HERE’S an important statistic that’s been largely ignored in the tunnel-vision coverage of our current Brexit fiasco.

Almost half of current members in the European Parliament from BAME communities are British. And this handful of UK MEPs are part of a mere 17 out of 751 MEPs in total drawn from the ethnic and religious minorities and their communities in Europe.

There are close to 50 million people of a racial and ethnic minority background living in the EU. That’s about 10% of the bloc’s entire population. The equivalent parliamentary representation is about 2% while, of the staff working in all of the EU’s multifarious institutions, the BAME percentage is estimated at a mere 1%. Ironically, according to a study by Politico, the only major international institution in the very cosmopolitan city of Brussels with a somewhat ethnically diverse staff is Nato – thanks to Turkey and the United States.

For those of us who are keen to remain and continue to work towards an increasingly inclusive and progressive European project, this should be another argument about the importance of keeping Scotland and the wider UK’s representation at Brussels. And refreshingly it is an argument about what we can actually contribute to Europe rather than what we can get out of it. It is now odds on that the UK will take part in the forthcoming EU elections next month. This is to be welcomed as an opportunity for our people to voice concerns, not just over the Tory/Labour Brexit bourach, but on Scotland’s position and rights as a European nation and on progressive issues across the continent.

However, let us hope that our responsibility in ensuring at least some BAME representation in the Brussels corridors of influence also gets a mention. It has never been more important as a bulwark against the threat of populism.

The numbers do not lie – 17 out of 751 MEPs is shockingly low, especially given the rich diversity of the wider European community. It raises the question of why more minority politicians aren’t being selected as candidates in European elections? And it raises the question of why the EU has failed to do more to address this underrepresentation so far. It is not that the European Union does not stress diversity. When it comes to issues of gender, disability and age discrimination, few institutions known to humanity are more responsive or more progressive. However, on issues of ethnic, religious and racial background Europe is blind. Partly that is due to the traditions of countries such as France who make few, if any, concessions to difference and insist on uniformity. However, it is necessary to change.

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If you venture into the darker corners of social media you’ll find that this issue of low BAME visibility at the EU has been used as a stick to beat Brussels from Leavers who point out that the vast majority of MEPs are white, inferring an almost institutional racism at the core of the European project. How can we, the Leavers, be called racist for wanting to leave an overwhelmingly white parliament, they cry?

It is a bit rich, of course, to use this lack of racial and cultural diversity as an anti-European argument when we’re all aware of the wider anti-immigration and simplistic fear-of-foreigner rhetoric that swirls around the vortex of Brexit. However, the diversity issue in the European Parliament must be tackled and is certainly not going to be fixed by Britain opting out. How can you build on your successes so far if your voice is silenced through absence?

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Meanwhile, the rise in enthusiasm for all things populist, narrow and archaic is worrying. Former Donald Trump strategist Steve Bannon, for instance, is turning his attention to Europe and forging alliances for his new populist “Movement” with the likes of the anti-establishment and anti-immigration Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini. In France, Marine Le Pen buddies up with Hungarian prime minister Victor Orban in their enthusiasm for closed borders, national identity and a return to so-called traditional values.

The UK’s own walking, talking, Union Jack clockwork toy Nigel Farage has put his EU retirement plans on hold in a bid to take on the European powers that be, with a scheme cooked up with his millionaire mates and bad-boy rabble-rousers to tackle what they ironically and unselfconsciously view as the Brussels elite.

Current political predictions put these Eurosceptic populists in a good position, increasing their share of seats from 5% to around 8% post-elections in May, offering them plenty of scope to obstruct and upset the European project in its current incarnation and undermine ethnic and religious minority views. From the UK angle, and certainly from the Scottish electorate’s point of view, taking part in these elections will be a welcome opportunity to give the truly appalling David Coburn his marching orders.

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AS we await a decision on a People’s Vote, Scotland has an opportunity at these EU elections to do something solid and positive in terms of our views on the EU and being a member of the European community, as well as show our continuing commitment to inclusion and equality. Scottish pragmatism and positivity towards immigration and freedom of movement is vital for our economic growth and our welcoming attitude to new Scots and EU nationals already living here couldn’t be further from the inward and isolationist attitudes espoused by the European far right.

It would be an unequivocal message to Europe and the likes of Farage and his elitist populist pals Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson to replace Coburn with a BAME MEP. It would send a clear signal that Scotland has no truck with insular and xenophobic political parties in any shape or form, that neither Brexit nor Ukip fit into Scotland’s vision of our progressive future in the EU. Internationalist and welcoming, open-minded and inclusive, with all Scots represented and Scotland celebrating the value of multiculturalism – now that’s a vision we could get behind.