Kathleen Nutt spent the week behind the scenes with your new EU parliamentarians. Here’s what happened...

ALYN Smith was hugged by politicians from other countries and greeted by officials as he stood in the queue to be registered as an MEP again.

A senior administrator waved him through to the front and into an open-plan office where around 20 staff were doing paperwork.

Everyone seemed to know about the election of three SNP MEPs and the Remain result in Scotland.

Sad faces were pulled when Brexit was mentioned.

Nigel Farage was here yesterday, but people weren’t so pleased to see him,” one admin worker whispered after she saw people shaking Smith’s and his two colleagues’ hands.

The SNP are back in Brussels – hopefully for good.


THE 2019-24 session of the European Parliament does not begin until July, yet just days after the elections across the 28 member states dozens of the newly elected and re-elected MEPs arrived this week in Brussels.

Among them were the SNP’s Smith, Christian Allard and Aileen MacLeod who flew to the Belgium capital to prepare for their roles.

In Scotland, the election was a historic victory for Nicola Sturgeon’s party, taking 38% of the vote, netting three of the country’s six MEPs for the first time, and topping the poll in all but two of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas.

There was an air of celebration as the First Minister and the three SNP MEPs gathered for a photo call outside Dynamic Earth in the capital in the Tuesday morning sunshine.

After the reporters and photographers drifted off Smith, Allard and MacLeod loaded their bags into Allard’s car to drive to Edinburgh Airport and head to Brussels. I was invited to join them to get a behind-the-scenes view of their first few days at work after their election – and in Smith’s case re-election for a fourth time – to the European Parliament.

Just a few months ago and with the UK due to leave the EU on March 29, none of them expected to be in Brussels in May. But having stood on the SNP platform of stopping Brexit they hope to take their seats for the full five-year parliamentary term.

“I honestly wasn’t certain of anything at the start of the year,” said Smith, who was first elected as an MEP in 2004.

“I had been fighting Brexit – though sometimes not thinking it was going to be successful – but then we won the first extension, a further extension and the election.

“And now we have a map of the UK [of Scotland coloured pro-EU SNP yellow and England Brexit teal] which I believe will deliver independence as yet again it shows Scotland has a different view on all this. But the fight is still on.”

At the airport Smith and MacLeod, a former Scottish Government minister, boarded a direct flight to Brussels. Allard and I travelled together via Amsterdam.

Born in France, Allard moved to Scotland in 1986 and settled in Aberdeen, building a career in the seafood export industry.

He became an SNP MSP in 2013, after his former party colleague Mark McDonald resigned his list seat to successfully contest the Aberdeen Donside by-election. His Holyrood career was cut short in 2016, and he was elected to Aberdeen city council the following year.

Between flights at Schiphol airport I asked him if he ever thought he would be in this position.

“If you had told me in January, that I would be an MEP in May, I would have laughed,” he said, adding that when he decided to put himself forward he did not know if there was definitely going to be an election.

The SNP announced it would be fighting the European elections on April 10, but Theresa May had yet to seek the second Brexit extension – which was given by the EU to October 31. But it was not be until May 7 that the PM reluctantly conceded the UK would be taking part in the elections.

So, what was behind Allard’s decision to stand as a candidate in these elections?

“I had no choice because of Brexit. I was particularly angry at the way EU nationals have been treated in the UK and UK nationals in the EU through the Brexit process.

“I thought if I could get elected as a French citizen it would show to the EU that Scotland is in a different place from the UK,” he said.

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On principle he has refused to apply to the UK Government’s settled status scheme for EU citizens – believing the right to remain in the UK should be given automatically by the Home Office.

We continued on our journey to Brussels, arriving around 9.30pm, and got a taxi to our hotel, a minute’s walk to the European Parliament building.

The taxi driver took a detour as a diversion was in place to avoid roads around the Europa building where the leaders of the 28 EU nations were gathering for a dinner.

READ MORE: Alyn Smith: Our new MEPs are already making waves in Brussels

May, who announced her resignation as Tory leader six days earlier over the failure of her Brexit strategy, was attending.

However, the UK’s Brexit turmoil was far from being the 27 other leaders’ focus. Instead they took stock of the European election results and the process of electing the new president of the European Commission, and who might head the European Council and the European Central Bank.

With support for Euro sceptic parties across Europe falling, the European Council president, made just a passing reference to Brexit in his press statement after the dinner.

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“Europe is the winner in these elections,” he said. “I have no doubt that one of the reasons why people on the continent voted for a pro-European majority is also Brexit.

“As Europeans see what Brexit means in practice, they also draw conclusions. Brexit has been a vaccine against anti-EU propaganda and fake news.”

Just after 10pm we arrived at our hotel, where we met up with MacLeod and Smith and ran through the next day’s itinerary.

First up the MEPs will have to be photographed and their personal and financial details processed by the parliament’s administration team.

A meeting with the European Free Alliance was to follow in the afternoon, followed by a reception with the Green group of MEPs.

INSTEAD, Wednesday started unexpectedly with a legal threat made against Smith by the Brexit Party after an explosive interview in which he called them “shysters” and “a money-laundering front” (they deny the allegations).

Every so often Smith would go off to speak to his lawyer and advisers on the phone. He later issued a statement refusing to apologise and calling for an independent inquiry into how Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and the party are funded.

Shortly after breakfast Smith, Allard and MacLeod headed to the European Parliament building where a “Welcome Village” had been set up to collect the details of the 751 MEPs.

The facility will last for five weeks, partly because of the high number of MEPs, but also because in some countries identifying the MEPs can take some weeks.

Some member states hold federal elections on the same day as the European elections with the same politician standing in both. If the candidate takes up a ministerial appointment in their own government, the political party will then have to seek another politician as the MEP.

I had to get special accreditation to enter “Welcome Village”. Smith took me to the office to get it, while Allard and MacLeod got into a long queue behind other MEPs to get their photographs taken.

It was all very formal at the start of the process, with some of the parliamentary officials dressed in dinner suits and white shirts and ties.

As Smith’s details are processed, one by one junior and senior officials warmly congratulated him, sometimes in French, sometimes in English, on regaining his seat.

His details were updated onto the administration system in 15 minutes. It took longer for MacLeod and Allard to be processed.

We waited for them on a sofa at the side of the office and I asked why the MEPs were arriving despite not starting working – and getting paid – until the start of July.

“What the European Parliament needs to do is to get the newbies into the system. It’s a paper chase. MEPs need to make their financial declarations, sign on to commit to the people of Europe what their declarations are.

“For me it’s a pretty straightforward process as I am already in the system, but for Christian and Aileen they need to give details of their bank accounts for their office expenses, they need to give their own information, sign up on to the IT system, get their laptop, get their email address, all the nuts and bolts stuff. It’s a bit like the first day of school or the first day of university, matriculation.”

The SNP group will also need to get their allocation of offices. Smith and Ian Hudghton, who has announced his retirement but will remain an MEP until the end of June, had to clear out their two offices before the elections for renovation work.

In the European Parliament, the SNP are members of the European Free Alliance, which will be the fourth large parliamentary grouping – third if, as expected, it forms an alliance with the Greens. The decision on whether to continue the alliance will be made next week as broader discussions continue across the parliament about the formation of political groupings and alliances.

“What offices we get will be a matter for negotiation,” said Smith.

“But because our group will be the fourth largest group in the parliament we will be looking for some prime real estate in the complex.”

So, do they think they’ll still be here in five years, in 2024?

“Well, that’s when the mandate goes to,” replied Smith. “I want to keep Scotland in Europe. I want to put that case together. What the future holds, we don’t know, but we are in for the long haul.”

It is a theme which cropped up repeatedly that afternoon when the three MEPs attended the meeting of the European Free Alliance ...