“My team and I have been told by the travel agency that they cannot book our flights for next April’s plenary session in Strasbourg as nobody knows if British representatives will be still in office” as MEPs should the United Kingdom exit the European Union. “Feelings of insecurity here are for real. It’s a psychological torture”, said Alyn Smith, Scottish Member of Parliament in the Group of the Greens in this interview with SIR, while waiting to know from Strasbourg what will become of him, of Scotland and of the United Kingdom. His speech at the European Assembly of March 27 garnered major attention and was commended by many parliamentarians: “the best Brexit is no Brexit”, he said. “Everyone thinks that MEPs will be spared. That’s not true, we will be the first to be sacrificed”; for the people, Brexit will be an “unimaginable self-inflicted disaster.” Smith compared this “dangerous moment in the United Kingdom” to the climate in ex-Jugoslavia, “although I exclude acts of violence in Scotland.” But Brexit poses a real risk for Ireland. As he speaks, Smith’s attention is partly extended to London, where important changes could occur with regard to British politics and Brexit.
Are you worried about this situation?
I am extremely worried about what his happening. Every day I receive emails from Italians in Scotland or of Scots in Italy, from British citizens living in Countries across the European Union, from people seriously concerned about their future and their daily life. I share their concerns. I also have many uncertainties about my role here. Westminster is not addressing the matter seriously and it is not taking decisions. A no-deal Brexit is a possibility that could even happen by mistake. Now we need to see some seriousness on the part of British MPs.
Why is it so difficult to complete the final stage of withdrawal from the EU?
It’s difficult because PM Theresa May has made a basic mistake by triggering Article 50 before having developed a proposal, before her party had agreed on what kind of relationship they wanted with the EU. From Scotland we look at Iceland, Norway, and we know there are other ways of interacting with the EU, but this requires knowing what you want when sitting at the negotiating table, otherwise negotiations risk becoming a disaster, which is what has happened in the past two years. The Scottish government has tried to reach a compromise solution with Ms May and her Conservative party, but they rejected our efforts on every occasion. And now we are in the shameful situation whereby two days before Britain’s exit day the people still don’t have a clear picture of what is going to happen with their lives. What could happen is that the UK will leave the EU, but what will happen after that is still an open question. This is deplorable.
Would a new referendum change the situation?
I think a lot has changed since the 2016 referendum. In Scotland we would certainly again vote to remain in the EU, with approximately 75% in favour of this option. Wales has changed its mind and also in England we have seen many people regret their decision to leave. Many promises made during the pro-Brexit referendum campaign have not been fulfilled and never will: you cannot have the same benefits of an EU member if you no longer are a member. Either you are in the club or you are not. And if you are not in the club your relations are bound to be different. I think that many people have changed their minds. Five million people have signed the petition asking the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50. Last week one million people took to the streets of London. The climate has changed. A second referendum could be a way to overcome this standstill.
Why are the Scottish people so fond of the EU?
On the occasion of our independence referendum of 2014 there were lively debates in Scotland focused on the very issue of independence, on our place and our role in the world. Ours is a Country of over five and a half million people, slightly larger than Ireland, similar to the population of Denmark, Sweden and Finland. We are a European country and we want to be Europeans. We know what it means to live on the periphery of the continent, to export so many of our people as we did in the course of our history. We appreciate freedom of movement, international solidarity, and 62% of our people made it clear with their vote of June 2016 in all of our regions, cities, rural areas and islands. We all voted to remain and we intend to remain in the European Union. If we should be sent away against our will then independence could be the way to re-enter. Scottish independence is back on the table.