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All four candidates want UK to stay in EU

CANDIDATES from all four parties contesting the Shetland seat at Holyrood in May are arguing for the UK to remain part of the European Union.

Shetland News asked all the candidates to outline their position ahead of the EU in/out referendum on 23 June, only six weeks after the Scottish parliamentary poll.

While it is unclear where public opinion in Shetland lies overall, there is likely to be a considerable groundswell of opinion – particularly within the fishing industry – against remaining within the EU.

Labour’s Robina Barton said the party believed in social and economic cooperation and felt continued EU membership would help protect workers’ rights.

Incumbent Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott said being part of the EU had its downsides, especially for fishermen, but it had been a “force for good” in defending human rights and tackling climate change.

SNP spokesman Robbie McGregor, responding on behalf of candidate Danus Skene who continues to recover from illness in hospital, said greater flexibility was required on fishing but much had been gained from membership over the past 40 years.

The Conservatives’ hopeful Cameron Smith, who works for the party in Brussels, said Prime Minister David Cameron’s renegotiation demonstrated that EU change was possible, and remaining within the union would protect trade.

Labour candidate Robina Barton.

ROBINA BARTON (LABOUR)

“The founding inspiration behind the EU is the belief that international economic and social cooperation could break the cycle of conflict that scarred the continent of Europe for a millennium and in this it has been entirely successful.

“There are great advantages to the free movement of goods and people across borders, as can be seen from the USA. Britain enjoys these advantages while still retaining the pound, which is sensible since problems can arise when countries with very different tax and spend policies share a single currency issued by a central bank.

“There is no doubt that Britain has gained from EU membership, but the natural xenophobia and residual imperial nostalgia among sections of the Conservative party and, of course, in recent years, UKIP, has kept the issue of Britain’s EU membership in question.

“Leaving the EU would increase the costs of trading with Europe for British and British-based companies and would reduce the attraction of the UK as a base for international companies seeking a European location.

“It is also possible that leaving the EU would expose British workers to worse workplace rights than those they now enjoy under European law. Similarly, the human rights of all British citizens would be diminished if Britain opted out of European human rights legislation.

“Finally, UK communities – including Shetland – have benefited greatly from European funding. I have direct experience of securing one kind of such funding and working with European partners on heritage-based projects.

“Not only does this provide our communities with facilities and resources and support economic development, but it allows us to engage closely with people in other parts of Europe and to promote Shetland, Scotland and the UK. Leaving the EU is likely to leave the UK worse off, isolated and increasingly irrelevant, losing the little influence we still possess in the world.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Tavish Scott.

TAVISH SCOTT (LIBERAL DEMOCRATS)

“What is the point of the European Union? This week people are being cleared from a camp at Calais by French police. Their Macedonian counterparts have fired tear gas at Syrian and Iraqi families trying to leave Greece for refuge in northern Europe.

“Why do so many people flee their own countries for a better life in Europe? Civil war is an obvious explanation. The ceasefire in Syria may be a temporary reprise from five years of hell. But many people crossing first the Mediterranean from Africa and then the Channel are not escaping war. They want a better future for their families.

“So there must be some good in Europe. People are not daft. They come to Europe seeking better living standards, a job and higher wages.

“So yes there is much wrong with the way the EU works. Fishing policy is a disaster. When the EU cuts a sordid deal with the Faroes and Iceland over mackerel that hits our boats few can see an upside. On agriculture, however, it is the incompetence of the Scottish Government, not the EU, that has caused real pain and hardship for Shetland crofters.

“Change is needed in the EU. But on defending human and social rights and tackling greenhouse gas emissions, Europe has been a force for good. We should be in that big tent arguing for a better Europe from Unst to Crete. The alternative is economic chaos, an isolated UK and a country increasingly irrelevant to the world around us.”

SNP candidate Danus Skene.

ROBBIE MCGREGOR on behalf of DANUS SKENE (SNP)

“As far as Shetland is concerned I believe there are two important areas to deal with: fishing and agriculture.

“There is a dilemma as far as fishing is concerned in that Shetland fishermen have firstly to catch the fish and the EU regulations cause them frustration and economic damage.

“They secondly have to sell the produce and the EU gives positive marketing opportunities to be taken advantage of. On balance more flexibility and attention to local issues is required. It would be helpful if Scotland, which in effect would be Shetland, was allowed to negotiate this flexibility. It is doubtful if this can be attained under the present circumstances where Westminster handles negotiations.

“The practical difficulties with CAP payments this year are readily acknowledged but the principle is that the European taxpayer pays for the subsidies on staple foods and rural farming.

“If we leave the EU there is no way the London government would subsidise at the present level. CAP levels can only be maintained if we continue to be members of the EU.

“Shetland SNP is convinced that it will be in Shetland’s best interests if we remain in the EU. We asked SNP MEP Alyn Smith for his thoughts on continued membership.

“’I hope Shetland and Scotland will lead the way in making the positive case for EU membership with a message of optimism and steady pragmatism,’ he said. ‘We’ve gained so much from Europe during our 40 years of membership that I firmly believe being in the EU remains in our best interests.’”

Tory candidate Cameron Smith.

CAMERON SMITH (CONSERVATIVES)

“The Prime Minister’s renegotiation efforts have demonstrated that the European Union can change. Our priorities on improving competitiveness and cutting red tape are now European priorities.

“Our approach against EU meddling in every area is now a shared approach amongst European partners too. Our reforms must not be once-in-a-generation, but a continuing effort.

“For our important industries like oil and gas production, fisheries and agriculture, but also our exports of knitwear or beer and spirits, stable access to a common market, based upon rules over which we have a say, is a huge contributor to continuing employment and investment in Shetland.

“My position in favour of remaining in the European Union is not an ideological approach, but based on years of experience working in Brussels. The alternative proposition, that we may leave the EU but retain the benefits on better terms is just not credible.

“I am in favour of freer, more open and less burdensome trade with Europe, but adopting a Norwegian model, or even replicating Faroese access, ignores the realities of our trading position with the rest of the European partners.

“When the EU sought to regulate oil and gas safety, the UK had a seat at the table and negotiated a good deal. For Norway the same issue was just as important, yet they could not influence or vote in the way we could and had to take the deal as it was given.”

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