Parliamentary Debates

Scotland’s Place in Europe

Dennis Robertson (Aberdeenshire West) (SNP):  Europe is complex. I sometimes wonder whether the complexity of Europe in people’s minds means that, when it comes to the election of our MEPs, people stay at home. In the referendum, 85 per cent of people went to the polls, because they were energised and excited and they had something that they believed that they could take part in. For many, Europe seems to be somewhere else, which is strange because we are European. An attitude has grown up in the UK that the UK is a stand-alone within Europe. We need to try to shift that.

As a member of the European Union, we are extremely fortunate because, apart from the economic advantages that many members have mentioned, there is a cultural aspect, which interests me.

When we look at the migrants who are coming into our country, schools and universities, we see an embracement of Europe in its wider context, especially from our younger people. I smiled when Murdo Fraser said at committee a few weeks ago, “Who, in this modern day, speaks French?” Well, apart from Mr Allard, the French and many other people, a lot of children in the playgrounds are speaking French, German or Spanish.

When I consider that cultural embracement of languages, I feel quite embarrassed because I struggle with English never mind any other language. My colleague John Mason said that he has a love of the Dutch but fails to be able to speak the language. Is that something that happened within the UK and the Scots? Have we not embraced the ability to speak different languages? We need to try to push that forward because, if we are to be successful—we are successful to some degree—to internationalise our products and to take them to the European market, we need to engage and to be able to speak the language of Europe.

Stewart Stevenson:  Een schip op het strand is een baken in zee. That is a Dutch saying that a ship that is stranded on the beach is a warning to the sailor. Perhaps that is the Dutch capturing in their language exactly the position that the UK will be in. If the UK leaves, that will warn everyone else of the dangers and promote cohesiveness in the EU.

Dennis Robertson:  I always appreciate interventions from my friend and colleague Stewart Stevenson.

The opportunities exist for us to embrace the cultural aspect of Europe and to ensure that our young people take the opportunities that are before them.

We often hear about the oil and gas industry, especially in the north-east of Scotland. Some people say that there is a crisis. There is no crisis. The problem is that there will be a skills shortage that could impact on the industry and its future. However, if our young people embrace migration and the free movement that we have, we can be very successful. Our fishing industry relies heavily on people coming from other countries. Poor lowly Ross County Football Club has brought many Spanish people to Inverness to follow its goalkeeper, who seems to be keeping the team away from the relegation zone—just.

Scotland remains part of the UK and we need to ensure that, when we engage in Europe and the European Parliament, Scotland’s voice, knowledge and expertise are heard. When Richard Lochhead goes to Europe, we should listen to his voice, knowledge and expertise on fishing and agriculture. He knows the industry and would be respected in Europe. It is time to recognise the importance of having Scottish ministers at the top table in Europe. The UK Government needs to consider who has the knowledge and can best serve not only Scotland but the UK when it comes to negotiations.

I am proud to be a Scot and a European. I am proud of the fact that we embrace people from all parts of the world and, certainly, Europe. I am delighted about Italian cuisine, which I love. I also love French cuisine. Mr Allard makes a wonderful beef bourguignon, although he has yet to bring it to my table. In Europe, we have a wonderful aspect that we can embrace and we should embrace the culture.

When it comes to the European elections, we should be saying to people on whose doors we knock, “This is your opportunity to have your voice heard again.” It is important. We should not get back into a situation of sitting on our hands during elections. I am looking forward to the general election, in which I believe that the Scottish voice will be heard in the UK Parliament, perhaps in a way that will influence our direction in Europe. I sincerely hope that that is the case.

However, let us put one myth to rest. We are European. When Jamie McGrigor says that the SNP has many myths around our situation within Europe, he is misinformed. We are European and I believe that we will remain in Europe because, unlike Jamie McGrigor, I am not sure that Mr Cameron will be Prime Minister after the general election.


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