• Hundreds of projects in Na h-Eileanan an Iar have benefited from EU funding
• EU membership costs Scotland just £18 per person per year
• For every pound Scotland pays to the EU, £20 comes back
• A leave vote would threaten workers’ long fought rights
EU membership brings significant benefits to Scotland’s economy and its value to Na h-Eileanan an Iar should not be underestimated.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar is a key example of how EU funding has protected rural communities from Westminster’s indifferent attitude towards Scotland.
With less than a week until the Tory-instigated EU referendum, I believe we should REMAIN a member of the EU.
Hundreds of island projects have benefited from EU funding, not least through major investment in roads, bridges and causeways but in projects such as Lews Castle redevelopment which is receiving almost £3m of EU funding. Countless island communities have received further grant funding to pursue projects which directly improve people’s lives.
The EU is an inter-governmental organisation of independent countries and not a country to be independent of as portrayed by LEAVE campaigners. The LEAVE campaign wants to take the few powers there are in Europe and put them into the hands of a Tory right wing Government in London. The truth is that the UK can set its own laws on tax, welfare, spending, defence and foreign policy independently of other EU member states, the very things which Scotland cannot do inside the UK. We cannot even stop London deporting one Highland family to Australia!
Research from Business for Scotland, which represents small and medium businesses across Scotland, shows that Scotland’s EU fee translates to £18 per person per year and for every pound which goes to the EU, Scotland gets £20 in return of economic activity. I know people have been bombarded with figures from both sides of the campaign but the fact is that Brexit will have a negative impact on Scotland – with an even bigger negative for Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland pays 8.4% population share of the UK’s EU fees but gains back 17.4% of EU spending in the UK so the EU plays a crucial role in redistributing investment back to Scotland to mitigate the over investment by the UK Government in London and parts of England.
There are only three post Brexit trading options on the table and none of those options are appealing for the UK.
The first is the Norwegian option where they are not a member of the EU but pay 95% of what the UK pays for full trade access.
The second option is the Swiss option. Switzerland, also non-EU, pays 56% of what the UK pays for membership yet the Swiss have limited access to the market. Both Norway and Switzerland have to pay but have no say as they have no MEPs and no EU Council members.
It is also important to note that Norway and Switzerland are both still required to allow EU immigration and to follow EU regulations.
The third option is the Canadian model which would mean years of negotiation and would only offer limited market access with no financial sector access which would be unworkable for the UK.
The issue of immigration has been a central theme for the LEAVE campaign with some disgraceful posters and has ignored the fundamental fact that the UK needs people to come to the UK and they bring immense value to our economy.
Last year the UK needed 330,000 migrants of which the EU could only provide 184,000 meaning another 129,000 people had to come from elsewhere in the world to meet our needs.
I recently met with the Philippines Ambassador whose citizens are very important to the NHS. They are also needed in our fishing community yet it is the UK, not the EU, that is stopping them coming to Scotland to work in fishing as is known by too many people in this community to their frustration.
The reality is that the UK cannot fund itself. This year alone the UK borrowed £70billion and the UK has borrowed every year since 2001 (adding to the £1,500 billion debt). However EU immigrants paid £3billion in taxes but only took £0.5billion in benefits, meaning that they at least provide a surplus to the economy. Without them the UK would be borrowing at least £2.5billion more this year.
There are concerns in the islands about the impact and of EU membership on the fishing industry and also the crofting communities but the alternative is to hand power to Westminster which has never given priority to these areas. The vague words of the LEAVE campaign have offered no viable plans for management of UK waters or agricultural subsidies in the event of this situation.
The EU is far from perfect say many, but people may say the same about Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, even the Scottish Government and most certainly about Westminster with its Bedrooms taxes, Poll taxes and waste on weapons of mass destruction. In fact if you take away the right wing media coverage, the EU would be seen properly as the body that built causeways and roads in the islands, helping Scalpay, Vatersay, Eriskay, Berneray and Rheinigidale to name but a few.
The EU is not a club for independent nations, but a real family of nations. The UK by contrast does not behave like that, Westminster rides rough shod over Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. By contrast capitals London, Brussels or Paris cannot do the same to Dublin, Stockholm or Copenhagen as these are seats of Government of independent countries, unlike Scotland in the UK.
The deliberately vague LEAVE campaign has not told us what leaving the single market would mean for our shellfish fishermen and island fish and salmon processors trying to get produce to the nearby European market when tariffs are in place, as currently faced by Norway and Iceland.
Certainly the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has been, and remains, clumsy but we must remember the Herring Fishery was destroyed prior to entry into the CFP. In 1966 record catches were landed but just two years later, almost zero was landed.
Iceland outside CFP has also seen a change in the structure of the fishing community with fewer fishermen employed due to bigger boats and increased mechanisation. The quota system whereby some fishermen have chosen to sell quota out of their communities is also a factor.
Perhaps the LEAVE campaign want to end quotas? We just don’t know from the vagueness of their statements but it would certainly be interesting to hear the views of any wealthy quota owner supporting LEAVE, on whether they want to destroy their quota value. I would not actually be as opposed to this as they might. However, again no clear view from LEAVE.
EU membership allows independent countries to work together on shared aims in arrangements such as the European Arrest Warrant, the European criminal records system and EU-Interpol co-operation that are vital for doing what we can to combat terrorism and other forms of crime.
EU membership has allowed us to work on shared environmental policies which are vital in tackling climate change and has helped in concrete ways such as air quality for example tackling the scourge of acid rain was a direct result of the actions of the EU.
On June 23 it will be your chance to decide where we go from here, a vote to REMAIN is a vote to ensure a stronger future for Scotland.