Scotland’s Minister for Europe and International Development Humza Yousaf has warned that a UK exit from the European Union would have massive implications for people across Ireland and Scotland.
Scottish National Party (SNP) Member of the Scottish Parliament Mr Yousaf also said he expected to see another Independence Referendum at some point in the future, after last year’s narrow referendum defeat,
Mr Yousaf was speaking to the ‘Journal’ as he made a brief stop over in Derry on route to Glenties in Donegal, where he was speaking on the possibility of a UK exit at the annual MacGill Summer School.
The 30-year-old politician - one of the most high-profile members of the SNP- said that everything from agriculture to education could be affected on both sides of the border if devolved parts of the UK are dragged towards an EU exit because England voted for it.
British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to hold the in-out referendum by the end of 2017, and Mr Yousaf warned that current polls show it is now a very real possibility.
Coming out of the traps early in the fight against an EU departure, he said: “The last poll I saw had those who wanted to leave the UK at 51% against 49% who wanted to stay. In Scotland. interestingly. the figure was 66% who wanted to stay. It’s incredible because if that figure was borne out on the day, then Scotland would have to leave the European Union not because they voted to, but because the rest of the United Kingdom did.
“It’s worrying, I don’t think there is much in it at all. Any think tank I have spoken to tells you there is only a margin of error of 3% in it.”
He said that given what was at stake, even the Irish Government and others who stayed neutral on the Scottish Independent Referendum were now urging that the UK stay.
The European Union has been one of the prime funders of infrastructure and projects across the north west of Ireland, and has in many cases been instrumental in ensuring projects such as the Peace Bridge, City of Derry Airport, the Foyle Bridge, and the recently unveiled Greencastle Pontoon Tourism initiative came about.
Mr Yousaf said that rural Scotland, particularly the Highlands, have also benefited a lot from EU structural funds.
“The economy is huge, you are talking about 500 million people, the consumer base; 20 million businesses; free trade. 46% of Scottish exports go to Republic of Ireland. It is our biggest export market for food, which is huge. We are talking about £12.9 billion worth of exporting into Ireland alone, that’s just from Scotland. 6,000 jobs in Scotland rely on Irish investment.
“We have got to be honest about it, it would be wrong for politicians to say, well if the UK left it could no longer trade with Europe, with Ireland. Of course it could, but it makes things more difficult, it puts barriers in the way where there doesn’t have to be barriers.
“Frankly it just sends across the wrong message, an isolationist message about putting up barriers as opposed to embracing the world.”
He added that the EU membership was also necessary for education, farming and fishery industries. “Also, I would say energy with Northern Ireland and Republic,” he said. “We are already working on a number of projects where we can connect our renewable energy projects together for the benefit of new innovative, renewable technology for Europe. There’s a hell of a lot that binds us.”
Mr Yousaf said that the most worrying aspect of debate around Europe has been the characterisation of migration.
He said that improving the way migration is handled within the EU “doesn’t require holding a gun to Europe’s head and threatening to walk away”.
“We call those that leave the UK ex-pats and we call those coming into the UK immigrants,” he said.
“It’s actually the way the debate is framed- for every Polish plumber that comes to the UK there’s a Brit sunning themselves on the Costa Del Sol, or there’s a British engineer in Germany or a British student studying in a university in France, but you never talk about them in the same way.
“My biggest fear amongst the whole debate is the anti-European feeling seems to be a lightning rod for everything politicians want to blame things on, if they don’t have the answers themselves.
“It is a great way of blaming, whether its straight bananas or the metric system, whatever it is, they will make it Europe’s fault and immigration is the number one bogeyman of the day.
“We come from the Scottish government perspective, we are very positive about the contribution migrants have made, none more so than Irish migration. From the Republic you are talking about 55,000 people who migrate from Ireland to Scotland, which is about a third of all EU citizens coming to Scotland, and their contribution has been massive, from culture through to economy and I was saying to my colleagues here, from a biased perspective even in sports, being a big Celtic fan- I’ve still got my Packie Bonner poster, probably in the loft now.”
Mr Yousaf’s party is now making its presence felt in the corridors of Westminster as well as in Scotland following its sweeping annihilation of the opposition in the General Election.
Mr Yousaf said it has been an “incredible few months” adding that in leader, Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor, Alex Salmond, the party had a second consecutive “incredible leader”.
“We have by far the best leader in the United Kingdom. We present a very different face and a very youthful face. You have Marie Black, the MP, 20 years old, who made a Maiden Speech which has now had 10.5million views already,” he said.
Interest from people across the North of Ireland to the last, narrowly defeated Scottish Independence Referendum was “incredible, Mr Yousaf said, adding that there will “certainly” be another Referendum.
“I don’t doubt it for a moment,” he said. “When it will happen is the million dollar question every journalist wants to know and a fair whack of Scottish society wants to know, but nobody has the answer.
“Nicola Sturgeon has been quite clear on this- there would have to be quite a measurable change in circumstances for one to come along. If Scotland can be dragged outside the European Union against its will, if that was to happen there would be a clamour of people who would say we want to remain part of the European Union; this is an unfair circumstance. “Let’s see what happens.”