By James Calder
Last night two of the Dunfermline Liberal Democrats (Aude Boubaker and myself) attended a Q&A event hosted by the European Movement in Scotland. The panel was made up of speakers of various different backgrounds who all were united in their belief that Scotland and Britain are stronger in Europe. The chair was Derek Hammersley, and the speakers included Alyn Smith MEP, Professor Frank Müller, John Purvis CBE and our own Party Leader, Willie Rennie MSP.
The evening began with opening statements from each of the panellists followed by opening to the floor for a Q&A session. One of the themes running throughout the evening was to explain the reasons for staying the EU based on facts and good reasoning, which seemed to resonate well with the audience who wanted to look beyond the increasingly sensationalist media coverage of the campaign.
The first speech came from Professor Müller, a history academic from St Andrews University who originally came from Germany before becoming a naturalised British citizen. He provided a thoughtful speech, showing that his experiences of moving to the UK, marrying a British citizen and raising a family itself showed the benefits of cooperation. His academic focus is on nationalism, which also gave him further impetus to support the EU project which in his view, helped to show that people from the different member states have much in common but not always the same – we share the same tolerances of religion, concern for the environment but we also still have our different national customs which the EU does not seek to change. He also argued against the claims of the EU attempting to be a superstate, in that 99% of UK tax collection is done nationally, and that if it was a superstate, it was a ‘strangely shy one.’
John Purvis came next, providing an insight from a former Conservative MEP. He mentioned the first 7 years of his life were in war, followed by living in Hamburg for 2 years which had suffered from the devastating effects of the war. He argued the EU provided a movement for peace by pooling sovereignty. He recollected his friendship he gained with MEPs from across the EU, making the point “could anyone have imagined this in 1945?” Going on to discuss that the EU is the biggest economy and trading bloc in the world, the UK would have less strength if we left, and could destabilise both the UK and world economy, as well making us weaker compared to adventurist powers in the East such as Russia and ISIS. Finally he showed that the EU has a democratic structure, due to it having elected Ministers and the democratically elected EU Parliament making its decisions.
Willie Rennie was next on the podium, helping to put forward the strongly Pro-EU Lib Dem position. He indicated his delight that we had a cross-party effort to remain in the EU. He also feels this is an opportunity to express who we are and what we want to achieve in this world. While he mentions the material benefits such as more jobs, the European Health Insurance card, the fact we can move feely across Europe, peace and prosperity as well as the EU arrest warrant, he went on to make the emotional case for us to stay. For him, it is about who we are, whether we are a country looking out and not in. A country that trusts our neighbours, mentioning together we can achieve so much more. Or are we going to hark back to previous generations, to the colonial period? For Willie is about the future. He quotes the late Charles Kennedy, who had multiple identities, a “Highlander, Scottish, British and European.” He also makes the point that there are people in Scotland who are thinking of voting to leave, and we need to do a lot more to get out there and persuade people of why we are better being part of the EU.
The speeches ended with Alyn Smith MEP, who represented the SNP showing that even across the independence divide there is consensus we are better off in Europe.
We then moved onto questions, which broached various topics such as the economy, trade, democracy and bureaucracy. In general there was a fair amount of consensus, although at times some on the Panel (not Willie fortunately) went a bit too Party-political for my taste. I asked a question how leaving the EU would affect our trade both inside and outside the EU, with Willie Rennie answering that it cannot be any better than it is now, and a good chance it could get worse. The Panel were in agreement, with Professor Müller mentioning we will not see any improvements but could also be seen as in break of contracts with our trade agreements with states outside the EU. Aude also asked about EU citizens from other countries like herself, who are excluded from voting, could be affected. The answers tended show the panel were sympathetic to her situation and also that they could not answer her question fully right now as they don’t know.
The evening was an interesting and informative night and certainly provided better information than what the media has been reporting. There is another such evening taking place tomorrow in Dunfermline at 7.00pm at the Dell Farquharson Centre, Nethertown Broad Street. Although Willie Rennie will not be there it should be another interesting and informative evening.