Lord Jim Wallace: Safer and stronger inside the EU

Picture: PAPicture: PA
Picture: PA
Turning the page and seeing another article about a referendum campaign, readers will be forgiven for experiencing déjà vu. But as minds turn towards the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, voters will face a vital choice for the future of our country. And we must be in no doubt about the magnitude of the choice we face.

As a Liberal Democrat, I have always believed that by working together, countries can achieve more than if they work alone. Britain’s membership of the EU is essential for creating a stronger economy and increases our influence in a more global economy. This has real, tangible benefits for everyone in Scotland.

Being part of the world’s largest market supports jobs and businesses in Scotland. It is estimated that 330,000 Scottish jobs are linked with trade with the EU, and major employers such as BAE Systems, Diageo and Shell have declared that Europe helps Scottish business to thrive and invest.

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In a CBI report published just this week, the Scotch Whisky Association said: “The EU’s single market, including its regulation of food and drink, and single trade policy are central to Scotch whisky’s success, letting us trade across the EU simply and easily.” When perhaps the most iconic Scottish industry says its future will be brightest in Europe, voters should sit up and take notice.

The various “out” campaigns have serially failed to form any kind of convincing vision of what the UK would look like outside Europe. Would we, like Norway, still be subject to EU rules without having any say in making them? Or would we cut ourselves off entirely and force our businesses to pay taxes on every product they sold to Europe? Furthermore, they utterly disregard the possible consequences of exit for working people right across Scotland and the rest of the UK. Pointing out the flaws in Nigel Farage’s arguments is not scaremongering – it is responsible campaigning.

Many of the threats to our security are global in nature, like terrorism, Russian aggression and cross-border crime. Whether it’s implementing sanctions against Russia, sharing intelligence about terrorists or arresting criminals through European Arrest Warrant, being in Europe makes us safer.

Nicola Sturgeon’s promise that she will “campaign positively for Scotland, and the UK, to stay in the European Union” was heartening. Although I disagree with her on many things, she has already exposed Mr Farage’s false prospectus and will do so again during the forthcoming campaign.

Political parties in Scotland, including the SNP, will all campaign in their own way. Because the choice facing Scotland merits it. But Britain Stronger in Europe stands with all of Scotland’s major parties, pro-Union and Nationalist, in backing our membership of the EU.

Europe offers opportunities for people across the country. EU action on climate change will boost the low-carbon industries in which Scotland excels. The Erasmus programme allows students from Aberdeen to study in Athens. And a new CEBR report estimates the EU’s trading agenda could create 790,000 jobs across the UK by 2030. The government is right to seek the best deal for Britain within the EU, and I support them in that effort. But that should not mean we ignore the massive benefits of being in Europe.

Of course the EU isn’t perfect. Which is why we always need to argue for reform. But the fact is that we are stronger, better off and safer in Europe than we would be on the outside.

Lord Wallace is a cross-party champion for Britain Stronger in Europe and leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Lords