I am delighted to speak in the debate, as it is about not just what is best for Scotland, but the democratic rights of our people.
We have listened to the same arguments time and again from the Opposition benches, so it is important to stress that the main point at the very heart of the debate is the right of the Scottish people to choose their future.
The debate is about not our personal or political views, but the public and the rights of our nation. Today, I am not here to be a staunch advocate for independence—no matter how much I may want to be. Today, I stand before you as an advocate for choice. As parliamentarians, elected to represent the people of our constituencies and give the everyday public a voice, we must be advocates for choice. Despite our differing opinions about how we wish to see Scotland move forward, we must allow the people to decide and we must give them the power to enact the changes that they wish to see.
In 2014, many people voted no because they felt hesitant about the idea of change, and that is an understandable position. However, now we are in a vastly different situation. Change is now inevitable, and it should be up to the people of Scotland to decide what that change will be, once the terms of Brexit are known. The ramifications of the decisions that we make today, tomorrow and in the years to come will have a lasting effect on the lives and opportunities of our children, grandchildren and future generations in Scotland. We therefore must allow our people to make those decisions. They should not be made by the Westminster Parliament.
At the moment, we have a Prime Minister and a party at the helm who have never thought of Scotland as being their equal. Take what happened on Monday as an example: our Government found out that Article 50 will be triggered next Wednesday only after watching the news. If the Westminster Government cannot pick up the phone to inform us of dates and the timeline of action, how can we trust it to look out for Scotland’s interests in a post-Brexit world?
The very real concern for me and many Scots is the prospect of there being a right-wing Tory Government until at least 2030, and of us being dragged out of the EU and the single market against our will. Why would we seek to deny our public the ability to choose a different option?
We cannot bury our heads in the sand and hope for the best. I believe that Scotland must be offered a choice between a hard Brexit and a more progressive future for our nation, and I trust the people of Scotland to make that choice. I believe that the detailed arrangements for a referendum, including the timing, franchise and question, should be for the Scottish Parliament alone to decide.
The Prime Minister’s blatant disregard of Scotland during EU negotiations, and her flippant
“Now is not the time” dismissal of a second referendum demonstrate that our voice and interests can be ignored at any time. The Prime Minister’s response of
“Now is not the time” to the First Minister’s announcement shows that not only does she not listen to Scotland, but that she is happy to admonish us as though we are unruly children.
We propose a choice between a hard Brexit and choosing our own path, when the terms of Brexit are known and there is still an opportunity to change course. The First Minister has also been clear that, if the Prime Minister’s concern is timing, within reason she is happy to have a discussion and be flexible on that.
Time and again, the Scottish Government has been willing to discuss alternative options. It even offered a big compromise that would mean that Scotland would reluctantly leave the EU if we could stay in the single market. Unfortunately, the UK Government has refused even to listen to that compromise.
In 2014, the people of Scotland were promised that a no vote would secure their EU membership and in 2016, 62 per cent of Scots voted remain. That is why we will not allow a hard Brexit to be forced upon Scotland against our will. The only way to avoid that is to give our people a choice.
In the cold light of day, the harsh truth is that the cost and effect of a hard Brexit will be immense. The Fraser of Allander Institute found that Scotland would lose 80,000 jobs as a result of Brexit. Let us think about that number for a minute. Eighty thousand jobs across the country could be lost as a result of Westminster’s desire for a hard Brexit. That is more than 1,000 jobs in my constituency alone. I do not know about you, Presiding Officer, but the thought of 1,000 hard-working Paisley buddies losing their job as a result of Tory inflexibility is not the future that I want for Scotland.
Now is the time to offer our nation the chance to escape a hard Brexit and unending Tory austerity. Now is the time to give the people of Scotland an alternative.