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[2nd Allotted Day]

Part of Immigration (Time Limit on Detention) – in the House of Commons at 2:39 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:39 pm, 5th December 2018

Of course, of the Scottish Conservatives do not represent the majority of Scottish opinion in relation to anything, let alone Brexit. It is often forgotten, after the hullabaloo when they won seats here last year, that they are still very much in the minority in Scottish politics and the Scottish Parliament.

Let us look at what has happened to Scotland in the past two years. The UK Government cut the Scottish Government out of the Brexit negotiations completely. The Scottish Government put forward the idea for a differentiated deal or a compromise for the whole of the United Kingdom at an early stage, but that was completely ignored. The Scottish Parliament voted—with the cross-party support of everyone apart from the Tories and one Lib Dem—to withhold consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but that, too, was ignored. When the Scottish Parliament tried to pass its own legal continuity Bill, it was challenged by the British Government in the UK Supreme Court, and we are still waiting for that decision. When amendments to the withdrawal Bill came back from the House of Lords to the Floor of this House, Scottish MPs got 19 minutes to debate the implications of those amendments, with the rest of the time being taken up by the Government Minister. Scotland is not mentioned in the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration, while little Gibraltar—important though it is—was afforded advance sight of the agreement. The Scottish Government saw it only when the rest of us did.

My point is that Scotland’s marginalisation and its very weak bargaining position within the Union that is the United Kingdom have been very exposed by Brexit. After our failure in the independence referendum of 2014, 56 Scottish National party MPs were elected to this House, yet not one of our amendments to the Scotland Bill at that time got passed, despite the fact that we had 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland and 50% of the vote at that time. We were told that the wonderful Scotland Act was going to give us huge amounts of power and that we would have the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. I would like to ask any fair-minded person in this Chamber, and anyone watching, whether they think the sequence of events I have just described really makes it sound as though we have the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. Of course it does not, because devolution’s constitutional fragility has been revealed by Westminster’s assertion of control and attempts to repatriate powers here from Brussels, and by the disregard shown for Scotland’s preferences in the negotiations in Brussels.

The Brexit process has told Scottish voters a lot about the reality of devolution. It has told them that power devolved is indeed power retained, and that the United Kingdom is not the Union of equals that we were told it was before 2014 but a unitary state where devolved power is retrieved to the centre when convenient and where no one but the Conservative party, which represents only a minority of voters in Scotland, gets a say on major decisions over trade and foreign policy.

The experience of Ireland and Scotland during the Brexit process shows a significant contrast between the way in which nations that are member states of the European Union and nations that are members of this Union are treated. I heard the distinguished former Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, John Bruton, speak recently. When he was asked about this by a member of the audience, he said that Scotland’s marginalisation within the United Kingdom would not happen in the European Union, and that if the European Union were taking a decision as drastic as Brexit and it had only four nations in it, all four nations would need to agree. In the UK, however, it does not matter what Scotland and Northern Ireland say. They can always be overridden by the English vote. That is not an anti-English comment; it is a comment on the constitution of the United Kingdom. If Scotland were a member state of the EU, even though we are a country of only 5.5 million people, we would have the same veto as Ireland over such a major decision, in the same way that the big countries have.

There is still a little bit of hope for Scotland, and it comes from the cross-party working that we have seen there, both in the Scottish Parliament today and from the group of politicians, of which I am proud to have been a member, who took a case to the Court of Justice of the European Union. We found out yesterday that the advocate-general says that proceedings under article 50 can be unilaterally revoked. I was interested to hear the Prime Minister acknowledge earlier today, in response to a question of mine, that it is highly likely that the grand chamber of the Court will follow the advocate-general’s opinion. It seems that Scotland, Scottish politicians and the Scottish courts are throwing this Parliament a lifeline that would enable it to get out of the madness of Brexit.

Even if we do throw that lifeline, the United Kingdom Parliament takes it, there is a second referendum, and the whole UK is smart enough, having been put in possession of the full facts, to vote to remain part of the European Union, do not think that that will be the Scottish question closed, because the Brexit process has wholly revealed our inferior status within the Union, and people will not forget that. The last two years have shown us that across the United Kingdom, the leave vote was won on the back of promises that have proved undeliverable. Many people say that those promises were lies, but whether they were or not, they have proved undeliverable.

It is hard for me to be fair to the Prime Minister because of the scorn that she has shown for Scottish democracy, but I will try: I do not think that it is because the Prime Minister is a bad negotiator that the deal is bad. The truth is that there is no better deal than the one the United Kingdom currently enjoys from within the European Union.

The Prime Minister at least tried to negotiate a deal. Others who led the leave movement have totally and utterly abdicated their responsibility. I watched with interest yesterday while Boris Johnson attempted and struggled to explain what he wants. I was none the wiser at the end of his speech. Let us not forget his partner in crime in the leave movement, who has now left the Treasury Bench: the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Why did he not take the job of Brexit Secretary when it was offered to him a couple of weeks ago? If someone desires something so much, why not take responsibility for delivering it? I think we all know the answer to that question.

Then, of course, there is Mr Davis. His insouciant appearances at the Exiting the European Union Committee were highly entertaining, but also deeply shocking. Now where is he? We have not seen him in the Chamber much in the last few days, but he is certainly not proposing any firm alternative to the deal.

The much maligned Court of Justice of the European Union, with the assistance of Scottish parliamentarians and the Scottish courts, has opened up new vistas of possibility for this Chamber. There is a chance of reversing the madness, but I accept that there will need to be a second vote. To achieve that, we will have to work cross-party in this Chamber. There is a lot of that going on already. May I respectfully suggest that parliamentarians in this Chamber look north to what is happening in Edinburgh this afternoon? They would see that it is possible for at least the Scottish National party, the Labour party, the Lib Dems and the Greens to work together. We know from this House that it is also possible for those parties to work with some Members on the Government Benches.

I want to make something crystal clear. Make no mistake about what would happen if there was a second vote across the UK, and England, in possession of the full facts on the reality of Brexit, again voted to leave—I am quite sure that Scotland would vote to remain. Scotland would not stand for that, and there would have to be a second independence referendum. This time, we know that we would have a far more sympathetic ear in Europe, even from the Spanish, supposedly Scotland’s great enemies. Their Foreign Minister said recently that if Scotland secedes from the UK constitutionally, he will not veto Scotland’s membership of the European Union.

As I said yesterday, I very much hope that when an independent Scotland tries to seek membership of the European Union, it will be remembered that it was Scottish parliamentarians and the Scottish courts who attempted to give the UK Parliament an escape route from Brexit. Even if the United Kingdom takes that escape route, the Brexit process has shown that the United Kingdom in its present form is not a Union in which Scotland can continue to function properly.