HELLO again from Strasbourg, where your three SNP MEPs – along with our advisers and teams – are getting on with representing Scotland in Europe. It could be my final time here (of this session anyway … like I said before, there’s a lot of sympathy and understanding here for an independent Scotland), but there’s no time for nostalgia in the plenary session. Barely time to blink, really, with MEPs charging up and down the corridors for meetings and briefings, then back to the chamber for debates and the all-important votes.
First published in The National, 27 November 2019
For those of us who don’t get speaking time, we can put in written explanations of our votes, so you might see MEPs tapping away in the background or slipping out of a debate to do some more research on an issue. Sometimes the chamber looks half empty during the debates, but that means some MEPs are watching it in their offices while working on their own speeches and voting lists. Others are in group meetings and committee meetings where a lot of the work is done before voting takes place. The chamber is always full for voting! In Strasbourg – if you’re doing it properly – you rarely have any time to spare.
This week is a particularly hectic one, with debates running on until 11pm for most of the session, but Aileen McLeod has already got the MEP group off to a flying start thanks to her contribution to Monday’s climate change debate. Despite only being elected as MEP this summer, Aileen has consistently been at the forefront of the climate action movement in the parliament, whether it’s representing us at the UN Climate Action Summit earlier this year, or urging the European Commission to do more, to be more ambitious with their climate action targets, to refuse to rest on its laurels.
Nobody should be left behind as Europe moves to combat climate change at a structural level, and this is an area that can be too easily overlooked when policymakers whip up their grand plans. As Aileen says, any proposed Green Deal would not only have to recognise the urgency and sheer scale of the climate emergency, but also promote the wellbeing of people and planet. The Scottish Government has already declared a climate emergency, and Aileen is over in the EU institutions, showing them why Europe should do the same. I’ve seen the stacks of binders and papers piled on her desk, so perhaps the Commission should just give in now.
I’m writing this after seeing Oleg Sentsov, the 2018 Sakharov Prize Laureate, finally collect his award after being released from a penal colony in Siberia. As you may remember, Sentsov organised humanitarian aid and helped to evacuate families during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and soon found himself in Russia, undergoing what Amnesty International called “an extremely cynical show trial”. Now, two months after being released under a Russia-Ukraine prisoner exchange, he’s being applauded in Brussels. The prize is conferred on individuals and groups every year in recognition of their defence of human rights and freedom of thought, with at least five going on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. It reminds us that the EU is not just an economic trading bloc, but a powerful political actor, one that can stand up to dictators and support human rights across the globe.
We’ve also just adopted a resolution calling for more action to fight violence against children, including forced marriage, female genital mutilation and trafficking, as well as getting ready to vote on EU accession to the Istanbul Convention to combat gender-based violence. The convention is a legally binding international instrument that means governments must take all necessary legal and political action to stop violence against women and girls in all its forms – whether that’s domestic abuse, stalking, FGM or sexual assault – and “action” in this context includes protecting funding for domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centres, and counselling.
Tomorrow, MEPs will be voting on a resolution that urges these states to ratify (ie, make it law) right away, because seven member states have yet to do so, including the UK. The Istanbul Convention is just one of the areas where the SNP has been active across all the parliaments. I wrote to the European Commission asking for support for an EU-wide ratification of the treaty; Angela Constance MSP tried to get a clear timetable from the UK Government on the ratification process, and during her time as an MP, Dr Eilidh Whiteford took matters into her own hands and lodged a Private Members’ Bill to get the convention through the UK Parliament.
I won’t go through the entire session vote by vote – there’s not enough space in one column to address the EU Solidarity Fund provision assistance to Greece, the situation in the Middle East, or interference from other countries in our elections, let alone Airbus, the UN Climate Change Conference and the 2020 Budget! But if you’re interested, you can follow the agenda and watch proceedings live on europarl.europa.eu, as well as following your SNP MEPS – Aileen McLeod, Christian Allard, and me – on social media and via our weekly email bulletin.
The past few years have shown that there is a genuine Scotland-wide interest in the workings of the EU and what MEPs are doing as your representatives, and I’d like to think we’re rising to the occasion. This is the first time we’ve had three SNP MEPs, and it comes at the single most important point in Scottish-EU relations. We’re influencing policy, building working relationships across European governments, and laying the groundwork for an independent Scotland in the EU. How’s that for “getting on with the day job”?