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Agenda: Why Scotland must stay in Europe

Next year's referendum will not only be about Scotland's future in the Union, but about Scotland's place in the world.

It'll be a choice between a UK increasingly marginalised at the European fringes and an independent Scotland working constructively with her neighbours.

The rise of Ukip south of the Border is testimony to the polarisation of sentiments on Europe between Scotland and the rest of the UK. But it equally highlights the contrast between our political landscapes and even our social values.

There's more to Ukip than Europe: policies on social justice, immigration, equality, the environment, the NHS and taxation are at odds with Scotland's needs and priorities.

Is it viable for Scotland to be governed by Tories – utterly rejected by the people of Scotland – shifting to the right and running scared of another right-wing party banging on the door of No 10? A party that would favour the abolition of MSPs and the abolition of our Scottish Parliament, which we trust?

In the 2009 European Elections Ukip won a mere 5.2% of the Scottish vote. Scotland would have needed 15 seats for one Ukip MEP to have been elected.

But it's not just Ukip. Nigel Lawson's coming out as a supporter of EU withdrawal should be a warning to all pro-Europeans. Britain's relationship with Europe has never been easy – but this time it's serious. Withdrawal is now overwhelmingly a majority view among Conservative members and supporters, and the issue can no longer be dismissed as a protest vote; it has become a mainstream view of Westminster politics.

Next year the people of Scotland will have the opportunity to choose between isolation and participation in Europe. Over the past 40 years we've been on the edges, never shaping the European debate, simply reacting to it.

Take, for instance, the European Arrest Warrant. A Tory Home Secretary affirms her intention of opting out of the only tool that exists to combat EU cross-border crime. The 133 pieces of legislation have served Scotland well. But instead of listening to the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, Theresa May heeds her backbenchers who have only one interest – repatriating powers from Brussels, no matter how useful those powers might be.

Or the social chapter which promotes equality and safety in the workplace, guaranteeing rights such as protection for pregnant women and part-time workers. David Cameron said during his Europe speech that social protection would be one of the first things to go in his "renegotiated membership status". How does this sit with Scotland's trade unions?

As an independent member state, would we be arguing against a cap on bankers' bonuses in Brussels? Would we have allowed the decline of our fishing communities through reckless fisheries policies? Would we be short-changing farmers by calling for a reduction in farming budgets?

While Westminster casts doubt over our future in Europe, Ireland holds the European Union Presidency – a small nation, setting the agenda for 500 million Europeans during their toughest financial crisis. A country smaller than Scotland but with more MEPs, its own Commissioner, its own seat at the top tables of Brussels and the power to influence the EU's policy direction. Scotland should be there, advancing policy, leading in areas where we have expertise: energy, climate-change legislation, world-leading research and fisheries. Instead, we're forced to rely on Westminster to represent us, a Westminster system that is failing to protect our distinct interests in Europe.

Today, cities across the continent are marking Europe Day, the celebration of peace and unity. Independence will give Scotland a unique opportunity to shape and mould the Europe of tomorrow.

With our own dynamic on European engagement we'll be in a position to protect our national interest while making a contribution to the direction of the continent we live in. I'll be voting Yes next September for many more years of EU membership. This time let's be at the heart of it.

Toni Giugliano is Yes Scotland community groups adviser.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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