Wednesday

28th Sep 2016

Scottish MEP: 'Independence not our first option'

  • Smith making a passionate appeal on behalf of Scotland, that voted to remain in the EU (Photo: European Parliament)

In the week following the Brexit vote, during an extraordinary session of the European Parliament Alyn Smith, an MEP from the Scottish National Party (SNP) stood up and made a passionate case on behalf of those who voted for remaining in the EU.

"Scotland did not let you down," he reminded fellow MEPs.

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His speechwent viral on social media.

He had not planned to take the floor, but he told EUobserver in an interview this week that he did not want British MEP and Brexit-cheerleader Nigel Farage to be the sole voice of the UK in the EU assembly.

"When I saw that Nigel Farage was going to be the face of Brexit, I thought: ‘No. I can't let that bastard speak for my country, however we define my country'," Smith told this website in his office in Brussels.

His June speech in the EP made an impact. The visit to Brussels the following day by Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, also helped to put the Scottish issue on the political map.

Smith told EUobserver there is fresh awareness in Brussels that Scotland expects something different to the rest of the UK.

Smith, 42, is part of a team assembled by Sturgeon to figure out how to secure that Scotland - which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the bloc - stays close to the EU, even as British authorities in London work out how to leave the European Union.

The Scottish group had its first meeting on Thursday (14 July).

There are no deadlines for its work. Its members aim to draft various proposals, including on how to stay part of Europol and Eurojust, two EU police agencies.

But Smith said the group would have to wait and see how Whitehall plans to handle Brexit before tabling its ideas.

"It [Scottish secession from the UK] is not our first option," Smith said. "I have been reassuring everyone in Brussels, that this is not our secret plan to win independence."

He said that independence is not out of the question, however.

"We campaigned for Europe. We voted for Europe. This [Brexit] was not our making. We are putting all options are the table and independence is one of them," Smith said.

The Conservative Party in Scotland has said that the SNP wants to exploit the situation to organise a second independence referendum after the first one voted to stay part of the UK in 2014.

"It is really silly on their part, because this is the party that brought the UK to chaos. And now they are saying we shouldn't do what is responsible," Smith said.

"If we didn't have independence on the table, people would not take us seriously, but we are looking at all the options," he said.

He added that Spain's objection to an independent Scotland becoming a member of the EU had to do more with domestic politics.

Madrid is itself faced with breakaway forces in Catalonia.

May should listen

"We'll see", Smith said on whether the new British PM, Theresa May, will pay heed to Scottish concerns.

On Friday (15 July) May will visit Scotland, her first trip as new prime minister. Before leaving, she said: "I’m coming here to show my commitment to preserving this special union that has endured for centuries."

But Smith sounded sceptical about her promises.

"She came out with a ludicrous 'Brexit is Brexit' [statement]. What does that mean, like a table is a table, what are you talking about?," he said, recalling that Sturgeon had said "Remain is remain” in reaction to May’s remark.

"She [May] is responsible for the dreadful immigration policy in the UK. We have a hard-hearted policy, reversing hundreds of years of British history," he added.

He said that he himself was an Erasmus and College of Europe student and is concerned that future generations will not have such opportunities.

Erasmus is an EU-funded student exchange programme in Europe. The College of Europe in Belgium and Poland is also an EU-backed education project.

"If the ministers are being sensible, having someone from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, London, Gibraltar [during Brexit talks with the EU] makes sense," Smyth said.

The MEP was worried that the British government will take a tough line on immigration, even as Scotland wants to protect freedom of movement.

Hate speech

"What I'm concerned about is because of the campaign was so dishonest on the Leave side, it presented immigration as a problem, something to be scared of ... We are now part of a group of islands in the UK where people are wearing T-shirts saying 'I voted leave, now send them home’,” he said, commenting on verbal attacks against Polish people, Romanians and Muslims in the UK in the wake of the EU vote.

“That scares me, because that leads to a pressure on the UK government to deal with immigration. If that limits freedom of movement for Scots and people coming into Scotland, we will have real problems with that, and be vocal about it," he said.

Smith gets 50-60 emails daily from worried Scots and other nationals about the immediate effect of Brexit on their lives, he said. He tries to calm the confused, worried voters.

“A good Brexit deal looks like remain”, he said.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit: preparing for a bitter divorce

Conservatives Brexiteers and Labour leadership are increasingly leaning away from the Norwegian-style deal with the EU, towards a UK-specific arrangement.

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