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19 July 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 3:22pm

Scotland’s Brexit: the Labour view

The Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour and Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland argues that the UK's internal market must be protected. 

By Lesley Laird MP

Q: What are the key considerations for Scotland on the negotiating table, and what would be the best Brexit outcome for Scotland?

If Brexit has presented a constitutional crisis for the UK, in recent weeks it has become an existential one for Scotland. 

So on one hand there is a Scottish viewpoint on all of the same matters affecting England and Wales and Northern Ireland, from blue passports to freedom of movement and even our own particular historical perspective on the Irish border question. But on the other hand is the question of our devolved Parliament’s right to shape those issues and the apparent inability of Scotland’s invisible man in the cabinet to state our case at the top table. 

There is no doubt that fault line has always been there, long before Scotland voted for devolution two decades ago. But the political earthquake of Brexit risks turning that fault line into an unbridgeable fissure. Two implacable nationalist governments of different stripes – both hell-bent on defending mutually exclusive positions – seem content throwing red meat to their hard-core supporters while most Scots are left hungry for co-operation, pragmatism, compromise and certainty.

It has never been clearer that the UK’s current constitutional machinery is failing. But if we must reshape our constitution to reflect a new relationship with our continental partners then we should do so while also considering how we might be better neighbours on these British Isles too. 

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So yes, some of that means putting the appropriate practical arrangements in place for our withdrawal from the European Union, but also establishing frameworks to preserve the UK’s internal market. 

It would make absolutely no sense whatsoever for there to be differences in regulations when it comes to food labelling in Dumfries as opposed to Carlisle. It would make no sense for there to be difference in environmental protections on chemicals or pesticides, because the food that will be sprayed with these chemicals and pesticides will be exported from Scotland to the rest of the UK and vice versa. 

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But in seeking agreement on these and other issues, and as we have seen with the epic saga of the Clause 11 devolution amendment – during which the Scottish Secretary actually said: “Scotland is not a partner in the United Kingdom, it is part of the United Kingdom” – there is little point trying to treat the symptoms of a flawed system if you do not also tackle the root cause. 

It’s clear that the Joint Ministerial Committee needs to be put on a statutory footing, as we have consistently argued. We wanted it to produce a report and minutes, we wanted it to have to report to the Commons, and we wanted every single member and every single government on the Committee to be kept informed and consulted on the UK government’s Brexit negotiations at every turn. 

Politics is a battle of ideas, so it is prudent to have in place a proper mechanism for what happens in the very likely event that politicians north and south of the border reach an impasse. 

While it’s pretty clear that even the best Brexit is going to come at a cost to our economy we must not allow that to be used as a catalyst to rip up the United Kingdom. The prize now is to use this instead as an opportunity, a force for good, and work towards a more cohesive, more united country – no matter what part of the United Kingdom that you live in.

In this series, Spotlight asks senior representatives from the three main Scottish parties the same question about negotiations. 

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