The EU elections on 23 May present a real opportunity to stop the chaos of Brexit, writes Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate Sheila Ritchie.
In summer 2016, it seemed impossible to think that we would ever vote in another European election. Nigel Farage and co stood triumphant, overturning decades of Britain at the heart of Europe.
Before too long though, the wheels started to come off the Leave campaign’s bright red bus.
The Liberal Democrats were the first party to call for a final say on the Brexit vote because we recognised the scale of what we stood to lose. And we knew a self-interested and selfish Conservative party could never deliver on the promises of the Leave campaign. Even now the Cabinet cannot agree amongst themselves what Brexit actually means.
But the chaos is not restricted to the Conservative party. Scotland deserves better than independence-obsessed SNP politicians in Edinburgh and ineffective Labour politicians in London.
This election can change things.
Over the past three years, Scottish Liberal Democrats have battled and cajoled to give the public the final say. It took more than two years of our pestering to get the Scottish Government to back a People’s Vote. In that time, the campaign has gone from a tiny spark to a movement that reaches millions.
I am a passionate European and I believe that we are better off working with our close partners. That’s why I campaigned so hard to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, and now why I feel so strongly about the United Kingdom in Europe.
My party wants close ties with our neighbours, not new barriers and broken partnerships. We passionately believe in a United Kingdom that’s open, tolerant and international in outlook.
People voted in 2016 for a whole raft of reasons. Whatever happens, we cannot go back to a stale old politics.
But, across the UK, opinions have changed. People have seen the damage that Brexit has done to our fruit farmers, watching their produce wither on the vine.
We have seen the damage done to our universities, unable to recruit the best international staff. And we have seen that Brexit is bad for the NHS, with a third of EU doctors in Scotland thinking of leaving.
What’s more a whole new generation of voters have come of age, who are passionate about our European future and don’t want to see it slip away. The damage of Brexit is clearer.
Theresa May’s Brexit plans have been rejected by parliament time and time again, Jeremy Corbyn wants to staple a red rose to her Brexit plan and try again and the SNP wants to use it to jumpstart the shambling corpse of another independence referendum.
What are you getting if you vote for any of them? More of the same division and disruption.
If you are a pro-European in the Labour party realising your leader is never going to put his whole weight behind a People’s Vote or a Scottish Conservative who liked Ruth Davidson more when she stood onstage and honestly warned of the damage that Brexit would do, there is an alternative here for you.
Send them a message that it doesn’t have to be like this.
Even if the Prime Minister were to get her deal through, the chaos would not end there. Trade negotiations and Tory leadership wrangling will dominate the political agenda for the next decade. Liberal Democrats demand better.
People did not expect the level of division that we have seen. They are fed up with Brexit and listening to all the arguments. It has divided our country and damaged our economy for long enough. It is fair to let people have the opportunity to make it stop. We can move on and begin to tackle the real problems facing Scots every day, whether that be mental health and education so that everyone can play their part, have a decent job and afford their own home, or the existential threats of pollution and climate change facing our planet and wildlife.
None of this will be easier if we leave the EU. What’s more, we have friends and allies in Europe who are clear that if we want, we can change our minds.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve been a partner in a law firm, a council leader in the North East and I’ve spent years working with small start-up businesses and entrepreneurs. The people and the businesses that I speak to are quite clear: Brexit threatens to do irreparable damage to our economy and our way of life.
I am thrilled to be leading the fight to secure Lib Dem MEPs who will be passionate voices for Scotland in the European Parliament. My fellow Scottish Liberal Democrat candidates include teachers, EU citizens and community activists. We are like you and we recognise that ultimately, what started with democracy should end with democracy. The Government should trust the people to find the way forward.
For too long the country has been wracked with worry and uncertainty. Two years ago, the people of Scotland looked like they might never vote in a European election again. This time we need to make the most of it. Vote Lib Dem and we can make the division stop.
Sheila Ritchie is in first place on the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate list for the European elections on 23 May.