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Angus Robertson (Moray): I rise to make my maiden speech during an important debate on Europe and our political place in this great continent. Without having to resort to convention, as the new Member for Moray, it is a great honour to speak about my fellow Scottish National party parliamentarian, Margaret Ewing. Margaret still represents the constituency in the Scottish Parliament and she will be remembered across the Floor of the House, I hope, as a passionate advocate for Scottish independence and social justice and as a supremely diligent constituency Member.
Margaret's commitment to her constituents was a hallmark of her 18 years in the House, as was her work, in particular, with the fishing and whisky producing communities. The warm homes group, which she established, is one of her legacies in this House and it goes from strength to strength. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will wish her well in her continuing work in the Scottish Parliament.
Moray has of course been inextricably linked with the independence struggle of Scotland over the centuries. Robert the Bruce was taken with the loyalty of the men of Moray who fought for liberty. The Bruce family is still linked with the area through the title of the Earl of Elgin.
More recently, the area and the independence movement have been closely associated with the Ewing family; through my predecessor Margaret, obviously, but also through Winnie Ewing. The current president of the Scottish National party represented the area as Europe's longest-serving Euro-parliamentarian and is known affectionately as Madame Ecosse. Before that, she represented the then seat of Moray and Nairn. As the first non-Ewing to represent Moray for the SNP in the fourth decade of SNP victories in the constituency, I face a daunting task but I shall pursue it with relish.
Tradition in this place dictates that a new Member should make mention of the geography and nature of his or her constituency in a maiden speech. That is not difficult for me as Moray is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful parts of the country. It stretches from the Moray firth coastline in the north, with its dolphins and porpoises, through the laich of Moray into Speyside and
Moray is also known internationally for its place on the religious and spiritual map. Apart from active congregations of all major Churches, the area boasts both the world's most northerly Christian monastery at Pluscarden, which is run by the Benedictines, and the Findhorn foundation which attracts visitors from around the world.
The area is also blessed with its own pleasant micro-climate, so while the roch wind might be blowing elsewhere in Scotland and the rest of the country is dreich, the chances are that it is sunny and warm in Moray.
Many Members have made great play of the fact that their constituencies or towns are sited on seven hills. However, I am blessed with a happier variation in one of the main whisky producing towns. As locals boast to visiting Italian tourists, "Rome might have been built on seven hills, but Dufftown stands round seven stills." As if seven stills were not already enough, I can make the happy claim to represent more than 50 per cent. of Scotland's distilleries, which is something that I plan to research fully.
As well as my cautious plans for whisky tasting, I intend to be a strong advocate for that industry and for those constituents who work in it. I shall also seek an end to the discrimination sanctioned by the House against Scotland's greatest export through penal and discriminatory rates of duty.
It is a great pleasure to turn to the debate, and I do so as a proud Scot and European. I share with everybody in my country the positive benefits of immigration, which has made Scotland a diverse, multicultural and outward- looking country. Like the rest of Scotland, Moray has benefited from the welcome addition of Scots Chinese and Scots Asian communities. The many service men and women who serve at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinlosspredominantly from Englandhave also boosted the area.
In my case, immigration to Scotland is immediately relevant as my mother and grandmother came from the continent in the wake of the second world war. Perhaps that is one reason that I feel so strongly about the development of Europe, not only as a vehicle for greater social, political and economic progress in this time of globalisation, but as the institutional guarantor of peace.
The treaty of Nice is the mechanism that will help facilitate the enlargement of the European Union and reunite our continent after the false division maintained since the middle of the previous century. My only regret about the impending, welcome accession of countries from central and eastern Europe is that Scotland still lacks that equality of status in the international community and a direct seat at the top table of the EU. Shortly, both the Czech and Hungarian Governments will join those great sea-going powers, Austria and Luxembourg, with more direct say over the Scottish fishing industry, despite not having a single centimetre of coastline.
As a first step, I very much welcome the recent political declaration of constitutional regions and nations involving Bavaria, Catalonia, North-Rhine Westphalia, Salzburg and Scotland. The declaration was signed in the spirit of the Nice treaty, which also seeks greater democracy, flexibility and transparency in European institutions. Among other key pledges in the declaration, the Scottish Executive approved the text which considers it "vital" that constitutional regions and nations should be able to refer directly to the European Court of Justice when their prerogatives have been harmed.
I am grateful to Members on both sides of the House, especially those Labour and Liberal Democrat Members representing English and Welsh constituencies, who have already signed my early-day motion 3 on the subject. It would be a shame if no Members from Scotland, outside the SNP, were prepared to support the Scottish Executive on the subject, but I look forward to some of them signing the early-day motion.
The Nice treaty also displayed other challengesas was shown by the recent referendum result in Ireland. I do not mean a challenge in the conventional sense of treaty ratification, but turnout in that plebiscite was little more than 30 per cent. Turnout has been consistently down in almost all European democracies, including the UK. If European co-operation and our domestic democratic processes and political legitimacy continue to be undermined by a growing sense of cynicism and apathy, we face the dangers of extremism, as has been seen in Austria and elsewhere.
That is why I devote my concluding comments to democratic involvement. I very much welcomed the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris)unfortunately he is not in the Chamberas he addressed the challenge of encouraging more people back to the ballot booths. However, although I pose the same questions as he did, I do not share his opposition to fairer voting systems.
Speaking as the youngest Member of the House who represents a Scottish constituency, I am convinced that one change might help to engender an interest in voting among young people: lowering the voting age to 16. That has the support of Members on both sides of the House and I make the suggestion in the non-partisan hope of boosting democracy.
Does it not strike hon. Members as ludicrous that we can raise and spend tax money levied on 16 and 17-year-olds? Is it not ludicrous that we can pass legislation that affects their working lives and economic well-being? Is it not obscene that we can send young service men and women into hazardous situations where they may give their lives for their country? It is obscene that 16 and 17-year-olds are judged old enough to pay tax, get married or die for their country, but are not granted the equality that enfranchisement brings. As Ministers in this place and in the Scottish Executive consider suggestions for boosting the teaching of civic life and modern studies, would it not help to show 16 and 17-year-olds the relevance of the democratic process if we gave them the vote?
Finally, 34 years ago, SNP president Winnie Ewing made her maiden speech in this House after her victory in the Hamilton by-election. She took that opportunity to call for the voting age to be lowered from 21 to 18. It gives me great pleasure to progress that debate. It might help to restore interest in and relevance to the democratic process in this country and act as a positive development in the wider European context.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): The Berlin summit was a special day for me. It began on 23 March 1999my 50th birthdayso it sticks with me as I grow older and, perhaps, a little wiser.
We have heard first-rate speeches from new Members: my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) and the hon. Members for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) and for Moray (Angus Robertson). The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) and I might take issue with the hon. Member for Moray about places of beautyCheshire can match anything that Scotland has to offerbut as my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) is the Whip I had better not develop that point.
I share the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Tatton about one of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived. Alan Turing was treated disgracefully by Britain. It is great to hear a Conservative Member express those sentiments so strongly.
I have a great deal of knowledge of the centre of the hon. Gentleman's constituency, Knutsford, as my office was there for a considerable time in a previous incarnation. He is absolutely rightit was Canute's ford, Elizabeth Gaskell wrote there, and it is a very interesting place. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman airbrushed out the last-but-one representative for Tatton, but perhaps we can discuss that some time with a pint at "The Bells of Peover". It is a pity that he drifted into the Eurosceptical note at the end of his speech, but never mind; it was an excellent speech, reflecting the very interesting constituency that he now represents.