PEOPLE in Scotland want to have their say on whether the UK should be part of the European Union, Tory leader Ruth Davidson insisted as she launched the Conservative campaign for this month’s Euro elections.
While SNP politicians claim the Tory pledge to hold an in/out referendum on EU membership is the “real threat” to Scotland’s place in Europe, Ms Davidson said the majority of SNP voters want the issue to be put to the test in a ballot.
She also likened Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (Ukip) - which is campaigning for Britain to leave the EU - to the SNP, claiming both parties use “anti-Westminster rhetoric” for political ends.
A UK-wide poll on Sunday gave Ukip a three-point lead for this month’s European election with support of 29 per cent, ahead of Labour on 26 per cent and the Conservatives on 23 per cent.
But Ms Davidson suggested Mr Farage’s party would not do as well north of the border.
“We may see a moderate increase in Ukip support in Scotland,” she said. “But I think Nigel Farage has seen when he’s been trying to campaign north of the border that his party has come somewhat late to things, in terms of looking for a niche for a bellicose, nationalist voice to be anti-Westminster and pedal in some grievance. That role has already been filled, I would have suggested.”
She added that “in terms of anti-Westminster rhetoric and using that for political ends I think there is a similarity there” between Ukip and the SNP.
The Tory leader insisted it is her party that is in line with public opinion on Europe.
She stated: “We’ve already seen from polling that was done last year that the majority of people in Scotland want an in/out referendum, and that includes both a majority of SNP voters and Labour Party voters.
“We’ve also seen in terms of the Scottish social attitudes study that was done last year that we have the most popular position, in terms of 40% of people wanting reduced powers for Brussels, 20% of people wanted out, 25% thought it was about right and the rest wanted more.
“So in terms of where the people of Scotland are on this, that’s exactly where the Scottish Conservatives are.”
Ms Davidson stressed: “I want Scotland and the UK to stay in the European Union - but the EU needs reform.
“Bottling that challenge - as both the SNP and Labour are doing - is to ignore the wishes of voters, and means the necessary change that will help Europe prosper will not come about.”
But she said: “None of that will happen if the SNP rip Scotland out of the UK. We would lose all the hard won deals that guarantee benefits to us right now, such as our rebate, our opt-out from the euro, and VAT exemptions on goods like children’s clothes.”
She warned the independence referendum would “decide whether we can forge a new UK-wide deal with Europe, or whether we have to join the queue to get in”.
For that reason, Tory candidates in the May 22 European Parliament elections will appear on the ballot paper beside the slogan “Scottish Conservatives - No to Independence”, in a bid to make clear they believe staying in the UK is the best way of influencing reform in Europe.
Ms Davidson said: “It’s a clear choice - a vote for the Scottish Conservatives at these elections is a vote to keep our UK family of nations together, so we can change Europe for the better.”
At present the Conservatives has one Scottish MEP - Struan Stevenson - who is stepping down at this election, while both Labour and the SNP have two and the Liberal Democrats have one.
Ian Duncan, who worked in Europe for seven years as head of the Scottish Parliament’s office in Brussels, is the lead Conservative candidate bidding to take Mr Stevenson’s place in the European Parliament.
He claimed Mr Farage was “being slightly disingenuous” in the campaign, adding: “He’s telling people to vote Ukip for change, but if you want to achieve change, that change will be brought about at a general election.”
Mr Duncan added: “Scots want reform, a renegotiation of our relationship with Europe. And that is what Conservatives stand for - change, and then choice in a referendum.”