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  1. Spotlight on Policy
25 July 2018

Scotland’s Brexit: the Tory view

The Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservatives says there is no more important time for the UK to be united. 

By Jackson Carlaw MSP

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

The essential thing is to be clear-eyed about the needs of Scotland’s economy and public services, and how Scotland fits in to both the UK and the EU. 

Each sector in Scotland has its own balance of optimism and nerves. Talk to anyone involved in fishing, and they couldn’t be more enthusiastic about leaving. Oil or finance firms often feel that our migration system does not reflect the global supply of trained workers from the United States, Middle East or south Asia. Or an industry like whisky sees the big growth opportunity not in Europe but in the Far East – and whatever the eventual Brexit deal, will still face no tariffs with the EU. 

We have to recognise, though, that other firms are much warier: farmers who rely on migrant labour, for example, or manufacturers with supply chains across the EU.

But beyond these differences in the balance of hopes and fears, a number of factors remain consistent. All want the best possible access to the EU, and for international trade to be as smooth as possible. That has to be the first priority in negotiations.

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All see that negotiations can lead to better tailoring public policy to our needs – particularly in farm support and fishing quotas, and all want access to skilled workers. Scotland’s firms are no different from the rest of the UK’s in this sense – a fruit picker in Angus is reliant on migrant labour just as much as one in Kent or Lincolnshire. The same goes for public services – whether the hospital is north or south of the border, the recruitment is often global. Negotiations have to prioritise the end goal of a mature, sensible system that retains public confidence and meets the needs of business. 

But above all else, what unites all our firms, is for all the EU’s importance, the UK remains by far the bigger market. Scotland trades roughly four times as much with the rest of the UK than the EU. We all benefit from the lack of a border at Berwick – so people, goods and services can flow back and forth. 

So it is both pragmatic and principled to say that the worst possible thing, as we leave the EU, would be to disrupt the deeply-integrated UK internal market. That’s why powers that are returning from Brussels should be devolved where possible, but held temporarily at Westminster if it will make life harder for individuals and businesses. 

And this, arguably, is the overall outcome that Scotland needs as we leave the EU. People are sick of constitutional squabbling. The best deal for Scotland will be not just one that supports jobs and public services, it will be one that starts to move us all on from the division of the past four years.

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

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