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I start by taking my lead from the spokesman for the spiny lobster, Stewart Stevenson, and declaring an interest as an ambassador for the Scottish primrose.
I am showing a softer side.
Unlike Neil Findlay, I am not a veteran of these Brexit debates but, unlike Finlay Carson and his colleagues, I have been pleasantly surprised by the extent to which large parts of the debate have broken free of the Brexit shackles to consider the wider environmental issues. The cabinet secretary set the tone in her opening remarks, but a number of speakers have followed on from that. For example, Gillian Martin’s comments on the leading role of Scottish research in shaping the environmental landscape were entirely valid. I cited the example of Heriot-Watt University, but I made it clear that there are many other examples, which Gillian Martin referred to.
In a considered speech, Mark Ruskell probably covered the ground more expansively than anyone. I had concerns about where he seemed to be going with regard to agriculture but, even there, I believe that a challenge has been set down to those in the farming sector to step up to the plate. Likewise, Kate Forbes made interesting points about the importance of natural capital, although I take violent exception—she would expect nothing less—to her assertion that her constituency is perhaps the most environmentally significant.
I did not cover any of the amendments in my opening remarks, so let me address that shortcoming now. David Stewart’s amendment makes useful points about collective action to protect the marine environment as well as about the collaborative approach to research across the EU to underpin environmental protection. Indeed, I made the same point earlier. Mr Stewart also—rightly—suggested that this is not a one-way process and that the UK has been instrumental in shaping the environmental agenda at an EU level, particularly in relation to wildlife and climate change.
Similarly, Maurice Golden’s amendment makes reasonable points, but it glosses over the damage that has been done by the Tories’ failure to deal with the divisions in their party over Europe. Unlike Stewart Stevenson, I agree that being part of the UK can help us to meet our climate change ambitions, but not if the current UK Tory Government persists with a reckless approach towards the development of renewables and continues to reverse the progress that was made on the green agenda under the coalition Government.
Mark Ruskell’s amendment was written in far more moderate terms than previous iterations—I would expect nothing less of him—but in recent times trade agreements have been the subject of more focus, more scrutiny and more vigilance than ever before. That is a good thing, which has resulted in more transparency and an improved process. As a result, Liberal Democrats have been alert to a number of the concerns that have been raised, raised them at UK and EU levels and secured change as a result. However, as a trading nation, we benefit from trading and it is not clear to me what we would be asking the UK Government to do if we agreed to the Greens’ amendment.