OpenSpace Q&A with Alyn Smith MEP talking about his campaign for SNP Depute leadership and more!

Maxine Blane

All the questions and answers from the OpenSpace Q&A with SNP Depute candidate Alyn Smith MEP

MEP and SNP depute leadership candidate Alyn Smith was online answering questions on Wednesday 28 September between 3-5pm in the third of our Q&A sessions with candidates standing for depute leadership of the SNP. Although ballots for the position closed last Wednesday (20 September), the results of the depute leadership contest will not be announced until the SNP conference in mid-October. Smith currently serves as a full member of the foreign affairs committee in the European Parliament and has been a leading voice in the post-Brexit debate on Scotland in Europe. Smith was answering questions about his campaign to be depute leader, his work representing Scotland in Europe and more.

If you missed it, don’t panic: We’ve collated all the questions and answers below, and they are also available to download as a document over on the OpenSpace page on CommonSocial. We’ll be uploading all the Q&A sessions hosted on OpenSpace to CommonSpace, and as downloadable documents that you can use as resources to share or start a discussion, so even if you can’t be online when a discussion is happening you can still get involved.

Join the OpenSpace page on CommonSocial now to make sure that you stay up-to-date with all the upcoming guests and what they’ll be talking about. If you’re not on CommonSocial, our editor Angela Haggerty has written a wee guide on how to sign up, and once you’re on you can join OpenSpace, or any other space you have an interest in and get a discussion started!

Alyn Smith

Hi I'm Alyn, hello 🙂

Q: Angela Haggerty

Hello! Right, to kick off Alyn, settle an office argument here at CommonSpace – which is better: tea or coffee?

A: Alyn

Tea. Or coffee. Depending upon the time of day and individual tastes of the individual, all of which are equally valid 

A: Angela

Typical bloody politician 

Q: Nathaneal Williams

Heartbroken…surely it should have been. "Coffee. Or tea?" 🙂

A: Alyn

If there's more votes in saying it that way then I'm up for it 

Q: Rab Hay

Hey Alyn how are you?
When do you think the next referendum will be held, how much works owe still have do to rectify where we failed last time? When do you think article 50 will be invoked and his will that and the eventual Brexit affect our goal of Independence?

A: Alyn

Hi Rab, for the moment I think we need to keep all options on the table, and not tie our hands on timetables given so much is in flux. I'm quoted in a Sunday Herald piece on that from a few Sunday's ago.

When Article 50 will be triggered is all very interesting, but I don't think it should too much influence our timetable. We need to reasure the people of Scotland we'll do what is best for Scotland in any scanrio, prepare for any scenario, make sure our friends and allies across the EU know what is going on in Scotland, and be ready to move fast when we need to.

Q: Scott Glen

Hi Alyn,
If the UK government does not trigger article 50 anytime soon do you think that the EU will take matters into their own hands? If so what are the mechanisms to remove the UK from the union and do you think this is a likely scenario?

A: Alyn

The only honest answer is "it depends" but I'd rule nothing out. I spoke in Parliament week before last adding my voice to the plea for more time (video here):

As I think it is fair that the UK be givne more time to prepare given the shameful lack of perparation that went before, but that goodwill can't last forever and if Boris Johnson and the rest keep making stupid comments then the view of the 27 may well be "well if you're going, go".

The text of the Treaty is not a great deal of help. It only says the member state seeking to leave shall "inform" the Council (the other member states). Arguably (and it'll be a cracking one for the lawyers) the then Prime Minister David Cameron did "inform" the Council verbally, when he reported the resuilt of the referendum at the meeting immediately post the vote.

A: Rab

Thanks for the answer Alyn, so much seems up in the air just now, I think when article 50 is invoked it will become somewhat clearer, but much work needs to be done so we are ready to go.

A: Alyn

Aye, there's lots of people hoping for clarity when Article 50 is invoked, but to my mind the clarity will come when the 27 respond to its invocation and the UK government realises that in fact 27 is a bigger number than 1…

Q: Craig Dalzell

Hi Alyn.
One of my particular concerns regarding independence and EU membership is that the prospect of Scotland having to formally leave the EU along with the UK and then having to negotiate fresh EU membership post-independence.

Do you think there's any prospect or appetite among your EU colleagues to agree some kind of deal which would preserve our continuity of EU membership or to make re-entry an easier or smoother process?

A: Alyn

Hi Craig, at the moment I'd rule nothing out, nor in. I've spent a lot of time looking at "Status" within the EU, as well as the narrower defined concept of "Membership" and I do think there are ways in which, given goodwill and common sense we can reach an accommodation that works.

Q: Craig

Thank Alyn.
You've mentioned goodwill. Are you able to comment on how much goodwill there is in the EU towards Scotland?
What do our European neighbours think of our situation and how the UK is dealing with (or not dealing with) the Brexit vote?

A: Alyn

To paraphrase almost everybody from Lord Palmerston to De Gaulle, to Kissinger, "countries don't have friends, they have interests". There is a lot of goodwill for Scotland, but we must be very sensitive to the implications of what we are looking to do and how it will impact upon the other member states, each and every one of which will have a say on our future status whatever it is. That is why I have put myself forward for Depute, we need to maintain a hard focus on them and how the fast evolving situation impacts upon their interests.

If you’d like to be involved in future Q&A sessions, head over to OpenSpace now!

Q: CommonSpace

We've had a question through from twitter user '@calumiller', who asks:

‘Where is the @scotgov plan for using powers repatriated from Brussels?’

A: Alyn

I'll be happy to tell him if he can tell me the UK government's plan for devolving them.

There is zero certainty on any of this, I am not part of the Scottish government, and for my part I am going to keep all options open for all scenarios.

Q: Max Quaye

Hi Alyn,
I should caveat my question first. I’m Swedish, and I don’t really have a position on Scottish independence. I don’t feel it’s proper that I have an expressed opinion as a foreign national. I just think the Scottish story is the most interesting part of the whole Brexit. Anyway, on to my question…

It seems very difficult to convey the depths of feeling about our commitment to Freedom of Movement to many people in the UK. For instance, my country, Sweden, have one thousand subsidiaries in the UK because the UK is a natural first step in expansion into the EU.

Our people learn English from age 10, and it’s natural to study in the UK, and to start an EU expansion there when our companies have outgrown the home market. However, a hard brexit would essentially kill the expansion strategy of those one thousand subsidiaries. It would erect a hard wall between those companies and their main market.

What are you doing to convey to your eurosceptical voters the strength of feeling about freedom of movement from many parts of the rest of the EU, particularly from countries like mine?

A: Alyn

Thanks Max, yes, the way in which freedom of movement was so deliberately misrepresented during the referendum campaign by the Leave side was a disgrace and will have long term consequences, shame on them. In Scotland we do have a different debate on this, our view of Scottish is "do you live here?" and EU nationals had a vote in the 2014 independence referndum. I think it is this very point which will be the biggest difference, philosophically and practically, between the UK and Scottish positions.

Q: Max

Thanks for your reply! 🙂 I'm still in Sweden, though I hope to go to Scotland shortly! In these things, it's better to be polite and diplomatic toward all sides. You didn't really answer my question though.

What are you doing to convey to your eurosceptical voters the strength of feeling about freedom of movement from many parts of the rest of the EU, particularly from countries like mine? You quoted Lord Palmerston in another comment, and it's in our national interest to not hinder trade.

A: Rab Hay

If there is a Brexit before the next referendum the EU nationals may not have a vote unfortunately.

A: Alyn

I speak for and to the people of Scotland, where, as I outline above, we don't have a problem with freedom of movement. I have no traction with the UK government. I share your concern for the long term reputational damge to the UK, and believe that Scotland can and will do better by differentiating ourselves from a politics we have clearly rejected.

Rab thats a fair point, but there's an "if" and a "may" in the sentence suggesting that scenario. I don't think anything in this is inevitable.

Q: Max

Again, thank you for your reply. Another question, if I may.

There were about a million leave voters in Scotland, which is a sizable chunk of the Scottish population. Would a compromise of EFTA membership be something you’d consider, rather than a full EU membership? Particularly since Norway and Scotland would, possibly, have a lot of shared interests in the North Sea and in fisheries?

A: Alyn

Scotland was unanimous across all local authority areas, and voted 62% to Remain, so that is our starting point. Beyond that, I would rule nothing out, nor in. Brexit has not even started to happen yet, so I see nothing to be gained in writing off any option, however unlikely.

Q: Max

Thank you for your reply, again! Another matter completely, which you as an MEP could have a view on.

The EU has some competency in the status and protection of indigenous people. The EU’s only official indigenous people are the Sami. Under Article 6 of the TFEU the EU has a role to protect these vulnerable groups.

Often, Gaelic speakers appear to be under the same pressure as the Sami to assimilate into the majority culture, and the same rhetoric are used against them as are used against Sami language support.

Would you consider working to protect Gaelic speakers and the Gaelic language under the EU competencies that do exist?

A: Alyn

The EU competence on this is very limited, and it is far more the responsibility of the member state. I have long worked to support minority languages and indigenous peoples within such powers as the EU actually effectively has.

Q: Max

Thanks! Would you be interested in expanding EU competencies in this area, given that national governments are often reluctant to get involved? 

A: Alyn

No, I think the EU's problem is that it has been too quick to claim powers it cannot in practice do much with, and hence in many areas promised much but not delivered, leading to a general cynicism about the EU as a whole.

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Q: David Jamieson

Hi Alyn,
One of the SNP's red lines on Scotland's continued relationship with the EU is access to the European single market.

How does this sit with the SNP's social democratic credentials? The single market represents the kind of globalised, free market economics that have done so much damaged working class communities in Scotland, the kinds of communities that voted for Yes in overwhelming numbers.

Isn't the SNP and the independence movement endangering that support with this policy?

A: Alyn

No. And that description is a gross misrepresentation. Go to Denmark, Sweden, Finland or elsewhere and it is clear the EU rules are capable of a great degree of interpretation. Our problem has been a UK that for 40 years has taken advantage of the single market to lower standards in our dealings with the market, while taking every opportunity to remove or weaken them at home.

Q: JY Chen

Hey Alyn, just wanna say you look really confident in every debate. Very handsome and charismatic. 

I'm a native Taiwanese. I've been to Scotland two years ago and the beauty there has been imprinted in my mind ever since. I'm really rooting for Scottish independence. I just wonder how would Scotland maintain its relationship with non-EU countries if the independence really happens?

A: Alyn

Hello, why thank you!

Scotland is internatinally known, English speaking, in the 'middle' timezone globally, with a cultural footprint from trade and Empire that other countries would give their eye teeth for. Not bad for a country of 5.5million! We will be able, independent, to join the fora of the world, speaking with our own voice and working with our allies, and within the EU ensure that we are part of the biggest single market in the world. We'll have diplomatic, trade and cultural missions like any other country to help achieve this.

Q: Rab Hay

Alyn have you noticed a palpable change in opinion from the EU towards Scottish Independence since the Brexit vote?
Do you feel having the Depute leader of the SNP working in Brussels would be more advantageous to the cause of Independence?

A: Alyn

Yes, I think doors are open to us now in earnest, but we need to maintain focus on the issues. By choosing me as Depute the Party can prove to ourselves and the people of Scotland that we choose Europe as our future, Westminster is our past.

Q: David Inglis

Do you think it's right to have another referendum on EU membership? How much of our trade is done in the EU?

Also what are your plans after your impending redundancy post brexit?

A: Alyn

I'm uncomfortable with the idea of referendums being rerun or second guessed, because it would establish a poor precedent for a future independence referendum, and besides, we won in Scotland.

My own plans have not yet formed. Meantime I've a job to do, a job I asked for, and a job that is important to a lot of people.


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