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10 March 2018updated 04 Aug 2021 2:13pm

The customs union is not enough – Labour must campaign to stay in the single market

And Scottish Labour members who agree should get the chance to speak up. 

By Kezia dugdale

Scottish Labour’s annual conference is underway in Dundee and I wish Richard Leonard every success in his first conference as leader.

Richard and I spent years on the party’s Scottish Executive Committee together, and I know how passionate he is about rigorous, healthy debate within our movement.

That’s why he has welcomed the ongoing discussion about Brexit, in the same way that I welcomed debate on the huge issues facing our country at previous conferences. It’s right and proper that delegates will have their say on this tomorrow, although it will be disappointing if those members who submitted motions on the single market do not get their chance to vote on it.

One thing that sets our democratic party apart from the Scottish National Party is that while we all share a burning desire to transform our country for the many, not everyone is forced to hold exactly the same opinions.

In recent days, MSPs in the Scottish Parliament were allowed to read the Tory government’s secret Brexit impact papers. I booked my slot, was forced to hand over my mobile phone, sat down behind a closed door, and read the documents under the watchful eye of civil servants.

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What I read utterly terrified me.

It convinced me, more than ever, that Tory Brexiteers are taking this country down a road that will lead to economic disaster. Cities such as Edinburgh and Aberdeen face being particularly hard hit.

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As Jeremy Corbyn said recently, we have a Prime Minister who is being held to ransom by the hard right of her party.

But the arithmetic in the House of Commons is on our side. Working with other opposition parties and those Remain-voting Tories who are increasingly furious with Theresa May, the Labour Party can set out a clear direction for Britain’s future.

If we are to leave the EU, I firmly believe that future must include permanent UK membership of the European single market and customs union.

Jeremy’s welcome decision to support a customs union with the EU, backed by the country’s employers, has ensured there is clear red water between Labour’s vision and the Tories’ destructive plans.

But a customs union alone does not protect jobs, oppose austerity and defend workers’ rights. The single market does that.

It’s also important to challenge the myths around the single market, such as the idea that it prevents public ownership – when examples from across the continent show that clearly not to be the case.

That’s why, along with colleagues Catherine Stihler MEP and Ian Murray MP, I have set up the new campaign group Scottish Labour for the Single Market.

It will work closely with the existing Labour Campaign for the Single Market led by MPs Heidi Alexander and Alison McGovern, as well as other pro-EU organisations such as Open Britain.

With London mayor Sadiq Khan, Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones, and TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady all supporting membership of the single market, we can unite the Labour movement on this vital issue.

Some people have tried to decry this alliance as Labour infighting and an attempt to undermine the party leadership. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

We must welcome this debate. Over the coming days and weeks, I will be interested to hear the arguments about why Labour should oppose being part of the single market.

I want to hear why we should put 80,000 jobs in Scotland at risk.

I want to hear why we should wipe £45bn from the UK economy, leaving the Westminster and Holyrood governments with less money to end austerity.

I want to hear why we should risk workers’ rights on holiday pay, maternity and paternity leave and the right to join a trade union.

I entered politics to protect people from the Tories, and that’s why I support membership of the single market. Our party has a duty to stand up for workers across Britain – the very people that we are supposed to represent.