With the next general election of Members of the European Parliament to be held on 22 May 2014, the SNP list of six candidates has been ranked in order by Party members. Once again the ballot was on the basis of one-member-one-vote, with the innovation of an option to vote either by post or online.

I am very grateful for the support given to me in the ballot, and I am pleased and proud to have been placed at the top of such a strong team of SNP candidates. Our aim must be to win the election next May and I hope that we do so decisively by achieving the largest share of the national vote, and increasing the number of SNP MEPs elected to stand up for Scotland's interests.

At the last round of European Parliament voting, in 2009, the SNP won the election with a 29.1% share of the votes cast. Of Scotland's total of six MEPs, we held our two seats and came very close to winning a third. The SNP has a long and distinguished record of standing up for Scotland in Europe, and this Euro election is an opportunity to be grasped with enthusiasm.

With recent polls of voting intention showing even higher SNP support now than when we were re-elected as a government in 2011, we should approach these elections with positivity and optimism. Of course we must take nothing for granted, but should continue working hard to earn people's trust.

In 2014, as an electoral area of the UK, we will again be electing only six MEPs, while Denmark, Finland and Slovakia as Independent member states of a similar size to Scotland elect thirteen each. With Independence, Scotland would have vastly increased influence in EU decision-making. Not only would we have more MEPs, but also we would have the absolute right to be represented at the top table among governments - rather than depending on Westminster ministers who often fail to prioritise Scotland's key concerns.

Of course, the Independence referendum in September 2014 gives us the opportunity to choose a new and much more meaningful relationship with our partners in the EU. A recent opinion poll in the Sunday Express has indicated a narrowing gap between those intending to vote Yes and those who, at this stage, are leaning towards a No vote.

On the basis of this Angus Reid survey, a swing of just 6.5% would be enough to secure a Yes vote in next year's referendum. Interestingly, the poll also found that nearly a third of declared Labour voters will back independence, along with nearly a quarter of LibDem supporters. It seems that people of all political persuasions can see that with the powers of an independent Scotland we can build the kind of fairer, more prosperous country that we all want to live in.
In 2014 we have a tremendous and exciting set of opportunities to campaign across Scotland's diverse communities, encouraging our fellow-residents to vote SNP in the Euro-elections, and Yes in Scotland's referendum.

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