Scotland’s independent future must be at the heart of the EU

THIS week, amid the Brexit chaos, a reminder of what the world can do when we work together and why it is so important to be part of the different structures humankind has invented to promote dialogue.

Natinoal header

First published in The National, 25 September 2019

My great friend and now MEP colleague Dr Aileen Mcleod is in New York, representing Scotland and the EU at the UN Climate Action Summit. Aileen also represented Scotland at the Paris Climate Change talks when she was Scotland’s Environment Minister, so has already cut a dash as an integral part of the EU delegation to the talks.

For more than 20 years the SNP has sat with the European Greens in the European Parliament, a relationship that I particularly find very comfortable. We don’t agree on everything, but we do agree on a lot more than we disagree on and I am very proudly first vice-president of the group. It helps, of course, that our friends in the Scottish Greens are pro-independence, but I am glad we sit where we sit. It guarantees we are at the forefront of progressive and environmental politics within the parliament.

Our group has been instrumental in pushing for co-ordinated action on the climate emergency. The time when some could joke about global warming as if it was a somehow gradual and benign process is long gone. It is not global warming, it is climate chaos. Bits of the world are getting drier, bits of the world wetter, all of the world more climatically unstable and we still don’t know what the effects will be.

On the agriculture committee, I get to speak to a lot of farmers and we are seeing climate change in Scotland right now. Growing seasons are changing, rain is coming, or not, at different times of the year, pests that should not be able to get much of a toehold in Scotland are coming through because of wetter summers or warmer winters. Flooding is more and more of a problem, and looking a little further south, drought cannot be discounted. We need to change the game. This will not stop at any border, in or out of the UK or in or out of the EU.

Only through working together will we achieve anything. I said in Strasbourg last week that “this broken Westminster is not fit for the modern world, the multilateral, interconnected world we live in” and here’s where Scotland’s current troubles start. I’ve been knocking on a lot of doors lately and it staggers me to be asked the tired old question of why does the SNP want to leave one Union, the UK, but be in another, the EU?

The answer is really straightforward – because they’re not the same. In the EU we are a rules-based family of nations of equal standing. Malta sits alongside Germany as equals. Of course size matters, but what matters more is solidarity and respect. We’re a collective. Contrast that with the masterclass in how the UK actually works we have been treated to over the last three years. We’ve had neither solidarity nor respect. The UK is an incorporating Union where Scotland will always be a minor part. Despite our clearly pro-EU sentiment we’ve been bullied over the past three years, told it was a UK-wide vote, the implication being we should shut up and know our place. Precisely the people who tried to defend Boris Johnson’s unlawful suspension of Parliament have been a human shield for a broken and dysfunctional UK. As recently as 2014 we were being told we’re a partner in the UK, that we should lead not leave. Well, we ken noo. There’s no amount of tinkering will save the UK. We need to get out because we’ve a different, better choice.

Look at Ireland right now. For the first time ever in history, Ireland has the upper hand against the former imperial power because it can rely upon the solidarity of the EU. We can win that too.

We fit in the EU better than we fit in the UK. While climate change proves it best, there are plenty other areas that do too. We want to be part of common efforts to reform our transport, energy, food and other systems and have expertise in spades to help that transition. At a time when the UK is walking away from international solidarity, Scotland wants to do more, calling even this week for more refugees to be settled on our shores keeping people safe.

Scotland is going to have a choice to make, sooner than some might think. An independence referendum is coming, I have no doubt of that. We might not know when yet, and there are some details to work out, but we need to get ready. The plans are being put together, the doors are being knocked and the conversations had while the UK collapses in on itself.

Scotland can do better than this and our challenge is to light the path for the people of Scotland to see that independence is the way out, where our opponents will be desperate to present it as another layer of uncertainty. It is not, it’s our best future and I’m excited about it.