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  1. Spotlight on Policy
19 July 2018

Scotland’s Brexit: the SNP view

The SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Europe and Foreign Affairs says the time has come for cross-party collaboration. 

By Stephen Gethins MP

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

A few months before the Independence Referendum, the then First Minister Alex Salmond said that if a Yes result prevailed then the leaders of all the Scottish parliamentary parties would be invited to become part of the negotiating team. The idea was that in the aftermath of such a huge decision, bringing people of different views together would be important.

Two years on from the EU referendum there is little sign of that kind of cooperation in Westminster, where major negotiations appear to take place in the hours before key votes in the rooms around the Chamber or even on the benches of the House of Commons during debates only involving squabbling Tory MPs. That is no way to advance a policy programme that is more uncertain and possibly far-reaching than an independent Scotland would have been. 

Brexit will have the most profound impact on us all, creating the biggest constitutional, economic and political change in our lifetimes. 

In the fog of the Westminster bubble it is easy to forget that this really matters. I recently opened a conference at the University of St Andrews on the fight against TB. Not only does that programme receive European funding and cooperation with other EU universities, but it also relies on freedom of movement to draw in some of the best academics from the EU. That is critical in such a competitive world. 

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I benefitted from freedom of movement and Erasmus, and I now find myself in a position of responsibility as a legislator, fearful of leaving future generations with fewer opportunities than I enjoyed. That is not right.

Beyond that, the government’s own analysis shows that each and every part of the UK will be worse off as a result of its plans. Reflect on that for a moment: the government of the day is pursuing a policy it knows will hit jobs, the economy and public services.

The crisis is beyond a political one, and no amount of kicking endless cans along the road will solve that. The only way forward is to seek a multi-party and cross-administration solution. Back in December 2016 the Scottish government suggested a compromise, whereby the UK stays in the Single Market and Customs Union. This compromise would have respected the UK wide decision whilst acknowledging the closeness of the vote, and the fact that Scotland, as one of the sovereign nations in this United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland, with a peace process deeply embedded in its EU membership, had voted to remain. 

That compromise is a good place to start; it is the least worst option economically according to the UK government. As someone who would wish to remain part of the EU, that is not my preferred solution but it is the nature of compromise.

The government has made little progress on Brexit over the past two years. It is not entirely Mrs May’s fault given the gross irresponsibility of the Brexiteers for failing to set out what they meant by leaving the EU. Those who got us into this mess don’t seem to have any solutions. Maybe it is time for some grown-up discussion where we must all make some difficult choices.

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

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