At the Spring SNP Spring Conference 2015 myself and Chris Stephens from SNP Trade Union Group (and candidate for Glasgow South West) brought to Conference a motion addressing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which was passed by acclaim. As the text stands, the SNP cannot support TTIP.
This was an important step since it has allowed the members to have their say on the SNP’s on-going response to TTIP. Democratic debate is at the core of the SNP and it is important that all our policies are open to the scrutiny of all our members.
Many of you have followed TTIP closely from the beginning and so the proposed treaty will not need any introduction. However, it is worth here reemphasising what has been said before. The scope of the deal is vast and what is being proposed is not merely a traditional trade deal. Done right, it could open up huge markets for Scotland in the USA, a country we have better and friendlier links with than many EU states. There could be a lot of potential Scottish jobs and growth at stake at a time when a lot of folk could really do with them.
Done wrong, it could open up our public services such as health, social care and even water to US (or domestic) corporations; lower our food, animal health and environmental standards towards American levels as well as open our country to GM food imports; award companies and investors a new special set of legal rules beyond the reach of the general law; and in significant ways undermine Scotland’s democratic right to decide how we run our country.
By passing the motion Conference reaffirmed SNP policy that the outcome of the TTIP talks must not alter the ability of a democratically elected government to organise public services in the way that best fits the needs and desires of the Scottish people.
This is central to SNP policy towards TTIP. This covers the entirety of the treaty including the proposed Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) elements. ISDS has attracted considerable attention and I have previously stated that ISDS is unacceptable. As a lawyer I find the presence of ISDS deeply worrying but it is not my only concern and ISDS must not be focussed upon to the detriment of other issues.
TTIP will eventually be subject to democracy – or a form of it at least. The European Parliament will at some point, probably around 18 months away, have a vote to approve it or reject it. Six MEPs will vote on Scotland’s behalf, and as one of them I have a duty to make people aware of what it is and how it could affect our lives. As an MEP I have been allowed access to the locked secret vault where the EU’s TTIP papers are kept.
Having seen these, as it stands I simply can't support it. TTIP will need to be reformed wholesale before it can count on our support.
Crucially though, the motion passed by SNP members does not close the door. Instead it sets out our red lines and instructs me to remain engaged, work with stakeholders like the unions and bring forward a further substantive position on TTIP at a later date so that our members can instruct us whether to support the eventual treaty once we actually know what it entails.
Because TTIP is work-in-progress, negotiators know they’ll eventually need SNP votes. That puts SNP MEPs in a potentially useful position, whereas outright opposition now, as some parties have done, simply shuts off any potential influence they could have had and so guarantees a worse treaty than we might yet achieve. The SNP does not have the luxury of opposition, and we take our responsibility to the people of Scotland seriously.
I will of course continue to provide updates as events unfold. TTIP has already evolved (for the better) since it first appeared under the glare of the public eye. It is not yet something I can support but we need to continue to work on improving TTIP. If it turns out that the end result is not acceptable I can and I will vote against it. Whether the end result is acceptable for me will be up to members of the SNP.
Full text of motion that was passed by acclaim on Saturday 28th March 2015
SCOTLAND’S INTERESTS IN TRANSATLANTIC TRADE AND INVESTMENT PARTNERSHIP
Conference notes that the European Union (EU) and the United States have started negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), expresses concern over the lack of transparency in these negotiations and that the stated ambitions for TTIP go well beyond traditional goals of trade agreements and seek to encompass a wide spectrum of public policies. These include the harmonisation of regulatory standards; opening markets in the service sector which could potentially include public services such as health, social services and higher education; opening up of public procurement markets; and a massive expansion of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism allowing corporate investors to challenge state actions which they perceive as threatening their investments.
Conference expresses its strong dissatisfaction both with the process and content of TTIP proposals so far, reaffirms party policy that the outcome of these talks must not alter the ability of democratically elected national governments and parliaments to organise public services in the way that best fits their needs, must not undermine European standards in the fields of public health, social and employment rights, health and safety and the environment and other fields, must not prevent the development of "buy local" marketing, such as in the food sector and requests our MEPs to:
1) Work with the TUC, STUC, EPSU and PSI to raise awareness of the reality of TTIP and the impact it will have on Scotland;
2) Continue to promote the benefits of in – house delivery and work against any attempts by public bodies to avoid public procurement rules whilst outsourcing;
3) Raise awareness of TTIP with all our party members and make it a major part of our Westminster campaign for 2015 as part of our political education programme given that within the EU Council of Ministers Scotland is represented by a UK government that is actively seeking to undermine public provision of services; and
4) Bring forward a substantive position on TTIP to a later Conference or National Assembly so that Conference can instruct MEPs in whether to support, or not, the eventual Treaty on the basis of its actual eventual content.
ALYN SMITH MEP
This week in Brussels, we attempted in the Agriculture Committee to call for Agriculture to be exempted entirely from TTIP. We did this on the basis that I am concerned that food safety, animal welfare, GM and agricultural practices could be traded away for other interests. By removing Agriculture from the talks it would allow discussions to go forward rather more easily. We were defeated on these amendments as it became clear that a substantial number of MEPs are quite in favour of TTIP. My statement on the vote can be found here.