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Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh
Europe - 11th April 2013

Will independence mean that Scotland just swaps Westminster rule for Brussels rule?

It’s an argument I hear raised quite a lot. Not every seeker of Scottish independence wants to be part of the European Union.

Some people argue: “Let’s leave the EU and join the EEA or EFTA – Norway and Switzerland are doing fine without EU membership.”

So what’s wrong with this suggestion? In fact, it’s based on a misunderstanding of Norwegian and Swiss relationships, in particular with the EU.

Norway pays about €340 million a year into the EU budget. They bear that cost. They don’t get the advantages.

It’s the worst of both worlds.

You pay up but you don’t get a say in what EU laws and regulations you have to subscribe to. And they abide by between 80 and 90 per cent of those.

Scotland needs a meaningful place at the table. We’re already weary of hanging on the coat tails of Westminster. We need to be in there, contributing to the decision-making process; not observing as bystanders, taking the deals with no part in making them.

No, we need to be in there contributing to the decision-making process; not as bystanders taking the deals but with no part in making them.

If you want to be part of the Common Market with the opportunity to sell your goods and services across 27 countries, then you want to make more than a financial contribution. You want to be a voice that is heard.

We are fed up with being silenced, fed up with being told we can’t speak in European debates because that is the right of the UK – not of Scotland. One of our Scottish Ministers was denied an opportunity to speak in Doha at the Climate Change Summit because he wasn’t a UK Minister. The chair was left empty instead.

To me, that’s silly. Let’s be heard.

If you want to change things though, you need a voice to do it. There’s no point in screaming from the sidelines and hoping someone will listen. We’ve had enough experience of that and we know it doesn’t work.

Membership of the EU brings us freedom of trade, access to a powerhouse of more than 504 million people. That offers enormous opportunities for Scotland to trade and profit on a level playing field.

No customs duties or tariffs and a single set of rules for each EU nation. An economic zone that is larger than any other in the world – a zone with a GDP of around 15.3 trillion in 2011.

Sometimes I hear people say: “But what about our trade with America? Isn’t that worth more?” Interestingly, no, it isn’t. In fact it’s worth less than half of our trade with the EU, representing just 21 per cent of Scottish exports when you leave aside our exports to the UK.

If the UK leaves the EU, and that’s now a real possibility given David Cameron’s call for an in/out Referendum in 2016, then it will be faced with customs and perhaps other trade tariffs on its exports across the EU. If we’re independent and remain in the EU, we aren’t going to face that problem.

Think about other areas like the personal ones, protection of human rights, the freedom to travel, work, live study, vote and stand for election in other EU countries Qualifications and professional standings are recognised across national boundaries.

Consumer standards are being upgraded and things like food labelling are improving. And it’s thanks to the EU that the cost of mobile phone calls is continuing to fall.

The EU Health Insurance Card gives us access to medical help on the same terms as local people and pensioners can receive their payments anywhere across the member states.

Cross-border cooperation on fighting crime is making all our lives safer and sophisticated technology allows police forces to work together effectively. David Cameron wants the UK to withdraw from the European Arrest Warrant that is serving us so well.

Being an integral part of the EU isn’t about giving up rights. It’s about promoting what we have, ensuring we get heard and securing our future.

Why would we choose instead to join EFTA? Made up of four nations: Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, with a combined population of about 13 million people, there’s not much scope for political and economic influence in the EU from there.

And by the way, EFTA isn’t a single market.

Why would we opt to make the financial contributions yet remain voiceless?

Scotland has struggled to be heard for a long time. Why therefore would we now want to consider removing ourselves from the place where important decisions are made that affect our daily lives?

Because we’re not yet independent, we’ve got just six MEPs for the whole of Scotland and the SNP holds two of those. I want to be the third. That’s a 33 per cent rise in the size of the SNP team.

With a Yes vote, that picture changes dramatically. We expect to have at least 13 MEPs and they’ll be speaking for Scotland’s people, not London’s.

A Yes vote means Scotland finally gets its chance to join the big decision makers and become a serious player there. We would be very foolish to forego that opportunity.

Now, with 13 MEPs and an independent Scotland, that’s enough to be seriously heard! Let’s make it happen.

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