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Foreign Affairs

I am a full member of the European Parliament's prestigious Committee for Foreign Affairs, which sees me working on wide-reaching issues between EU and non-EU countries. I am also a full member of both the Delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula, and the Delegation for relations with Iraq - an ideal role for the Glasgow boy who grew up in Saudi Arabia.


"Scotland voted to remain - we're the constructive internationalists"

The SNP Group in the European Parliament has today backed the approval of the new European Commission under Dr Ursula von der Leyen. This is despite the fact the UK has not nominated a Commissioner in breach of its legal obligation to do so.

So amidst the noise, silly season rumours, and gossip of the summer it is worth stepping back this week and looking at the bigger picture for a moment. Whatever the debates about what the EU should and shouldn’t be doing there has always been one thing at its core: trade.

The EU is one of the world’s largest trading blocs (by some counts the world’s largest, it all depends on how you measure trade). This matters as it means that – in the dog eat dog domain of the World Trade Organization – we stand together, ensuring our voice is heard. The brutal reality is that once you are in Geneva, size and negotiating power are all that matter. The EU delivers for Scotland because it is such a big trading bloc.

You can see this in the deals it is currently negotiating. Now as many of you know, we in the SNP have had our issues with some of the EU’s trade deals, but the reality is they are infinitely better than anything the UK could negotiate alone. Just one example is that earlier this week Australia released the list of geographic protections that the EU is seeking to secure. Guess what? Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb, Scottish farmed Salmon and Scotch Whisky are all on it.

WHILE the UK Government and body politic have busily ignored Donald Tusk’s sound advice not to waste the extra time granted to them beyond April, the EU carries on with its considerable workload, not least in the area of foreign policy.

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First published in The National, 1 August 2019

BRITISH exceptionalism has become a buzzword in recent years, as a cause of Brexit for some academics and in the pages of the Telegraph as a justification for why Brexit will be a rip-roaring success. I confess I have some sympathy for the view that some who have spent their careers within the SW1 bubble have developed an over-entitled sense of history.

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First published in The National, 7 August 2019

“I want, and I’m determined that, Scotland will also be the country that helps change the focus of countries and governments across the world to put well-being at the heart of everything that we do. I think we owe that to this generation. I certainly believe we owe that to the next generation and all those that come after us. And if we do that, led here from the country of the Enlightenment, then I think we create a better, healthier, fairer and happier society here at home. And we play our part in Scotland in building a fairer, happier world as well.”

These words were part of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s TED Talk this week (you can see the full talk here: and we all agree that our focus must remain on this goal. The renewed spectre of a no deal Brexit – and the Johnson government's stance in general – make it increasingly difficult to see how we can achieve this without independence in Europe.

WITH the election of Jo Swinson as leader of the UK LibDems and Boris Johnson as leader of the UK Tories, Westminster has truly spoiled us this week! Here at the outset, I’ll say congratulations to both, and I’ll work with anyone to bring sense to where we are, if they’re willing and able. I hae ma doots. Before we get caught up in the emotion and drama of it all, I was trying to count how many such leaders I have seen come and go since my own election in 2004, but lost count. However, it is worth thinking on what, if anything, their elections mean for us in Scotland and what it all means for Scotland’s place in Europe.

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First published in The National, 25 July 2019

The team of SNP Members of the European Parliament have backed the successful EU Commission President, Mrs Ursula von der Leyen in her election in Strasbourg.  Dr von der Leyen was elected by 383 votes to 327.

Alyn Smith MEP has today (Wednesday) urged the EU to act unilaterally to guarantee the rights of citizens who have been left in limbo following the UK Government’s botched handling of the Brexit negotiations.

I WAS lucky enough to be able to take some time off over the holidays. I uninstalled Twitter, only checked my email once a day and spent the time with family and friends. After a bit of a break, I would love to say that I’m feeling upbeat, but I’ll confess my main feeling when I contemplate 2019 is one of a deep foreboding. We’re going to have to support each other even more than usual because, on matters of Brexit, I think things are going to need to get worse before they get better.

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First published in The National, 7 January 2019

IT is the season of goodwill and all, but there are plenty people feeling anxious and fearful because of the UK’s disastrous approach to immigration. I want to write here about my own views on it because we in the Yes movement really need to be laser clear on it.

First a disclaimer. I take this stuff personally and cannot separate my own experience from the issue. I grew up as an immigrant, in Saudi Arabia. In 1979 when I was five my Dad was like a lot of folk in the building game – made redundant.

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First published in The National, 29 December 2018