Blog: The Real Threat to EU Membership

Scotland’s future within (or outside) the European Union (EU) has once again hit the headlines, with the Scotsman reporting that “the European Commission has written to a House of Lords committee stating that if Scots voters back independence, existing treaties which cover the UK’s EU membership willcease to apply’”. The Scotland Office is quoted in the article as saying that Scots have the right to know the full implications for Scotland if it were to “leave the UK family”.

Before we reach the meat of this topic, it’s rather disingenuous to claim that standing on your own two feet is akin to leaving a family. When our sons and daughters grow up and make decisions for themselves, it’s the mark of a developing, mature relationship, not of abandonment. An internationalist, co-operative Scotland would seek the same relationship, as is already shared with the other nations on the British Isles through the British-Irish Council.

Anyway, pedantry aside, we must remember that the Scotland Office’s argument should cut both ways. It looks likely that, regardless of who wins the next Westminster election, there will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.  David Cameron, under fire from the right wing of his party and the growing prominence of UKIP, has all but promised one should the Conservatives emerge victorious; senior Labour MPs have suggested holding one and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats promised one in their 2010 manifesto.

Opinion polls consistently show that, although the small number of Scots in each survey are more evenly divided on EU membership, a strong plurality of UK voters would vote to leave the EU in a referendum.  For example, in the latest YouGov poll, this antipathy towards the EU translates into outright majorities in favour of withdrawal in the North of England and the South of England and 48% in the Midlands and Wales. This ‘cold house’ is hardly surprising, given that the UK press, whose attitudes towards Europe range from critically supportive to spluttering outrage, can hardly be described as being well-disposed towards Europe.

So, given that both major parties at Westminster would hold a referendum on EU membership after the next election and that there’s a consistent public and media majority in the UK in favour of leaving the EU, why do the No campaign continue to show their concern over Scottish EU membership? Surely it’s more at threat as part of the UK than as an independent country?

Of course, an independent Scotland would need to negotiate new terms of membership, as the Scottish Government itself says. However, it would do so from within the UK (and the EU) in the 2 years between the referendum result and the planned first elections for an independent Scottish Parliament in May 2016.

To suggest that the EU would be willing to perform an expensive and elaborate hokey-cokey, where Scotland was in, out and then in again, is ludicrous. Given the human, financial and natural resources that Scotland contributes to the EU at a time of uncertainty and financial instability across Europe, does anybody honestly expect the EU to wilfully eject a long-standing partner of almost 40 years?

Over the next 2 years, there will be attempts to obfuscate the debate by attempting to boil down 50 years of complex European treaties into doom-laden, doubt-ridden claims about Scottish membership of the EU while ignoring the very real threat posed by Westminster sabre-rattling. I hope, and believe, that the people of Scotland can see through the scaremongering and apply the common sense logic that has served us well in the past.

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PRESS RELEASE: JEAN URQUHART HIGHLIGHTS CONTINUED “FAILURE TO REPRESENT” SHETLAND

Jean Urquhart MSP has described the Westminster government’s latest act of ignorance towards the needs of the people of the Shetland Islands as “another failure of representation at the highest level”.

It was reported today in the Shetland Times that Shetland Islands Councillor Allison Duncan buttonholed  Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury,  for the coalition’s failure to deliver on a previous promise made regarding housing debt.

The Council, at the behest of the previous Tory government, had built dozens of new houses to host incoming oil workers, with then-Chancellor Ken Clarke promising to write off a £40m housing debt incurred by the Islands- a promise that was never fulfilled.  

Councillor Duncan noted that Mr Alexander seemed particularly “uncomfortable” and unfamiliar with the issue when, during the conversation, a “very discouraging” letter sent by Mr Alexander to the Council regarding the debt was raised.

Mr Alexander’s reticence is all the more striking given his previous calls for Highland Council housing debt to be wiped out by Westminster in 2010.

Ms Urquhart, SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said:

“This latest chapter in the LibDems’ involvement in the Coalition saga only deepens the impression of a party out of touch with its principles and its constituents.

“LibDems, who waited a century to regain power at Westminster, have proven to be toothless in representing rural Scotland, including Shetland, which have gone for so long without a strong, local representative on the Westminster government benches.

“Although they were not part of the Westminster government that initially pressed for the building of houses, they are part of the Westminster government that can help deliver on an old promise.

“The most basic element of an MP’s job is representing the interests of their constituency and constituents. In these tough economic times for the Council, how long will it take for the Coalition’s Chief Whip to fulfil this duty for his constituency?

“Or, as with fuel duty, are the LibDems simply providing cover for Tory ineptitude while delivering little for those who trusted them with power?”

PRESS RELEASE: JEAN URQUHART CHALLENGES TAVISH SCOTT OVER LIB DEM FUEL INACTION

Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has expressed her disbelief at Tavish Scott’s comments in the Shetland Times on fuel prices, describing him as “detached from reality” and questioning just what the Liberal Democrats have done on fuel prices as part of the Coalition Government

Jean’s comments came as the Lib Dem MSP for the Shetland Islands acknowledged that it was “obviously not fair” for Shetland motorists to spend, on average, £250 more a year on fuel than those in Aberdeen, and demanded answers as to why Shetland motorists pay so much more.

Jean said:

“If Tavish really wants to see fuel prices reduced, perhaps he should have a word with his Liberal colleague in the Northern Isles, Alistair Carmichael.

“After all, Alistair is a key part of a Conservative-led Coalition Government that has consistently ignored the SNP’s calls to introduce a Fuel Duty Regulator that would help to alleviate the appallingly high fuel prices in rural communities.

“Just this week, the French Government have struck a deal with fuel producers and distributors to cut the cost of fuel by 6 eurocents per litre for three months, showing that

“The Liberal Democrats are continuing to show that, despite taking the Conservatives’ thirty pieces of silver to form a Coalition 2 years ago, they are delivering little for the Islands and not giving their constituents the strong representation that they deserve.

“They are little more than a politically neutered human shield for an uncaring, Conservative-led Government that continues to treat its most remote communities like dirt.

“I look forward to Tavish joining the SNP in calling for decisive Coalition action on fuel prices.”

Motion: EHRC Coalition Cuts

EHRC Coalition Cuts
That the Parliament acknowledges what it considers to be the vital role that is played by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in providing guidance to the public in promoting and enforcing equality legislation; expresses its deep concern over the reported 62% reduction in EHRC’s budget by 2015 and how this could impact on EHRC’s operations in Scotland; believes that the proposals will cause the closure of the EHRC’s Edinburgh office, resulting in a loss of half of its workforce in Scotland; notes that the UK Government plans to close EHRC’s direct expert helpline and replace it with a referral-only service, with no presence in Scotland or Wales; considers that, the decimation of the EHRC’s budget and the concurrent impact on its ability to provide an effective service, runs contrary to the Equality Act 2006; condemns what it understands is the UK Government’s decision to continue with these regressive reforms, despite it consultation showing that people were against this by a margin of 15:1, and considers that this is a typical example of what it sees as the fiscal vandalism of the UK Government and how it is harming Scotland and society’s most vulnerable and marginalised groups.

Press Release: Local MSP Welcomes Wellbeing Levels in Islands (July 26th)

Jean Urquhart MSP has welcomed the latest figures published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which show that those living in Orkney, Shetland and Eilean Siar have the highest life satisfaction and wellbeing levels in Scotland.

Commenting on the figures, which also show that Scotland has higher levels than both England and Wales, the Highlands and Islands MSP said:

“It came as no surprise to me that those living on Scotland’s islands have particularly high levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction, even when compared to the impressive results across the rest of Scotland.

“When I was in Shetland last week for a constituency visit, I witnessed first-hand these traits. The can-do attitude and strong sense of community across Shetland undoubtedly feeds into this, and there is a lot to be learnt from Island life.

“However, we must not be complacent. As ever, there are issues affecting communities across Scotland, not least due to cuts imposed by the Con-Dem coalition government in Westminster.

“The SNP is dedicated to mitigating the impact of these cuts, and with measures such as our commitments to free personal care, caring for carers, tackling child poverty and fuel poverty and freezing council tax, we will continue dedicating ourselves to improving people’s wellbeing.”