, ill-informed and bone-headed at a time when the nations of Europe really need to work together in the common mutual interest.  And they’ve done so not out of principle, but out of raw fear of UKIP. 

But here's the irony. They can't out-UKIP UKIP, so instead of taking Nigel Farage and his pixies on and making a positive case, they're pandering to them and building UKIP up to the point where it will eat  them.

Just as Europe brought down Margaret Thatcher and John Major, we can rely on the Tories to fight like ferrets in a sack among themselves.  Meanwhile, their ideologically driven assault on the most vulnerable in society and continued disastrous mismanagement of the economy will lose them votes and credibility.  All in all, they  are going to have a rotten campaign.

Which brings me to UKIP. I think they will come nowhere in Scotland,  but they'll win the English campaign.  They deal in fairy stories and half truths, but so what? Nobody in the UK media is going to ask them hard questions.  Quite the reverse.

Nigel Farage, who is the only one of them who can string a sentence together, will be feted as an international statesman.  They will have all the easy answers, no opposition from the London parties and they'll set the tone of UK media coverage.  The fact that most of them will never turn up to committees, spend most of their time in the bar and claim every allowance going is beside the point. 

The Euros are their election, and in any case they've been playing a smart game to appeal to a Middle England disgruntled with life in general. The EU is a handy scapegoat.  What better way to punish "the politicians" than to vote for the anti-politician party?

And what of our primary opposition, Labour?  In all the polls in Scotland,  they are flatlining.  Real splits exist within the party north and south of the border, I think we'll see more of those.   They are the opposition in England, so there might be a boost for them there, but up here I just don't see them winning, and I think they're in trouble. 

So we have a glittering prize to win. I view it as a personal priority to be part of the SNP team that delivers a stoating victory and at the very least that third seat, giving us a cracking springboard on to the moment a few weeks later when our nation chooses its future in the referendum.

That referendum, too, is there to win, and like you, I’m aware of just how massively important it is. But if we do well in the Euros, that will act as a springboard for us, propelling us to a yes vote and finally giving us - and our fellow countrymen and women - the prize we have all worked so hard for.

So I’m ready for both battles, presenting our positive case, with no quarter asked or given. I know you are, too.

We can win.  We will win.  And I'm relishing the challenge.