We've heard the extremists – now let's have sensible debate on EU

AYES vote in Ireland's referendum on 12 June will almost certainly see the Lisbon treaty becoming law in 2009. Despite Gordon Brown's assertions, this treaty is little altered from the 2004 constitutional treaty, heralding important changes in the way the European Union is run and the policies over which it has competence.

While it is lamentable that Mr Brown has denied the public any genuine opportunity systematically to debate the provisions of the Lisbon treaty, the time is right to think afresh about how we in Scotland engage in EU-level policy discussions. Currently, what passes for public involvement on the EU is instead little more than assertion and counter-assertion from Eurosceptic and Europhile extremists alike – one decrying the EU and its policies in all their manifestations, the other uncritically endorsing every move towards "more" Europe.

The time has come for Scots to have an opportunity to participate in discussions on EU policies and treaty reforms that are rooted in facts, rather than half-truths, spin and outright lies.

One way to address this is to establish in Scotland a consultative "National Forum on Europe" that would provide a non-partisan focus for a new and informed debate over EU matters that have a major impact on the lives of Scots. Not only would this enhance Scotland's voice in Europe, it would also go far to reverse the sense of detachment that most Scots feel towards the EU.

The EU is part of our domestic governance, and creating a national forum would give the people of Scotland a greater stake in that governance.

Such a forum would provide an opportunity for all those with a professional or political interest or expertise in EU matters to engage with the public and other stakeholders on questions relating to prospective EU policy, including treaty reform. By reconnecting the public with EU issues in this way, the power of narrow-interest groups and lobbyists would be diminished. Most importantly, a national forum on Europe would empower the Scottish public to decide for themselves the pros and cons of prospective EU policies, and ultimately what type of EU they want.

Ireland established such a forum in 2001 following the rejection of the Nice Treaty in a referendum, and it is widely recognised as having raised public awareness and understanding of EU issues.

Similarly, Norway established its own forum in 2006; it is not an EU member state but an EU neighbour profoundly affected by EU policies. A Scottish forum could operate in a number of formats and convene in different places, depending on the issue under discussion.

With a new and far-reaching policy-reform agenda unfolding in Brussels in which Scotland has a direct and distinctive interest (eg, energy, climate change, justice and home affairs, and cohesion policy), we need to think imaginatively about how to reconnect the people of Scotland with EU processes and policies. Creating a national forum is the best way of achieving this.

&#149 Dr Aileen McLeod writes in a personal capacity.

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