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That the Parliament welcomes the overwhelming vote of the people of Scotland to remain in the European Union; affirms to citizens of other EU countries living here that they remain welcome and that their contribution is valued; mandates the Scottish Government to have discussions with the UK Government, other devolved administrations, the EU institutions and member states to explore options for protecting Scotland’s relationship with the EU, Scotland’s place in the single market and the social, employment and economic benefits that come from that, and instructs the Scottish Government to report back regularly to parliamentarians, to the European and External Relations Committee and the Parliament on the progress of those discussions and to seek Parliament’s approval of the outcome of that process.—[
We live in uncertain times.
The social, political and economic order has been turned upside down. It will take many months and years for us to fully grasp the consequences, but we have already seen the collapse in the pound and the fall in the value of companies. Businesses are uncertain about future investment, and those whose jobs rely on our access to the EU single market worry about what the future holds.
I echo what others have said in their messages to EU migrants who live and work in Scotland: they contribute not just to our economy but to the society and the culture that we have built together. On behalf of members on the Labour benches, I say to the 180,000 EU migrants who live in Scotland, “You are welcome.” Twenty per cent of them live here in Edinburgh—a city that I have the great honour of representing in this Parliament. Here, 74 per cent voted to remain—one of the highest results in the whole of the United Kingdom—but I know that there are people in this great city who, despite the support from their neighbours, now feel ill at ease. People who have built their lives here now feel unsettled and anxious. While we fight for their rights and against a rise in racism, we must also continue to show them love and understanding.
We must also understand, however, that there were a million Scots who voted to leave the European Union. The leave campaign contained some of the worst dog-whistle racism and xenophobia I have heard in my life—dog whistles that turned to foghorns whenever Nigel Farage spoke or unveiled a poster.
That does not make every leave voter a xenophobe or a right-winger. There are working-class communities here in Edinburgh and in Glasgow, just as there are in Sunderland and Sheffield, who feel powerless and who are angry at the establishment. I was at the Glasgow count. I saw boxes in the First Minister’s own constituency split 50/50. Here in Edinburgh, in the seat that I sought to represent, the poorest communities wanted out, in Niddrie as they did in Sighthill and elsewhere in the city. The result, even in Scotland, is not as straightforward as some have sought to pretend it is. All of us in this chamber have a duty to better understand that, to listen and to act upon what we hear.
But we did not vote as communities, constituencies, towns or even nations; we voted as one country: the United Kingdom—a country that we Scots reaffirmed our commitment to just 18 months ago. Millions of Scots want to be part of both unions, and that is why it is so important that we give the First Minister our support to do everything that she can to secure Scotland’s place in the European Union.
So, the Labour Party will support the Government’s efforts to do the best that it can to mitigate the worst of Brexit and to strengthen Scotland’s ties with our European neighbours and allies. The priority must be to secure jobs and the rights of workers. All options for protecting Scotland’s place in the single market must be explored, including a federalised United Kingdom, which could see those nations of the UK that voted to remain retain their membership or achieve associated status.
The Labour Party stands ready to offer assistance where we can to the Government, but that support is not unconditional. Soon, this Parliament will go into recess and not return for two months. It used to be said that a week was a long time in politics; just now, a day in British politics feels like a lifetime and, in that context, two months is an eternity—a recall of Parliament cannot be ruled out. The First Minister may leave this chamber with the faith of these benches to speak to Europe in the best interest of securing Scotland’s future in both the EU and the UK—but that faith can be maintained only with regular communication, involvement and briefings from the Government to Opposition parties, and only with a continued understanding that, as First Minister, she travels to Europe with a duty to represent Scots who voted yes and who voted no, and Scots who voted remain and leave. That faith would be betrayed if, at any point, the First Minister tried to present our support for today’s motion as support for a second independence referendum.
On that basis, we cannot support the Tory amendment, because it removes support for the Government to speak to EU institutions and member states about Scotland’s future. The last line of the Tory amendment also says
“that the challenges of leaving the EU are not addressed by leaving the UK, Scotland’s own union of nations, biggest market and closest friends.”
Let me warn Ruth Davidson that she had better not dare to suggest that Labour’s failure to back her amendment is somehow a failure to back the United Kingdom.
I struggle to put into words the anger I feel towards her party at the moment—an anger that has been building since David Cameron announced English votes for English laws within minutes of the Scottish independence referendum result and that grew when her party set Scottish voters against English voters in a hugely divisive and disingenuous 2015 campaign. It is anger at a Tory party that forced the EU referendum on a country that did not want it just to resolve an ego contest within the party; and anger at a Tory campaign in last month’s election that told people that all that mattered was whether they were a unionist or a nationalist. It was a campaign that had no vision whatsoever for Scotland and that boiled down to just two key messages: that people can trust only the Tories to protect the union—how is that going now, Ruth?; and that the Tories would offer a strong opposition. All that the Tories stand opposed to today is giving the First Minister some support to speak to EU institutions about our future. The Tories have put the future of the United Kingdom in danger at every turn and it is high time that they shouldered responsibility for that.
The priority on the Labour benches is to focus on jobs and the economy and to make the best of a very bad situation. At decision time, we will support the Government to do just that.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to a debate that, like others, I wish we did not have to have. I thank the First Minister for providing an advance copy of her statement. I agree with the substance of it and I appreciate the tone in which it was made.
I thank my colleagues in the Scottish Green Party who went out and campaigned. Like all of our party activists and campaigners, they were tired because they had put their energy, time and money into our national election campaign just weeks previously, but they went out and campaigned and, along with colleagues across the political spectrum, they secured a strong democratic mandate from the people of Scotland. We are European and we are staying European.
I endorse the First Minister’s comments about immigration. She talked about respect for migrants who have come here from the EU and other parts of the world. They have chosen to be part of our society but they are feeling excluded and divided from our society, as Anni Pues, a German citizen who spoke in a rally outside Parliament just an hour ago, made clear. The feelings of isolation that many people have been forced to endure in recent weeks and months are unacceptable.
There is legitimate anger at the years of political and media pandering to racism and xenophobia in this country. Those in politics and the media who have taken part in that bear a heavy responsibility for the scenes that we have now seen. The far-right and racist tendencies that have been cultivated during the campaign and given disturbing expression since the result must be opposed.
Kez Dugdale made a sound point that the failure of the political mainstream to build an economy that works for the common good has left huge numbers of people feeling angry and alienated. Those feelings are justified, but the Brexit debate has channelled them into the politics of division and hatred at home, and it risks giving momentum to far-right and anti-European movements elsewhere across Europe. The leave campaigns—both of them—were of course guilty of far more explicitly cultivating that reaction, but in my view even the remain side failed significantly to give robust challenge to the notion that people’s right to free movement is somehow a burden. In truth, it is a principle of huge importance and one that the Greens will continue to defend.
We will certainly support the Government’s motion at decision time and we will continue to advocate for the clear mandate that has been given by the people of Scotland, as have many of our European colleagues in a number of political parties. I thank those in the European Greens who today have helped to soften the language around an immediate triggering of article 50, which would give no time for the serious consideration that is necessary or for the contribution to the negotiation process that the Scottish Government is expected to make on behalf of us all. That process must be allowed time and all options for achieving it must remain on the table. We are clearly facing a unique situation. Our path towards EU membership, if it happens, will be unique compared with any other path to EU membership that a country has taken. It may be that, after exploring all options, far more people than voted yes in 2014 will conclude that independence is the only way to achieve EU membership.
We must also contrast the clear assertion of Scotland’s mandate with the utter chaos that we see in the leave camp and the fundamental dishonesty in its campaign. How many times were we told that its campaign was about taking back control? Take back control of borders. Take back control of money, however spurious the figures. Now it is claiming that we can stay in the single market, but there is no such thing as a single market if we do not have free movement of labour; that is a fundamental aspect of the single market. It is also abundantly clear that access to that single market will include a financial contribution, if it can even be negotiated. We need to challenge the fundamental dishonesty of the claim that we can have the best of both worlds, take only what we want and give nothing back to the community of nations across Europe.
I am not surprised that we have heard shameless dishonesty, racism and self-interest from the likes of Boris Johnson, UKIP or the right-wing media. We cannot allow that kind of rhetoric and language to become part of the Scottish political landscape.
I remind the chamber of something that Ruth Davidson said when we were debating a different constitutional transition not so very long ago. She said that those who were proposing transition must have the trust of the people to “safeguard national security”, to
“safeguard the nation state’s economic security” and to
“safeguard the nation state’s political security by establishing its place in the world through membership of international organisations such as the EU.”—[
, 30 October 2012; c 12711.]
How is that going? The UK Government has demonstrated an historic failure on all three counts to the people of Scotland and the wider United Kingdom.
Ruth Davidson also argues that the 2014 result must be respected just as much as this year’s referendum result. The 2014 result has been fundamentally superseded. I remind members of a comment made by the better together campaign on 2 September 2014 just weeks before the referendum:
“What is process for removing our EU citizenship? Voting yes.”
People who voted in 2014 did so on a false prospectus and a false promise that their membership of the European Union would be protected in those circumstances and it has not been. I have spoken to strangers and friends from across the political spectrum—I have friends who vote Tory—who have told me that they are ready to re-evaluate the no vote that they cast in 2014. No one has the right to close down that position for people in Scotland.
The Greens will continue to respect the mandate of voters in Scotland that has been so clearly given. It requires that all options must remain on the table and, on that basis, we will certainly support the actions that the First Minister has set out in preparing the ground for a further independence referendum should it prove necessary and should it be the will of the people of Scotland. We will certainly support the right of the Scottish Government to enter into negotiations while respecting the need for it to return to secure a parliamentary majority at every step of the way.
We will certainly continue to express respect for the people who have moved to Scotland and who contribute to our society and we will continue to advocate that, whatever solution Scotland and the rest of the UK come to, the free movement of people remains a fundamental principle. We will advocate for the human rights, the social protections, the equality, the strong environmental protection and the other hard-won achievements of the European Union that are worth defending and are directly under threat from the decision that was taken so recklessly a week ago.
I have lost elections. I took my loss in Dunfermline in 2010 very hard and very personally. However, no election defeat has made me feel like I felt in the early hours of last Friday. There was a deep sense of loss—loss of part of my soul and of what I had believed to be the soul of this country. Outward looking, compassionate, tolerant, open and generous: those are the attributes that I associate with my country. It is a country that does not walk on the other side of the road—but that is exactly what our country did last Thursday.
Practical benefits have also gone. Tackling crime with the European arrest warrant? Gone. Co-operation on climate change? Gone. A single market? Gone. Improved social conditions? Gone. All those, and so many other things, are gone.
We are already seeing the effect on the value of the pound, on company shares and on credit ratings. I am angry that we have been recklessly led down that path. I am angry that prices in shops will rise because of the higher cost of imports, that people’s savings are falling in value, and that job losses are on the cards, but Boris Johnson will not suffer, Michael Gove may lose some money but has stacks more to get by on, and Nigel Farage simply does not care. Ordinary people on low and modest incomes will lose: they are the victims of the crisis.
I hope that David Cameron is feeling guilty—he should feel guilty for imposing the divisions of his party on the country. That responsibility also applies to every Conservative in this Parliament, including Ruth Davidson. The economic chaos means that the Tories can never again claim to be the defenders of the economy, and nor can they claim, after the surge in support for independence at the weekend, to be the defenders of the union. They sparked the economic and constitutional crisis. Ruth Davidson is not defending the union; she is undermining it, and no Tory amendment today can hide that truth.
With every election loss, I lived to fight another day, and I am here today because I got off my knees to fight and win again. The United Kingdom’s place in Europe will live to fight another day, and I am determined to fight for that. My party will contest the next general election on a clear platform of supporting the United Kingdom’s place in Europe and 7,000 new members have joined our party to campaign with us to win that case. I want Scotland in the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom in Europe. That is the best possible option. I will not settle for anything less.
We need to understand, however, why 1 million people in Scotland voted to leave the European Union. It is of little surprise that someone with a minimum-waged job, a zero-hours contract, a damp house and a car that has failed its MOT might think that he or she has nothing to lose. Such people probably would not believe a well-heeled Conservative Prime Minister who was telling them that the status quo is best for them. The European Union is not responsible for all those problems, but the leavers provided that easy target and David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn were incapable of making a compelling case for the European Union.
The First Minister knows that I oppose another independence referendum; I made that commitment during the election only last month. Today’s motion does not endorse independence—the First Minister has made that clear, and in words that she has added to her statement, she said that that is emphatically the case. That was a welcome remark.
I welcome also the First Minister reaching out to other parties to engage in the negotiation process. I immediately agreed on Friday to participate, as long as it was not a cunning plan to deliver independence.
I want to explore options, including the bizarrely named “reverse Greenland”, working with London, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, or some other arrangement. However, we need to understand fully before we move ahead. Rushing headlong to independence will undermine those efforts. There is so much that we simply do not know, so one of the lessons from last week should be that we should not make decisions when we do not know.
In my constituency of North East Fife, there are many thriving businesses. They are thriving, in part, as a result of the hard graft of workers from across the continent as well as from closer to home, who work together in harmony. There is Fishers Services laundry, Kettle Produce, many farms, and the hotels and restaurants in St Andrews and beyond. Those workers from across the continent work hard and make those businesses successful. They have married here, settled here and pay their taxes here. Each of them is one of us; they will never stop being one of us. I know many who will be offended by the decision last week, but I want them to know that we are standing with them. We are determined to recapture the soul of this country so that it is, once again, outward looking, compassionate, tolerant, open and generous.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The decision last Thursday has huge consequences for all our constituents and for this country. By Friday, Parliament will have had a grand total of three hours to debate the issue, and a very limited number of members will have been called to speak. We will have had no opportunity to question the First Minister and the Government, or for other parties to question leaders of my party and the other parties. This is an issue for Parliament; it is not a party-political issue. Such is its importance that we must be given more time for other members to engage in the debate; it is of huge consequence.
The Presiding Officer:
I thank Mr Findlay. That is not a point of order, but it was a matter for consideration at the business bureau this morning, and the business managers of all the parties gave it a great deal of thought. There is huge demand to speak and to discuss the subject; however, today is just the beginning—it is not the end of the matter. There will be an opportunity to put questions to the First Minister at First Minister’s question time on Thursday. In the meantime, we have agreed that today’s debate gives many members a chance to contribute.
I thank the First Minister for advance notice of her statement.
Too often, political events are described as “seismic” or “earth-shattering” when, in truth, the tremors are more for politicians than for working people. Last week’s referendum was not one of those events, but was a defining moment in our country’s story. It is deeply significant for all of us. I find myself reflecting that at this time just seven days ago I was in final preparations for the BBC debate in which I argued in favour of the European Union, and in which I was told that we were overplaying the impact of Brexit. Well, a week is indeed a long time in politics. It turns out, after all, that major constitutional decisions, such as on the EU or on Scottish independence, really do have major economic consequences.
Last week’s decision was not the one that I supported and not one that I campaigned for, and I am deeply disappointed by the result. However, the first message that I want to send today is that my belief in our capacity to meet the challenges that we face as Scots and as members of United Kingdom has not diminished by one inch. The challenges are great and they are complex. There are questions upon questions, and more have not yet been formulated, never mind been answered. However, we are a nation with a fundamentally strong economy, an educated workforce, a developed diplomatic network and the capacity to overcome the challenges that we face. Of that, I am certain.
We are seeking today to amend the Government’s motion, but let me begin by setting out where we wish to support it. First and foremost, let us unite in this Parliament in saying to people here from across the European Union: “You are welcome, you are wanted, your contribution is recognised and this is your home.” [
.] Too often, I fear, the referendum debate was guilty of discussing the contribution of EU migrants to this country as some sort of necessary evil to fill in the gaps in our labour market. So, let us say it loud and clear: “We do not need just your labour: we want your values, your brains and your culture, and we want you.”
Let us also unite in expressing our disgust at the racist insults and attacks that EU citizens have faced in the days since the referendum. It is shaming to our country, and it is not done in our name.
Secondly, the Scottish Conservatives today wish to pledge our support for the Scottish Government’s full engagement with the UK Government and other devolved Administrations in the coming weeks and months, as Britain’s renegotiations are taken forward. It cannot be overstated how important the new settlement will be for all of us. It will define our new relationship with the European Union for the coming generations, so it is vital that we get it right and it is vital that all voices are heard in putting that deal together.
I want the First Minister of Scotland to be involved, I want the First Ministers of Wales and Northern Ireland involved and—having stood alongside him last week and having seen him take on my Conservative colleagues and argue for his city—I can say absolutely that I want the mayor of London at the table, too. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has repeatedly made it clear that he wants the devolved Administrations to be integrally involved. That is the correct way to progress.
Even though the vote was to leave the EU, our amendment makes it clear that we want to protect and maximise Scotland’s place in Europe the continent and in the European single market. I am not going to try and pretend today that that will be easy: my scepticism is on the record. However, we all now have a duty to the many people whose jobs rely on trade with EU member states to put our scepticism to one side and to push for the best possible deal. In so doing, we need to ask ourselves some practical questions. Do we want Scotland to remain subject to EU law? Do we want powers over matters including farming, fishing and the environment to be held in Brussels or to be devolved to this Parliament? How do we protect the passporting rights of Scotland’s financial services?
Those are just some of the practical tasks that will lie ahead in the short and medium terms. However, in saying that, I do not try today to brush aside the more fundamental consequences of last week’s result—consequences that have, for those of us here in Scotland, a wider and deeper significance. As our amendment makes clear, Scotland and Northern Ireland are to leave the European Union even though a majority of their people do not want it. In response, the First Minister has made it clear in the days since the vote that she wants to explore what options are available to Scotland.
Again, let me say where we agree with the First Minister. We welcome the formation of a standing council of experts on the issue. We are, indeed, in unprecedented territory, so the more expertise that we have, the better. If the Scottish Government wants to explore Scotland’s options from within the United Kingdom, we can support the First Minister in that.
However, it is about the stage after that that we have become concerned about the Scottish Government’s approach, in the days since the result. I cannot ignore the fact that, within hours of the vote becoming clear on Friday morning, the Scottish Government had pushed questions of independence to front and centre. I cannot ignore the First Minister’s Dover House announcement that she had already instructed Government officials to start drawing up the necessary legislation for a second referendum on independence. I cannot ignore it when I hear the First Minister justify that on the basis that the UK, as constituted in 2014, “no longer exists”, and I cannot ignore the SNP’s Westminster leader telling the House of Commons that, in order for Scotland to remain a European country, an independence referendum may have to happen.
I heard the First Minister tell us that the motion is nothing to do with independence—however, in the days since the result last week, it has felt to many people across Scotland that the SNP is talking about nothing but independence. It has done so again today.
The First Minister speaks of people in Scotland who are worried and outraged by the EU result. Today, I feel duty bound also to speak up for the many people of Scotland who have contacted me and my colleagues in the past few days to say that they, too, are deeply worried about the prospect of another referendum on independence. That is why we have included in our amendment our opposition to that prospect.
We will not dampen the shock waves caused by one referendum by lighting the fuse for another, nor will we do so by saying that the economic impact of leaving one union means that we should sever ties with a greater union whose value in trade eclipses the former’s many times over.
The arguments in favour of the UK in 2014 were not based just on the economic risks of independence, as convincing as they were. I also believed that we in Britain had more in common than we had that divided us. Does last week’s vote test that notion? Yes, it does, and there is little point in pretending otherwise. It tests it, but it does not break it. It does not break the continuing logic of our sharing power with the United Kingdom and of not splitting from it. It does not break the arguments in favour of our own single market—a market that is more—not less—important to Scotland’s prosperity than the EU. It does not break our shared story, which will, despite the shock waves of the past few days, endure, and the referendum result last week does not overturn the vote that we had a mere 21 months ago to remain part of a united kingdom.
I know many people who are hurt by last week’s result, including some who voted no in 2014—I am one of them. However, the lesson of last week’s referendum is not about a simple “them and us”—not when 1 million of our countrymen voted to leave, too. The lessons are far more profound.
Do we have more in common across the UK than we have that divides us? Yes—we have way too much in common. We can all mention people who feel disempowered and voiceless, who feel anger at how power has been abused in politics, finance and the media, and who feel frustration at lack of access and at barriers to social mobility. We know families among whom there is a growing sense of insecurity and who feel that the world is passing them by. Those are the issues that we must face up to as a country as we reflect on the debate: they affect all of us—no matter which part of the United Kingdom we are from. We should be answering those questions and not repeating the same old arguments of the past.
We can all now agree that referendums are bruising, but they are not just bruising; on matters of such significance, they are wounding, too. I hope that, from now on, we will find time to learn the right lessons—not the wrong ones—and emerge as a stronger society, a better nation and a still united kingdom.
I move amendment S5M-00601.1, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:
“acknowledges that the majority of people in Scotland voted for the UK to remain in the EU; recognises the result of the referendum both in Scotland and across the rest of the UK; affirms to citizens of other EU countries living here that they remain welcome and that their contribution is valued; mandates the Scottish Government to have discussions with the UK Government and other devolved administrations in the UK to explore options for protecting and maximising Scotland’s trade with the EU and securing access to the single market; instructs the Scottish Government to report back regularly to parliamentarians, to the European and External Relations Committee and the Parliament on the progress of those discussions and to seek the Parliament’s approval of the outcome of that process; acknowledges that the result of the Scottish independence referendum must be respected and the 1.6 million votes cast in the EU referendum in favour of remain do not overturn the two million votes in support of Scotland remaining part of the UK less than two years ago and do not in themselves demonstrate demand for a second independence vote, and believes that the challenges of leaving the EU are not addressed by leaving the UK, Scotland’s own union of nations, biggest market and closest friends."
I am sure that many members from across the chamber will have been as shocked as I was this morning to hear Lord Forsyth, who was on the board of the Ieave campaign, bullishly tell BBC Radio Scotland that there was absolutely no need for a blueprint for Brexit and say that it was for the Government, not leave, to have such a blueprint. That betrays the arrogance and recklessness of the Brexiteers, but it is almost as disturbing that the UK Government, which called the referendum in the first place, did not have a blueprint either and that our future now appears to rest in Oliver Letwin’s hands.
The European and External Relations Committee in the previous session of Parliament saw this coming, and its inquiry into the consequences of Brexit reported earlier this year. There is a common theme running through the inquiry report: the failure of the UK Government to provide answers—indeed, the failure of the UK Government even to send a minister to listen to the concerns not just of committee members but of the witnesses who came before the committee. Those witnesses, including our universities, businesses and agricultural sector, asked what would replace the money that comes directly to Scotland from Brussels if there was a leave vote. It is worth recapping some of those sums.
EU students at Scottish universities pump £174 million a year into the Scottish economy, and £88 million of EU money goes to fund research at Scottish universities. Scottish farmers got £824 million from the EU in 2014, and the NFU Scotland says that every £1 of EU common agricultural policy payment that is paid out to Scotland puts £4 into the rural economy. European structural funds in Scotland from 2014 to 2020 are worth €985 million—we all know that those funds pay for everything from roads to employability. Rural development funding supports things as diverse as broadband and farm diversification.
As I said, that is all money that comes directly from Europe but, time and again, the report from the previous European and External Relations Committee pointed out that it was not clear that the block grant would be adjusted to compensate for the loss of those funds. That is before we consider the losses that will be incurred from losing our access to the European market and our European citizenship; more fundamentally, it is before we consider the kind of country that we wish to live in. We want to live in an open country that is welcoming to people from across Europe and other countries—quite the opposite of the terrible racism that we saw characterising the leave campaign, which others have mentioned.
Although I am not speaking today as the new convener of the Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee, I am not saying anything controversial when I state that the committee will examine the consequences of last Thursday’s vote in forensic detail and will seek to assist in pointing to a consensual way forward. I very much welcome the First Minister’s offer to meet the committee at the first opportunity.
The Government is now exploring how we can work with others, including the UK and the EU institutions, to find a way in which Scotland can stay in the EU, even if the other parts of the UK—notably England—leave it. Several senior political figures in Europe have already responded very warmly. I was very pleased to hear some of the comments from the debate in the Irish Parliament yesterday. Scotland was praised as an ancient European nation with its own jurisdiction and as a very strong supporter of the European ideal. I was also pleased to hear Scotland’s cabinet secretary with responsibility for farming, Fergus Ewing, say that yesterday his EU counterparts were very positive and sympathetic towards the predicament in which Scotland finds itself.
It is not impossible that such a compromise could be reached. We have heard about the Denmark and Greenland situation. European leaders are pragmatic when circumstances demand—for example, they rapidly absorbed East Germany into the European Community after the fall of the Berlin wall.
The committee of experts clearly has a vital role to play, but we also need to be practical. It is likely that such an arrangement may prove impossible to negotiate. I note that Sir David Edward, who will be a member of the standing committee, has expressed scepticism about achieving that compromise. I know that he will be a witness at the European and External Relations Committee on Thursday, and I very much look forward to hearing what he has to say.
I am concerned about the chances of negotiating a compromise, because much of the negotiation will require the co-operation of a Westminster Government that may soon be in the grip of leadership that is even more right wing than the leadership we currently endure. If we fail to reach that compromise, time is not on our side. Once the UK triggers the Brexit process through article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, it has just two years to do a deal. Unless the European Council agrees to extend the time, which appears unlikely given recent statements that have come out of the EU, a guillotine will fall under article 50, and the UK would be cut off with whatever deal the EU decided to give it.
We cannot have Scotland similarly marooned. If independence is then the only remaining option, we must have an independence referendum before the guillotine falls, because if we had a referendum after the guillotine fell and voted yes, we would have to renegotiate our entry into the EU from outside, which I am sure nobody wants. Kirsty Hughes, a member of Friends of Europe and a very distinguished academic on the subject who will also be a witness at the committee on Thursday, has written extensively on the subject. I look forward to hearing what she has to say, too.
Putting the legislation in place is not a headlong rush towards independence, as Willie Rennie suggested; it is an important contingency measure taken in Scotland’s best interests. The priority now is to act in the best interests of all the people of Scotland—whatever their views on independence.
I, for one, very much welcome the support of other parties across the chamber because it is really important that we act together, as one, for all the people of Scotland. We will always be led by the people of Scotland and their interests, first and foremost.
In my first speech in this Parliament, I said that I wanted the UK to remain in the EU. As such—like most members on the Conservative and all other benches—to say that I am disappointed in last week’s result is something of an understatement. Indeed, my real reaction to the result is incapable of being translated into parliamentary language. Since Friday morning, I have seen nothing to make me think that I was wrong, and that leave was the better outcome—either for our country or for the European public interest. However, in my speech today, I want to look to the future—not hark back to a campaign lost.
The people of the UK voted to leave the EU. That much is clear—but only that much. Exactly what leaving the EU now means is anything but clear. There is not merely an opportunity but an obligation for all of us here, whether or not we wanted that outcome, to begin to flesh out what we think leave should now mean. We are going to enter into long negotiations with our European partners, and the first task is to identify exactly what it is that we will be negotiating to achieve.
The First Minister has said that she wants to preserve Scotland’s position in the EU. That is fine, but quite what that means is also unclear. Of course, Scotland is not—and never has been—one of the EU’s member states. The vote in Scotland last week sought to preserve the UK’s status as a member state—not to insist that Scotland becomes a new member state.
The First Minister has also said that she will appoint an expert advisory panel to look at what she has described as “all the options”. I welcome that, and I offer to assist in any way I can.
So, what should leave mean, and what are the options for Scotland? To my mind, leave should mean that we retain full access to the EU’s single market. As I understand it, even the small number of MSPs who advocated a leave vote are of the view that we should maintain as full access to the single market as is possible.
We may be, as has been said several times since Friday morning, in uncharted territory. However, there are still some things that we know. One of them is that leaving the EU’s political institutions does not mean that we have to leave the EU’s single market, for there are several countries, including Norway—a place the SNP often likes to talk about—that have just such an arrangement.
What are the options for Scotland? Again, they are many, and our obligation now is to begin to put some flesh on the bones. Let me give an example. At the moment, it is outwith the legislative competence of this Parliament to enact law that is incompatible with EU law. We, as a Parliament, could perfectly easily maintain that rule even after the UK ceases to be an EU member state. We could, for example, pass an act to provide that all Scottish legislation is to be read and given effect subject to EU law, and we could confer on the Court of Session the jurisdiction to quash any of our legislation that is incompatible with European law. All that is perfectly possible within our current legislative competence.
I do not pretend that the last few days have been easy. We have lost a Prime Minister, there is volatility in the markets and we face the prospect of difficult and protracted negotiations. However, one positive note to have been struck in the past few days is the point strongly made by the Prime Minister that, in those negotiations, the Scottish Government, along with the devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales, should play a leading role. As the Prime Minister said, it is important—it is vital—that the interests of all parts of the UK are represented effectively and properly in those negotiations.
Had those advocating Scottish independence won their referendum in September 2014, First Minister Alex Salmond said that he would put together an all-party team Scotland to negotiate on behalf of the nation. Likewise, the UK Government will now put together an inclusive team to negotiate on behalf of all our nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is as it should be, and I very much hope that the Scottish Government will play a leading role in that team. Again, I offer the Scottish Government any support that it may think that I could usefully give.
Scots now want to see their politicians working together in the best interests of the country. This is not where we want to be—
As Adam Tomkins may know, there is not one member in this Parliament who is more pro-UK than me. Given that the First Minister has said that a vote for the motion that the Government has lodged is emphatically not a vote for a referendum on independence, does he agree that we should work together across the chamber, and that if the Conservative amendment falls we should all work together and support the motion?
I think that we should all work together to help the United Kingdom to negotiate what it means by leave, and to maintain and safeguard the interests of Scotland. I have made that perfectly clear.
Scots now want to see their politicians working together in the best interests of this country. This is not where we wanted to be, but it is where we are, so let us try to make the best of it together.
I—like most members, I expect—spent a lot of time at the weekend attending constituency events. Literally thousands of people attended those events, and everyone wanted to talk about the referendum. What struck me was that both those who voted remain and those who voted leave are now extremely anxious about their future, their children’s future and the future of Scotland.
I have been inundated with emails and letters over the past few days, as I am sure that many other members have been. A lady from near Forres contacted me last night by email. She said:
“I have two daughters aged two and four—what kind of country are they going to grow up in? I am truly fearful for their future.”
The one thing that all those people had in common was that they were absolutely keen for all their politicians in this Parliament and in Scotland to show leadership in these difficult times, especially given the vacuum at the UK level that we are witnessing.
That is why today’s debate is so important. We must now deal with what may turn out to be the biggest event so far in our lifetimes and in post-war Europe. There have, of course, been other seminal events since the war, such as the fall of the Berlin wall, which was all about solidarity. Eastern European countries queued up to join the EU and we all welcomed them with open arms, yet the UK has now chosen isolation over co-operation and has damaged European unity.
As Patrick Harvie said, the referendum result has been welcomed by some of the most extremist voices in Europe: people who hope to put forward extremist agendas based on scapegoating minorities and others, blaming them for Europe’s current woes. We must hope that the UK’s decision does not have a domino effect as the reverberations of Brexit are felt across the whole of Europe.
By working together in this Parliament and across civic Scotland to secure our nation’s place in Europe, we can send out a message of hope and optimism to Europe’s peoples—a message that Scotland wants to be an outward-looking, modern European country, where we embrace rather than reject differences. We are not going to run away from Europe’s tough challenges.
I urge all parties in the chamber to focus on the outcome that we all profess to want, which is to stay in Europe, in line with the democratic wishes that were expressed by the people last Thursday. Yes, we need time to consider all the options and to hear the views of all parties. I hear suggestions that we can remain part of a UK that is largely out of Europe while we in Scotland, and perhaps other parts of the UK, remain in the EU. I very much look forward to hearing the details of how that could work in practice without leading to a political and democratic mess or blank cheques for constitutional and commercial lawyers for the rest of time.
As a Parliament, we need to be careful to listen to all views within and outwith the Parliament. The First Minister is absolutely correct to say that a second independence referendum must be on the table. Many people who voted no in 2014 are now saying that enough is enough. The reference points in the independence debate have been radically altered. Many no voters are saying that, if there is a choice between remaining in an isolated UK out of Europe, when we voted to remain, and being governed by right-wing Conservatives whom we did not vote for either, they will vote differently next time. They deserve to have their voice heard.
Will Richard Lochhead explain why, given the motion that he supports and is debating, he is the second of the two SNP back-bench speakers to move on to independence and a second referendum? That is where the concerns of Conservative members about supporting the motion come from—they are also the concerns of a large majority of people in his constituency and around Scotland.
It would be helpful if, for once, the Conservatives rallied round with all the other parties in the chamber and put the Scottish interest, rather than their usual politics, first.
We cannot ignore the 38 per cent of Scots who voted to leave. Many have genuine concerns that need to be addressed. Europe is evolving and, as a Scottish Government and Parliament, we have to develop and then articulate a vision of the kind of Europe that we want Scotland to be part of. If we support a reform agenda, we have to decide what that is and we have to articulate it.
The next two years will be momentous and will decide Scotland’s long-term future and its status as a country. However, in light of last week’s vote and subsequent developments, there are some steps that we can now take to protect Scotland’s interests.
Between now and Brexit, many decisions will be taken in the EU that will impact on our economy and communities. In this new environment, the UK is not able to look after Scotland’s interests. Therefore, it is important that Scotland formally request that, when the agendas are of relevance to our national interests, Scottish Government ministers lead the UK delegations to the formal and informal Council of Ministers meetings that will take place in Brussels and Luxembourg for the next two years .
In a negotiation—whether it is about buying a house or about fish quotas, farm subsidies or environmental policy—relationships matter, attitude matters, commitment matters and good will on both sides of the table is essential. Negotiators want to know that the other party will be serious and in it for the long term. However, we are now in a situation in which the UK is walking away. There is no incentive for either side to bank negotiating capital for the future, but we know that there is good will towards Scotland in Europe. There is good will from member states, from the EU institutions and, as we saw in the fantastic response to Alyn Smith’s passionate speech, in the European Parliament from members across all countries and parties. Scotland wants to participate and act in the long-term interests of its own priorities and those of Europe. Therefore, between now and Brexit, Scottish ministers should be given the opportunity to lead in Europe for the UK.
It would also be an idea for the EU to postpone the UK’s presidency slot in 2017, which the UK Government will clearly be unable to fulfil, and keep it available should Scotland become a member state in its own right post Brexit. Let us not forget that the UK is already isolating itself, as illustrated by the resignation of Lord Hill as a European commissioner. The position should be offered to Scotland or, indeed, Northern Ireland.
I ask all members to support the motion in these unprecedented and anxious times. All parties—I emphasise “all”—should put Scotland’s national interests before their own on this special occasion and during these difficult and anxious times for Scotland.
I voted remain on Thursday because I believed that it was in the best interests of Scotland and the UK to do so. I felt a huge sadness on Friday morning as I saw the results come in. The biggest reason for that is that we have lost the opportunity to stop talking about constitutional politics and, instead, focus on the issues that matter here and now. Many of them are issues of life and death: the debate comes as new figures show that the expected standard in cancer treatment has not been achieved for more than three years.
Let us not underestimate what happened on Thursday. It is a seismic event for the UK and the EU. Millions of people throughout the United Kingdom are deeply disappointed with the result and anxious about the consequences, which are dominated by the reaction of, and volatility in, the markets. However, let us be clear what the markets mean: we are talking about people’s jobs, wages, mortgages and pensions, so our immediate priority must be to encourage calm heads and protect individuals and businesses that may be affected by the volatility.
This is not the time to think about short-term political interests because what we face as a nation is much bigger than that. There is no doubt that the United Kingdom is at the start of an economic crisis overlaid by a constitutional crisis. That is why Scotland must play a full part in the process. Indeed, the First Minister has a duty to engage in all talks and negotiations because, rightly, all options should remain open.
That is why there must be a formal structure that allows all the talents and peoples of the nations and regions—including Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and London—to be an equal part of the negotiation process so that we can get the best deal possible for all parts of the United Kingdom. That structure—a constitutional convention of the nations and regions—should also have a remit to discuss and decide where the significant powers that are to be repatriated to the UK should reside. Among those powers are significant powers on fishing and farming that are crucial to the Scottish economy.
It is premature to talk about the timing of another independence referendum, especially as we do not yet know what the terms of the UK leaving the EU will be or, indeed, what the terms of Scotland leaving the UK to join the EU would be, if that were to be the case. The market volatility that we have seen in the past few days shows that asking people to make a decision without fully considering the consequences has implications that are dangerous for jobs, wages, mortgages and pensions.
I welcome the tone that the First Minister has adopted since Thursday. She is right to say that we are in uncharted territory. I hope that that is a tone that continues in the weeks and months ahead.
The First Minister is right to ask questions about the impact on the single market, free movement, our currency and our international relationships. We need clarity on what the new arrangements will mean for the £11.6 billion of trade that Scotland does with the EU. However, we will also need clarity on what any new arrangements would mean for the £48.5 billion of trade that Scotland does with the rest of the UK.
The First Minister is right that we need to see what the new arrangements will mean for the tens of thousands of EU nationals living, studying and working in Scotland, and for the 135,000 Scots working in Europe. However, we will also need clarity on what any new arrangements would mean for the more than 500,000 Scots living, studying or working in other parts of the UK.
There are many unanswered questions. What will be the details of any deal for Scotland? What terms will the UK settle with the EU? What will be the status of the new relationship? How much access to EU markets will we retain or lose? Will the people of Scotland have the opportunity to have their say on any renegotiated terms of continued membership? Crucially, what guarantees would we have before any proposed vote on independence?
The First Minister makes the point the UK is not the same now as it was in 2014, but I put it to Parliament that the EU might not be the same in two years as it is now. Let us not have a romantic view of the politics on mainland Europe. I bitterly oppose the right-wing politics of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, but be in no doubt that they are made to look like moderates compared with Marine Le Pen of the French National Front, who could be president next year; the far right parties that are on the rise in Germany; Pegida, which plans violent protests across Europe and is now attempting to build a base across the UK; or the Slovakian Prime Minister, who said,
“Multiculturalism is fiction. Islam has no place in Slovakia”, and who might take over the rotating presidency in a few weeks’ time. I would also point to the many other mainstream and populist parties who have among their members climate change deniers, anti-Semites and Islamophobes.
Since Thursday, there has been an increase in hate crimes. In Glasgow, neo-Nazi stickers have gone up proclaiming “white zones”. We should send a strong message to all minorities in Scotland that this is their home and that we stand with them in peace and unity, and we should say to the spreaders of hate: “It is not our minorities that are not welcome in Scotland and the United Kingdom but you and your hateful views.”
We face much uncertainty over the coming months. We do not know what the negotiations will throw up, so when the First Minister says that everything is on the table, I really hope that she means it. We need to wait and see what the outcomes of the negotiations will be so that we can make clear and reasoned decisions. We need to have cool heads to ensure that we make decisions not with anger but with reason.
We face in Brexit something that I thought we would never have to face. Only a few weeks ago, I said that the leave campaign seemed to have taken leave of its senses, threatening systematic cuts to Scotland’s budget and a reversal of the gains of devolution in the event of Brexit. We are hearing those calls now not just from Lord Owen, but from many others too.
Such rhetoric from a key vote leave spokesman has shown the campaign in its true colours—hostile to the Scottish Parliament and to the consensus of Holyrood members and our voters, who voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining within the European Union.
We also hear Theresa May, a potential candidate to be Prime Minister of this country—of this United Kingdom—say that we need to get out of the European convention on human rights. It is those rights that I will concentrate on today.
On 26 November 1792, Robert Burns wrote:
“While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.”
That poem was written around the time of the French revolution. Europe was in turmoil—war was always just around the corner. As that revolution progressed and England witnessed the emergence of popular reform societies advocating parliamentary reform, the aristocratic section of the Whigs began to fear the spread of revolutionary ideology on to home territory. How familiar that is today.
In 1793, the radical Thomas Muir was arrested and transported. He said at a convention in late 1792:
“We do not, we cannot, consider ourselves as mowed and melted down into another country. Have we not distinct Courts, Judges, Juries, Laws ... ?”
Absolutely, Mr Muir. Muir was the architect of a new reform society in Scotland. He opted for a nationwide association of reform clubs unlimited to any social class, something that was not the case elsewhere. The Scottish Association of the Friends of the People was duly formed in Edinburgh.
That brings us to what lies at the heart of this current EU debate—nationhood, citizenship, sovereignty, the rights of every man and woman and the fates of empires. Governments ignoring the will of the people will face the dire consequences of doing so. We do not seek revolution as described by Burns and Muir; we seek enlightenment, sisterhood and self-determination. Also in the 1790s, Thomas Paine was lauded for his “Rights of Man”. Our universal human rights—the citizens’ rights that we cherish so much—are not to be toyed with by any Government.
As members know, I am a true supporter of the European convention on human rights and I will fight for it every step of the way. I believe that we can reform the European Union. We know that to be true because we have done it before. Professor Neil MacCormick was an architect of such reform. He almost pushed Europe to a constitution enshrining our fundamental rights—there we are, back to those rights that are so important. His work pushed forward that reform agenda to what we now call the Lisbon treaty. Without his early work, we would not have that treaty. He is another Scotsman who took up the cause of protecting and extending our fundamental human rights as EU citizens.
Article 18 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union provides that no citizen shall be discriminated against on the basis of nationality. The citizens of member states also have a number of social and employment rights that derive from EU legislation and, following agreement of the treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, the EU treaties have enshrined principles relating to non-discrimination in the areas of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
As a result, the EU has developed comprehensive legislation in the area of non-discrimination and equality. It began with sex equality in the employment context and has now extended to race, disability, sexual orientation, age and religion or belief in relation to employment and race and sex in relation to the provision of goods and services.
The people of Scotland, through due democratic process, reaffirmed their belief in and support of that European Union. It is only right that this Government be supported by our Parliament to realise the demand placed on it by the people—by the voters.
As stated in articles I-1 and I-2, the union is open to all European states that respect the member states’ common values, which are human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, respect for human rights, minority rights and the free market. Member states also declare that the following principles prevail in their societies: pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality of the sexes. Those are things that I am happy to pin my name to.
“Gerrard, Palmer, Skirving, Thomas Muir and Margarot,
These are names that every Scottish man and woman ought to know.
When you’re called for jury service, when your name is drawn by lot,
When you vote in an election, when you freely voice your thought,
Don’t take these things for granted, for dearly were they bought.”
It is with all those rights in mind that I support the motion in the name of our Government, and I ask it to devote itself to the cause of the people. It is a good cause, it shall ultimately prevail and it shall finally triumph.
It is easy to listen to the First Minister and her party and think that the European result tells a single story. It does not. It tells 33,551,983 individual stories, with people from all backgrounds, from all corners of our United Kingdom and from different political persuasions coming together to take part in the largest exercise in democracy that our islands have ever seen.
People voted leave or remain for a multitude of reasons, and rightly so. It was a complicated decision, with many competing—and, in some cases, mutually unattractive—outcomes. In that context, we must now be gracious enough to accept that the overall result here in Scotland is just one dimension of that.
Rather than jump to hasty conclusions, as the First Minister has, we must take time to digest that fact and reflect on what the result means for people in Scotland and elsewhere in our United Kingdom. In the long run, people will not look kindly on political posturing or idle speculation. Now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to pull together and knuckle down to the task in hand.
I have no time. We are keeping strictly to time.
In that spirit, I ask all those who voted to remain and who find themselves questioning the democratic process to reflect on the fact that 19,518 people in my constituency voted to leave the European Union—a higher number than voted for me as their MSP.
Indeed, across Scotland, more than 1 million voters put their cross next to “Leave”—a larger number than put their cross next to Nicola Sturgeon’s name for First Minister and just short of the total number who voted for the SNP in the constituency ballot. Although that was far short of a majority of Scots, it was by no means a small or insignificant number of people and, although the vote was decisive in a Scotland-wide context, we must recognise that there was significant variation within Scotland, with 49.9 per cent in Moray voting to leave compared to around 25 per cent in Edinburgh. I know that that context might seem insensitive and of little consequence to the many people who feel angry and as though their voice has not been heard; however, it is important to remember that the view of the majority is seldom universal in a democracy, no matter how we choose to look at the numbers. Although I fully understand that the First Minister—along with, for that matter, many decent and fair-minded people—does not agree with the result, it remains a UK-wide result and we must all respect that outcome just as those across the rest of the United Kingdom accepted the possibility at the start of the campaign that Scotland might help to deliver a remain result.
Now is not the time to rake over the campaign or dwell on the result, because we are where we are. Instead, we owe it to people to start considering where we will go next. The truth is that this debate is not about the result; nor, sadly, does it seem even to be about what is best for the people of Scotland. Instead, for some in the SNP it is once again about one thing only—independence. Since Friday morning, we have seen, once and for all, that behind the seemingly good intentions lies a deliberate malice.
If the SNP was serious about building consensus and negotiating in good faith, it would have taken a second referendum off the table. What started as a statesmanlike approach has rapidly descended into self-interest. Although I acknowledge that events have moved very quickly, the First Minister has fast become like a runaway train, defaulting back to her all-too-familiar mantra of independence at any cost.
While others have taken steps to steady the ship, with leading leave campaigners supporting a delay to the article 50 process, thereby allowing time for the best approach to be developed and a consensus to be reached, the First Minister has sought to amplify division. In doing so, she not only does a disservice to leave voters such as me; far more disgracefully, she lets down those who voted to remain by potentially undermining what could yet prove to be a better deal for access to the single market for Scotland than we could hope for as an independent nation. For a start, that would be one that allowed us to use the pound rather than the euro.
The truth is that this whole debate is a red herring. In the emotion that followed the referendum result, it is easy to overlook the fact that Nicola Sturgeon wanted independence no matter what and that, before the campaign started, she abandoned her “once in a lifetime” pledge almost as quickly as it left her lips. That is why—whether we are in or out of Europe—we must never allow ourselves to forget that the SNP exists for one purpose and one purpose alone: to break up our United Kingdom. For me, as for many fellow Scots, in good times and bad, it is always that primary union between our family of nations that will come first. Even in adversity, and even in the disappointment and anger that many feel, there is a greater good—something that is far more important to our future security and prosperity than our European Union membership. Now it is time to fight for that and to work together in good faith to secure the best deal for Scotland.
In common with many in this chamber and across the country, I was bitterly disappointed at the result of the European Union referendum. It felt akin to a bereavement when the results were being declared across the country. I am a great respecter of democracy but, frankly, I was horrified to see Nigel Farage celebrating his result on Friday morning and that that man was the face of Britain that was reflected to the world. I reject everything that he stands for; he certainly does not speak for me.
It is clear that David Cameron gambled with our future. He could not control the Eurosceptics in the Tory party, so he gambled on a referendum and lost. He lost, but we are all the losers. He will shortly be out of office, we may in time be out of the EU, and the price for the country in Scotland and across the UK may well be very high indeed.
People tell me that the vote to leave was an anti-establishment vote, which may be so, and we need to understand why people voted in the way that they did, but let us not pretend that Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are anything but the establishment. They went into the referendum not expecting victory and without a plan for what they would do, and they leave the country in continuing uncertainty. I abhor the approach of the leaders of the leave campaign in cynically putting at the very heart of what they said immigration and a promise to increase funding to the NHS, which they denied having made within 12 hours of the close of the poll.
I agree whole-heartedly with the sentiment of the First Minister and others that people from Europe and across the world are welcome in Scotland. Although I am disappointed by the result and angry about the nature of the campaign, I think that there is a need for stability and for cool heads. Our responsibility is to assess the impact and to take action when it is right to do so. In tandem with making representations across Europe, I believe that our immediate priority must be to take action to protect the economy and jobs, and I would be pleased to hear what the Scottish Government will do in that regard.
Before Brexit became a reality, the Fraser of Allander institute said that we were flirting with a recession in Scotland because growth was slowing, we were underperforming relative to the UK and we were facing stagnation in the economy. I regret that, in the view of many economists, the prospect of a recession is now much more likely in Scotland and across the UK. We have seen the sharp decline in the stock market wipe billions off share prices and the pound fall against the dollar and the euro. Although I hope, as I am sure we all do, that that stabilises quickly, it makes a practical focus on the economy absolutely essential. Currently, we export most to the rest of the UK, followed closely by our exports to the rest of Europe. The Government’s own statistics for 2014 show that 42 per cent of all international exports were destined for the EU, at a value of some £11.6 billion One in every six pounds in our business economy is generated by companies based in the rest of Europe, so it matters to our economic well-being.
Businesses adapt to changing circumstances, but the changes are often most keenly felt by those who work for the businesses and through a lessening in job opportunities. Already, we are hearing anecdotal evidence of changes to investment plans and companies that are paid in dollars seeing an immediate loss due to the exchange rate. One young man I know of who was about to start an engineering job in Europe has now been told to stay at home because they have no idea whether they will recruit to that job anymore.
Further, what about iconic products such as Scotch whisky? Like so much in our food and drink sector, its contribution to our gross domestic product is increasing, it represents a substantial export to Europe and it accounts for thousands of jobs. It is the impact on the people we serve on which we must focus our attention. There are views on mortgages and pensions, too, all of which might be affected.
I will home in on a couple of points about the impact on people that we need to look at. I acknowledge and welcome the reassurance given by the First Minister that having a second independence referendum is not her starting point. I say as respectfully as I can, though, that I listened to Fergus Ewing with great attention this morning on “Good Morning Scotland”, and he suggested that independence was the only answer. I therefore beg the Government not to face both ways on this.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I hope that time will be added to reflect the interruptions that I have had.
Nicola Sturgeon said that the UK had changed. I agree with her, but the EU will also have changed. Therefore, it is imperative that, should we be faced with another independence referendum, clear and detailed terms for joining are set out in advance. If we are to join the euro, we will need to decrease public debt, which means cutting public spending. What implications will that have for our services? I want to remain in Europe—I am a committed European—but we need to approach it with our eyes wide open and we need to take the time to consider what we should do. At the moment, the landscape is constantly changing and we do not know what will happen.
If the First Minister is intent on bringing forward another independence referendum, then she must spell out in detail to the country what the terms of engagement with Europe will be—nothing less will do.
I welcome the First Minister’s comments about working together. We should be working together across the United Kingdom—with people in Northern Ireland, London, Manchester and other areas besides.
I want to address two issues:
the impact of last Thursday’s decision on this Parliament in the immediate future and on Scotland in terms of our budget, our finances and our process of fiscal scrutiny; and what I think is the existential choice that Scotland now faces.
First, on the issue of our budget, it is obvious that in our present state of partial dependence, budget decisions made south of the border impact directly on what we have to spend and on our timescale for scrutiny. We are also clearly dependent, both in block grant and in taxation, on the overall health of the UK economy.
Huge insecurity has been created, not only by the vote last week but also by the political paralysis that has followed it. George Osborne, the author of the disastrous revenge budget idea, is now the author of the equally damaging no budget idea. The autumn statement will follow a change in the Tory leadership and in Prime Minister. It might be subordinated to a snap general election.
All those factors create considerable uncertainty for us in Scotland where, according to our existing timetable, a draft budget is due to be published by 20 September. There needs to be discussion with whoever is in charge in London—if anybody is—to clarify the position. Assuming that no clarity is forthcoming, decisions will need to be made in Scotland on how we move ahead. It may not be the time for a spending review, as the planning horizon has changed substantially. Much discussion is required of that, and tomorrow the Finance Committee will have a first opportunity to discuss the matter with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution. It will be a rather unusual first evidence session for both.
Finance issues lie within the overall context of political issues, and it has been—and is—an extraordinary political time. The First Minister, whose leadership over the weekend has been inspirational, is absolutely correct to say that the key issue is to retain our membership of the EU. That is the objective, and it is right that we start that process today with a clear instruction to the Scottish Government to explore every possibility and consider every route. There may be several possible solutions. What is not in doubt is that we must achieve the objective, because only by doing so can each one of us retain our European citizenship which, among other things, guarantees free movement, protects us in the workplace, enhances and conserves the environment in which we live and welcomes diversity and difference within a tolerant whole, while allowing us to participate in the structures of the union as equals, individually and collectively.
I will ask the member a question that I did not have an opportunity to ask the First Minister. He is convener of the Finance Committee. Is it his view that, should Scotland leave the EU and then have to rejoin at a later date, it would be subject to joining the euro and tied by a 3 per cent deficit?
I am not speaking in my capacity as convener of the Finance Committee. However, in my capacity as somebody who knows something about politics, which Neil Findlay should, I say that that is a silly question, because the answer is no—there is no such requirement.
Let me now deal with realities. The touchstone for me—and for many—is European citizenship. I do not want to give that up and I will not give it up. Scotland did not consent to give it up for anyone who lives here. European citizenship is, of course, an addition and not a substitution; we enjoy it in addition to our UK citizenship. We are presently Scottish, British and European, but now we are being forced to give up one of those. That is truly an existential choice because it goes to the heart of who we are and who we will be. We are being forced to decide whether we are British or European. We are being told that we cannot be both.
I was born in England and I have many family and friends there. What Chesterton called the plain people of England are good, noble, outgoing and generous. They have been failed by their leaders and they are still being failed. That is a tragedy. However, the First Minister is right to say that the country that Scotland chose to remain in two years ago no longer exists, and it is the people of England who see that most clearly now. They ended it with their vote last week and they must find a way forward from that. I hope that they can find a better way forward, but to accept that failure and its consequences is something that Scotland cannot and must not do. We must look up to see a vision of co-operation and engagement, the door to which, as the president of the European Commission said yesterday, is opening, first of all for discussion.
In June 1850, in the House of Commons, during what was called the Don Pacifico affair, Palmerston, as the foreign secretary, in a tour de force, talked about his objective in foreign policy, which was to ensure that the
“British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England, will protect him against injustice and wrong.”—[
House of Commons
, 25 June 1850; Vol 112, c 443-4.]
That is now the choice for us. Should we do as we are told and rely once again on the
“watchful eye and the strong arm of England” to protect us, or have we grown out of that, given that the eye and the arm are withered beyond recognition? Would it not be more in keeping with the times to seek collaboration, co-operation and an open outlook on the world? If that is so, where do we get those? The answer is only in our membership of the EU. That is our existential choice, and we are being forced to make it.
Finally, let me go very close to home. On Friday I was on the island of Mull, on Saturday I was in Cowal and yesterday I was in mid-Argyll. There is genuine apprehension—genuine fear—about the consequences of what has taken place. There is talk of job losses and companies’ retrenchment. There is concern about investment—public and private—and worry about structural funds and about loans. There is an acknowledgment of how much has come from Europe, and how much still comes, to support rural areas.
But there is something more. It is not half a century of EU membership that has made us European; it is centuries of engagement. We were European before we were British—sending students to the continent, sharing citizenship with France and appealing our very nationhood to Rome. Wine was being shipped to Loch Fyne—Loch Fìne—in the 15th century. In war and in peace—an cogadh, an sìth—we looked to Europe and it looked to us, in Voltaire’s words, for our very idea of civilisation.
So, our existential choice is made not just because of this referendum but because of our history. It is inherent in who we are. We cannot be anyone else. We are European. We are citizens of Europe. That is what we have chosen to remain.
As one of only a few members who put a case for leave—although not as a part of any official campaign—I feel that I must contribute to today’s debate. After all, nearly 40 per cent of those who used the vote actually voted leave, and they were spread across all parties. This Parliament did not reflect that in the contributions prior to the vote. Although I appreciate that members have their own personal views or take a party line, I would have thought that a vote by the public of that kind should have been reflected more in this chamber. Those voters need a voice today.
I spoke to a great many people and listened to their arguments for remain, including the compelling ones being made by Jeremy Corbyn, and I studied carefully the positive left-wing case for leave. One reason that I felt compelled to contribute to the previous debate was that I believed that the opinions of those who were voting leave for reasons of democracy, workers’ rights and to stop further privatisation of public services deserved expression in this chamber.
Those 1 million voters in Scotland who chose leave did so in the sure knowledge that the referendum was right across the UK and that every single vote counted on its own merit, whether someone was in Blackpool or Belfast, Cardiff or Coatbridge, London or Lossiemouth. There was no question that regional or country results would be treated differently from the overall result. Indeed, we had a democratic vote here in 2014, with an unprecedented turnout, that means that we are part of the UK. That vote was conducted only in Scotland, with a Scottish electorate, but the democracy of that vote seems now somehow to be being set aside.
This referendum vote was conducted right across the UK, and the more than 1 million voters in Scotland who chose leave deserve representation. They do not deserve to be disenfranchised. For remain voters, it was clear that the vote was UK-wide and that the fundamental premise of the vote was the UK’s relationship with the EU. So, with regard to the motion, I cannot vote to welcome the overwhelming vote of the people of Scotland to remain, since I voted leave and since the basic premise of that is flawed and misrepresents the question that was asked in the referendum. The ballot paper did not ask, “Do you want Scotland to remain in or leave the EU?”
Of course a majority of those who actually used their vote here in Scotland voted for the UK to remain, but there was also a degree of ambivalence, as Scotland had the second-lowest turnout in the UK. The just over 1 million people in Scotland who voted for the UK to leave the EU did so with little support for their view in this Parliament. Indeed, all parties and leaders were pushing very hard for remain.
Further, those 1 million Scottish voters contributed substantially to the end outcome of a UK leave vote. If they had all voted to remain, the outcome would have been very different, so Scotland certainly contributed to the overall UK result.
In some areas, such as Moray, the vote was tight. Maybe that was due to things such as the controversial common fisheries policy, which has contributed to the demise of our fishing industry. Those kinds of failures in EU policy might be just one of the reasons why some people across the country chose to vote leave. To say that much of the result of this referendum was predicated on xenophobic intolerance is a wee bit simplistic.
I am afraid that I do not have time.
However, there is no doubt that UKIP exploited such sentiments where they do exist for its own ends. The disgraceful and now infamous poster that Nigel Farage and UKIP put out certainly had a hand in changing the minds of some socialists who had been inclined to vote leave.
I agree with the sentiment in the motion that affirms to EU citizens who are living here that they remain welcome and their contribution is valued. That is a hugely important message to send out from today’s debate. If anyone were to imply that all leave voters were xenophobic racists, that would be outrageous, and I hope that most members do not believe that and do not ever imply it.
Many of the working-class communities in south Wales, in the north-east and in the west seem to have voted leave because of a deep disconnect with the EU project and to express discontent with the whole political elite. For example, in south Wales, could not the threat of 4,000 jobs being lost at Port Talbot as a direct result of EU state-aid rules that block more Government support have influenced the vote? I want to stand with steel workers, saving their jobs, but the EU stance on competition policy means that national Governments face a backlash of legal action if they attempt to nationalise an industry. Not being subject to EU competition policy and legal challenge will mean that our Scottish Government could easily nationalise industries such as rail and steel if it wishes and would not have to retender the CalMac contract.
Now, we should focus on the important issues of stopping austerity and protecting workers’ rights and jobs. The First Minister should enter her discussions within and outwith the UK bearing in mind the fact that she represents all the citizens of Scotland: those who voted to remain, those who voted to leave and those who did not vote. I note her earlier comments on that. At the same time, she cannot lose sight of domestic issues such as industrial action by teachers, a rail strike by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and problems in the national health service.
The EU is not Europe; it is a political construct that undermines elected national Governments and eliminates democracy, and it is primarily a trade agreement. On how the EU was developing, Tony Benn said:
“it was very obvious what they had in mind was not democratic.”
He also said:
“I am in favour of democracy”, and so am I.
We should all respect the democratic mandate from the UK electorate, which included the 1 million Scottish leave voters. Through the ballot box, the citizens of the UK have given a directive for change away from an EU project that has clearly failed many of them. In fact, many of them see the result as a victory for people against profit, communities against corporations and the powerless against the powerful, and we now need to make it work for them.
I will finish with John Foster’s vision of leaving the EU, which is of
“a ... renewed democracy, a restored welfare state and a redevelopment of public control over the economy, a vision that can combat racism, cynicism and division and unite all working people.”
That is my vision of the UK outside the EU project, and the best way to make that work for working people, which is the most important aim, is with a UK socialist Labour Government fighting against austerity, cuts and attacks on wages and workers’ rights.
I realise that Oliver Mundell is a new member of the Scottish Parliament, but that means that he is here to represent the people of Scotland; he is not here to represent the UK Government. The people of Scotland spoke clearly last Thursday, and David Mundell and his colleagues should be standing up for them. I am a bit disappointed that I have to make similar comments to my colleague Elaine Smith. Honestly, if she thinks that the workers will be better off under Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, that is a strange socialism that she believes in.
And I would be better off being 25 years of age and 6 foot tall with blonde hair.
In the 20 years in which I have been involved in the SNP, I have learned to deal with disappointments. As much as I was heartbroken after the 2014 referendum result, I was able to take encouragement from the positivity that the yes campaign generated, the prospect that Holyrood would receive additional powers, limited though they are, and the fact that Scotland had become engaged with the democratic participatory process in a way that I had never seen before. Sadly, I have no such positive outlook in the wake of the EU referendum, which was won as a result of claims that were retracted within hours of the result and through the basest politics that I have ever seen in any campaign. Politicians who took part in that should be ashamed of themselves.
Both campaigns ran scare tactics. The remain campaign came out with the sort of project fear figures that we saw in the independence referendum and, as I said, the leave campaign came out with the lowest form of politics that I have ever seen. The SNP warned against running that kind of negative campaign. We know it is counterproductive and that the more positive a campaign is, the better the result will be, as we saw in 2014. If people had run a campaign like that and sold the benefits of immigration instead of running scared on immigration every time it was mentioned, perhaps we would not be standing here today discussing this issue.
As convener of the Education and Skills Committee, I will concentrate on the possible impact of the result on education. First, I will read out a tweet that was sent to the First Minister:
“Daughter graduates MA Hons from Edinburgh Uni, Thurs. Internship with Milan firm just cancelled. Sole reason given: Brexit.”
That, right there, is the reality of Thursday’s vote.
I express my thanks to the principals and vice chancellors who have made unequivocal statements in recognition of the value of their EU students as part of their university’s family and their wider contribution to Scottish culture and society. Professor Muscatelli of the University of Glasgow has acknowledged that positive contribution and is clear that he wishes to maintain academic collaboration with the EU and continue to participate in the Erasmus+ programme and horizon 2020. I congratulate Professor Muscatelli on being appointed chair of the standing council of experts.
Professor Sir Ian Diamond from the University of Aberdeen has given his thanks for the contribution of EU students and has made a clear commitment to current EU students and those who are set to join in the new academic year, that any constitutional changes that are made during their studies that affect their tuition fees will be financially provided for by the university. I also welcome the positive statement made by Vonnie Sandlan, the president of the National Union of Students Scotland, who has urged that Scotland’s voice should not be ignored and that it is crucial for the UK Government to work with all the devolved Governments to mitigate the consequences of the vote.
Scotland’s education sector has benefited greatly from the EU’s fundamental policy of free movement of people. The fact that EU students can come to Scotland to study, work and make cultural contributions to Scotland’s continuing growth as a dynamic, multicultural society should be applauded, not undermined. Likewise, Scottish students can make their mark across the EU.
Just look at the benefit that EU funding brings to Scotland’s education sector. The Erasmus+ programme for 2014 to 2020 has funded 150 projects, totalling €13 million, aimed at developing Scotland’s lifelong learning programme to increase skills, employability and opportunities to work, train, gain workplace experience and volunteer abroad. The European structural fund for 2014 to 2020 has provided €941 million to invest in the Scottish Government’s priorities. The horizon 2020 programme has contributed €217 million to research and innovation.
Likewise the European social fund’s commitment to the Prince’s Trust’s addressing disadvantage through team project, which has been instrumental in providing support to many young people in overcoming a range of challenges such as lower educational attainment, lack of vocational training, or simply a lack of confidence. It has helped to equip more than 4,000 young people with the skills to achieve their ambitions. All those programmes are potentially at risk because of the unnecessary and damaging referendum and its outcome.
Earlier, I alluded to the uncertainty that the leave vote has created. I wish to congratulate the First Minister for the way that she has handled everything since we knew the result on Friday morning. As the Scottish Cabinet met on Saturday to take decisive action, Boris played cricket and Westminster fiddled.
I agree with the Government that it is vital to have on-going discussions with key stakeholders. I wish the new advisory panel every success.
In concluding my remarks, I join others in thanking our EU citizens in Scotland. I have a number of them in my constituency and I know that there are many in the First Minister’s neighbouring constituency. I also thank the many education professionals and experts who have explicitly given what reassurance they can to their EU students. I warmly support the Scottish Government’s efforts to secure our continued involvement in the EU and, of course, the single market.
Earlier I mentioned a tweet by the mother of a young student. Here is her second tweet:
“All future collaborations, exchanges, internships for UK citizens across EU under threat, say Milan firm that cancelled daughter’s”.
She then asks us to retweet and we should get that message out there as soon as we can. Those two tweets say as much as anything that I have heard or read about what a disaster Thursday’s vote is for young men and women from all across the UK, not just Scotland. Those are the real-life consequences of Brexit, not some ridiculous abstract about taking back control. There is not much control of the future for those young people is there?
Two weeks ago my sister moved to Valencia. Spain is a country that she fell in love with many years ago and one in which she has since studied, learned the language, soaked up the culture, made many friends, and where she now, like many Scots, has decided to make her home.
The kind welcome that she has received has been wonderful to witness. It is this same welcoming spirit that the majority of people who have come to live and work in Scotland have enjoyed. For those non-UK citizens who have come to live and work in Scotland, who have married Scots and who have made Scotland their home, let us send out the message today that their contribution to our economy and country is valued and one that we will work to protect.
Members know that I campaigned actively in Scotland for the remain vote and wanted to see the whole of the UK confirm its membership of the EU. I am very aware of the disappointment of many of my constituents in the Lothian region, including in Edinburgh, which saw the highest remain vote in Scotland. Many of those constituents have contacted me and other MSPs to express their regret and concern at the decision taken by the whole UK.
However, as a democrat, I accept the result of the referendum. That is what democracy is all about: how we put our arguments to the people, and the manner in which we live by their decisions. It is now incumbent on all parties across the UK and all nations within the United Kingdom to seek stability and work towards achieving the best possible deal for the whole of the UK.
While the First Minister’s immediate reaction to the EU referendum was to put a second independence referendum on the table, the constituents and businesses that have contacted me over the past few days have overwhelmingly said that the threat of another independence referendum is exactly the last thing that Scotland needs at this point in time. I agree.
We now face critical negotiations that will determine our new relationship with the countries that make up the EU. The aim must be to protect and maximise Scottish trade within the European Union area, and ensure continued access to our single market. I believe that it is vital that the United Kingdom now looks at all options, including the European Economic Area, that would continue to provide the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the EU.
Does the member acknowledge that such a proposition, even though it is not my first option, would involve a substantial financial contribution to the European Union, along the lines of the current financial contribution that we make as members of the European Union, and therefore gives the lie to the claim that there would be £350 million a week to spend on the national health service?
Yes, and we are at the point where early negotiations would have to look at all that. The EEA model works well for Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, and that is perhaps the way we will have to move forward.
Let us never forget that our European partners will always remain our partners; it is as much in their economic interests as ours to put together tariff-free trading relationships for all our futures. Negotiating new trade deals with a wide range of partners to maintain and extend fair and non-discriminatory access to export markets will be essential to supporting many key Scottish industries. Securing the best possible commercial environment for Scottish businesses is vital—from the Scottish whisky industry, which represents about 10 per cent of all Scottish exports to the EU, to our financial services sector. Edinburgh has been an international centre for banking for more than 300 years. The financial sector is of national importance, with direct links between Scotland, the City of London and other EU financial markets. Britain has 2.2 million jobs linked to the financial service industry, with around 35,000 of those based in Edinburgh alone. The city remains the UK’s second largest financial hub, and that must be protected and nurtured.
Sorry, but I am running out of time.
I am particularly aware that many young people backed the remain campaign. Reassuring them and working out how we can guarantee their economic future must also be a key priority. Young Scots want to have opportunities to work across Europe. Our young people take an internationalist view and we need to make sure that they have the opportunities to study, work and travel that they had before.
I accept that there is economic uncertainty for many Scottish businesses as we prepare for a new Prime Minister who will formally lead those negotiations. It is important that we as a Parliament send out a clear message that Scotland is open for business. I believe that we remain one the best countries in which to start a business and to invest, and we will always have our greatest asset to attract investors and businesses to locate to Scotland: our people.
In the coming days, weeks, months and years, our nations will face many challenges. Now is the time for us to work to secure the best deal for Scotland and the United Kingdom.
The practical implications of the decision to leave the EU are potentially massive. It will be weeks—probably months—before the full scale of the impact emerges. As Mike Russell and Jackie Baillie have highlighted, there is already great concern among businesses, large and small, about all the implications.
Brexit and its possible consequences are creating genuine worry over the future viability of some businesses in my constituency. Within a matter of hours of the outcome of the referendum being announced, I had been approached by a senior representative of Angus Growers—a farmers co-operative based in Arbroath that has an annual turnover of around £40 million—to tell me about its very real worries. Angus Growers employs around 4,000 people across Scotland, mostly on a seasonal basis. However, around 10 per cent are employed in full-time management and administrative posts and are drawn from all over eastern Europe. Without the efforts of those Poles, Czechs, Lithuanians, Romanians and Bulgarians, the business could not function. Soft fruit is part of the success story that is Scottish food and drink and here it is confronted by, at best, very real uncertainty.
Angus Soft Fruits is pressing to have its concerns over future access to the workforce on which it is so dependent taken on board. It is far from alone, as businesses the length and breadth of the UK come to terms with the horrific consequences of a decision that Scotland, as a nation, as expressed at the ballot box, finds itself completely at odds with.
Those are the potential practical implications of Brexit. What of the people caught in its crossfire? Some of the eastern European folk who, over the years, have come to Angus to work in agriculture have ended up making their lives there. They have brought their families across, married Scots and been to college to upskill themselves or gain the qualifications needed to bring the education they had back home into play so that they can get better jobs. Angus has become their home and now, after a campaign disgustingly dominated by the issue of immigration and—let us acknowledge this—racism, they are worried.
It is not just people from eastern Europe who are worried. Browsing social media the other night, I chanced upon an incredibly thought-provoking post from a Dutchman—a health professional who happens to practise his skills in my constituency. Because he spoke so eloquently and from a standpoint few of us genuinely grasp, I will quote what he said.
“I have lived in the UK, and specifically in Scotland, since I came here from The Netherlands with my parents in 1979. I am about as integrated as it is possible to be. I was educated here, I have a family here, I practice a good career here and I believe I contribute to the community in which I live. I speak the language fluently, I understand the culture, I am engaged with the politics, I love the heritage, the history, the stunning scenery and, of course, the people: the warmth, the humour, the self deprecation and essential decency.
The fact that I am not a British citizen meant I did not get a vote in the referendum. I could watch and participate in the arguments and debates, occasionally wade with bad grace into a facebook discussion that irritated me ... and then grow increasingly alarmed as the conversation became slowly more xenophobic.
But, ultimately, I (and the three million or so other Europeans resident here) did not get a chance to influence the future of the country in which I and my family live.
The conflict I felt—and in the wake of the vote to leave the EU feel even more acutely—centres on the fact that as the referendum made immigration the main issue and framed the EU as pesky foreigners imposing their scheming ways on the UK, I felt increasingly that it was out of place for me ... to intrude on your great national but internal debate, even though the decision to leave the EU will have an as yet unclear but almost certainly detrimental effect on my future within the UK.
In the big scheme of things, my personal discomfort is no big deal. I don’t know what rights I will lose, what services I will have to start paying for, whether I will have to go through a different gate at a UK airport than my kids. Time will tell.
There are much bigger things at stake. Soon, when the UK ... leaves the Union, the separation will be complete and irreversible. We will have lost the common vision, the economic benefits of the common market and the legal framework that protects and promotes the common endeavour towards peace, prosperity, environmental stewardship and workers’ and human rights.
Against all that the blow to my identity and the sense of my own place in the UK becoming more peripheral and fragile is really not so important, but it is present and I have a sense of apprehension about what a future living in a UK that is outside the EU will bring.
But here’s the thing. I am not merely resident in Britain—specifically I live in Scotland, that special part of the United Kingdom that has shown, by voting to remain in the EU that it doesn’t buy into the cynical, petty, xenophobic faragism of some of its other parts. Nor does it seem to believe that sovereignty (the ability to determine your own national affairs) is incompatible with transnational cooperation and political integration (with a small ‘i’).
The make up of the current parliament appears to show that a majority of Scottish people share a liberal, progressive, outward looking, optimistic, environmentally responsible, inclusive vision of society which is absolutely and resolutely suited to providing answers to the problems of the 21st century and which stands in total contrast to the small-minded nationalism of the Leave campaign.
Whether it’s in Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government’s powers to keep Scotland in the EU or not remains to be seen, but at a moment of shock and enormous insecurity the First Minister said words that I suspect a lot of EU nationals who have made this country their home, and certainly I, needed to hear.
They weren’t policy or even promises. She cannot possibly know what will be deliverable post Brexit. But that she” reached
“out in such a spirit of generosity demonstrates why hope is not lost, not just for European immigrants but for everyone who wants to live in a progressive and inclusive country that is a fully committed part of the European Union.”
Colleagues, at decision time, let us join the First Minister in reaching out to our Dutch friend and others like him and demonstrate that we value the contribution that they make to Scotland, just as much as we value our country’s place in the EU.
Like almost every member of the Parliament and an overwhelming majority of those who voted in Scotland on Thursday, I did not want to be in this position.
Scotland is a European nation—an internationalist nation—and the people of Scotland have made their views quite clear. They and we intend to remain European citizens. We want the protections for workers, women, parents and the environment to continue. We appreciate the opportunities that freedom of movement gives us, not just as a nation in need of a growing population but as individuals. We have no plans to leave the European Union, and it is only right that we exhaust every option that is open to us in pursuit of that outcome.
The support that reaches across almost all the chamber today for such efforts will be welcomed by those we represent. The support extends beyond the chamber, of course; it extends across the continent. Senior politicians from across the Liberal, Conservative and Green traditions have indicated a willingness to secure Scotland’s future in Europe.
“While it is clear that the majority of the U.K. public have voted to leave the EU, the far greater majorities voting to remain in Scotland and Northern Ireland must be listened to as well.
The Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, as a strong supporter of the EU, will support exploring all the options that would allow pro-European Scotland and Northern Ireland to remain within the EU as they have clearly voted to do.”
We still have a role to play in reforming Europe and building on the successes—and the failures—of the European project. Huge challenges still face us as a continent that we can only face together.
Some 57,000 refugees are stranded in Greece, and more than 700 people drowned in the last week of May alone trying to reach our shores. May was the 13th month in a row in which temperature levels were again broken. The result of that is extreme weather that only causes further misery not just to those in Europe who suffer from extreme flooding, dangerous heatwaves or coastal erosion, but to the many millions elsewhere who will be left with no option but to flee to our shores. Unless we take collective action, there will be a refugee crisis many times greater than the one that we are currently failing to deal with.
Although the United Kingdom as a whole has clearly decided to take a different path, which I believe will make it less able to contribute to tackling those crises, Scotland has said that we intend to stay in the EU to continue to play our part. The United Kingdom may be heading towards a Conservative Government far to the right of the one that we currently suffer under, but people here have clearly said that they value the protections that are afforded to all of us as European citizens: the protections from overwork and dangerous working conditions; guarantees of maternity leave and equal pay for equal work; and some, although not nearly enough, regulation of our financial sector.
The work that is required to continue those benefits and ensure that Scotland can continue to play our part in Europe will be difficult. We are in an unprecedented situation.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to cross-party working and the engagement of the council of experts. The Scottish Greens will, of course, play whatever role we can, and I am pleased that other parties have already made similar commitments. However, I have one specific request.
Much has been made of the views of young people in the referendum and its aftermath. Our young people benefit more than any other generation from the opportunities that are afforded to us as European citizens. Scotland’s young people are not willing to lose the ability to live, work and study anywhere in the European Union or schemes such as Erasmus.
I am aware of a letter that the First Minister’s office will have just received from the Scottish Youth Parliament, which requests a formal role for the Scottish Youth Parliament in the discussions to follow. Given the SYP’s unique mandate to represent Scotland’s young people, that is not just a reasonable request; it is a necessary step. I hope that the First Minister will agree.
Shortly before this debate, I addressed a rally outside the Parliament. Hundreds of people assembled today—thousands more are set to do so tomorrow—and their message could not have been clearer. They expect us to do all that we can—to exhaust every option—to guarantee their rights as European citizens and to keep Scotland in Europe. I am confident that we will do just that.
It is no secret which option I and my party prefer—one that we would have preferred regardless of the outcome of the referendum but which takes on a new urgency in its aftermath. I believe that the only way to guarantee Scotland’s long-term future in Europe is to put our future in our own hands—for Scotland to become an independent nation.
Whether the Conservatives like it or not, the UK they argued for in 2014 no longer exists. It is clear that the argument they made—that the only way to guarantee our EU membership was to vote no—no longer applies. We live in a very different UK to the one we lived in last week, and it is only right that the people of Scotland, if necessary and if they want it, once again make a collective choice about our future.
Today is a day, though, for us to come together as a Parliament and to look at every option available to us. While I am very keen to explore options short of independence, it would be remiss of me not to be honest in my position. I believe that an independent Scotland, with a seat at the European table, will provide the most opportunities for our young people; that it will allow us to play the greatest role possible in facing up to the world’s crises; and that, with independence, we can create the fairer, more just and prosperous society that I believe we all want to see.
This week, we begin a deeply uncertain process to clarify and secure Scotland’s future in Europe. The Greens are glad that we will do so together, with what could still be the support of all five parties in this Parliament—if the Tories can bring themselves to support responsible and reasonable proposals from the Scottish Government.
While few of us wanted to be in this position today, we must work with what we have. We must do everything we can to respect the mandate of the people of Scotland. We must keep Scotland in Europe.
The will of the Scottish people and that of the people of Northern Ireland, London and other parts of the UK must be respected in relation to our position in the European Union. That will take time, and we must expect the European Commission to give respect to the complexities of the negotiations ahead. We must not allow the leaders of other EU countries to rush any exit process in a bid to shut down right-wing arguments in their own countries—much as we understand the complexities of that situation too.
This afternoon, I want to focus partly on my brief of environment and climate change and to highlight that we need to protect what is precious in our own legislation that has come from the EU.
I ask the Scottish Government to consider environmental protection in addition to the social, employment and economic benefits highlighted in its motion today. The cabinet secretary’s evidence before the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee this morning gave some reassurance on these matters. Her explanation was that the Scottish Government’s starting point would be co-operation across national boundaries and, of course, that regulatory bodies here in Scotland would continue to protect us. She also said that it is a question of understanding our exposure.
I agree with that. We must ask ourselves what came from EU directives; whether the legislation is devolved or reserved; and what is now enshrined in Scottish Parliament legislation. EU directives are not about bureaucracy or red tape, as some in the leave campaign would argue; they were forged collectively to protect us all.
Lord Deben, chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change, has said that Europe is about gaining sovereignty, as it allows us to face environmental issues. Let us look to see whether we can indeed, in some way, retain the membership and those benefits.
As to the process—if it comes to it—of disentwining ourselves from the EU here in Scotland, at whatever speed this moves I want to argue that we must fight against any moves to weaken or repeal environmental protection. The legislation often protects those in our communities who are most in need of support—communities who feel dislocated or left behind.
The ambient air quality directive identifies air quality zones to tackle dangers to health from traffic emissions. Across the UK, about 4,000 people still die of air pollution each year, and the enactment of the legislation is better protecting people in Glasgow and other cities across Scotland.
The water framework directive was introduced in 2000, and was transposed into Scots law by the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003. That has ensured the quality of our drinking water and regulated our sewage systems for the benefit of people and the environment.
As we all know, Scotland has a high-quality water environment that is important for our health and wellbeing. It supports a rich diversity of wildlife, attracts visitors and supports the sustainable development of our economy. I recall a time when some of Scotland’s beaches were not places that I would want to take my children. Now, thanks to the implementation of the bathing waters directive, I can happily take my grandson to any beach in Scotland without thinking twice.
The marine protected areas were enshrined in the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 as a result of international obligations under the EU marine strategy framework directive, which calls for “good environmental status” throughout Europe’s marine areas. The birds and habitats directives also call for a network of protected areas. All those EU directives have been instrumental in benefiting the health of our seas, thereby protecting the livelihoods of those who fish in them and of future generations.
On climate change, I take issue with Willie Rennie. It is essential that we continue to work with the EU countries to protect present and future generations. Scotland is indeed a leader in the UK and the EU, and globally we are at a time when America and China are pressing for co-ordination.
It is essential that the range of funding that came from the EU to Scotland is protected. In my brief, for example, there has been recent support for the Beatrice offshore wind farm, which received £525 million from the European Investment Bank, supported by the European fund for strategic investments. That is the single largest investment in an offshore wind facility by the EU, and it brings with it the likelihood of 100 jobs in the Nigg yard in Caithness. That sort of support is essential as we transition to a low-carbon economy, so we must ensure that we assess how we protect that funding for the future.
Finally, with 75 per cent of young people voting UK-wide to remain, we have a responsibility to ensure that the door is kept open to possible future membership of the EU. So many young people understand the cultural, educational and social links and opportunities that EU membership has brought. Indeed, many have been lucky enough to travel or work in Europe or have had the advantage of educational exchanges and support such as the Erasmus scheme.
“Following the EU referendum on Thursday, the United Kingdom has taken a momentous decision” that
“will have a defining impact on the future of where our country is going to be. Most importantly, this decision will have a defining impact on Young People’s future. Unfortunately ... Young People aged 16 and 17 were denied the right to vote... I am writing to you this afternoon ... to ask for your support to ensure Young People’s voices will be heard. The Scottish Youth Parliament this afternoon has called upon the First Minister ... to include young people in the next steps of the country following the decision to leave the European Union, helping to make our voices heard in shaping our future.”
I ask the First Minister to listen to that plea this afternoon.
I welcome the First Minister’s statement this afternoon and the setting up of a council of experts, which will be vital in securing a positive outcome for Scotland in the months and years ahead.
When we were discussing Scottish independence in 2014, one of the members of the new council of experts, David Edward, submitted evidence to the European and External Relations Committee:
“Personally, I hope very much that the issue of an independent Scotland’s place in the EU will not arise, but the issue is important for the integrity of the EU and ... the credibility of its institutions. It affects other countries as well, and the people are entitled to know, as far as possible, where they stand.”
We find ourselves in a similar situation today. This is not what we would have wanted as a result of the referendum, but we have to deal with the consequences.
In the Scottish independence debate, we were hampered by not being able to get clarity on some of those key issues. I very much hope that David Cameron’s offer to include the Scottish Government in the negotiations ahead will include the assurance that, when clarity is needed from the member state for Scotland to approach the European Union, that will happen at the request of our First Minister.
I am very disappointed that we are at this point because of the Conservative Party’s petty and ill-conceived jealousies, which seem to have been conceived in the Bullingdon club and have brought the UK to the brink of an uncoupling from the EU. It is a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare. Our tragedy is that the denouement in the situation is that the Tory party has lost the plot. It has left a void in leadership and government at the most difficult time for our country.
However, I also hold the Tories responsible for the social inclusion void: a vacuum in the post-industrial communities similar to the one where I live and was brought up. Hope and security have been sucked out of those communities by austerity, low wages and Conservative ideology. In that vacuum, the communities’ fears for the future and for their families have been exploited by people who are bent on division and blame migration for the country’s problems.
Elaine Smith talked carefully about how those communities feel powerless and disengaged from the political process, but no one has mentioned why there is such a difference between the vote in such post-industrial areas in Scotland and in the rest of the UK. Could it be that the rest of the UK has not been protected from the bedroom tax, that it has not had its council rebate protected, that its children have not been protected through the education maintenance allowance being maintained and that it does not have free personal care, free prescriptions or free education?
I hold the Tory party culpable for the vacuum that it has left in our communities. It was the closure of Ravenscraig that brought me to the SNP on a principle of independence within Europe. My community has seen a Government leave no stone unturned to protect our steel industry, which was successfully done in securing the Liberty House takeover of the existing steel plants in Scotland. The rest of the UK has seen a Tory party leadership that is based on the market being all. I am sure that, had Redcar and Port Talbot had the same Government fighting for them as we had in Scotland, things would have been very different in the vote.
The desperation of our communities has been sickeningly exploited, as evidenced by the appalling “breaking point” poster that was released only a few days before the referendum. The blame should lie with those who are culpable. There is no pantomime villain to blame for the problems in the UK, although Mr Farage and Mr Johnson are making a good run for it.
The referendum has been a great tragedy for our country. I was appalled to hear the tale of one of my constituents who received racist abuse from someone who had frequented his shop for years never having displayed such sentiments. The family works and lives in the area. Their children and grandchildren live in my constituency. They employ people in my constituency and they fundraise for our food banks and our hospice. They were told—leaving the expletives out—to go home. They are home, and that is what we should all remember.
I will finish with a quotation from Michael Rosen, our children’s laureate. I am sure that he has taken us all on a bear hunt in the past, but this is from another poem:
“I sometimes fear that people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress worn by grotesques and monsters as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis.
Fascism arrives as your friend.
It will restore your honour, make you feel proud, protect your house, give you a job, clean up the neighbourhood, remind you of how great you once were, clear out the venal and the corrupt, remove anything you feel is unlike you”.
I hope that the whole country will reflect on those words because xenophobia and racism have no place in any solution.
Yesterday in Berlin, Angela Merkel hosted a meeting with François Hollande and Matteo Renzi to consider the process of British withdrawal from the European Union. The leaders of the EU have lost no time in confirming that a member state voting to leave finds itself immediately outside the tent. The process of negotiation looks set to be extremely tough.
Even more visually striking was the fact that Europe’s big three had changed overnight. The place that had been occupied by successive British Prime Ministers was now taken by the Prime Minister of Italy, and they acted as if it had always been that way. The message could not have been clearer: the world has changed, and so has our place in it.
Sixty years ago, Anthony Eden plunged Britain into the Suez crisis, which culminated in his resignation as Prime Minister. Seeking in vain to maintain the British empire, he instead hastened its end and changed our place in the world. Since then, British foreign policy has focused ever more sharply on Europe—until now. The present Prime Minister will go down in history for an equally momentous decision. David Cameron’s Suez is a referendum that we did not need, with an outcome that even he did not want, and it is future generations who will pay the price of that folly, if these islands indeed disengage from our European neighbours.
However, the EU referendum has happened, the world has changed and today’s debate has been about how we will deal with that. What we should not do is head straight for the trenches to fight the previous referendum again. If support last week changed the world, so did the vote in 2014. It is not credible to say, “That was a vote of Britain as a whole, and there is no Scottish angle because Scotland is just another component of the United Kingdom.” If this Parliament, with our new devolved powers, really is the most powerful devolved Parliament anywhere, it follows that we can and must take a considered view of the implications of Brexit for Scotland’s future.
Labour will not support the Conservative amendment today, because it seeks to rule out any engagement by the Scottish Government with the institutions of the EU, as if such engagement was simply a matter for the UK Government alone. Surely this is not the time to limit the options that Scotland’s devolved Government can explore.
I agree with the general point that Lewis Macdonald is making, but surely the matter goes further. During this session, the Scottish Parliament will gain powers that will place our budget much more in connection with the performance of our economy. However, at that precise time, the UK Government has taken the most reckless gamble with the economy, which will have a direct impact on spending on public services here, unless we act to protect them.
I agree with that. At the same time, it is true to say that last week’s vote does not change the decision of the Scottish people in 2014, when we voted to remain in the United Kingdom. The question that voters in Scotland were asked last week was whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union, and it is the answer to that question that should guide what we do now.
There are material changes, of course, although many will wonder whether independence in Europe—if Scotland is in and England is out—is more attractive or less attractive than what was on offer two years ago, and many will believe that a domestic market of 65 million people is even more precious if we lose access to a single market of 500 million, even if some people think that the European single market matters more.
The First Minister has said again today that there are options to explore other than a second independence referendum; we in the Labour Party take her at her word. If Nicola Sturgeon wants to retain that credibility and cross-party support, she will no doubt want to contain the excitement of those of her supporters—and even her ministers—who cannot wait for indyref 2 and appear to have written off all the other options already. The First Minister will know that many members do not want a second referendum, whatever the question, because recent weeks have reminded us of just how ugly, brutal and divisive such binary choices on major national issues can be. I was glad that she made it clear this afternoon that support for her motion is quite separate from support for independence. That clear distinction must be maintained throughout the process that we begin today.
We ask the First Minister to explore, on behalf of this Parliament, Scotland’s options for protecting the benefits of Scotland’s place in the EU and the single market, all of which we have secured over 40 years as part of the UK. We want her to do that in consultation with other leaders of devolved administrations in the United Kingdom, including the Mayor of London, and we welcome what she has said today on that matter.
Other parties will also be active in pursuing initiatives towards our shared objectives. Kezia Dugdale has already spoken to the Mayor of London, the First Minister of Wales and the Chief Minister of Gibraltar—all Labour politicians who share our values and value the UK’s membership of the EU.
However, there is a particular onus on the Government to take matters forward over the coming months. We of course welcome the Presiding Officer’s assurance that the Parliament stands ready for a recall this summer, if required, to hear what progress the Government has made. I look forward to the cabinet secretary addressing immediate issues at the European and External Relations Committee later this week.
I hope that, in summing up, the cabinet secretary will say a bit more about exploring options other than independence and that she and her colleagues will work hard to maintain a united approach. Only by doing that can we give people here and elsewhere hope that the chaos and crisis that have been caused by David Cameron’s referendum will not mean the end of our European story.
This has been a passionate and deeply felt afternoon of debate, and so it should be: few decisions taken by an electorate have held such profound implications for a country.
I pay tribute to the voters in my Eastwood constituency in East Renfrewshire, who again achieved a record turnout in Scotland of 76.1 per cent and who, together with voters in Edinburgh, achieved the highest vote for remain in Scotland—indeed, Eastwood and Edinburgh achieved the ninth and 10th highest votes for remain respectively in the whole of the United Kingdom. My constituents voted to remain.
As with all but a handful of members, I sought a different outcome to the referendum. Although I accept the outcome across the UK, I share the dismay and frustration that the First Minister expressed last Friday. There have been three referendums since devolution, and although I appreciate that the First Minister has been on the losing side in all of them, being on the losing side this time has been a new experience for me.
There have been some SNP loyalists this afternoon who have commended the First Minister on the leadership that she showed during the campaign. May I—surprisingly—join them and congratulate her on the energy that she brought to the contest, both here in Scotland and in her participation in the UK referendum debate? However, I cannot help but observe that the Scottish party whose supporters apparently voted to leave by the largest percentage was the SNP. Perhaps the First Minister will reflect on why so many of her supporters ignored her advice, and perhaps Richard Lochhead may like to reflect on why nearly 50 per cent of his constituents voted to ignore him.
Kezia Dugdale and Oliver Mundell were both right—this was not a clear-cut result in every district and every community in Scotland. However, Kezia Dugdale has to reflect that although many Labour voters may have followed her advice in Scotland, by a far greater margin they reflected the absolutely shocking leadership that has been shown by Jeremy Corbyn. No national leader has looked since last Thursday more lacklustre, smug or indifferent to the result than he has, so she can stew in her anger against Conservative members in the chamber, but she needs to boil in the shame of her own juices over the complacent and indifferent leadership that has been shown by the Labour Party in Scotland’s current UK leader at Westminster.
In any event, I might observe, too, in passing—as did Elaine Smith—that proportional as this Parliament may be, it did not, in its vote a few weeks ago, reflect the balance of opinion in Scotland. That is something for us to reflect upon, however awkward it is.
The proposition that I campaigned for and voted for last week—that the UK remain in the European Union—no longer exists. That was the proposition on the ballot paper. The proposition was not that I—or anyone else, for that matter—vote for Scotland to remain in the EU whatever the terms or the circumstances. I voted for Scotland to remain in an EU in which the whole UK was an influential member state.
The First Minister, in her statement last Friday, quite reasonably expressed her frustration—and, to be frank, her anger—at the fact that Scotland, along with Northern Ireland and London, had spoken so differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. She has embarked on a strategy to explore all the options that are open to Scotland and has detailed those options as she sees them. In broad terms, that is sensible and prudent. However, the views that were expressed this morning in the European Parliament by Mr Juncker, and the fact that in the past few minutes the European President, Donald Tusk, has turned down the First Minister’s invitation for a meeting, suggest that it will not be an easy path. I suspect that although the First Minister does us no disservice in exploring options, the reality of a union that is based on treaty will assert itself—although I hope that my pragmatic pessimism proves to be wrong.
However, after exploring all the options and within hours of the result, the First Minister confirmed that she had instructed officials—it seems almost before anything else and before anyone had even digested their breakfast—to prepare the way for a second Scottish independence referendum. As I listened with care to the options as the First Minister detailed them, I did not hear advanced what many regard as the most probable outcome, which the SNP must, surely, acknowledge as a possible scenario—that Scotland remains in the UK and outside the European Union. It is not enough for SNP members to sit in their seats and sneer that what I am saying shows the true colours of those who consider that to be a possibility. In that scenario, it is surely imperative not only that we secure the best possible terms for Scotland in our exiting the formal EU but that, in the future life of our country, we ensure that the policies that are adopted in the areas of national life that are once again determined in the UK are unequivocally designed to advance Scotland’s best interests.
At the very least, that option should enjoy parallel status and effort from the Scottish Government. If it does not, and if the Scottish Government focuses on the campaign for indyref 2, the SNP risks undermining Scotland’s influence in the negotiations and future planning that are taking place, as others conclude that Scotland’s contribution is half-hearted, half-baked and designed to undermine the deal that is available. I do not argue that that would ever be the intention of ministers, but it could easily be the conclusion of others who are less enlightened.
We need to see Nicola Sturgeon at the heart of discussions in London, not on a busman’s tour of European capitals. We need to see the First Minister join and work with the Secretary of State for Scotland—whom she did not mention in her statement—and all others to represent Scotland’s best interests. We need all Scotland’s Westminster MPs—whom the First Minister also did not mention—to represent Scotland’s interests and not just the interests of the SNP. We need to see and hear their voices in support of Scotland, and not just to suffer their belligerent tweets in support of SNP command’s alternative agenda. Central to our national interest is the best possible access to the free-trade market, which is of fundamental importance to employment. No result last week would have changed the fact that the overwhelming majority of our business is done with the rest of the UK or with the European Union—jobs and futures depend on it.
Foremost in our minds, wherever we live in the UK, should be the future of our young people. I know from my own home and my sons’ friends just how strongly they feel. It is not just a media fantasy; rightly or wrongly, many young people feel that the 60 per cent of our oldest generation who voted to leave have scuppered the lifetime opportunity of the 75 per cent of our youngest generation who voted to remain. We must, above all else, give those young people hope. Direct democracy has let them down in a way that representative democracy would not have done. We must offer them the opportunity to travel, study, volunteer and work wherever they wish across Europe and the world, and we must facilitate that in the absence of the many schemes that are currently available in the EU, such as Erasmus. We must also welcome others to the UK in exchange.
Just a few weeks ago, on all sides of the chamber, members spoke with passion and commitment for the UK’s continued membership of the European Union. I argued—I hope and believe—on the basis not of why we should not leave but of why we should remain. I will always argue for the most positive, productive and engaging relationship with Europe. Nevertheless, it is now necessary for us to meet a challenge that few of us sought, and with steely purpose, an agreed unity and a message of hope. However individuals may define it, our duty now is to obtain the best possible outcome for Scotland.
I thank all those members who have participated in the debate and I echo the First Minister’s pride in the decision that voters in Scotland took to vote decisively in favour of Scotland’s and the UK’s continuing membership of the EU. I think Jackson Carlaw doth protest too much. It is about time that the Conservatives faced up to what they have done. It does not behove him to lash out at other members.
Some members, such as Willie Rennie, have talked about how they feel personally, while others have spoken about how their constituents feel. Some have talked about the immediate consequences of the referendum vote, some have talked about the nature of the campaign that was fought and some have talked about the immediate aftermath.
Many have focused on the result itself and the emphatic 62 per cent of Scots who chose to remain in the EU. In what I thought was a very passionate speech, Kezia Dugdale reminded us to think about the fact that, in some places, people voted to leave out of a sense of powerlessness and a need for change. We must think through the consequences of that. Patrick Harvie was correct to identify that space has been provided for division, fear and hatred to be engendered, and that must be confronted face on in all our politics as we move forward.
Christina McKelvie talked about the rights of and the need for respect for citizens of the EU, and many members spoke of EU citizens who live in Scotland. Yesterday morning, the Minister for International Development and Europe, Alasdair Allan, visited two businesses in Edinburgh that are owned by EU nationals, to hear at first hand why they chose to make Scotland their home and to make it clear to them that their contribution is valued.
Right across Scotland, employers, organisations and industries have been publishing messages and making statements stressing the continued welcome that there is for their friends and colleagues from across the EU. On Friday, Professor Anton Muscatelli of the University of Glasgow said that the university was
“founded in the European tradition,” and that nothing would change its international outlook. He told his colleagues and students from the EU
“just how much this University values your contribution to our community. You are a vital and essential part of our University.”
The head of NHS Scotland, Paul Gray, has stated:
“I value the contribution of every member of staff in NHS Scotland, regardless of citizenship. The EU referendum has not changed that.”
Jeffrey Sharkey, the principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said:
“I want to emphasise to our EU and international students past, present and future that they are, and will be, most welcome and valued members of our creative community.”
I think that we can all agree that, however each of us voted, the Scottish Government has a responsibility to provide reassurance to the 173,000 EU citizens who have chosen to make Scotland their home. Ahead of today’s debate, the First Minister has already outlined the actions that we are taking to provide that reassurance. Yesterday, I met the ambassadors of France, Germany and Slovakia, who all have citizens living here, and I underlined our commitment to the interests of their citizens. It is important that we ensure that that welcome is known.
This Government has always mentioned in its arguments the benefits of EU migration—that has been a consistent part of our message. I was saddened and, indeed, angered by the way in which some sought to use the issue of migration in a wholly misleading way to encourage people to vote to leave the EU. I thought that Clare Adamson, in a very powerful speech, gave a clarion call on the need for us all to face up to, and to face down, that behaviour. We cannot express the Scottish Government’s welcome more clearly than the First Minister did on Friday morning, when she said to EU citizens living in Scotland:
“you remain welcome here, Scotland is your home and your contribution is valued.”
I want to emphasise to Parliament that, in the discussions that I had yesterday with the ambassadors of France, Germany and Slovakia, I told them that today’s motion was about securing approval to take forward and protect Scotland’s interests in the EU, that all options would be assessed and that the motion was not asking Parliament for support for an independence referendum.
Despite my disappointment in the result of the UK referendum, I again stress the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensuring that all Scotland’s interests and those of our citizens are protected at this most uncertain of times. The Scottish Government will take that forward.
Jackie Baillie and Mike Russell touched on the economic aspects of the situation. John Swinney and Keith Brown are already engaged in direct dialogue with business on how we can make sure that our interests are protected. We need to think about how we do that and who we involve in that process. Miles Briggs mentioned the financial services industry in Edinburgh. How does he expect the interests of that industry to be advanced if we do not have the opportunity to engage directly with the EU, bearing in mind that Lord Hill, the financial services commissioner, has resigned? Although the financial services industry in Edinburgh might have interests that are similar to those of the financial services industry in London, it will also have different interests, and it is very important that we understand that and explore all options.
I turn to Oliver Mundell, who said that there was no need to “jump to hasty conclusions”. We are seeking urgent talks with the UK Government on its plans for withdrawal from the EU. However, I make it clear that no one has any idea about what those plans are. Oliver Mundell’s perspective—to wait and see—is at best passive but at worst a complete and utter abdication of responsibility. Listening to the tone of the Conservatives, both the leave and remain sides are behaving as if they wished the referendum had not happened.
Our job and our responsibility is to take forward Scotland’s interests. I will ensure that we continue to have the dialogue with our colleagues across the United Kingdom that we have already had. We have said clearly that Scotland must have a clear role in the EU-UK negotiation; indeed, the Prime Minister has confirmed that we will have. We need a seat at the table, and we cannot have a repeat of the situation last year in terms of David Cameron’s work on the EU negotiations, which we were locked out of. It is unclear how the negotiations will be taken forward. I met the Secretary of State for Scotland on Friday and I am due to have a phone call with the Minister of State for Europe, David Lidington, tomorrow. It is important to ensure that we have an opportunity to look at all options, but we must have direct engagement to ensure that all options can be explored with EU institutions as well as the United Kingdom Government.
Many members have cited the different arguments for the benefit that we get from the EU, such as access to the single market, valuable social and human rights and the importance of being able to pool sovereignty to look at bigger issues such as the global challenges of tackling pollution, climate change and the refugee crisis. In addition, we do not have to look too far back in history to acknowledge the importance of co-operation in the EU over conflict. We must always remember that.
I am proud that the Parliament, in its debate in this chamber barely a month ago, set out a positive case for membership of the EU, free from the fear-based campaigning that we saw on both sides during the closing stages of the referendum. The benefits that we realise from our EU membership were as real last week as they are this week. In voting to remain, the people of Scotland have recognised that, which is why the Scottish Government is committed to examining all options open to it to preserve its relationship with the EU so that those benefits can continue to be realised. In doing that, we will engage directly with member states and the European institutions, and with the UK Government. As I said, I have met the Secretary of State for Scotland and am talking to the UK’s Europe minister, and we will continue our engagement in Brussels and with interested member states.
If we are to advance our interests in law, business, jobs and the environment, we must identify what options are available within the EU institutions and member states. In doing so, we can build on the work of the European and External Relations Committee’s report, the grounding of which Joan McAlpine set out. I can assure Jackson Carlaw, Lewis Macdonald, Ross Greer and others that I will ensure that Opposition members and spokespeople are informed. We have the benefit in Scotland of taking forward that work with advice, information, knowledge and wisdom from the standing council on Europe, as announced by the First Minister, which will look at all the options that we can take forward in pursuing our interests.
We are now in a unique and unprecedented situation, and in uncharted waters. There is no obvious route forward, but together we must find a route forward. I am confident that we as a Parliament can work collaboratively, taking all actions in the best interests of Scotland. The people of Scotland sent us here in our election only a few weeks ago to represent them and stand up for their interests. We have a clear responsibility and duty to work together, not just across this chamber but together with the experience, knowledge and wisdom of the standing council and beyond to make sure that we identify, protect and advance Scotland’s interests in the EU.
It is in that spirit and with that intent that I urge members to think forward in the case of Scotland, not just to where we have been recently in this campaign but to where we want Scotland to be in the future. We might not have a charted route forward, but if we have a commitment to a common endeavour and the interests of Scotland clearly in our focus, I think that this Parliament, working together, can achieve much in difficult times.
I urge all members to think about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead and be realistic about what they might be. However, let us come together and give endorsement to the view that that work should and must take place.