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14 October 2016

Angus Robertson’s powerful liberal-nationalist attack on hard Brexit

The SNP's man in Westminster raised the spectre of "reverse devolution".

By Julia Rampen

It’s proving to be a good conference for Angus Robertson. When the leader of the SNP in the House of Commons addressed his party’s conference, he was fresh from victory, after seeing off left-winger Tommy Sheppard to be elected depute leader.

But although he as built up a reputation as a steady pair of hands, Nicola Sturgeon’s new No. 2 is on the offensive. 

Along with the remaining Liberal Democrats, Robertson is becoming one of the chief soothsayers of doom on the EU negotiations. Indeed, critics of the Labour leadership often joke that Robertson is the real leader of the opposition.

At his party’s conference in Glasgow, Robertson warned of a looming hard Brexit: “We are in the eye of the storm, and there is much, much more worse to come.”

He condemned the UK government’s unwillingness to spell out the status of EU nationals. “How shameful,” he lamented. “How shameful.”

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This is the kind of rhetoric that goes down well with metropolitan liberals, but Robertson has extra ammo. Nationalist ammo. 

“The Tories are now talking about reverse devolution, about taking powers away from Holyrood in their Brexit power grab,” he told the audience of party members. His defence of immigration was a pragmatic one. “For a country that needs to grow its population to help address skills gaps and deal with an aging population, free movement matters,” he said. “All this is now at risk.”

Pledging to get the best deal for all Scots, Robertson thundered: “For us, Remain means Remain.” If Theresa May cannot find a deal that works for Scotland, he warned: “Your days as Prime Minister of the UK are numbered.”

Robertson’s Westminster cadres will be holding an opposition day debate demanding reassurance for EU nationals. SNP MPs already plan to vote against a Brexit bill. Despite the stern words, SNP MPs at conference remain hopeful they will be able to extract enough exceptions for Scotland to escape a hard Brexit. 

But while Robertson’s rhetoric will warm the hearts of Remainers across the UK, they should be aware of one thing – if the Government’s main opposition is Scotland, any gains for the 48 per cent will take place north of the border.

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