I am sure that the thoughts of everyone here are with anyone affected by that incident at Westminster.
It is bittersweet that, in the week in which the anniversary of the treaty of Rome is celebrated, we stand here debating Scotland’s future as a European nation. It is right that we should praise the common values—solidarity, co-operation and multilateralism—that we share with our European neighbours. As we speak about trying to preserve what we have, Europe is having a conversation about the future: about how to tackle the big issues, from climate change and the environment to the challenges that are created by Trump in the west and Putin in the east. To paraphrase Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, never has it been so clear that only by working together with our European allies can we be fully independent.
However, no matter how important that is, today’s debate is not just about Europe. We are citizens, not subjects, and today is about democracy. In a successful union, one partner does not ride roughshod over the other’s wishes. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is not, and nor has it ever been, made up of one nation. It is a set of unions between nations that is based, in theory, on common interest and outlook. That theory is now being tested and—I would argue—found wanting.
The EU referendum result was challenging, but it is the aftermath that has been more revealing. The differences of opinion in the UK should have been accommodated, but when compromise and collaboration was needed, only one side stepped up to the plate. The Government of Scotland has not only spoken for those who voted to remain, but put forward a constructive plan to represent all of Scotland, including those who voted to leave the EU but—crucially—not the single market. The document “Scotland’s Place in Europe” is a serious and credible compromise. It was built on the expertise of a standing council that was made up of independent experts, and which included a range of political views.
We should remember that the aim of producing some form of bespoke solution was supported not only by the SNP but by a majority of members of the Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee. Perhaps more important is that, irrespective of the detail of the proposal, that committee agreed that the UK must consider and respond to the ideas that are contained in “Scotland’s Place in Europe”. To be clear, an answer should be delivered not via the media, nor in a speech to the public, but through a direct response to the Scottish Government. So far, that has not been delivered. In fact, the UK Government’s most important statement to date has been an announcement that its plan is for the UK to leave the single market. That announcement was made two days before the JMC had the chance to consider “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, including its first proposal that the whole of the UK should remain in the single market.
Although it has now been publicly announced that the article 50 letter will be submitted on 29 March, the Scottish Government has received no indication of what is in that letter. The shortcomings of the JMC are obvious to all. The system has quite clearly—through no fault of the Scottish Government or the other devolved Administrations—failed. It has failed even to meet its own terms of reference, which are to seek to agree a UK approach to, and objectives for, the article 50 negotiations.
The UK Government’s unwillingness to engage is even more frustrating given that there is clearly a will in Europe to address the issue. The European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee has noted that the EU should prepare to address the questions that are raised in the Scottish Government’s compromise proposal. However, the UK represents us in the EU and must deliver for Scotland by putting forward such a request. If the UK refuses to put Scotland’s case to the EU in that letter and the subsequent negotiations, we are powerless. Do we just sit back and see what is coming, or do we prepare to make a choice?
The article 50 letter should include a demand to negotiate a differentiated settlement for Scotland that will allow us to continue to enjoy the benefits of the European single market in addition to—not instead of—free trade across the UK. That could be done, but I am not holding my breath.
We are here today because the people of Scotland should be given a choice. This Parliament has a clear mandate to deliver that to them through a referendum that will allow them to choose what kind of society they want to live in. The bottom line is simple: Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands, and nobody should seek to prevent that.