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By the end of November 2008 I will have served the SNP for ten eventful years as a Member of the European Parliament. The North East by-election at which I was first elected, thanks to a massive campaign effort by members from all over Scotland, saw Labour beaten into third place (in a 2 horse race!) and the SNP holding the seat with a majority of over 33,000. The intervening years have heralded historic political developments in the European Union, and within Scotland too. The European Union has expanded from an association of fifteen, to one with twenty-seven member states, and, following eight years of mediocrity from Labour/Liberal executives, Scotland now has a new Government - an SNP Government, and a very effective one too.
Twelve new member states have recently joined the EU, many of them the same size or smaller than Scotland. Most had recently regained their independence, and now exercise the considerable power and influence that all member states enjoy as a basic right of membership. I was privileged to take part in the parliamentary ceremonies which saw the flags of these countries raised to fly proudly in Brussels and Strasbourg.
It has not taken these new partner countries long to make their presence and influence felt as the EU continues to evolve. While we in Scotland seem likely to have the Lisbon Treaty ratified on our behalf at Westminster, without any direct say in its drafting, those who had power and influence as normal member states were able to help shape the new Treaty, and to protect their special interests.
Although it is only with Independence that Scotland will gain full rights of representation at inter-governmental level, we have seen some welcome developments as a result of the SNP Governmentʼs new and determined approach. Within weeks of taking office the First Minister was in Brussels for talks with key members of the European Commission. Alex Salmond underlined some of the ambitions which his Government has for Scotland, including the development of our potential as an energy supplier, and to seek radical changes to the management of our fisheries.
At the annual pantomime which is the December Council of Fisheries Ministers, our Minister Richard Lochhead put his UK counterpart under sustained pressure, and won a concession towards local management of fishing effort within Scotland for 2008. This is a welcome step forward, and one which is long overdue, and which demonstrates what can be achieved by a Government which is prepared to stand up for Scotland.
If progress can be made within the limited powers of devolution, then of course we should maximise it, and the SNP Government will make every effort so to do. However, my ten years working for Scotland in Europe has even further strengthened my belief that Independence for Scotland is not only highly desirable, but absolutely essential. The Lisbon Treaty, which is the new rulebook of EU membership, confirms that member statehood is the only status which confers the right to play a full part in the top table decision making processes. I look forward to seeing the saltire raised in Brussels, to fly proudly alongside the other member states, and look forward to seeing Scotland benefit more from EU membership as a result of having, and using, the clout that Independence brings.