In an interview with The Saint today (11 May), Nicola Sturgeon has said that the “UK government is all too ready to dismiss Scotland’s voice” on issues such as Brexit and higher education.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader was visiting the University of St Andrews with Stephen Gethins, the party’s spokesperson on Europe and MP for North East Fife, who is seeking to be returned at next month’s general election on 8 June.
Ms Sturgeon and Mr Gethins visited the University’s centre for Designer Quantum Materials before taking part in a discussion on the Erasmus programme with students who had studied abroad.
The Erasmus programme is a scheme to facilitate students studying abroad more easily throughout European countries. Concerns have been expressed that the UK’s membership of the scheme may be under threat following the decision to leave the EU in last year’s referendum.
The Proctor, Professor Lorna Milne, Association President and Association President-elect, Charlotte Andrew and Lewis Wood, also attended, along with members of staff.
Speaking to The Saint the First Minister said students at St Andrews and other universities, should vote for the SNP “because, given the challenges that lie ahead for the UK as a whole and Scotland within that, we need strong voices for Scotland in the House of Commons.
Continuing, Ms Sturgeon said, “Whether it’s on Brexit, or the future of austerity in public services, we need to make sure there are MPs who will be a loud voice for Scotland and make sure our interests are to the fore.”
The First Minister then went on to dismiss the prospects of the other parties running in the general election.
“Labour’s hopelessly divided, and is likely to be more so after the election, Tory MPs would just be a rubber stamp for Theresa May and well, the Lib Dems propped up the Tories for five years,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon then went on to explain why she felt that leaving the EU would have huge significance for universities and “St Andrews in particular.”
“we need strong voices for Scotland in the House of Commons”
“Some of the big issues around Brexit, have got huge significance for universities and whether that’s the status of EU nationals here or the future of University research funding, the future of programmes like Erasmus, the ability of universities to retain and attract the best and brightest talent from across Europe, these are the issues that are of huge importance to the future success of our universities.
She then added, “So it underlines the point that over these next couple of years we really need to have people in their arguing Scotland’s corner. The experience since the EU referendum is that the UK government is all too ready to dismiss Scotland’s voice.”
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, also visited St Andrews this week as part of his party’s efforts to recapture North East Fife constituency, which was won by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie at last year’s Scottish Parliament elections.
However, Ms Sturgeon said she was not concerned about losing the seat.
“I think people understand that if you want to make sure Scotland’s voice is heard on Brexit and you want to have a real choice over the future of Scotland and the future of Scotland in the EU then the only way to vote, is to vote SNP,” she said.
The SNP leader went on to say, “Now I’m not dismissing any party’s chances in any part of the country, it would be complacent of me to do that and I don’t like complacency in any election but you know, if I look UK wide, the idea of the Liberal Democrats being in government and being able to influence whether or not Scotland is in the EU is minimal.”
The First Minister also defended her decision to pursue a second independence referendum earlier this year and said students concerned about independence should still vote for the SNP.
“My proposition is just that when we get to the end of the Brexit process, and when we know what the terms of Brexit are, Scotland should have a choice, and that is my simple argument,” she said.
Going on, she added, “Now, if you look at the Tories and Labour UK wide, their position seems to be, no matter how bad the Brexit deal is, no matter how damaging it might be, even if we end up crashing out with no deal, people just have to like it or lump it, well I don’t think Scotland should have to just like it or lump it.
“In the meantime, there’s a big job to done to make sure that as the Brexit negotiations unfold, Scotland’s got a strong voice and our interests are to the fore and that again is why having strong SNP MPs is so important.”
“I don’t think Scotland should have to just like it or lump it”
During the meeting with staff and students the First Minister also said that scrapping the Erasmus scheme would be “bonkers”.
The SNP leader further stated, “We will be fighting as hard as we can to make sure that these programmes continue.”
She continued, “I hope I’m not being overly optimistic here, I think even the most ultra Brexiteer surely wouldn’t want to see a programme like Erasmus end? There must be the ability with will on both sides to get an early certainty around these kind of things.”
Incumbent NE Fife SNP candidate Stephen Gethins reaffirmed his commitment to the erasmus scheme, stating “It’s something that’s quite personal to me because it formed a part of my own educational development.
“The Erasmus programme which has grown and grown fantastically since I did it is something that I think has a real tangible benefit.”
Mr Gethins stated that the First Minister’s visit was “to put Europe on the agenda in this election. In the next parliament regardless of how people feel, they have to know that Europe is going to be a major issue.
Mr Gethins continued, “we have to define our relationship with the European Union in terms of what that means for education, what it means for freedom of movement for students but also when people graduate what it means for jobs as well.
“It will be the next parliament when these questions are answered, and what I think St Andrews students need just like anyone from St Andrews is strong voice to stand up to the Tories in Westminster.”