European Elections 2014

This speech was given to the Scottish Conservative conference in Stirling on 7 June.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I pack my bags in Strasbourg for the final time next May, I will have served as your MEP for 15 years. I was a councillor for 22 years before that and Council Leader for a time in the old Kyle & Carrick Council – now South Ayrshire. It has been a great privilege to serve you during all of that time and I want to record my sincere thanks to all those loyal and hard-working Scottish Tories who’ve been my great supporters and tireless campaigners over 4 decades.

Our next major electoral test will be the European elections next May and it is a great honour for me to congratulate Dr Ian Duncan, who took poll position on our Euro candidates’ list after a tortuous round of 13 hustings from one end of Scotland to the other. Ian leads a formidable team of first class Euro candidates, possibly the strongest team we have ever fielded. Ian himself has worked in Brussels for 7 years and for the past 2 years in Holyrood, so he knows the EU institutions and the Scottish Parliament well and he will hit the ground running as Scotland’s Conservative MEP next year. But that’s why it is so important to focus on the Euro election campaign to ensure that he is returned with a formidable majority.

Because we must be under no illusions, next year’s European elections will be of vital importance to our Party and to the future of the UK. It will be the last major test of public opinion prior to the 18th September referendum on independence. There is no question that the future of the United Kingdom and Scotland’s place within it will be the key focus of the Euro election campaign. In that respect it will be quite different from the campaign South of the border which will be focused on the other proposed referendum on ‘In or Out’ of Europe. The rise of UKIP will be a major issue in the English campaign, but, without being complacent, I don’t think they will be a major issue up here in Scotland. UKIP are basically a rather bizarre English Nationalist Party – the ENP if you like! Well up here we already have the SNP and there is certainly no room for any more nationalists!

So our task between now and next May is to motivate Conservative voters to turn out in force in the European elections, to undermine the Nats and ensure they don’t go into the September referendum with their tails up. And we have plenty of ammunition at our disposal, because Alex Salmond’s policy on Europe has steadily unravelled week by week. You could have imagined that with independence in Europe as their flagship policy, the SNP would have done due diligence on an independent Scotland’s position within the EU. It was astonishing to discover that they hadn’t even bothered to seek legal advice on the issue.

Apparently they have now taken legal advice and they are not going to let anyone know what it said. Mum’s the word! Indeed I was surprised to see that they had sought legal advice after all, when Nicola Sturgeon had assured us that Scotland’s place in the EU would be decided by politics rather than by law. She even had the brass neck to tell Jose Manuel Barroso that he was wrong when he said Scotland would have to apply for membership of the EU. Wee Eck and Nippy Nicky are right but Barroso is wrong….that’s an interesting concept. It gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘arrogance’! Well let me tell you that in fact Barroso is right. The Lisbon Treaty is the law and an independent Scotland’s accession to the EU will be decided under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, by law not by political negotiation!

The SNP conviction that an independent Scotland would be a ‘succession’ rather than an ‘accession’ state is based purely on assumptions and wishful-thinking, rather than on law and fact. But when any of us point this out, the SNP response is aggressively to shout at unionist politicians “Are you saying that Scotland should be kicked out of the EU?” Well no, actually, Nicola. We’re not saying that Scotland should be kicked out of the EU. In fact it is you and your SNP colleagues who will cause Scotland to be kicked out of the EU by seceding from the United Kingdom. If you secede from one union, you shouldn’t be surprised when you find you have to accede to another one and this will certainly be the case for an independent Scotland.

Alex Salmond seems to have an entirely cavalier attitude to Scotland’s democratic process, believing that the SNP’s absolute majority at Holyrood gives him the right to ride roughshod over all the normal political procedures. Salmond’s approach was based all along on removing all potential obstacles to a NO vote in the referendum; hence the series of SNP U-turns on keeping the Queen as Head of State, retaining the pound and remaining part of NATO. But in the wake of the EU-accession debacle it is now difficult for people to believe a word that the SNP says! Alex Salmond's cunning plans for Scotland are beginning to make Baldrick sound competent!

Alex Salmond thinks that because Scotland has whisky, oil and fish, we’ll be able to negotiate sympathetic and benign terms of EU membership. Nicola Sturgeon said it would be unthinkable for the EU not to welcome a country rich in resources like Scotland into the European fold. Well of course she is right. Scotland and its resources, would be swallowed whole by the Eurozone and suddenly we would find that we had swapped control from London for control by Berlin and Brussels! Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon could negotiate all they wanted, but they would quickly find that there is only one outcome for any small country in the EU – obedience to the goals of the European project for decades to come.

The truth is that Scotland will not be a Succession State. It will in fact be an Accession State, as President Barroso said. There are currently 27 Member States. Croatia will become the 28th on the first of July. Each time a new country joins, the EU institutions must be adjusted and this is done by Treaty, which must be agreed by each Member State and voted through each of the sovereign parliaments.

Now that the Lisbon Treaty has given full legislative powers to the European Parliament, we also have to vote by a two-thirds majority to adopt any Treaty of Accession through the co-decision process. The EU will require to define Scotland’s position in each of its institutions. There will have to be a Scottish Member of the European Commission, although now that we are about to appoint the 28th Commissioner I am scratching my head to think what he or she will do. Will we have a commissioner for haggis and shortbread perhaps or a commissioner for bagpipes and tartan? The mind boggles. Scotland’s representation in the European Parliament will also have to be doubled, from the current 6 MEPs to around 12. We would also have to put numbers on Scotland’s representation in the Council of Ministers. The Lisbon Treaty phases out this weighted voting system in 2018, but I am assuming Scotland would become an independent nation before then, so our voting share in the Council of Ministers would have to be calculated and agreed.

Scotland would have to go through the tortuous accession process and that could take up to 2 years. What would happen to Scottish business and industry in the meantime? What would happen to our farmers, cut adrift from their single farm payment for 2 years? What would happen to the 165,000 workers in Scotland’s financial services sector, left in a twilight world between sterling and the Eurozone? Because of course as an Accession State, Scotland would have no choice but to join the Eurozone. There would be no possibility of the referendum on joining the Euro that Alex Salmond has promised. Under the Lisbon Treaty, new members of the EU club have to join the Euro whether they like it or not whenever their economies converge.

Likewise with the Schengen zone. Accession States have no option but to join the borderless Schengen area. Ireland, England and what remains of Britain after we leave will still remain outside Schengen. That means we will have to erect a border control post at Coldstream, Gretna and Stranraer, where even British and Irish citizens will need to show their passports.

And even if the principle of Scotland’s EU membership was not in dispute, there would still have to be negotiations about the practical details. For example, Scotland has so far paid in to the EU budget as part of the UK, but an independent Scotland would have to make separate contributions. Scotland as part of the UK has received a rebate, in concession to Margaret Thatcher’s claim that the method of working out contributions was unfair. It seems clear an independent Scotland would also be a net contributor to the budget. Would it also be entitled to a rebate? The answer is no.

The European Commission and the other EU Member States hate the UK rebate. Austria and Sweden get a rebate, but theirs are due to expire. Ours is the only rebate that is cast in stone. It can never be altered without the agreement of the UK. Tony Blair gave away half of it in exchange for a pledge by France to reform the CAP. Needless to say, once they had trousered our cash the French immediately reneged on the deal. The CAP wasn’t reformed. The UK rebate is still worth €3.6 billion per year, but there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that Scotland, as a new Member State, would be able to negotiate a budget rebate. That means our membership of the EU will become more expensive. Scots will end up having to pay more than our colleagues south of the Border.

Ultimately, each of the 28 EU Member States will have to agree to Scotland's accession. Even a single country can veto a potential accession state. Where will that leave Spain? With the current controversy raging in Catalonia, not to mention the Basque Country, might it not be possible that Spain would veto Scotland's application, so as not to create a precedent for Spanish nationalists to follow? Spain has a track record in this respect. They voted against European recognition of Kosovo and they might just as easily vote against Scotland’s accession to the EU.

It will be a great irony in an independent Scotland that has been forced to leave the EU and apply for re-admission, if meanwhile David Cameron has managed to secure a complete reform of the EU and the rest of Britain is enjoying membership of a reinvigorated single market with renewed economic growth and prosperity. Many people doubt that this transformation is possible. Well I for one don’t share their scepticism.

David Cameron has already achieved the impossible by forcing the Council of Ministers to agree to the first ever budget cut in the history of the European Union and he did so against massive opposition from the European Commission who were pushing for a huge budget increase. The Commission and legions of socialists in the European Parliament think it is perfectly OK to call for swingeing budget cuts in errant Member States like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Spain and France, while ramping up their own spending plans. But it took our Prime Minister to make them face up to reality.

That’s why I have every confidence that David Cameron will secure the major reforms that he is looking for. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, together with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt, have all indicated a willingness to work with the UK to achieve substantial EU reforms, so that an incoming Conservative government can put the question of our reformed membership to the British public in 2017.

Indeed it is interesting to note that David Cameron and Samantha and the children were recently guests of Chancellor Merkel in her home near Berlin only a few weeks ago. With the breakdown of the Franco- German alliance, Merkel is now determined to woo the UK Prime Minister. There is no way that she would ever want to see Britain leave Europe, not least because we are the second biggest contributor to the EU budget. Only Germany gives more!

So major reforms are certain to be offered, but what shape will such reforms take? First, we should ring fence the UK’s financial services sector. New centralised rules and regulations for the 17 countries of the Eurozone may not be appropriate for the UK and we need to ensure that we have an opt-out. There is also an urgent need for opt-outs for the UK from all existing EU policing and criminal justice measures. We also need to repatriate regulations governing social and employment laws which control everything from the competitiveness of British business to the number of hours doctors are allowed to work in the NHS.

During my 14 years in the European Parliament the book of rules, which every EU Member State has to sign up to, has grown from 86,000 pages in 1999, to 146,000 pages today. That’s just one sign of how EU regulations have ballooned out of control and why its institutions are alienating our communities and businesses. We need to cut red tape. We also need more control over our immigration laws and our sovereign government and our courts should have the absolute right to deport known terrorists back to their countries of origin, without being overruled by the European Court of Human Rights.

If all of these reforms were implemented, the UK could make significant savings in its contribution to the EU budget while securing the control we need over vital policy areas such as criminal justice, the social chapter, employment and financial services. In areas like fisheries, as you will hear in the next session this morning, we have achieved a significant reform of the CFP which will effectively devolve day to day management of fisheries back to the Member States and to the stakeholders, the fishermen and the scientists themselves.

So there is a real prospect that David Cameron will secure a major reform in Europe and if we win the next General Election we will be able to call for a YES vote in the promised ‘In or Out’ referendum in 2017. David Cameron has stated clearly that he has no desire to see the UK leaving the EU, but that he wishes to see the EU reformed and he intends to provide UK citizens with an opportunity to say whether or not they agree with him in a referendum. That to me seems the sensible way ahead. We enjoy the benefits of the Single Market and the EU is still our biggest trading partner. It is worth remembering that the only thing that could prevent the British people having their say on Europe will be if UKIP manage to split the Conservative vote and allow Ed Milliband into Downing Street. Then there will be no referendum on Europe, there will be no major reforms and Britain will once more be on the Socialist road to plummeting economic decline.

The SNP, on the other hand, whether they like it or not, would have to swap the pound for the Euro; they would have to swap the Bank of England for the European Central Bank; they would swap national control of tax and spending for international control; and they would surrender UK and Scottish sovereignty in exchange for blind obedience to Brussels. That is a high price to pay. An independent Scotland would in fact lose its independence. Such is the fate of small nations in the Eurozone and make no mistake, it is the big nations like Germany and France who make the rules and who rule the roost.

The SNP bought its way to a majority in Holyrood through their manifesto commitment to free tuition fees, free care for the elderly, free dental care, free this and free that. The Barnett Formula provides every man, woman and child in Scotland with around £1,600 greater government support than anyone south of the border, a fact that is causing increasing unease amongst our English neighbours. But with public expenditure in Scotland now totalling more than 55% of GDP, we are living on borrowed time and borrowed money.

It is completely unsustainable. This near Greek level of public expenditure not only drags on the private economy, but makes it hard to imagine how an independent Scotland could survive if sundered from subsidies from other UK taxpayers. An independent Scotland will have to take on board a £110 billion share of the UK national debt. Where will that come from? Business and industry cannot thrive with so many of Scotland’s best people suckling at the public teat. Instead of a bloated SNP-run public sector sucking the lifeblood from private enterprise in a heavily subsidised independent Scotland, we need to fight for our vision of a vibrant and dynamic Scotland, playing a central role in a modern and successful United Kingdom.

So the chips are down. We face the biggest fight of our political lives for the future of Scotland and for the future of the United Kingdom. Let us make our voices heard. Let us tell Alex Salmond that we don’t want to join the Euro. We don’t want borders between us and England. We don’t want 60,000 useless wind turbines littering our coasts and countryside driving Scots into fuel poverty and crippling business and industry. We don’t want independence.

That will be our message for the European Elections next May and for the referendum next September. That is why it is important that we give Ian Duncan and his team of Euro Candidates our full support. Ian is ready and willing to begin a tour of constituencies and to undertake speaking engagements from one end of Scotland to the other. I have pledged to give him every possible assistance and I want you all to join me in that pledge by giving a big welcome now to Dr Ian Duncan and the Euro candidates!