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It can be tricky writing an article which wonʼt be in print until some fourteen days or so later. Will what seemed, at time of writing to be topical still be relevant, or will events have overtaken whatʼs gone to press? No problem this month! As I write, Alex Salmond has been confirmed as the SNPʼs first ever First Minister of Scotland and his team of Ministers have taken office.
Exciting times indeed, and challenging too. The governance of Scotland will most certainly be a major topic in the news media for months and years to come, not just in this country but worldwide.
In the weeks running up to the election, as I travelled round Scotland campaigning alongside SNP activists, I could feel the momentum for victory building day by day, week by week, and the fantastic result is down to the sheer hard graft and determination to win displayed by activists, candidates and the national campaign team.
Itʼs no surprise then if I admit to feeling something of a wrench having to get on the flight to Brussels, leaving Scotland positively buzzing behind me. My rancour was tempered however by the reaction of MEPs from every corner of Europe and from across the political spectrum. Well-wishers have been queuing up to shake hands and offer congratulations, and I was delighted to share in their enthusiasm and interest about Scotlandʼs new political landscape.
Our long-term Welsh, Irish, Catalan, Basque and Flemish nationalist colleagues were, naturally, the most enthusiastic and warm in their responses. Plaid made gains in Wales too and I have passed on to them the SNPʼs good wishes. The sour faces of some UK Labour MEPs looked strangely out of place but in no way dampened the genuinely expressed interest and, in many cases delight from Euro MPs at Scotlandʼs constitutional step forward.
For MEPs from nations where proportional systems of voting, and therefore coalition or minority governments, have been the norm for decades, there was neither anguish nor alarm at the narrow margin of the SNPʼs win. (Though Iʼd have to say there were a few raised eyebrows at the Liberal Democratsʼ abstentionist approach to negotiating.) The numbers didnʼt matter. What was of interest was the direction in which Alex Salmond and his team would lead Scotland. Europe, rest assured, is watching.
As a former Council Leader, I was delighted in equal measure by the spectacular gains made in the Council elections. At the time of writing, we have SNP members in the administrations of more than one third of Scotlandʼs local authorities. SNP representation at all levels right across the country – now thatʼs what I call success!
So, from a European perspective, what does the future hold? In many a report from Brussels, I have bemoaned the failure of successive Westminster and Holyrood ministers to stand up for Scotland in the all-important Council of Ministers. In many cases, theyʼve not even bothered to turn up, or have been kept outside the room, when deals are made which have a huge impact on our country.
With the SNP at the helm Edinburgh, and with Scotlandʼs political profile raised to new heights, the challenge now for Westminster is to accept the will of Scots voters, and to ensure that SNP ministers and their civil servants take the lead on the issues which matter to Scotland. Our interests must no longer be ignored, or sacrificed, in EU horse trading sessions.