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What a year 2015 was! I think it worth reflecting upon just a few of the events and challenges from Brussels, Strasbourg and Scotland.
The European Union faced a multitude of distressing challenges over the past twelve months. The UK shamefully turned a blind eye and disengaged from the EU-wide response to the thousands of people fleeing the disastrous civil war in Syria, and from instability elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, to seek safety on the European continent. In contrast, SNP colleague Alyn Smith MEP and I were proud to echo the compassion shown by the Scottish Government and the Party at large. Glasgow, as the first host city to 100 Syrian refugees, proudly demonstrated the clear difference between how we, in Scotland, feel about such issues compared to many at Westminster.
Another stark difference was glaringly evidenced by the superb electoral outcome in Scotland of the UK General Election. I am incredibly proud of our Party's success in winning 56 seats out of 59, and securing a strong foundation as the third largest Party in Westminster. Our strong team of MPs is building a formidable reputation by opposing the austerity-obsessed UK Government.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was warmly welcomed to Brussels, where she told a large audience that she unequivocally believes that Scotland, and the UK, enjoy considerable benefits from membership of the EU. She outlined that the Party will contribute positively to the referendum debate, including broad based discussion on necessary reforms within the existing Treaty framework.
In Aberdeen, at our biggest Annual Conference ever, our place in Europe was also further debated by delegates. I was proud to present the President's Prize to Jim Lynch, a long-standing SNP campaigner and well-known Editor of this paper for his tireless and voluntary efforts in building credibility for the Party. Many important motions were debated and I was pleased to welcome European Free Alliance (EFA) Party colleagues to a well attended Fringe meeting.
Within EFA, we continued to share expertise and discuss challenges during our EFA Parliamentary Group meeting in Valencia hosted by Jordi Sebastia MEP. Our commitment to energy sustainability and renewable energy sources for the future in Scotland made for interesting discussions with like-minded representatives in Valencia.
Looking ahead to 2016, the top SNP priority must be to secure the SNP's third term in the Scottish Government. In her own reflections the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has stated her commitment to continue working hard to build a more prosperous, fairer and better society for all in Scotland. Our ability to continue to deliver this strong foundation for the future in Scotland requires us to push forward with a strong campaign. Likewise our efforts to keep Scotland within the EU ahead of the "Brexit" referendum will be testing. David Cameron's decision to exclude the devolved administrations in the consultation process and bulldoze ahead with the so-called renegotiation process requires us to take the vote even more seriously. Considering the crucial importance of this decision for all of the UK, Eurosceptic narratives need to be countered and I encourage people to become more informed about why Scotland greatly benefits from EU membership.
In my role as an MEP, I will be paying close attention to the evolution of TTIP negotiations with the US along with the final stages of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada as it reaches the Council and later the Parliament.
So a Happy New Year to all and I will continue to do my best in serving the interests of Scotland at the European Parliament.