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There are moments when we can be proud of broad agreement across Parliament. Often, those moments of unity see us rally round a progressive cause or statement of values. Today, between here and the Welsh Assembly, five parties are doing that. Members have made statements in support of a broad internationalism, of a progressive and outward-looking society, and of the incredible achievements in peace and freedom that we have played our part in as a participant in the European project.
However, fundamentally, what we are united in today is a damage-limitation exercise—a defensive action against the single most self-destructive political act in our post-war history. It saddens me profoundly. I was not elected to this Parliament to spend my time here on damage limitation—especially when that damage comes from something that Scotland voted overwhelmingly against.
As Tom Arthur did, I visited a school yesterday. A 17-year-old Polish student there said to me simply, “I hope I get to stay.” What a profoundly distressing thing for him even to have to contemplate. What a profoundly depressing state the UK Government has taken us to, where that young man is worried about being thrown into the cruelty of the immigration system that the UK Government already runs for citizens of countries that are outwith the European Union.
The scale of the chaos, incompetence and instability that are playing out at Westminster has now been going on for so long that there is a danger of its being normalised, but it is not normal. As the First Minister said, this is a developed nation in peacetime, so why have the Tories brought us to the point at which we are stockpiling medicines and fuel? Why are they unable to choose between preservation of the Northern Ireland peace process and satisfying the obsession of extremists on their Westminster back benches? Why is a cabinet minister who is responsible for more than £2 billion-worth of screw-ups—who gave a ferry contract to a company that has no ferries, for example—still in office? The answer to that last one is simple: Chris Grayling voted to leave. It is another example of what Patrick Harvie referred to: the Prime Minister putting Tory party interests ahead of having basic competence at the highest levels of the British Government. The Prime Minister’s strategy of running down the clock and playing chicken with her back benchers is reckless and irresponsible. It is certainly not statesmanship.
It is hard to explain to the public why a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic. The warnings sound unrealistic when we talk about them, but we have a responsibility to try, because the threat is real. We must tell the public what will happen to supplies of food, fuel and basic goods, and what will happen to jobs, rights and funding for everything from youth clubs to agriculture. The threat to medicines is particularly profound, especially for people who rely on repeat prescriptions, such as James Dornan’s constituents and the people whom Bob Doris mentioned. There are people whose lives depend on daily or frequent medication for epilepsy, diabetes, asthma and more. Any shortages of medicines could be fatal, as the English health secretary has apparently laid bare to the UK Cabinet. Ministers have been warned about it.
Alex Cole-Hamilton was absolutely right to say that it is a “national humiliation” that we have a UK health secretary who is bragging that the UK is now the world’s largest purchaser of fridges because we need them to store our stockpiled medicines. We should not need to say this, but apparently we must: medication saves lives, so nothing that puts access to it at risk should be tolerated. However, for the Prime Minister it is a risk that is worth taking, and for some Tory MPs it is the outcome that they want.
I know that the Scottish Government has published some guidance on no-deal preparations, and I appreciate that. However, the page on medicines and the NHS is not reassuring. As it stands, the Government is simply warning that there might be shortages, but the page does not provide advice on what to do if there are shortages, or what people should be doing to prepare. I appreciate that the Scottish Government did not cause this crisis, but it must ensure that the public are adequately prepared to the greatest possible extent.
Willie Rennie was absolutely correct to say that there is no Brexit outcome that would see us being better off. That is something that I am sure we will all remember when the born-again Brexiteers on the Tory front bench next attempt to lecture the rest of us on what is best for Scotland’s economy.
Again, we should be clear what a no-deal scenario would mean for the economy. The Scottish Government’s projections show that we would face a drop of up to 7 per cent in our GDP by the end of this year. That is breathtaking. However, for most people, that is an abstract figure. What it means in reality is up to 100,000 lost jobs. For the people who are fortunate enough still to have one, the value of their wages will plunge.
Everyday items will become more expensive, if they are available on the shelves at all. Sometimes, I just cannot tell which of the Tories do not grasp that and which grasp it but do not care.
The pitiful stronger towns fund for England shows such ignorance and contempt. The headline figure of £1.6 billion quickly falls apart. It is already suspiciously low—far lower than what is provided through European funding—and it gets worse when we discover that the money is to be spread across seven years. If—this is a big “if”, given that the Tories have not bothered clarifying the matter—the Barnett formula were applied to the fund, Scotland would receive about £26 million a year. Let me put that in perspective. When the Greens got the threshold for the higher rate of income tax frozen in the first budget that we negotiated in this session, the measure raised more annually than the most that the stronger towns fund might deliver for Scotland. A minor concession that we secured in one budget is worth more to Scotland than the Westminster Government’s flagship Brexit fund.
However, the Brexit bribe fund shows how we got here. Communities that were abandoned by the state and have been devastated by austerity were won over by leave campaigners promising a change and a Brexit dividend. They put on the side of a bus a claim that they knew there was no chance would be fulfilled—certainly not with the likes of them in Government.
The damage that Brexit will do to such communities goes far beyond what that pitiful pot of bungs offers. I commend the Labour MPs who have already rejected it—the very Labour MPs at whom it is aimed. If anything, the Brexit bribe has made the Prime Minister’s task more difficult. It has further alienated those Labour MPs and it has also alienated Tory MPs to whose constituencies it will not apply.
On the communities that voted to leave, I ask Jackson Carlaw, who accused others of being elitists who believe that 17 million people were duped, whether the Conservative Party no longer cares about the rule of law. The leave campaign broke the law. It acted illegally: it breached spending limits and stole data. More serious investigations into its funding are going on. If the referendum had been binding, rather than advisory, it would have been struck down on that basis. I cannot imagine that Mr Carlaw would have been so prosaic had the yes campaign been found to have broken the law—but Tory hypocrisy is nothing new.
We know what the choices are now: a terrible deal that has already been rejected by MPs, the disaster of there being no deal, or revocation of article 50 to end this sorry process and remain. It looks like MPs are unable to make that choice, so the solution for them is clear: they should vote for an extension to the process and hand the choice back to the people. Now that the people have seen the lies of the leave campaign collapse under the weight of reality, they deserve a chance to give their verdict.