I was dreading going back to Brussels this week, but I have never had so many hugs, tears and best wishes from colleagues. I was fighting back tears myself as I reported to our political group how the campaign went. Sometimes people forget politicians are actually human beings, we’re passionate about what we do and emotional creatures like everyone else. A lot of us are still working through a sort of grief at something we all lost on June 23. Something that was taken away.
First published in The Sunday Herald, 18 October 2015
Where I feared an immediate closing of ranks against us, actually on a human level the opposite was true. Other MEPs recognise the hard work a lot of us have put in on this campaign, the friendships and contacts built up over the years, the integrity and credibility of Scotland’s MEPs. They don’t want to lose us. Five out of the six us anyway.
It came to a head in a speech I made in the plenary on Tuesday, in an emergency debate to try and take a view on what to do next. In the European Parliament speaking time is allocated in advance to the groups, and actually at the start of the debate I wasn’t going to intervene. But as I saw the gloating, snarling, jeering, UKIP and Tory faces, egged on by Front National and worse, I thought, I’m not going to let that shower speak for my country. It was visceral. I ran down to our group co-President Phillipe Lamberts, and asked for some of his time to close the debate, which he gave willingly. Our Secretariat sorted it out with Parliament’s President Schulz and I was added to the agenda, mid debate. I then gave the speech of my life (so far). I had no time to plan it, but in hindsight I’d been planning it without realising it, for the last miserable six months of a miserable EU referendum campaign and it came from the heart.
I wanted to let our European friends know that Scotland did vote to remain. That we’re different. That UKIP doesn’t speak for us. That Northern Ireland, London and lots of people across England and Wales (48% to be exact) want something different. I want my country to be different from the country it might be about to become. Internationalist, co-operative, ecological, fair, European. I wanted to let them know Scotland delivered, we didn’t let them or ourselves down, come on folks, help us out.
The reaction was also from the heart, a moment of catharsis all round. The Chamber was pin drop silent, then erupted. A standing ovation is unheard of in the European Parliament, but everyone responded. The Left, the Right, the North, the South, the East (especially) the West. The officials, the interpreters, the guards. I will long remember the faces as the ovation went on and we all realised, yes, Scotland has something to say. And has been heard. I changed the discussion. No more was Brexit going to be just about Little Britain, Dave, Boris and Nigel, Scotland is now firmly part of the picture. Lots of people in Brussels didn’t quite get the 'why' of independence back in 2014, they do now. And mark me well, while we’re not talking about independence because that is a different discussion for another time, they now know where we’re coming from and there’s a lot of goodwill for us.
The reaction outside the Parliament too has been awe inspiring. The inbox has all but melted with the good wishes and media bids. I’ve done TV in Germany, France, Romania, CNN, Bloomberg, Estonia, Italy, everywhere, all with the same message. Scotland is different and we want to work with you. I also spoke for a lot of folk South of the border, lets not forget them.
The visit the following day of Nicola Sturgeon completed the game change. She was pitch perfect. Calm, focussed, clear and determined. Scotland is not going to be a passive bystander in this. She met a range of top people, and the doors are open. As Jean Claude Juncker put it “Scotland has earned the right to be heard”.
So the future is not written, but the other bit of significant news was on Thursday evening, when President Schulz confirmed that UK MEPs will remain in post for as long as the UK remains a member. There had been fears that we would be out sooner rather than later, but we will now continue in post.
So I continue to have a role, albeit with a very different workload. A nationwide mandate and an international responsibility. I have just spent the last six months, and indeed 14 years before that, working with and for the grassroots of the SNP, galvanising our EU campaign. And it delivered. We proved we’re different. We have, together, opened the door to some glittering opportunities across Europe, we just need to seize them. I’ll continue to do my bit.