WHEN some Tory Ministers in Westminster recently bemoaned the fact that they’ve been unable to implement their full right-wing plans in Government because of our membership of the EU, I personally breathed a sigh of relief. Imagine the potential damage that David Cameron, George Osborne or Michael Gove could do without the safety net provided by the EU?

What if Cameron and his now dis-united team had no checks or balances on their power? Could the prospect for families and communities here in Scotland be any more depressing?

The argument that right-wing pro-Brexit Tories like Michael Gove seem to have been making recently is that our EU membership prevents their current crop of ministers from further dismantling workers’ rights, polluting the environment or abandoning the health and safety protections we have in place for consumers. If this is true, then you can place me even more firmly in the Remain camp.

In particular, in the week when International Women’s Day has been celebrated worldwide, we certainly shouldn’t underestimate the part Europe has played in protecting and promoting equality, and the rights of women across our continent.

The impact that our membership of the EU has had in this area is considerable.

For example, the EU has played a central role in ensuring the equal treatment of men and women at work, and in outlawing government discrimination in social security schemes so that women and men have equal entitlement to benefits.

Parental leave is another issue which is currently protected by Europe. New parents now have a legal right to both take time off work to care for their families. It wasn’t that long ago that pregnant women could be immediately dismissed by employers, who had no responsibility whatsoever to re-hire mothers who had taken leave to have a baby. Now specific rights have been enshrined in EU regulations which provide protection to pregnant workers and new mums.

Over and above these specific rules to promote equality for women, EU legislation guarantees workers’ rights in areas such as protecting everyone’s entitlement to have paid holidays, and making sure that part-time, fixed term or agency workers all get fair and equal treatment in the eyes of the law. These rules protect everyone, but women in particular reap the benefits of a fairer, more equal workplace.

The Tories want to roll back the clock on progressive measures like these. We, on the other hand, must do everything we can to protect them.

In the last few years, under an SNP Government, in Scotland we’ve seen our own progress on a range of issues relating to women and families from levels of increased nursery provision to one of the highest female employment rates in Europe and one of the lowest rates of female unemployment.

While it’s important that we use this opportunity of International Women’s Day to mark these successes, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels.

Firstly, we need to re-elect an SNP Scottish Government in May which will continue to place equality at the centre of its approach to building a better Scotland.

Then we need to ensure that our EU membership, and the many benefits that comes with it, are maintained following the referendum in June.

Recent research from the London School of Economics has shown that that up to a quarter of women are currently undecided about how to cast their vote on June 23, almost twice as many as men. Although this may seem surprising given that women have so much at stake in this vote, this will no doubt change in due course and I hope that it means that the campaigns to stay in will recognise the need to step up their positive argument to remain in order to engage this hugely important, and largest, segment of the electorate.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that so many women are yet to be enthused by a campaign which has in the main and to date been dominated by “powerful” public schoolboys jockeying for position within what will remain of the Conservative Party come the summer, but that means that the rest of us have to step up to the mark.

I’m delighted therefore that the SNP’s ‘In’ Campaign has secured, among others, the appointments of Christina McKelvie MSP and Marie Maklin to ensure a balanced approach to our work in this area.

The significant number of undecided women voters could very well dictate the outcome of the referendum, and so all of us who value the social protections our membership of the EU offers must make the positive case loudly and clearly

As we reflect on the progress that women have made in our lifetimes, we can’t take this advance for granted. Now it’s clear that the EU is contributing to providing a vital safety net to protect us from the real intentions of members of this Tory Government, we need to redouble our efforts to maintain it.