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Europe is a complicated beast but we are ready to give voters answers, says Smith

AHEAD of tonight’s big rally marking the Brexit anniversary, we spoke to former SNP MEP and now MP Alyn Smith about Europe, his new role at Westminster and what part the European Union will play in a future referendum

At the end of 2022, former MEP Alyn Smith was appointed as the SNP’s spokesperson for Europe and EU Accession at Westminster. Having a role entirely dedicated to EU accession, Smith explains, communicates clearly that Scotland is serious about re-joining the EU.

“It is quite deliberately a marker for all the folks down here that, yeah, we’re serious about acceding back into the European Union,” he says.

“There’s a real willingness within the [Westminster SNP] group that this needs to be done and this needs to be done well – I can do Europe in a way that nobody else can.”

Smith has been instrumental in forming and developing Scotland’s European relationships – and, in fact, Europe was what got Smith over the line in giving his support for Scottish independence.

“I went to Leeds University then did Erasmus [study abroad programme] at Heidelberg – and Erasmus, of course, was created by Winnie Ewing when she was the president of the Education and Culture Committee of the European Parliament.

“It was based on the old Scottish model of education – that unless you’ve done a spell abroad or wherever you hadn’t got an education; you had to have an international aspect to your education as well. Then I did my Masters at the College of Europe, worked in the Costa Brava for a while, then I worked in Brussels.”

Smith said his family had always been proudly Scottish, looking to Labour for their values, but when in Brussels, the young Scot saw things differently.

“Not long after the Berlin Wall came down, countries way smaller than us, with way less resources than us, were crackling with energy and possibility that the European family of nations was a real environment for them to shine,” he says.

“So, the penny just dropped for me while I was in Brussels in ‘90, ‘95 it would have been … that Scotland should be part of this, and if this is what independence is about, then count me in.

“Before, it was like, ‘OK, that’s nice – but what would it be?’ You know, being a country of five-and-a-half million in the world? That means we’re a smaller voice than we otherwise would be, but a smaller voice within the wider picture of the EU – that works.”

Smith has big plans for his role, one of which is getting the argument for Europe right. In 2014, a vote to remain with the UK meant remaining in the EU – it was claimed – and was one of the biggest Better Together selling points.

READ MORE: The two European citizens strengthening the case for independence

He outright rejects suggestions of partial membership, arguing that full membership is the only way for Scotland to make our lives better.

Smith says: “My job will be getting all the data corralled into a format that allows people to say, ‘Well, if you care about economic development, here’s why the EU’s a good thing. If you care about international trade, here’s why the EU is a good thing. If you care about going to other European countries without the need of a visa, without the need of health insurance, here’s why that’s a good thing.’

“There’s hundreds, thousands of examples as to why getting back into the EU will make your life better, your personal life better – having that as our focus, I think will be a really strong argument, coupled with the domestic aspects of independence and all of our laws not being subject to Tory or Westminster rule, all of our resources going towards what we need, the economic boost that rejoining the EU will have.

“I think it’s a hugely persuasive argument, but we need to get that argument right.”

When asked if the SNP or Yes is prepared to accurately and understandably communicate that to voters, Smith answered: “Yes. Not everybody’s actually into the technical detail, but we need to have answers to that, and we will.”

One way they are doing that is today’s relaunch of the ScotlandinEurope.eu website. The website was live during the EU referendum and Smith described it as a great way to get the information out to voters.

READ MORE: Nine dramatic graphs reveal Brexit’s negative impacts on Scotland

Smith also wants to change the rhetoric around how activists engage when talking about Europe and the EU. To effectively persuade No and undecided voters, a positive prospect of Scotland’s future needs to be painted – Smith himself is no longer using the word “Brexit” and wants to see more energised action like the Time for Scotland rally today.

He said: “This is where I think the rally is really important. Yes, we’ve lost all that comes with being in the EU and that hurts me deeply – but here’s how we get it back, guys. I think that’s a much more positive, energising prospect.

“There’s nothing Scots enjoy more than saying we were robbed and retreating to the pub and licking our wounds, but we can’t do that.

“We have to fight back and we have to fight back with independence in Europe.”


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