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Scottish Parliament Speech: European Union Priorities (November 2007)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

Listening to the various contributions to the debate has been rather like studying one of those gardening programmes that goes on about flowerbeds and paths without ever mentioning the elephant standing in the middle of the lawn. Something has to be done to alter the balance.

There are two aspects to the elephant. The first is that there is no longer a contest between a core Europe and a peripheral Europe. There is a core Europe - France and Germany - that goes back to the old geography of the European steel and coal community. There is a peripheral Europe based on the Locarno pact of the 1920s that set up a satisfactory barrier between that area and Russia. That takes us back to the realm of realpolitik and it is as well that we understand its geography.

The second aspect concerns questions of transportation and energy. We saw earlier this week the opening of the new St Pancras station in London, which gives London two world-class international rail terminals, one of which - the one at Waterloo - is already derelict. However, there is no fast connection to the north of Britain - to Scotland or the north of England - and no likelihood of one in the foreseeable future.

The other element is energy. When this Parliament was established in 1999, oil stood at $10 a barrel; it now stands at almost exactly 10 times that. Oil is the thing on which European production depends fundamentally. There exists off the Scottish coast the capability to transform tidal and wave energy into electricity to the extent that Siemens of Germany is greatly interested in it. It is an enormous resource in Scotland's favour and, whether we like it or not, it will be developed in the next five years. I wrote a history of North Sea oil; I know the importance of timetabling in the past and I know how it will affect us today. This nation could step in and steer the development of that resource, which would give us enormous political clout in Europe, but we can do so only if we start to plan for that now and in negotiation with the European core.

I make that point explicitly. Who owns our resources? Who owns the freight operations that were British Rail's, for example? The German state railways took them over at the beginning of July and no one noticed. Who owns our airports? Who owns our transmission systems? Electricité de France is the owner of London Electricity. Its chief public relations officer is one Andrew Brown, who may know something that his brother does not.

We must concede that Europe has won in that regard. I will quote Rudyard Kipling's famous poem:

"For, now De Ruyter's topsails
Off naked Chatham show,
We dare not meet him with our fleet -
And this the Dutchmen know!"

I have lived among Dutchmen, or at least Kipling's version of Dutchmen, for the past 25 years, and I have seen the machine in operation - it works well. We can make our peace with it. We can, after all, supply to Europe some idealistic conviction about a united Europe. That goes back to our relations with the Hansa in the 14th century or to Professor Lorimer who, in the 19th century, was the first person to suggest a European federation.

The question is not of co-operation but of takeover, to a great extent. We must realise that, in a deindustrialised United Kingdom, we do not have much alternative. Thank you.

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