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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
Respecting your Parliament

PARLIAMENTS, wherever they are in the world, be it Australia, Washington, France or Scotland, must be treated with respect if they are to command the respect of the nation. The UK Parliament has seen plenty of disgraceful events and tales of corruption that have undermined its credibility, leaving an electorate to feel disillusioned with the entire political system.

There was the big expenses scandal that revealed Members of the Westminster Parliament from virtually every party represented to be involved to a greater or lesser degree in various forms of ‘fiddling the tax payer.’ From ‘flipping’ their homes to get the maximum amount of money towards their keep, to the famous building of a duck pond at our expense. You may recall when in 2009, the Tory grandee Sir Peter Viggers claimed £1,600 from the House of Commons fees office for his floating duck island at his Hampshire home.

If you need reminding, here’s the original story: And that was but a small part of his three claim for gardening of £30,000, including £500 for manure.

Sir Peter Viggers duck island and duck house at his home.
He claimed £1,600 to have it built.

Of course, there is more to respecting an elected assembly of any kind that keeping the finances honest and straight. American citizens have huge respect for the office of the President that goes well beyond the individual who may hold that office at any one time.

The immense overarching task of the Speaker or Presiding Officer includes making sure that elected representatives behave properly. There are clear rules and guidance for all of us in areas like using un-parliamentary language. You can read those rules here: There is a separate but similar guide for staff at the Parliament which you can also find on the Scottish Parliament website:

Our Presiding Officer (PO) at the Scottish Parliament is Tricia Marwick MSP for Mid-Fife and Glenrothes. As PO, Tricia has no party affiliation whatsoever and I think everyone in the Parliament shows the respect for both her and for the Office that she merits and deserves. She takes no nonsense from any of us! She will pull up any MSP from any party, including Cabinet Secretaries or even the First Minister if she regards their behavior as inappropriate in some way.

Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick MSP

You might be wondering by now why I am talking about conduct in the Chamber this week. Here at last is the answer!

As some of you will know already, I am Convener of the Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee. On Thursday, Ruth Davidson MSP and leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, decided to release written evidence to the Committee which the members had not themselves seen and will not see until next Thursday. During First Minister’s Question Time, she waved a document which she declared was the undisclosed evidence from EU expert, Jean Claude Piris, arguing that France would not agree to Scotland’s entry into the EU without a Referendum.

Ms Davidson characteristically revealed two things: her willingness to break Parliamentary protocol and her unwillingness to accept that in fact Scotland already is a member of the EU, though she might wish it were otherwise.

This kind of behavior is unacceptable. I have no idea what the outcome was but I rather suspect that Ms Davidson will have paid a visit to the Presiding Officer.

I will be conducting my own inquiry into how it happened.

The European Question

To any normal person living outside of the intricate academic theses over Scotland’s EU membership, the whole issue is impenetrable I know. Most people I speak to about it are inclined to say either that they don’t understand it or that they just aren’t interested.

I can appreciate why. Europe’s affection for acronyms like CAP, CFP, BEREC, ENOSA, EBA, EUSA and the like is off-putting in itself. You can get an idea here:

But Europe is our largest trading partner, it is a bloc of more than 510 million people, it has the power and the legal systems to keep our rights protected, to give us free trade, freedom to live and work or be educated in any of the member countries, to have the same rights as the citizens of those countries have if we elect to reside there or even holiday there. It provides the legislation that overrules that of the individual countries on everything from the right never to be tortured to the commonality of road signs.

On Thursday past, the European and External Relations Committee set to examining Scotland’s membership of the European Union under the Scottish Government’s proposals for an independent Scotland.

Two panels of experts took our questions with remarkable patience, for which I thank them. There were plenty of them, from every perspective on the debate, so it was a highly productive and informative meeting.

The one point that they all agreed upon was that Scotland would not be ‘left out in the cold’ when we vote for independence as The Herald set out in its report from the meeting:

It was fascinating to hear the views of all: David Crawley, a former civil servant and expert on EU affairs who was previously head of the Scotland’s representative Office in Brussels; Professor Laura Cram, professor of European politics at the University of Edinburgh; Dr Paolo Dardanelli, senior lecturer in comparative politics at the University of Kent and Professor John Bachtler, director of the European policies research centre at the University of Strathclyde.

All of the panelists, from their different perspectives, agreed that EU membership was in the best interests of Scotland. You can watch the Committee meeting here: though I warn you, it lasted for two hours.

The Government’s position, set out in Scotland’s Future, is clear enough if you read from page 216 onwards. Here, by the way, is the link for the full document:

In a nutshell, Scotland needs and wants to remain in the EU. We are already a member as part of the UK but Westminster’s priorities in Europe aren’t ours and we have not voted for them. A Conservative government there, if returned to power in 2015, has committed to hold an in/out referendum on membership in 2017, something the current Scottish Government is not in favour of.

We want to have more MEPs – we would probably jump from our current six to 12 or 13 with independence – and a Commissioner. From that position, and from the lessons we’ve learned from other smaller European countries like Lithuania, the current holders of the presidency, Bulgaria, Estonia and Ireland for example, we can push forward our own priorities far more powerfully.

But the debate around whether we can negotiate our continuation in the EU after independence, or whether we would have to somehow submit ourselves as a candidate rather as Turkey is currently or as Croatia was up until last summer when it joined the family of nations.

Academics from every corner of Europe have been declaring their views. Trouble is of course, it’s never happened before. We’ve never had a situation where one EU member country has become two independent countries, both continuing as EU members in their own right.

So speculation is rife and academics love debating the theses to support their differing arguments. Some of these centre on issues like Article 48 and 49 or on how long membership negotiations would take. The day after a Yes vote, Scotland won’t have been ejected from the EU. We will be in exactly the same position as we were on 17 September. It is only after about 18 months, in May 2016, when we have Independence Day that new arrangements on everything come into place.

It is inconceivable to me that the EU is going to want to ditch Europe’s most significant supplier of oil and gas, renewable energy and a serious player on the global stage of research and development in life sciences and technology.

At the end of the day, I believe the outcome is really about political will rather than Article 48 or 49 as Dr Dardanelli explained to the Committee.

The debate continues. Watch this space.

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