"EFA is on your side. We fully support the SNP and the restoration of Scotland´s independence. The referendum on 18 September 2014 was an example of exercising the right to decide in and for your nation, and a unique and inspirational example of democracy in action for the rest of Europe. Scotland and Europe have changed forever. Thank you Scotland, thank you SNP!"
So said Francois Alfonsi, recently elected President of the European Free Alliance Political Party, speaking to a very well attended fringe meeting during the SNP Conference in Perth. The EFA European Political Party has 40 member parties, representing nations and territorial entities with a strong sense of identity that want to have a voice in Europe. EFA member parties have elected representation at local, national or EU level in 17 EU Member States.
Scotland has been the focus of a great deal of political attention across Europe, and around the world, over the referendum campaign period and in the few months since the result was declared. Most of our friends from the various EFA member parties were exceedingly envious of the fact that voters in Scotland had won the opportunity to choose Independence in a legalised and binding democratic vote. Our position was starkly in contrast with the situation in Catalonia, where the Spanish Federal Government, and their Constitutional Court, declared illegal a proposal to have a binding referendum on Catalan statehood and independence.
Our all time record rate of participation, at 85 percent, is also being seen as an inspirational example of what can happen when optimism for the future becomes a part of making a political choice for a nation. And the momentous, post-referendum surge in SNP membership can only be described as awe-inspiring, putting us in a position which other political parties can only dream of, as we prepare for the UK general election next May, and the Scottish General election the following year.
At the time of writing, the Smith Commission has not yet reported on its recommendations for the promised additional powers for further devolution to Scotland. Undoubtedly, the last-minute Unionist vow to deliver substantiallyincreased devolved powers to Scotland affected the referendum result. Past experience of the Westminster attitude to devolution, giving up as little of their power as they can get away with, leads me to doubt their commitment to really meaningful change.
Representation of Scotland's key interests in the European Union remains a vital issue, with many crucially important decisions being thrashed out around the table among Governments at the Council of Ministers meetings. A recent example of the desperation of Westminster to retain that top table seat for the UK Government at all costs, led to an unelected Lord being drafted in to lead an important negotiation on Fisheries while Richard Lochhead, already in Brussels, was forced to sit in the back row and keep quiet! The fact that Richard is the longest serving Fisheries Minister in Europe, and that the coopted Lord had absolutely no prior involvement in the subject, apparently was of no concern to the UK Government.
Within the current EU Member State framework, it is possible to have Ministers from devolved government participating fully at the Council of Ministers. Belgium provides one example, where Ministers from Flanders and Wallonia regularly take the lead for Belgium in policy areas which are devolved. For Scotland to be granted similarly sensible consideration requires the goodwill and agreement of the UK as our current Member State.
It remains a fact that only Independence would guarantee that Scotland would always have the right to be represented at the top table in Europe.