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I was delighted to be able to welcome Stephen Gethins MP, SNP Spokesperson on Europe, on his first visit to Brussels since his election as Member of Parliament for North East Fife.
Stephen and I held a press briefing in the European Parliament on 'Scotland's place in the UK's negotiation with the EU' where we addressed a number of Brussels-based journalists on our position. We reminded the press that the SNP believes that EU membership is in the best interests of Scotland, and the rest of the UK, and we therefore want to positively contribute to the discussion on EU reform. Moreover, Stephen and I stressed that EU reform would be beneficial to all Member States but this can take place within the existing treaty framework. Of course, there are always possible ways to reform a Union comprising 500 million citizens in 28 member states, and the SNP believe that more local decision making, a greater focus on developing the single market and local discretion in implementing regulation are a few ways in which Scotland could benefit from EU reform.
Yet, following David Cameron's letter to Donald Tusk on November 11 2015, we still lack clarity on what exactly 'in', 'out', 'reformed EU' means for the UK Government. Without such details, it is absurd to think that people across the UK will be able to cast an informed vote in the Referendum. Indeed, as the devolved administrations were not consulted prior to the proposed reform package by the UK Government, this has created a further lack of transparency and clarity. Stephen correctly remarked that such plans by the Prime Minister risk pushing Scotland and the rest of the UK closer to an EU exit.
The recent attacks in Paris and the ongoing refugee crises are some of the most crucial challenges that we face as part of the EU and should realise that responding to such crises, in co-operation with partner countries, is within our interest. Partnership is vital and Scotland is showing its dedication to this partnership, as over 100 Syrian refugees arrived from Amman, Jordan in Glasgow in the latter part of November. This group are the largest yet to arrive as part of the UK Government's resettlement scheme and I echo the comments made by Nicola Sturgeon insofar as just how proud we are that Scotland is a welcoming and multi-cultural community.
A constructive approach to membership of the EU can provide added value in tackling these collective problems as a Union of member states. Likewise in addressing issues such as climate change, the security of our energy supplies, youth unemployment and environmental protection.
I also recently gave oral evidence at the European and External Relations Committee at the Scottish Parliament on EU reform, the upcoming 'Brexit' Referendum and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The benefits of the right to freedom of movement, the range of industries which thrive with EU funding, and the vast benefits on the economy and trade across Scotland are only some of the benefits in that we enjoy as being part of the EU. There are huge practical benefits to consider between now and the eventual vote on the UK's membership of the EU, but I and SNP colleagues will ensure to continue to make a positive case for Scotland remaining within the European Union.