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Environment and Climate Change (European Union Referendum)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 27th October 2016.

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Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Not at this moment, Mr Scott, but I will let you in later on. I have some more to say about Mr Scott, which will be positive, of course. [



It is a pleasure, even with the little voice that I have left today, to support my friend Roseanna Cunningham on environmental issues. She succeeded me as environment minister in February 2009. We agree, I think, that the job is the best job in Government, and I am delighted that it is now of full cabinet rank. She is a great defender and advocate of a greener Scotland, but her skills, passion and knowledge will be needed as never before because the environment must become a key issue in the Brexit negotiations.

It is already clear to me from the discussions that I have had that the UK Government is not really interested in the issue of the environment—it is low down its list of priorities. The Scottish Government can help the UK and Europe—and, one might even say immodestly, the planet—by making sure that it takes centre stage.

It has been a pleasure to hear Claudia Beamish and Mark Ruskell in the debate. The three of us are among the five nominees for the Nature of Scotland politician of the year award this year. The other two nominees are Richard Lochhead and Sarah Boyack. The smart money should be on Sarah Boyack for her contributions in the chamber. It is probably important to mention that now, because this is a debate that she would have relished and which she would have contributed to with great distinction. But on to less happy matters.

Mr Golden opened the debate by saying that he believes that “Brexit means Brexit”. Later on, Mr Burnett told us that

“we are leaving the European Union and we are going to make a success of it”.

Just as there was a little red book of Mao quotations, there is now clearly a little blue book of Theresa May quotations, because those are direct quotations from Theresa May.

However, it will take more than quoting the little blue book to convince anybody in the chamber or in Scotland about the reality of Brexit, because what we are hearing from the Tories—as the First Minister said this morning—is not collaboration or co-operation; it is capitulation. We are hearing nothing at all from them about standing up for Scotland or putting the case for Scotland in relation to Brexit. That was, alas, also true of what Mr Golden had to say.

Mark Ruskell made that point almost immediately after Mr Golden’s speech, because he pointed out that the reliance in the Tory motion on UN agreements will undoubtedly allow the UK to weaken environmental protection—just the type of agreement that the Tories seem to want. Mark Ruskell pointed out, if members want proof of it, the damage that has been done by the Tories to the renewables infrastructure since they decided to start reducing the subsidies.

If we are looking for evidence of what the Tory position on the environment will be on Brexit, we can see it already. It is a desire to weaken standards.

I would have liked to have heard Liam McArthur support that. This is the first time that he has taken part in one of these debates, as he said, and he opened very strongly. He said that Brexit was not in the Scottish or the Orkney community’s interest and that EU membership was profoundly in the interest of this country and his constituents. However, the logic of that position would surely put him in support of ensuring that all the options are considered for the future. Until the Scottish Liberal Democrats are prepared to consider all the options then, alas, they are not being true to that objective.