NEARLY five years ago Scotland's voters had the chance to decide who should represent our interests in the European Parliament, an opportunity which barely more than a quarter of us took up.

It was a pretty dismal turnout for any election, but it was more or less in line with expectations.

The previous turnout had been a little higher; the one before that a little lower.

The rest of the UK saw one in three voters turning out.

Across the whole of the EU fewer than half of all citizens exercised the right for which people in previous generations fought and died.

There are understandable reasons why few people vote in European elections.

It's a less democratic body than most national parliaments, with MEPs having to share power with the unelected European Commission and the Council of Ministers, which is composed of national governments.

It's also undeniable that the European Parliament feels remote; even though its decisions affect our lives directly, few of us have any real idea of how it works.

That problem isn't helped by the constant stream of anti-EU propaganda from the hard right parties or the papers which support them.

We've read about a nonexistent scheme to force people to fly the European flag, a ludicrous story about a plan to "merge" Britain and France, and, of course, that old classic about straight bananas.

More recently we've also seen a disgusting wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric and baseless myths, deliberately calculated to generate fear which the same right wing forces are only too happy to exploit.

It's all a distraction from the important work that the MEPs we elect will be doing.

Some of the most important social and environmental policy decisions are made at EU level, protecting people from exploitation at work, and preventing pollution in both urban and rural areas among many other things.

Europe has a track record of protecting our legal rights and as a global advocate of action on climate change.

It's no surprise that the loudest voices against the EU are also anti-equality, anti-environment, and anti-workers' rights.

EUROPE is far from perfect. It needs to be more democratic, with power exercised by people we elect, not by appointed Commissioners.

It needs to be more transparent, with protection against corporate lobbying. It needs to be more accountable, but not voting can't ever help that to happen.

Next week, on Thursday May 22 we'll have the chance to vote again for six MEPs to represent Scotland.

If Maggie Chapman is elected as our first Green MEP, joining the 45-strong Green Group, she'll work for that democratic reform, and for a welcoming, socially just and peaceful Europe.