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The European Free Alliance, which draws together political parties from Europeʼs stateless nations, recently staged a conference in Edinburgh. The event brought together representatives of 5 parties currently government in their home countries. Nationalists from Scotland, Wales, the Basque Country, Catalonia and Flanders met to discuss cultural co-operation, and share experiences of the range of constitutional changes which have taken place, and to look ahead at the road to Independence.
Plaid Cymru Vice-President Jill Evans MEP described the event as "historic" and said that it was symbolic of advances made by Nationalist parties across Europe. She said: "The Edinburgh meeting brought together five government parties from around Europe, and is a sign of the progress being made towards achieving our shared aim of independence within the European Union. At least three of our countries are in the process of major consultations which will lead to referenda on constitutional changes."
During a series of contributions from Party Presidents, I outlined the achievements to date and the challenges facing the SNP and Scotland, particularly in terms of the debate on our Constitutional status and options for further change, saying;
"The sense of excitement, and renewed interest in Scottish Politics, which had been apparent pre 1999 was worn down by eight years of unambitious, lacklustre government, by Labour/Liberal parties who took more heed of their unionist bosses in London than they did of the aspirations of the people of Scotland.
"In the run-up to the elections of May 2007 the SNP were determined to win, setting ourselves ambitious targets for fundraising, and for winning parliamentary seats. Much to the surprise of the unionists, who had, as usual, tried to terrify Scots with incredible tales of the disastrous consequences that would befall the nation if the SNP were to win, we emerged as the largest party.
"The SNP won 47 seats, to Labourʼs 46. The SNP formed a minority government, with limited support from 2 Greens, and history was made - not only because it is the first nationalist government, but the first experiment at minority government in Britain since the 1920s.
"In August 2007 the government launched a ʻnational conversationʼ, a broadbased consultation on options for further constitutional change, ranging from individual powers that could be transferred to the Scottish Parliament (such as taxation), to our ultimate goal of independence.
"By November 2007, the 3 Unionist parties in the Scottish Parliament united to propose a Constitutional Committee, to consider extra powers that could be transferred to the Scottish Parliament, although independence will not be on their list! We have heard little detail so far on how exactly the Unionists proposal will work, or if there will be public input, but it is significant that they had a private joint meeting last week in London, not in Scotland.
"The SNP, in the months since the election, have succeeded in pushing the constitutional change debate to the very centre of Scottish politics. The issue of ʻwhich extra powers should the Scottish Parliament haveʼ, and indeed the question of independence, is now being debated by all political parties, with at least some change now seeming inevitable.
"The SNP in power, while focusing on the ʻnuts and boltsʼ of good government, have not lost sight of the ultimate goal of independence. We have aggressively promoted Scotlandʼs interests at UK and EU levels, making a stark contrast to the previous Labour led administration, who accepted orders from their masters in London.
"It is testament to the success of the SNP Government, that in just a few months of proactively advancing constitutional change, that the issue is now at the centre of political debate. The status quo is no longer an option. The Scottish devolution package was described by Labour as "the settled will of the Scottish people".
Contrasting 8 years of Labour led mediocrity with just over 8 months of SNP action, the people are not so settled. There is a growing realization, and a confidence, that Scotland can do better.
"We have an opportunity to build upon that momentum, and see Scotland taking her rightful place as an independent nation again, with full participation rights at the top table in the European Union. We are leading Scotland forward towards Independence, and we are determined to succeed."