Last night as YEM President: Making the case for EU membership in the Highlands

For the evening before the YEM UK Annual General Meeting in London, I had been invited to speak at a ‘Scotland in Europe’ event in Aberfeldy, organised by the local SNP branch. Having googled for the little town two hours’ drive to the north from Edinburgh, I gladly accepted, on condition that I could take a neutral stance on Scottish independence. (The originally suggested headline for my talk was “Yes to Europe”, but in the end there was no specific title for the talk. I started off by saying that the audience could ask about my views on Scottish independence 24 hours later, when I’m no longer YEM UK President.)

Sign announcing the Scotland in Europe event outside the community cinema in Aberfeldy

The local group had planned the venue and schedule in meticulous detail, and they even sent a car down to Edinburgh to pick speakers up. The other speakers at the event were Anthony Salamone from the Scottish Centre on European Relations, and Eóghan Macmillan, a young political commentator from Perth. The idea was to have older generations sit down and listen to young people for change, and that was certainly successful!

You might say Aberfeldy is in the Highlands, and it was my first time there. On a warm summer day, the view from the car window was postcard-worthy – less than a week more until I’m back again but on board of a tourist bus!

Podium in the community cinema in Aberfeldy

In my talk, I gave some practical examples of the benefits of EU membership. Erasmus+ and the Digital Single Market were not difficult to discuss, but we need to remember that there’s more to these two areas than just university exchanges and free roaming.

Erasmus+ is also about giving organisations the resources to provide international experiences, for example. The Digital Single Market, for its part, ensures that the Monty Python film you’ve saved for yourself on Netflix won’t disappear once you cross a national border, like what happened to my flatmate Caitlin when she went to Canada. Beside Erasmus+ and our online lives, I talked about LGBT+ rights. I’d dare to say that this was the first time in Aberfeldy’s history that someone addressing a crowd in the community cinema talks about the Richards v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions case in the European Court of Justice, thanks to which transgender people enjoy the same pension rights as others.

Eóghan spoke about why there is no contradiction in wanting Scotland to be independent of the UK whilst belonging to the EU. Anthony finished the event with a talk encouraging Scotland to seek full EU membership, rather than mere Single Market membership, if it is to be an independent country. The speeches complemented each other without overlapping, and the folk music interludes brought a nice light touch.

Birks Cinema in Aberfeldy
The local cinema was in part funded by the EU.

A positive feature about the event was that each of the speakers was speaking favourably about the EU, rather than simply bashing Brexit. Often you hear that the discourse on the EU is different and much healthier in Scotland than what it is down south. Here’s a tip to those who would like to replicate this in England and Wales: keep organising events where you highlight what the EU has given you, and how you would like to see the EU develop. It’s much nicer to be joyful and hopeful than it is to be desperate and devastated.

Leaving Aberfeldy at almost 11pm guaranteed a late arrival back in Edinburgh. Just 12 hours from that I’m due to be in London. Living on the road, eh?

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