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It is an honour and, indeed, a challenge to follow the excellent contribution of Vernon Coaker.
It will surprise no one when I say that I, along with every one of my SNP colleagues, will vote against the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement when the House divides on Tuesday. I will vote against it because it is a very bad deal for Scotland, but also because it is a potentially catastrophic deal for the people of my constituency. What we in Argyll and Bute are being asked to do by the Prime Minister is to support a deal that by every analysis will make us poorer and that will put us at a competitive disadvantage to our near neighbours in Northern Ireland, just a few miles across the water from the Mull of Kintyre. It would be a dereliction of duty if I were to back the deal, because I would not be acting in the best interests of my constituents, my country or, indeed, the rest of the United Kingdom if I were to support a deal that I believe would be harmful to the social, economic and cultural wellbeing of the people of Argyll and Bute.
For the past two years, the Prime Minister has told us repeatedly that no deal is better than a bad deal. We were assured that there were no circumstances in which she would sign up to a bad deal, yet what we are being asked to vote for next week is exactly that: a bad deal—a very bad deal. Any deal that puts Scotland at a competitive disadvantage can only be a bad deal. Any deal that prevents us from attracting people from right across Europe to Argyll and Bute to live, work, invest or raise a family in order to reverse a decades-long stream of depopulation is a very bad deal. I commend and 100% endorse the remarks made last night by my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford when he said to the EU nationals who have chosen to make Scotland their home, “You are welcome.” We thank them for choosing to live in Scotland and welcome the contribution they make to our lives and our economy. Their presence enriches our culture.
That point was forcibly made to me last night by a constituent, Mr Graeme Lyon, who wants to know how the Prime Minister can justify causing such economic and social harm by ending the freedom of movement that has enriched everyone in this country. How could I possibly support an agreement that will have such disastrous consequences for our inshore fisheries fleet and our world-famous shellfish and fin-fish industries, that fails to protect our fragile west coast hill-farming sector, and that denies our vital tourism industry access to the continent-wide pool of labour it so desperately needs? I cannot and will not support the deal.
Of course, none of that should come as a surprise to the Prime Minister, because she came to Scotland last week to meet the people and to listen to their concerns—aye, right, so she did. Meeting and listening to the people of Scotland does not mean arriving at Glasgow airport at 3 o’clock and driving 12 minutes to a factory in Bridge of Weir, where a hand-picked group of journalists were waiting while the rest stood outside in the rain. It is not about firing out that old cliché about “our precious Union” before jumping back in the car for the 12-minute drive back to Glasgow airport to be in the back in the air and out the country by 6 o’clock that evening. That is nobody’s definition of meeting or listening to the people. In fact, it is an insult to the people of Scotland.
If the Prime Minister really wanted to hear the voice of Scotland, she should have a listen to the CNN report by Erin McLaughlin from Glasgow on the same day that the PM flew into Bridge of Weir. The report showed that the people of Scotland were insulted by the contempt shown by the Prime Minister and this sham of a PR stunt. It also showed that the people of Scotland do not want to be dragged out of European Union against their will. Indeed, one young Glaswegian gentleman was so incensed that he, inadvertently perhaps, used a form of industrial language rarely heard on the streets of the “dear green place”.
The CNN report also showed that the people of Glasgow and of Scotland are moving from no to yes on the question of Scottish independence. This is not the future Scotland was promised back in 2014 when we were told that only by voting no in the independence referendum would we be able to retain our EU citizenship. No one was told when they voted no back in 2014 that not only would they be giving the green light to Scotland being dragged out of the European Union, but that Scotland would become poorer and that we would be put quite deliberately at a competitive disadvantage compared with other parts of the UK.
Another of the hollow promises made by those advocating a no vote in 2014 was that the Scottish Parliament would be the world’s most powerfully devolved Parliament. However, from that day to this, the Scottish Parliament has been ignored, sidelined and disregarded. Tonight, that Parliament rejected the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal by 92 to 29. I wonder what cognisance this Government will take of the opinion of the world’s most powerfully devolved Parliament. I suspect we already know the answer to that, but I sincerely urge the Government to take on board what the Scottish Parliament has said, because it is absolutely right. An escape route is being offered, and I urge the Government to take it. Despite the Prime Minister’s bluster, this is not a take it or leave it situation.
This whole Brexit process has been an embarrassing fiasco. Over the past two years, we have heard about a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit, and a blind Brexit. Well, after yesterday we are now in the realms of a burst-ba’ Brexit. Regardless of how the fiasco is resolved, Scotland needs the full powers of an independent Parliament not just to stop and reverse this Brexit chaos, but to ensure that Scotland will never again be reduced to a passive bystander while things are done to it and for it by Governments and Prime Ministers whom the people of Scotland have overwhelmingly and consistently rejected.