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Independence poll opponents unite to back EU membership

Published 25/09/2015

Ex-Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, who died earlier this year
Ex-Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, who died earlier this year

Opponents in the Scottish independence referendum have come together to defend the UK's place in the European Union in a debate held in memory of Charles Kennedy.

Former Better Together leader Alistair Darling and Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop joined forces to make the case for continued membership of the EU in a University of Glasgow event to commemorate the former Liberal Democrats leader who died suddenly in June at the age of 55.

He was a former student and rector at the university and was renowned for his debating skills during his time in the city.

As part of a series of events set up to recognise his contribution to university life, the Charles Kennedy Memorial Debate was established.

The motion debated was "this House believes that the UK should remain within the European Union" with politicians and activists making arguments on both sides.

Former Chancellor Mr Darling, Ms Hyslop, Scottish Conservative MEP Ian Duncan and Liberal-Democrat MSP candidate Alex Cole-Hamilton defended the UK's place in the EU, while Labour MP Graham Stringer, John Mills, the founder and chairman of JML and co-chairman of Business for Britain, and political activist Heather Whiteside argued to leave the institution.

The debate was chaired by Sir Menzies Campbell who said: "Those who knew Charles will know this is the proposition he will have had in his heart.

"It is right that that we should celebrate his life in this chamber where he honed his skills as a debater and a parliamentarian."

Scottish Government Minister Ms Hyslop started the debate and she raised laughs in the debating chamber when she mistakenly said "we have to remain part of the UK" before quickly correcting herself to say EU, as she rushed to finish her speech in the allotted time.

She said: "As the minister who abolished tuition fees I am not only in favour of free education but free movement across the EU."

She added that the EU was needed to respond to the refugee crisis and to "make a positive mark on the world".

John Mills said the EU had done a lot of good things but was no longer about free trade.

"The cost of British membership is enormous," he said.

"Scotland has more pro-EU sentiment than the rest of the UK but be careful what you wish for."

The judging panel for the debate included former Labour communications chief Alastair Campbell, former Lib Dem minister Jo Swinson, BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor and Glasgow University principal Anton Muscatelli.

Mr Kennedy received an honorary doctorate from the university in 2001 and was later elected rector in 2008, holding the position for six years.

He became the first Glasgow rector to be re-elected for a second term since former prime minister Benjamin Disraeli in the 1870s.

Mr Darling was last to speak in the debate and said it was a "real pleasure" to take part in an event in memory of Mr Kennedy.

He said the former Lib Dem leader was a "remarkable politician" and also unique "as the public actually liked him".

He also paid tribute to the other debaters and said he was particularly happy to be on the same side as Ms Hyslop.

The former chancellor said: "Can I say what a pleasure it is to share a platform with a member of the SNP, it's not something I thought I'd be doing over the last few years."

To cheers he added: "I agree with everything that Fiona Hyslop said, and that was worth the train journey alone."

On the EU, Mr Darling said: "You can make criticisms of the EU but it was born to build dialogue and avoid conflict - let's remember that.

"Let's try to put things right rather than walk away.

"It is important for jobs, rights and lots of things we share in common with our near neighbours.

"We can help shape Europe, let's do it."

After a vote, the pro-EU side were named as overwhelming winners of the debate.

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