IT MAY be a new year but that does not halt the cycle of an eternal truth in political life: that what goes around, comes around.
Alyn Smith, the Scottish Nationalist MEP, has lost no time in raising (again) the issue of Scotland’s participation in the high councils of the European Union. The call has been inspired by the accession of Latvia, a country with a population of two million people, to the presidency of the EU Council. And in June, it will then hand over to tiny Luxembourg, which has a population smaller than Glasgow’s.
Mr Smith says this year’s EU presidencies demonstrate that small nations can “punch well above their weight on the international stage”, and he insists Scotland’s five million citizens should have their own voice.
But several points need to be taken into account here. And they need to be stated again even though they were aired at length in the independence referendum.
Latvia and Luxembourg are in a position to take their turn with the revolving presidency of the EU Council because they are independent nations and have been accepted as such by other members of the European Union. Scotland, while already enjoying a significant measure of devolution and set fair to see these powers expanded, is not an independent nation and therefore not eligible.
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This state of affairs was upheld in a referendum to determine Scotland’s constitutional status held barely four months ago. And while the referendum was fiercely fought, the outcome of the poll was a clear majority in favour of Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom. This was no “stolen” or “pipsqueak” result but the verdict of the country’s voters on a turnout of 84.6 per cent.
Support for independence was high, but support for remaining within the UK higher still. In arriving at this verdict, the majority of the people of Scotland consciously voted to have the country’s interests at the EU represented, as at present, both through their directly elected representatives in the European Parliament and through the UK government.
Now there are several legitimate areas currently under examination for the devolution of further powers. Debate on these will occupy much political attention in 2015. While this proceeds, there are various mechanisms by which Scottish interests and concerns can be raised at the heart of the EU, including by consultation and dialogue with UK government ministers responsible for Europe and of course directly through the European Parliament and its committees.
On this fundamental position, the people of Scotland chose to maintain these arrangements. Moreover, the other nations of the EU have no option but to respect this preference and cannot lightly set it aside without unleashing constitutional mayhem within the community. As matters stand, comparisons with Latvia and Luxembourg are flawed.
Crowd problems must be reviewed
HUGE crowds, great fireworks, music and a party atmosphere: these are the standard ingredients for an outstanding Hogmanay celebration in Scotland’s capital city. But they also pose big challenges to ensure people enjoy these events comfortably and in safety.
Overall, the Hogmanay festivities across Scotland were a success. But there were reports of alarm in some sections of the estimated 75,000 crowd in Edinburgh, with complaints of crushing. About 200 jumped over a spiked fence to get to safety, while, later on, a similar number clambered over crush barriers to reach a “safe area”. Police officers had to plead with revellers, and there were appeals for calm from one of the stages. For some, the pressure of the crowd was a frightening experience. Fortunately, there were no casualties.
Scotland’s Hogmanay celebrations are noted the world over. And the city of Edinburgh has successfully exploited the occasion to attract visitors to the city in unprecedented numbers.
But the congregation of many thousands of people in a confined space generates hazards which, as we learned from overseas this week, can have tragic consequences. Scotland would be poorer in spirit without these events. But the bigger the attractions, the greater is the need for crowd control. Trouble spots should be identified, with contingency planning in hand to help relieve the pressure, avoid panic and enable people to move away calmly. This needs on-the-spot intervention – but also the invisible hand of careful preparation.
The organisers need to hold a review of what took place in the problem areas, and the sequence of events leading up to the incidents which caused concern.
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