Independence Referendum

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd March 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I understand exactly how the First Minister operates. Day after day, we have had demand after demand and position change after position change, and that is no way to engage in a negotiation.

A lot has been said about a cast-iron mandate, but do not listen to what I have to say on that. In the words of Jim Sillars:

“Today’s SNP Government did not win a majority, nor has it a mandate because it did not ask for one … No amount of posturing changes that political weakness of the 2016 election result.”

He is right. Although the SNP’s manifesto commitment was in part tied to the EU, the reality is that Scotland will be outside the EU, whether or not it votes for independence. The SNP’s ambition is to be in the European Free Trade Association, which is a long way short of EU membership. If the SNP Government was being honest, as Alex Neil has been, it would tell you that it does not want full membership of the EU. Just look at the changes to the Government’s position in the last week alone.

I remember the EU referendum well. In my local area, the SNP was notable by its absence—nowhere to be seen on the streets or campaigning. As one SNP member told me, they did not want Brussels rule, just as they did not want London rule, so they did not care less.

Members will know that I hang on Nicola Sturgeon’s every word, and she was very clear that there would be a triple lock against independence: it needed to be in the manifesto, then people had to vote for the manifesto before getting a vote on independence. The majority of people in Scotland did not do so; they did not back the SNP. With a majority of people in Scotland saying that they do not want another referendum any time soon, the First Minister is in danger of doing a David Cameron by leading the country into another referendum that it does not want, simply to satisfy the party activists.

I will vote against a second referendum tonight. Much has been made of respecting the will of Parliament, but only when it suits the SNP. They just ignore votes on the Vale of Leven maternity unit, the Inverclyde maternity unit, the children’s ward at the Royal Alexandra hospital, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Higher and Further Education Funding Council, their abysmal record in education, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, and the list goes on. Democracy only happens when it is convenient for the SNP.

I want to focus on the economy because it is the biggest single challenge facing the country. Of course there will be economic consequences from Brexit, whether it be hard or soft, but they pale in comparison with the economic consequences of independence. Indeed, there will be economic consequences of simply having a referendum.

The Scottish economy is fragile. Growth is down and has been revised downward still. Employment is down and the number of people who are economically inactive is growing. Across virtually every economic measure, we underperform the rest of the UK. We clearly must do better in domestic policy in any event. Before the independence referendum the price of oil was $113; now it is around $50 a barrel. Central to the SNP’s independence white paper, it was then considered by the SNP to be only a bonus, but we know how central it is to the Scottish economy, never mind the economy of the north east.

Now the SNP talks about how important the EU is as an export market for Scotland, and it is. However, it neglects to tell us that Scotland exports four times that amount to the rest of the UK, which is our biggest single market and most important trading partner, and we would be cut off from it in the event of independence.