Monday, 31 March 2008

Labour's disgrace

Is there no limit to the depths that the Labour Party is prepared to sink in its tirades against the democratically elected government in Scotland? The Sunday Times commentary on Labour’s Scottish conference at the weekend included a report of remarks made by Lewis (now Baron) Moonie, formerly junior minister at the Ministry of Defence in which he drew comparisons between politics in Scotland today (and by implication the SNP Government) and Germany under Hitler. To quote from the Sunday Times:

‘A donor to Alexander's leadership campaign denounced her commission as “appeasement” of the SNP. Baron Moonie of Kirkcaldy, a former defence minister who gave £500 to Alexander last year, said that instead of proposing big changes, she ought to be trying to stabilise the current devolution settlement. “This policy of appeasement, Chamberlain tried it in the 1930s. It didn't work. It ain't going to work now,” he said.’

This is the latest in what is emerging as a trend by Labour’s Scottish politicians to utilise imagery from the darkest days in Europe’s history in a casual and entirely despicable way to describe politicians with whom they disagree – and not only those in opposition parties. Was it not Michael Connarty who, back in October in a debate over the EU Lisbon Treaty, likened his own Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, to the same Neville Chamberlain seeking “
peace in our time" with the EU?

There is no place in Scottish politics (or indeed politics in any half-way decent country) for this abhorrent use of Nazi-related analogies that seem to have become the stock-in-trade of Labour’s Scottish politicians. To utilise any form of comparison between Scotland’s Government and that of the Nazi party in 1930s Germany is offensive in the extreme. If Wendy Alexander had an ounce of integrity she would condemn Lewis Moonie’s remarks. If he had an ounce of decency he would apologise unreservedly – as Michael Connarty was forced to do – for making them.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Establishing a National Forum on Europe in Scotland?

One of the things that I want to see established in Scotland is a National Forum on Europe. The events of the past couple of years as EU leaders have moved from campaigning for a fully-fledged EU Constitution to agreeing an "allegedly" different European Treaty (Lisbon Treaty), has shown yet again that the EU has become ever more distant from the people whose interests it purports to represent.

This distance itself is a problem - it creates a polemic (and political) space into which the Euro-extremists can move. We see this in Scotland where the EU debate has become polarised around the pro- and anti-camps to an unhealthy and totally unhelpful degree. The casualties in this are the voters of Scotland who are confronted with half-truths, spin and sometimes downright lies as each of these camps seeks to out-alarm and out appease the voters in equally unhelpful measure. And of course the advocates in both camps are undoubtedly helped by the obscure if not opaque language in which EU business often is conducted.

That is why I successfully moved a motion on behalf of the Brussels branch at the SNP’s annual conference last October in Aviemore to establish a National Forum on Europe in Scotland to provide a focus for a new and informed debate over EU matters. That Forum would have three main roles:
1) promote informed, objective and non-partisan discussion on EU matters and encourage open and honest public debate on EU issues of central importance to Scotland’s future.
2) be a place for politicians – and more importantly – others in society with a central stake in EU developments to present their arguments and to hear the arguments of others. Indeed, there is no reason why guests from outside Scotland could not be involved in such debates, and bring to our national Forum the broader perspectives that are sometimes needed to fully appreciate EU activities.
3) be a Forum that will reclaim the ground from those presently agitating on EU matters but who do not necessarily have the best interests of the Scottish people at heart.

Establishing such a Forum is a key way to engage the people of Scotland in an ordered and orderly debate and dialogue about EU issues and policies as these are likely to affect Scotland.

Right now in Brussels discussions are ongoing about the future shape of the EU's regional, rural and agricultural policies as well as research and development after 2013, reforms to the common fisheries policy, future EU home affairs policy starting in 2010 not to mention new policies for maritime issues, energy and climate change. Each of these issues are deserving of a proper public debate and discussion so that the end result are policies that work better for Scotland and our interests.

We have examples in other countries to draw from when designing our Forum - Ireland being a particular case in point, where
a National Forum on Europe was set up in 2001 after the Treaty of Nice was rejected by the Irish voters in a referendum. This time round the Irish National Forum is playing a key role in informing the Irish public about the Lisbon Treaty in the run-up to Ireland's referendum on the Treaty in June 2008. Ireland remains the only EU Member State to put the Lisbon Treaty to a referendum since it is legally required to do so by its Constitution.

I believe establishing in Scotland a National Forum on Europe is an essential step in bringing EU issues closer to the people of Scotland and in doing so undermining the considerable power of vested interests whose main aim is to stifle genuine debate and instead pursue their own narrow political agendas to serve their own self interest. We need reasoned and informed debates on EU policies in Scotland, and a National Forum is one route to achieve this.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Independence and Interdependence

Today's Herald 'Brown attacks SNP plan to split Union', covers the speech given by Gordon Brown at the Labour Party Conference in Aviemore.

According to Brown, independence for Scotland would create new barriers to trade and travel and would be a backward move to c19th nationalism at a time when the world is moving towards greater interdependence.

Spending the amount of time that I do across in Brussels this latest set of 'scaremongering' comments coming yet again from a Labour Party that is so clearly out of touch not just with Scotland but with the realities of the modern world, and Europe in particular, are bizarre.

In autumn 2006 the Labour Party predicted that the sky would fall down if Scotland elected an SNP government - the latest set of opinion polls speak for themselves about the success of the SNP government with the SNP 10% ahead of Labour, Alex Salmond 40 points ahead of Gordon Brown and 75 points ahead of Wendy Alexander in leadership approval ratings.

I wonder what countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia in particular given that it is currently running the EU and a member of the Eurozone unlike the UK, would make of Brown's comments. Having achieved their independence in 1991, all of these European nation states are now making their way in the world as independent members of the EU, the United Nations, WTO, etc where they have their own distinctive voice, can take their own decisions and work together with others in helping the international community address global challenges of today's modern world such as climate change, international development. Working as I do in the European Parliament I have the privilege of seeing their success on a daily basis.

Writing in today's Scotland on Sunday,
'A new sang for a changing world', the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond is right when he says that:

"the reality of the modern world is that the process of independence and interdependence go hand in hand and that Scotland can best play its distinctive role on the basis of independence and equality of status".

What Labour's leadership continues to fail to grasp is that in today's world there is nothing unusual about the birth of independent nations; it is an ordinary common place feature of contemporary Europe's landscape. The international community has found ways of addressing this and the EU is actively highly supportive by recognising and welcoming new states and moving quickly to incorporate them into its external policies. Why would this be any different for Scotland?

One of Europe's most recent nations, Montenegro, voted for its independence in a referendum on 21 May 2006 and declared its independence on 3 June 2006. Significantly, it did so with active EU support. Montenegro was immediately recognised as an independent country by the EU, and is now recognised by 94 countries across the world. Within a month of its independence Montenegro was a full member of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (21 June) and the United Nations (28 June) and has applied for membership of the WTO. In October 2007 Montenegro signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU which provides the legal framework for relations between the EU and Montenegro for the entire period prior to possible future accession as well as the creation of a free trade zone. So rather than putting up barriers Montenegro's independence is seeing the barriers to trade and travel coming down.

In his recent Edinburgh lecture on
"globalisation and nationalism: the new deal", Tom Nairn said:

'As we have seen, the old question used to be: “Are you big enough to survive and develop into an industrialising world?” The advent of globalisation is replacing this with another, something close to: “Are you small and smart enough to survive and claim a positive place in the common global culture?” Not surprisingly, the most common answer coming up from the bowels and steerage accommodation of the common ship is: “You bet we are…nor do we mean to be deprived of the chance”.

This is certainly the case even as we look at recent events in the Western Balkans and the emergence of Kosova, albeit its independence is supervised for the time being by the EU and the international community.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

What's in a name?

This week in Brussels we are seeing a few changes being made to the organisation of the European Commission. For the most part these are cosmetic, although one of particular relevance to Scotland are the changes in the Directorate-General responsible for fisheries policychanges that include its re-branding from “DG Fish” to become “DG Mare”, this seeking to reflect that fisheries policy is part of a larger maritime policy, rather than the other way round. Although substantive changes are few, one might hope that the establishment of three new regional directorates within the re-named DG – covering the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic Sea and North Sea – will offer some scope for minds in Brussels to be better concentrated on the drastic effects that the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy continues to have for our vulnerable fishing communities and related industries, particularly in the North East of Scotland. I mention this more in hope than expectation, although I have to say that with the SNP in power in Holyrood we have already seen a dramatic improvement in the representation of Scotland’s interests in fisheries policy.

It is, of course, an outrage that successive UK governments have allowed the CFP to develop in such a calamitous – at least to Scotland – manner over the years: a situation that can only be attributed to a combination of wilful neglect of Scotland’s legitimate interests and the brokering of inter-governmental EU deals of greater importance to the UK government than the well-being of Scotland’s our fishing and related communities.

This malign attitude has once more been evident again in the UK’s approach to the Lisbon treaty by its abject failure even to seek to prevent the EU’s fisheries policy being elevated to the status of an exclusive EU competence – a status that means only the EU level of government is permitted to legislate over all key aspects of fisheries policy that affects Scotland’s fishing communities. It is preposterous to suggest that the UK could not have blocked this move had it wanted to. Every EU treaty negotiation involves compromise between member states, and typically these compromises revolve around the ‘red line’ issues that individual member states bring to the negotiations – issues that are deal-breakers as far as reaching an agreement is concerned. This is how inter-governmental business is done in Europe. The stark fact is that the UK government was simply not willing to make the CFP a ‘red line’ issue as the SNP had urged it to do. No reason was offered; no explanation provided. But the message is loud and clear – if Scotland’s vital interests are to be represented at EU level then the UK government cannot be relied upon. Instead Scotland has to become an independent member state and command a seat at the EU’s top table where she belongs and is able to negotiate for the type of EU policies that are better suited to our vital national interests.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The anomaly of Scotland's position in Europe

The anomaly of Scotland's position in Europe was brought home to me again the other evening (as frequently happens the more time I spend here in Brussels) whilst having dinner with one of my friends who works on fisheries for the Slovenian government in Brussels. With Slovenia the current holders of the 6 month EU Council Presidency until June 2008, my friend gets to chair the Council of Ministers working group on fisheries.

Its ironic that Slovenia with a population of just over 2 million (0.41% of EU's population), less than half that of Scotland's population, is running the EU, sitting at the EU's top table, chairing meetings and setting agendas. Slovenia, in contrast to Scotland, is in a position of direct influence, leading as it does the EU negotiations and discussions at a time when there are so many issues on the EU agenda of key strategic importance to Scotland, such as energy, climate change, the reform of the EU's agricultural policy.

As part of the UK, Scotland's distinctive voice and interests are less clear and we are left reliant on the UK's willingness to defend Scotland's interests, which can be problematic where the UK government line differs from that of Scotland. By way of example there are already disagreements between London and Edinburgh on the energy question, with the SNP government quite rightly remaining opposed to the building of new nuclear power stations in Scotland, supporting instead a renewable and sustainable energy future for Scotland. How this will play out in internal UK negotiations on the European Commission's proposals for an EU energy policy remains to be seen. But nothing beats having your own voice in Europe and being in a position to fully contribute to the vital debates taking place, to directly influence EU policy and protect your own national interests. Anything less is worthy only of second class status.

Slovenia has come a long way since achieving its independence in 1991 and joining the EU 13 years later in 2004 and the Euro in 2008. One can only ask that if Slovenia can do it then why can't Scotland? Without the status as an independent member state with our own votes, our own voice, Scotland cannot advance its own views or take full advantage of the opportunities for influence provided by the EU in the same way as Slovenia can.

Equally, in January 2009 the Czech Republic takes over the EU Presidency after France at a crucial time when the EU institutions are looking to leave their legacy papers for the new European Parliament and Commission coming in after the European elections in June 2009. The future direction of some of the EU's key policies are up for grabs as part of the EU's wider discussions on the future spending policy priorities for the Union after 2013, for example, regional and rural (EU funding), common agricultural policy, fisheries, maritime, research and development, justice and home affairs with climate change and energy remaining top of the EU agenda. This time it will be the Czechs in the EU's driving seat, chairing the meetings, setting the agendas, etc - I rest my case.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Aileen McLeod for Europe!

It’s been my privilege to serve the party in Europe as part of Alyn Smith’s team, and I hope to take that work a stage further, building on my experience in Brussels and continuing the excellent hard work of our MEPs since Winnie Ewing first entered the European Parliament in 1975. For this reason, I hope to be selected as a candidate for the SNP to contest the European elections in June 2009. It would be a true honour to follow in Winnie’s footsteps as well as those of Allan Macartney, Ian Hudghton, Neil MacCormick, and Alyn Smith.

With the first SNP Government in Scotland, our relationships across Europe have become even more important – part of the drive towards Independence - and it is vital that we continue to work constructively for Scotland's vital economic and social interests.

This is an opportunity to prepare Scotland for independence, forging strategic alliances with other Member States, developing Scotland's profile in Europe and winning us friends.

We can do a lot through the European Parliament to influence Scotland’s future, and we must make sure that the candidates we select are ready to take on that task.

During the European Parliament's 2009-2014 term of office there will be key EU policy challenges for Scotland - on energy and climate change, economic and social cohesion, agriculture, sustainable development, research and development, justice and home affairs, and fisheries for example, and it is vital that we have our top team there to fight Scotland’s corner.

I hope to serve as a working MEP in Brussels and a listening MEP in Scotland, encouraging greater involvement as well as a joined up approach with Scotland's Government and ultimately making the EU work better for Scotland.

My experience, expertise and inside knowledge of how the EU institutions work will help me to deliver that hard work and political edge for Scotland and for the SNP.

I hope you’ll support me to become one of our candidates.

Academic and Professional Experience

  • Currently Head of Policy with SNP MEP Alyn Smith, responsible for relations with the European Parliament and its committees, advising on EU policy issues and politics as well as issues surrounding Europe and Scotland, and was involved in shaping the development of SNP policy over a wide range of EU issues in the run-up to election victory in May 2007.
  • Gained detailed practical experience of, expertise and insight into how the EU institutions work, the various EU policies and processes, and helped to drive the effective representation of Scottish interests within the EU - coalition-building; interacting with the Commission at all levels; drafting Parliamentary questions, opinions and reports, liaising with Scottish stakeholders; policy networking within and beyond the European Parliament; coordinating with SNP at Holyrood and Westminster; and continuing to work with our groups in Scotland and London to ensure joint working for the benefit of Scotland.
  • Spent three years (2001-2004) working as a Senior Research Specialist on Europe in the Scottish Parliament's research department, providing research support and advice to the European and External Relations Committee and other Subject Committees on EU policy matters affecting Scottish domestic issues as well as advising MSPs.
    Gained considerable practical experience of how the Scottish Parliament and its committees work.
  • Working within Holyrood also provided an insight into the issues and difficulties of bringing EU matters into the domestic business of the Scottish Parliament and what needs to happen to ensure there is more effective cooperation between Holyrood and the European Parliament.From this experience I recognise the importance of linking the work of MSPs and MEPs on EU policy issues.
  • PhD in 2004 on the impact of the UK media on the legitimacy of the European Parliament in Britain.
  • Researcher at the Scottish Jean Monnet Centre of European Excellence (based at the University of Glasgow's School of Law).
  • Robert Schuman Scholar at the European Parliament Office in London and joined the EuroInfo Centre Ltd. in Scottish Enterprise in Glasgow as a European Information Officer in 1999.
  • Graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1993 with an MA Honours in European Community Studies and German. Erasmus student at Augsburg University in Germany during 1991/92.