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Future of Europe is in your hands

IT is the election nobody loves.

In 2009, when Scots last decided who should represent them in Brussels, turnout was a scant 28.5%, the lowest in any part of the UK, although not far below the average of 34.5%.

At the time, a year after the global financial crash, the European Union and its politicians did not seem to know the answer to the country's immediate problems, an impression reinforced by their failure to grasp the scale of the eurozone crisis which began a few months later.

That crisis has since abated but not yet disappeared. Economic growth across the EU remains flat, and the social problems and shocking unemployment following austerity measures in Greece, Spain and other southern countries have left the whole concept of a united Europe of 500 million people looking fragile. But that is not further reason to ignore the elections of May 22 - it is all the more reason to go to the polls.

Europe appears to be at a turning point. The years since the recession have seen a surge in eurosceptic parties such as Ukip and France's Front National. According to one recent study, around 200 of the 751 MEPs elected across Europe's 28 states this week could be euro­sceptics whose goal is to wreck the EU institutions from within.

Whether you approve or disapprove, it means the election could herald profound change.

Domestically, Ukip has also pushed Labour and the Conservatives onto a more eurosceptic track, and created the real possibility of a UK withdrawal from Europe if David Cameron is returned to power next year and holds a promised a referendum. If Ukip tops the polls on Thursday, that shift will accelerate, with implications for immigration policy and relations with our main trading partners.

Europe, once the obsession of a few blazered oddballs on the Tory right, has become one of the most salient issues of UK politics.

There is also the independence referendum dimension.

Europe has been a campaign constant, with unionists insisting entry for an independent Scotland would be fraught if not impossible, with other states imposing the euro and the Schengen open borders arrangement.

As we report today, the senior Labour MEP David Martin has now debunked such scare stories, and is to be commended for his candour.

This week is not a dry run for September 18.

If the SNP add a seat or Ukip win their first in Scotland, it will not signpost the result of the referendum, which is a unique choice.

But it will have an impact on morale, lifting the Nationalists or soothing unionist nerves, with a Ukip win taken as a sign that Alex Salmond has profoundly misread the public mood.

It may be unloved, but for a host of reasons this election matters. Use your vote.

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