The EU elections are a chance to show Scotland is different

THE last few weeks I have felt like in some bad science fiction novel I’m partially existing in about three, maybe four, parallel universes. There is the universe where we won the independence referendum; the one where Cameron did not make is disastrous gamble to have an EU referendum; the one where May got her deal through the Commons and we left the EU on March 29; and now there’s the one where an EU election takes place in Scotland on May 23. There’s also the one where still manages to get her deal through and the elections are cancelled.

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First published in The National, 12 April 2019

Fortunately, I’m an anarchist trapped in a control freak’s body so I’m personally holding up well enough, but the last few months have been tough. But, I asked for this and I’m not going down without a fight. I’m at my post till the end whenever it is. The SNP is ready to do whatever we need to do to fight Scotland’s corner and it is increasingly likely that will include the obligation to hold European elections. We are putting our list of candidates together and the vetting process has been ongoing for a while just in case.

The procedure has been a bit different than in recent years, ordinarily we would ballot all party members electronically and be ranked by single transferable vote with all members having a vote. This time the selection will be in two stages. The National Executive Committee members will produce a short leet of six candidates from the pool of folk who have applied and been approved vetting. This short leet will be gender balanced, three men and three women. This list of six will then go to our delegates to April Conference to rank one to six electronically. We have to do it electronically because the list of candidates will have to be formally submitted to the electoral authorities just before conference starts given that the election – May 23 – is a fixed point in the calendar.

I’ve said before that, if they happen, these will be the most important European elections in our history, and our best opportunity to lay the groundwork for independence. We have a golden opportunity - let's not pass it up.

The EU referendum proved that Scotland has a different attitude to the EU than the UK. Since that shock result, the way that Scotland has been treated has been obvious to so many former No voters that it has brought them to our side, notably people like Murray Foote, the former Editor of the Daily Record and author of The Vow no less. A lot of folk have realised what the SNP is all about, and approve of our work in the Scottish, Westminster and European Parliaments to safeguard Scotland’s place in Europe. They are open to us and open to independence in a way they were not before. We have also seen a lot of folks learn a lot about EU stuff – I can say hand on heart I have never seen so many folk interested in EU stuff since the EU referendum.

We also have a huge interest and goodwill from outside of Scotland in who we are and what we’re saying. Many of the folks outside of Scotland who did not quite get us in 2014 assuredly do now. This election is not just important in terms of who we send to represent us but the message we send to the wider world.

I’ll be standing, and have been approved as a candidate as has my friend and colleague Ian Hudghton. We also have some real talent and strength coming through, and with this European election being such a golden opportunity for the Party I hope the NEC and delegates will take the chance to think long and hard about who we need and what skills we require in our lists.

Normally there is a convention in the SNP (although recently less observed than it used to be) that we don’t do endorsements. I don’t like them personally, I think it is divisive because after all we’re all Team SNP.

But this election is too important. We need people who are committed to the party and proven activists who know how Brussels works and can hit the ground running. Two candidates have my total support: Dr Aileen Mcleod and Laura Rayner. Aileen was an MSP and Minister in our national Parliament, and prior to that worked with me in Brussels for five years, and even before that was in impartial EU expert on the Scottish Parliament civil service staff. She was number three on our European list in the 2009 election where we only narrowly missed the third seat. She’s been poorly of late but is now back and fighting fit.

Laura Rayner is a classic SNP good news story. She came to Scotland to study, fell in love with Scotland, joined the Tartan Army and the SNP, was an activist in Stirling and Edinburgh then worked with Bruce Crawford MSP and then joined my team in 2008 in Edinburgh and is now my Chief of Staff in Brussels. She’s a real Brussels expert and knows the ins and outs of the European Parliament and how to get things done.

We are already – quite rightly – putting forward a gender balanced list, I want to make sure the whole list is as strong as it needs to be. I’m not backing them because they’re my pals (though they are) but because I can hand on heart say they’ll be excellent MEPs. The elections might not even happen, but the European Question is utterly interlinked with independence, and we need the right advocates to make that case.