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I was delighted to be able to welcome First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to Brussels last month, when she made a major speech in what was a pivotal intervention in the case for our continued membership of the EU.
In her first speech in the EU capital since she came to office, the First Minister outlined her positive case for Europe and pointed out that continuing EU membership is vital to the Scottish economy and jobs. The EU provides the market for 46 per cent of Scotland’s international exports – worth £12.9 billion in 2013 – and more than 300,000 jobs are estimated to be associated with trade with EU member states.
In her speech, the First Minister said “We see the European Union as a positive force in Scotland and in the UK as a whole. And so throughout the coming months and years, we will make an overwhelmingly positive case for Europe.” She went on to say “That will be based on practical benefits – our trade, the jobs it helps to secure, the extent to which we all benefit from the right to live, study, travel and trade across 28 countries”.
During the speech, the First Minister reaffirmed her call for a “double-majority” to be put in place for the UK Government’s planned in-out referendum to ensure that none of the nations that make up the UK would be at risk of being forced out of the EU against their will.
The First Minister’s speech was warmly welcomed by EU policy makers in Brussels who see the First Minister and SNP Scottish Government’s positive attitude to the European debate as incredibly refreshing and pragmatic - in stark contrast to the small minded, inward looking, navel-gazing we see coming from the UK Government and Conservative Party.
Another issue of pertinence for Scotland in Europe concerns the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). MEPs in the International Trade Committee had agreed, by majority, a non-legislative resolution expressing views on some of the detailed issues expected to be part of the TTIP negotiation. The day before we were due to vote on the resolution in Strasbourg, the Parliament's President, Martin Schultz, enforced an underhand use of the rules of procedure, unilaterally deciding to postpone the vote and ordering that the report must go back to Committee stage. This meant that a plenary debate on the report would have been pointless without the opportunity to clearly state our collective position in a vote.
Had the vote gone ahead, I would have supported radical amendment of the report to ensure our public services, food, health, environmental and labour standards in Scotland were protected. I would also have rejected any shape or form of inclusion of ISDS and sought a clear exemption for Scotland's NHS.
The position of SNP MEPs was set out by our party members at our conference in Glasgow last March. As an SNP MEP, I remain very much pro-democracy, not anti-trade. For Scotland, the USA is our largest trading partner outside the EU. Therefore, I sincerely hope that the Commission and Council will listen to the serious concerns surrounding TTIP, all of which have been made crystal clear by the SNP since day one.