26 November 2003

S2M-553 European Parliament (Number of Seats)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-553, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the European Parliament seat numbers.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the reduction of UK seats in the European Parliament from 87 to 78 to accommodate enlargement of the EU; welcomes the accession of 10 new countries in 2004; believes, however, that Scotland, with no seat on the Council of Europe, no Commissioners and fewer MEPs than comparably-sized independent member states, has little enough influence in the EU, and therefore believes that the Scottish Executive should resist the reduction in Scotland's MEPs from eight to seven.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Electoral Commission's findings are interesting. A key part of the formula is that the minimum number of representatives of a region must be three. One implication of that is that Northern Ireland, which currently has three members, will continue to have three members. I entirely support that, based on the special and distinctive needs of Northern Ireland. Indeed, I wish all the people of that part of these islands all the best in today's elections.

The Electoral Commission's findings are fair enough, given the rules. However, they ignore the basic fact that Scotland has a Parliament that has considerable powers. Scotland has a legal system and it adopts European law. Without representation at the top table, we are stymied. However, and even more important, we are unable even with today's eight members to cover all the committees of the European Parliament. If we had 14 members—as we would if we were an independent country—we would have leverage in the practical workings of the European Parliament, which we need to represent Scotland's interests and its separate legal and legislative environment.

Irene Oldfather: To follow that comment to its logical conclusion, is Mr Stevenson suggesting that we expand our membership? If we do that for Scotland, for how many other legislative Parliaments across Europe would we do it? We would end up exactly where we were—which we have all agreed is unworkable.

Stewart Stevenson: I am very happy that other countries that are incorporated in unions, as we are, should fight their corner. I am sure that they will do so very effectively.

The United Kingdom Government says that it represents our interests and it says that we are stronger in a delegation of 78—as the delegation will be—than we would be in a delegation of 14. There is something interesting about that particular argument; the assumption behind it appears to be that the 14 Scottish MEPs would on each and every occasion perversely take a different line from the MEPs from the other countries of the United Kingdom. In reality—with much shared heritage, and some shared geography—we would very often be fighting together for the same things. The UK would benefit, just as Scotland would benefit, from an independent Scotland. That said, very often Scotland's interests do, in fact, diverge from those of the UK. Our priorities are often different.

I represent Banff and Buchan, so I turn inevitably to fishing. The Irish have one member of the European Parliament for every 260,000 of their population. We would have one for every 625,000. It is no wonder that the Irish do relatively well in negotiations in the European Parliament and that they have people from their civil service and their political classes embedded at the highest level in the councils of Europe.

Phil Gallie: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry—I do not have time.

We have a choice. Can we benefit Scotland by going independent and having 14 members? Because of the greater strength, those 14 members would often collaborate with the members from the rest of the United Kingdom, to the benefit of all. However, when our policies and requirements diverged from those of the UK members, we would build our own alliances with the small successful nations across Europe. I am happy to support my colleague's motion.


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