In the run-up to the membership ballot which, during the month of July, will allow SNP members to rank the team of six candidates for next year's European elections, a number of hustings events have been staged. Local SNP organisations including in Kirkintilloch, Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh have initiated opportunities for members to hear the candidates, and to ask searching questions on a wide range of detailed issues relating to Scotland and the EU. From our viewpoint in Scotland, this is a particularly interesting and eventful time to be focussing on the evolution of the European Union.

The end of June saw the culmination of a successful six month EU Presidency by Ireland, with Lithuania taking over the reins from July 1st. The Irish Presidency has, against considerable odds, succeeded in brokering a deal on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. At the time of writing, the Irish are still working extremely hard to deliver similar results on EU Agriculture policy and on the even more complex and controversial matter of the EU Budget for future years. The fact that this immensely difficult and politically contentious series of talks has been led so outstandingly well by
Ireland demonstrates very clearly that there is absolutely no reason why an independent Scotland could not also succeed and prosper as a normal independent member state of the EU. It is clearly not the size of a member state which determines its political and diplomatic effectiveness.

July also heralded the official start of Croatia's membership of the European Union. Croatia, like Ireland, is smaller than Scotland, and commences its EU membership with a Commissioner nominated by its Government, a top table seat in the Council of Ministers and all of its working groups, and with twice as many MEPs as Scotland currently has. Another clear example of the benefits of being a normal independent country with full representation under the EU Treaty provisions. Yet another example which destroys the claim made by UK unionists that Scotland can only survive in Europe as part of a larger member state.

Throughout my experience to date, now almost 15 years, as an SNP Member of the European Parliament I have found it frustrating that, no matter how effectively Scotland's interests are represented currently in the European Parliament, the lack of a voice and a vote round the top table amongst Governments means that this nation has not experienced the full benefit from membership of the EU. On the contrary, we have often had to watch from the sidelines as successive UK governments have deliberately betrayed Scotland's interests. Most of the areas of EU competence are now subject to decision-making jointly, by a majority in the European Parliament plus a majority in the Council of Ministers. The most successful member states are those who make the most of their input to both decision-making institutions in
Europe.

The next five-year term of the European Parliament will be the most exciting ever for Scotland. It will surely be the term during which, following a Yes vote in our referendum, Scotland makes the transition to normal status as an independent country, with a voice and full voting rights at the intergovernmental top table. I am confident that our experience of EU membership would be radically improved as a result.

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