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Before and since 2016, the Greens have made the case for Scotland’s place in the European Union. It is an imperfect institution, but it has been one of the most successful peace projects in human history.
It is one of the planet’s strongest voices for action on climate change. It is clearly more democratic than the byzantine system at Westminster and it has given us perhaps the most extraordinary political achievement of the past 100 years—freedom of movement, which is not only a benefit to our economy but a liberating principle for the people of Europe.
More fundamentally, Europe is our neighbourhood, our community and our family—we do not want to leave—so of course we were dismayed at the result of the referendum in 2016. However, what has happened since then has been worse than anyone could have imagined. The United Kingdom Government has treated Scotland abysmally, but its treatment of the whole of the UK has been shabby, too. It timed the 2016 referendum to take place just weeks after the Scottish Parliament election; it announced a snap UK election right in the middle of our local election campaigns; it refused to reach out, either across the Commons or to the nations, to seek consensus; it went to court to try and prevent MPs from having any say at all in revoking article 50; and it opposed the safety lock mechanism of the meaningful vote—losing on that issue by just four votes.
Every offer of political compromise has been utterly rejected. We had the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, which—other than in one small aspect, which could easily have been corrected—was competent when passed. The UK Government did not like what we were doing with devolved legislation, so it first initiated a court case, then passed UK legislation that retrospectively limited the powers of this Parliament without our consent and prevented the bill from becoming law. The consequence is that, whatever legislation we now pass in devolved areas, we know that the UK Government is able and willing to retrospectively cut our powers to stop devolved laws coming into force when it does not like what we are doing.
The Conservatives’ amendment, in the name of Adam Tomkins, tells us that the 2016 result “should be respected”. Should we respect the leave campaign’s criminality? Should we respect the racism of so many prominent leave campaigners? Should we respect their refusal even to engage with the threat to peace in Ireland? Should we respect the numbers on the big red bus? I respect many individual people who voted leave and I respect their anger at the way in which the political status quo has failed them, but that failure lies at the door of successive UK Governments, not the European Union. It is the UK Government that has not respected the result of that referendum. To respect that result would be to respect that a 52:48 result is a knife-edge result that requires an effort to compromise and build a consensus. The UK Government did not do that. To respect the result would be to respect the different votes of the constituent parts of the UK—that famous “partnership of equals”. The UK Government did not do that; it did not respect the result—it was given an inch and took so much more than a mile.
Mr Tomkins’s amendment tells us that the result should be “delivered”. That boils down to the absurd simplicity of saying “get on with it” or “just leave”. We are way past that general argument. We are not interested in chasing unicorns any longer. Only a specific, coherent and achievable path forward can be taken seriously.
Mr Tomkins’s amendment also tells us that the best option is to leave “with a withdrawal agreement”, even though that agreement has been resoundingly defeated twice.
In the media today, the Conservatives are calling this debate “self-indulgent”. Apparently, creating this mess purely to address the Conservative Party’s internal ideological divide is not self-indulgent; prolonging the mess by refusing to reach out and seek consensus for staying inside the single market is not self-indulgent; and throwing a £1 billion bung to the misogynistic, homophobic, climate-change-denying, sectarian marchers of the Democratic Unionist Party in order to keep its own hopeless Prime Minister in office is not self-indulgent. However, apparently, anyone who tries to stop the chaos and end the crisis that the Tory party has forced on the country is being self-indulgent.
We are asked to accept that Adam Tomkins and so many other Tory politicians who voted to remain, argued in favour of EU membership and agreed with Ruth Davidson in the wake of the 2016 result that we should stay inside the single market and keep freedom of movement are all now convinced that leaving the European Union will be wonderful and the best course that we could possibly take. There is, apparently, nothing self-indulgent about their throwing in their lot with the self-appointed bad boys of Brexit and going along with that hard-right coup. When I look at the words that the Conservative Party is using today—“respected”, “delivered”, “agreement” and “self-indulgent”—I recognise them all, but I do not think that they mean what Adam Tomkins thinks they mean.
I turn to the Labour position. I recognise and welcome the movement that has been shown. It is, hopefully, becoming clear that Labour in the Scottish Parliament is increasingly willing to accept that Brexit is a hard-right project that we must not roll over and accept, regardless of what Barry Gardiner has to say.
I hope that Neil Findlay will be able to clarify some points when he speaks to his amendment. He prefers the term “public vote” to “People’s Vote”. I take it that he is still referring to a referendum with a remain option. Is the wording of his amendment intended to agree with our view that, if any withdrawal agreement is to be adopted by the UK Parliament, it must be put back to the people for them to decide whether it is what they want or whether they prefer the current deal—the best deal—of remaining inside the European Union with all our rights, protections and democratic representation and the ability to shape regulations in the public interest?
If that is the meaning of Mr Findlay’s amendment, we will support it to achieve the widest possible backing for the essence of the proposal that we have put forward. However, if that is not made clear, there is still a majority in this Parliament for the principle that the only ways forward are a referendum or revoking article 50.
On Saturday, I marched through London with more than a million others—people from a range of political parties and from no political party. Most of us never got anywhere near Parliament Square, so massive was the crowd that we were walking with. Also, nearly 6 million people—5.8 million at the latest count—have signed the petition asking to revoke article 50. Thanks to Andy Wightman, Ross Greer, Joanna Cherry, Catherine Stihler, Alyn Smith and David Martin who took the case to the Supreme Court, we now know that that is an option that the UK can take, unilaterally, at any point before it leaves the EU.
As yet, we do not know what will be the result of the indicative vote process at Westminster tonight. We can be fairly sure that it will not result in a simple, sudden clarity—a sort of first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all outcome. There will still be choices to make; there will still be uncertainty; there will still be the huge threat of social, economic and political damage from any form of Brexit; and there will still be people trying to push the country over the cliff edge to deliberately make the crisis even worse.
Therefore, I ask this Parliament to make it clear, two hours before MPs cast their votes, that one of two things must happen. Whether a withdrawal agreement is adopted or not, we must have an extension that is long enough to put it back to the people. If that does not happen, we must cancel the crisis, revoke article 50 and move on.
That the Parliament commends the more than five million signatories to the UK Parliament petition to revoke Article 50, and believes that, unless the UK secures a sufficient extension to the Brexit process to organise and conduct a People’s Vote with an option to remain in the EU, the UK’s notification under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union should be revoked immediately.
I welcome the debate, which gives this Parliament the opportunity to come together to exercise the kind of clear and constructive leadership that is so manifestly lacking in Westminster. There are two days to go before the UK was meant to leave the EU and there is still no plan that commands support.
Since the EU referendum, the Scottish Government has held the clear and consistent view that continued membership of the EU is the best outcome for the whole of the UK—that is the outcome that Scotland voted for. The UK Government ignored the overwhelming vote in Scotland to remain, and the Prime Minister has ignored Scotland’s national interests ever since. Compromise proposals have been dismissed and the Scottish and Welsh Governments have been shut out of negotiations. The unedifying spectacle of the Conservative Party tearing itself and the country apart in the process of wrenching the UK out of the EU has been deeply damaging to the UK Government’s reputation at home and abroad.
As the latest social attitudes survey showed yesterday, it is clear that everyone—whatever their standpoint and whether they are a leaver or a remainer—thinks that Brexit is not being handled well. That is no wonder, because this entire sorry process has, from the very start, been all about internal faction fighting in the Conservative Party, regardless of the impact that that has on Scotland or, indeed, the rest of the UK.
Westminster has been in a state of permanent chaos. This afternoon, MPs will begin, again, to seek a new way forward through a process of indicative votes. We will see whether MPs can come to an accord, but I fear that there will continue to be disagreement, which is why we must now refer the matter back to the people.
Imagine if Scotland had voted yes to independence in 2014, and imagine if, weeks away from independence day, there had remained grave doubt about Scotland’s future trading relations with the rest of the UK, so unionists such as I had argued that independence should be revoked. How would the cabinet secretary have reacted in those circumstances? What would she have called unionists who wanted to revoke a decision that Scotland should be independent?
The point is the lack of imagination from the UK Conservatives in not being able to come up with anything that will take the country forward in any shape or form. There is a lack of imagination, in that not one member of the Conservative Party in Scotland can express their views and differences of opinion; instead, they think that it is imperative that they obey Theresa May, come what may. Circumstances have changed. The country is in chaos. Westminster has not delivered what Scotland needs. That is why, given that we are a representative democracy, it is perfectly possible for the UK Government to unilaterally revoke article 50, as the European Court of Justice has determined.
We do not know whether the Westminster Parliament will come to an accord. However, seeking a longer extension to article 50 would stop the clock on Brexit and enable another referendum on EU membership to be held. The Scottish Government will support any such referendum, provided that the option to remain in the EU is on the ballot paper.
However, no one should be in any doubt: such a referendum is just an opportunity, not a guarantee that the wishes of the people of Scotland will be respected. It is only by becoming an independent country that we can guarantee that the votes of people in Scotland will not be ignored.
A new referendum on EU membership would also allow people to vote again now that they have the facts at their disposal, rather than relying on the false and incomplete prospectus that was offered in 2016. The 2016 EU referendum campaign was conducted with very limited information on which the public could decide. Crucially, there was no clarity whatsoever from Brexit politicians on what a vote to leave might mean in practice or on a plan to deliver it.
Every month, new evidence emerges of troubling aspects of the EU referendum and the campaign that proceeded it, ranging from financial impropriety to illegal and inappropriate external influences. Given the enormity of the issue at stake and the relatively narrow majority across the UK as a whole, such matters are far from trivial. That answers Adam Tomkins’s point.
Since 2016, Brexit politicians have contorted and contradicted their original arguments. It is impossible to tell which—if any—form of Brexit has most support and how that compares with support for remaining in the EU. A new EU referendum could pitch a specific Brexit option against remain to test the public’s view when they are faced with a genuine choice. If the Prime Minister can ask the House of Commons to vote multiple times on the same deal, it is outrageous to deny the people of Scotland and the UK a chance to vote again, now that the facts have become clear.
The scale, the sights and the sounds of the march in London on Saturday and the growing momentum of the petition to revoke article 50—now the biggest ever and still growing—give us cause for hope amid the Westminster despair. Brexit should be halted for a new referendum to take place, or it should be brought to an end through the revocation of article 50 to avert the catastrophe of crashing out with no deal.
I believe that today’s motion can be strengthened to reflect the outrage as the UK Government continues to ignore the views of this Parliament and of the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland who wish to remain. This chamber has been consistent in expressing the view set out in the motion and it is high time that our view, alongside that of millions of others, is listened to. I therefore urge Parliament to support our amendment and the final motion.
I move amendment S5M-16554.4, to insert at end:
“, and calls on the UK Government to stop ignoring the views of this Parliament and the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland who wish to remain in the EU.”
On these benches, we believe that referendum results must be respected and delivered, not ignored and overlooked. When a Parliament legislates to hand a question to the people directly, it is not looking for an opinion but asking for a decision. Whether we like it or not, the British people voted in June 2016 that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union.
In a few moments.
That was the decision not of half a million people on a march in London or even of 5 million people who have signed a petition but of 17.4 million people, right across the whole of the United Kingdom, including, of course, 1 million people in Scotland.
I was not among their number—I voted to remain; but I am absolutely not among the number of politicians who think that the result of a referendum can be ignored just because it delivered a verdict that we would have preferred not to have seen. As politicians and as democrats, we are the servants—not the masters—of the people, and when the people give their elected representatives a direct instruction, as they did in June 2016, it is our duty to listen and to act on it.
Given that so many Brexiteers—indeed, even half the back bench of the Tory party—do not think that Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement is what they voted for, how on earth can Adam Tomkins tell us that 17 million voted specifically for what is on offer now? And if they did not, surely they need to be asked again, “Is this what you wanted, or did you want something else?”
I say to the member that 17.4 million people voted for Brexit, and the withdrawal agreement will deliver precisely that; it will deliver Brexit.
The principle that referendum results must be respected and delivered is the first that has informed what we, the Scottish Conservatives, have had to say about Brexit. The second is that Brexit must be delivered compatibly with the devolution settlement. That means respecting that which is properly devolved to this Parliament, and it also means respecting that which is properly reserved to Westminster. That is the core of the problem with today’s Green Party motion, calling for article 50 to be revoked or for a second EU referendum to be held: there is no minister accountable to this Parliament who has the legal power to do either. The United Kingdom’s international relations, including its relations with the European Union, are reserved to Westminster, just as they would be, incidentally, under any federal constitution.
That does not mean that this Parliament can have no meaningful impact in ensuring that Brexit is delivered compatibly with devolution. Just this week, the Finance and Constitution Committee published a unanimous report that adds significant value to the on-going debate about the need for common frameworks in the post-Brexit United Kingdom. Much could be gained from exposing that report and its conclusion and recommendations to further scrutiny and debate in this chamber.
That is not what the Green Party has chosen to do this afternoon. In my judgment, Opposition days in the Parliament are best used as opportunities to hold to account the Scottish Government, whose ministers are, after all, accountable to us. It is, therefore, unfortunate that the Greens have chosen to pass up that opportunity this afternoon.
Three options face us now. First, we could leave the European Union in an orderly manner, avoiding cliff edges and economic shocks and transitioning smoothly from membership to exit, in accordance with the withdrawal agreement that has been agreed by the EU27 and the UK Government. Secondly, we could crash out much more suddenly, with no transition period and the real risk of significant economic shock. Thirdly, we could delay—perhaps indefinitely—flying in the face of the clear instruction to leave that the British people gave us in June 2016.
Voters do not want the agony prolonged; they want us to get on with it. The business community does not want an even lengthier period of uncertainty; it wants the deal closed. The course of action that the Greens urge on us today would do grave damage to our politics, all but destroying that delicate trust between voters and representatives on which democracy relies.
In my judgment, to leave without a deal would risk doing similar damage not to our politics but to our economy. For that reason, I have never supported a no-deal Brexit, and I remain as opposed to that course of action as I have always been. That leaves only one option, which is the one that I have been advocating since the withdrawal agreement was published in November. I want us to leave the European Union, and to do so under the deal that has been negotiated and agreed by the UK Government and the EU27. I want us to get on with it and to move on so that, in future, Opposition debates can be about the things that matter most to voters here, such as skills, schools, hospitals, jobs and the economy, rather than endless manoeuvrings about constitutional process.
I move amendment S5M-16554.1, to leave out from “commends” to end and insert:
“considers that the result of the referendum held across the UK in June 2016 should be respected and delivered, and that the best way of achieving this is to leave the EU with a withdrawal agreement.”
He says, “Vote for the deal,” but his own side will not vote for it.
We have a Prime Minister in name only, and one who is alone and whose credibility is in tatters. She is the worst holder of that political office since the previous holder of that political office. She is losing vote after vote, minister after minister and every shred of credibility that she ever had, making the UK a laughing stock across the world. It is indeed a tragedy. We have heard the Prime Minister parroting the phrases “strong and stable” and “Brexit means Brexit”, and now she is so lacking in self-awareness and comprehension of reality that all she can say is that her rejected deal is the only way to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
The Prime Minister’s deal is the deal that was defeated by a record number of votes in the House of Commons, and it was defeated for a second time by almost 150 votes. If it is brought back to the house, I hope that it will be rejected again. Today in the House of Commons, MPs will work through a series of indicative votes. We know that it is getting serious when MPs are taking the revolutionary step of using pens and paper to vote. I am glad that I am not there, because I do not think that my heart could take all the excitement of seeing Rees-Mogg with his swan quill pen, ink pot and parchment.
Today, we are discussing the prospect of revoking article 50. To respond directly to issues that Patrick Harvie raised, I say that a referendum with a remain option is of course the option that we would like, and that is what our amendment refers to as a “public vote”. That reference reflects the wording that my party agreed unanimously at our conference. However, Mr Harvie will understand that, for many other reasons, not least the impact of universal credit, of the hostile environment on immigration, of policies that result in increasing poverty and homelessness and of many other policies, we also want a general election, to bring an end to this disastrous Government. I hope that Mr Harvie is with us on that, too.
Yes. That is what I said to Mr Harvie when I spoke to him earlier today.
As for Mr Harvie’s second point, it will not be news to him that Labour proposed a plan for a customs union and single market alignment that was identified as credible by the European Union and European Government leaders. Had that plan succeeded, we would not be facing the abyss today. However, tonight, Labour will support the Kyle-Wilson amendment in the UK Parliament, which will ensure that any deal has to be endorsed by a referendum. I hope that that helps Mr Harvie and that we can continue to work together with his party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party to speak in this Parliament with a common voice, as we have done throughout the process, to expose what the Tory party has done.
We have worked co-operatively with other parties in this Parliament and we will do so again. We have regularly met the cabinet secretary and the spokespeople from all the other parties. We co-operated on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill. We did joint work with the National Assembly for Wales. We all even attempted to work with the Conservative Party. Such co-operation is not being a traitor, nor is it selling out; it is the sensible and reasonable thing to do, in the interests of our constituents, Scotland, the UK and Europe.
Today’s debate focuses on article 50. We have to end the deadlock. If there is no referendum and we come to a choice between no deal and revoke, I think that all sensible members—I am excluding Conservative members—will take the revoke line. We in the Scottish Labour Party would do that, in the interests of the country.
We would take the revoke line against the imminent disaster of no deal.
However, I caution against any decision being one made by Parliament alone. The referendum was about giving the people a say, so they must have a say in our future.
I move amendment S5M-16554.3, to leave out from “People’s” to “EU” and insert:
“public vote with an option to remain in the EU, and the UK be faced with a choice of no deal or revoke, then”.
I was distressed when we voted to leave the European Union. I was concerned about the economic impact. I was concerned about the potential threat to travel and about the threat to the Erasmus scheme and the many European students who come to this country.
I was distressed about all those things, but I was most distressed about the message that the vote sent to the rest of the world about the kind of country that we are. I liked to think that we were an outward-looking, optimistic, generous nation that was prepared to work with our neighbours. Whatever other message the Brexit vote sent, it certainly sent the message that Britain wanted to be on its own, doing things differently from our neighbours, which I thought was regrettable. I am not saying that everyone was of that opinion. However, that is the powerful message that was sent to the rest of the world.
Does the member accept that the Scots who voted to leave the EU did so not because they wanted to send an isolationist message but for many other reasons—and quite appropriate reasons, at that?
I recognise the multitude of reasons why people voted for Brexit. After this process, we cannot just go back to how we were. We must recognise that some people in our society felt that they were being left out—many communities in the north of England certainly felt like that. We need to address those fundamental issues, to ensure that, in future, people do not use Brexit or another such process to express their views, because there is another mechanism whereby they can do so.
Let us contrast the Brexit process with the process of devolution. Devolution was built up through a constitutional convention, various marches, manifesto commitments from all the parties, a white paper, involvement of all the parties and of people right across society, and then endorsement through a referendum.
The Brexit process has been astonishingly different. What Government puts forward a referendum on something that it does not want to happen? No white paper was produced. There was no detail, there was no combined plan, and there was no consultation across society about what Brexit would actually look like—nothing like that happened.
When we look back to the constitutional convention process that led to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, it is striking to see how beneficial that process was, compared with the Brexit process. That adds more weight to the case for a people’s vote or confirmatory referendum.
We need that vote, because we did not have the detail before the referendum, whatever people say. We had slogans on the side of a bus. We had a multitude of grievances, which were put forward by a multitude of campaigns. How on earth can we hold those campaigns to account? If the Brexiteers cannot agree among themselves now what Brexit actually means, how on earth were we supposed to know in 2016 what Brexit meant? There was no way of knowing what it meant back then, given that Brexiteers cannot agree on what it means now. That is another reason why we should have a confirmatory referendum.
No, I am in my final minute.
This is just the beginning. If we agree to the withdrawal agreement—slim as the chance of that happening is—the debate will have only just begun. We will have to negotiate the free trade agreement, which will take months or years, and we are debating the backstop in Ireland because we are not optimistic that we will get that done within the transition phase. We think that the division and discomfort will end with the withdrawal agreement, but that is simply not the case.
The economic consequences are quite significant. We are already feeling them with the lack of immigration to the country. We have a perfect storm: an ageing population, growing demand on social care and nursery education, real demands on the national health service and food and drink and hospitality sectors that are growing, while we cut off a large number of people from the European Union who would have come here to work and help us grow our economy and public services. That is madness, and it is another reason why we need a people’s vote.
There is a way to make the torture stop. We can break out of the stalemate by letting the people decide. If Parliament cannot build a consensus, the people should decide. That is why we support a public vote. If the EU and the UK cannot make the time for that to happen, we should revoke article 50 to give us that time.
It is impressive that so many people have signed the petition. Their voices cannot be ignored.
The petition to revoke article 50 has now attracted more than 5.8 million signatures, more than 12,000 of which were generated in the Stirling constituency. That number represents around 13 per cent of my constituents.
In the 2016 referendum, 68 per cent of voters in the Stirling constituency voted to remain in the EU. I fully respect the wishes of people in the Stirling constituency who voted to leave the EU, but I have been surprised by the fact that, given that 68 per cent of voters in his own constituency voted to remain, the Tory MP for Stirling, Stephen Kerr, has refused to review his position. I fully respect the fact that he was a leave voter, but surely he should reflect on the views of the vast majority of voters in his constituency and consider following their wishes. Unfortunately, he rather arrogantly refuses to do so, as he has outlined in the
Stirling Observer today.
It is no secret that I remain a committed remain supporter, and I would take any route to derail Brexit. I say that for two very important reasons.
There is one fundamental difference between what happened in 2014 and what happened in 2016. Unlike the letters on the side of a bus in 2016, there were, in 2014, more than 600 pages of well-argued reasons why Scotland should be an independent country.
I am committed to derailing Brexit, first of all, because of the social and economic damage that any form of Brexit would inflict on Scotland. I am particularly concerned about the impact that leaving will have on EU citizens in Scotland. They have been innocent bystanders, and they have been treated in a shocking way throughout the utter calamity of a process that will not go down well and that has been a very sad and disturbing chapter of UK history.
Just as important is the fact that the right to freely travel, live and work anywhere in the other 27 countries of the EU as a European citizen will be stolen away from the present generation and future generations of Scots if we proceed with Brexit. That makes me angry and despairing.
The second reason why I want to see Brexit derailed is that, at the end of the day, all the argument fundamentally boils down to a very simple question: do we believe in democracy and in the sovereignty of the people of Scotland? I know that, in the rest of UK, the UK Parliament has traditionally and historically been seen as sovereign, although that notion has taken a significant blow this week as a result of the actions of the Tory Government, which has signalled that it is prepared to ignore the will of Parliament. However, the position in Scotland, which is given strength by the claim of right, is that the people of Scotland are sovereign. The choice is therefore a very clear one for members of the Scottish Parliament: either we believe in the right of the people of Scotland to choose their own future or we do not.
It all boils down to that simplest of propositions, and I know where I stand on that proposition: I stand with the people of Stirling and Scotland. They voted to remain and, therefore, I will do everything I can to fulfil their wishes.
I believe—and the SNP believes—in the sovereignty of the people of Scotland. At decision time, we will see how many parties and how many members of the Scottish Parliament are prepared to put the wishes of the people of Scotland first and foremost and give us a way out of this Brexit madness through a people’s vote.
I am rather disappointed but not surprised that the Scottish Greens have chosen to spend parliamentary time, yet again, on something that is outwith the powers of this Parliament. We see that far too often in this Parliament instead of seeing a focus on legislating to improve our schools, our hospitals and our justice system and on holding the Scottish Government to account.
No, thank you.
Revoking article 50 would be undemocratic in the extreme. Scotland voted to stay part of the United Kingdom and the Government of the UK gave the British people the choice of whether to leave or remain in the EU. In the ensuing referendum, people voted to leave the EU in the biggest numbers that we have ever seen in electoral history. That result must be respected and upheld.
It is unsurprising to see those who were on the other side of the referendum promoting the idea of having a second one. We have seen the same when it comes to independence. It would seem that the Greens and the SNP want to keep us voting in the great European tradition of continuing until we deliver the correct result, but that is not how democracy works. People who voted for political parties and expect politicians to carry out their instructions should be listened to.
The SNP set out a number of demands in relation to the withdrawal agreement. It called for a deal to prevent a no-deal scenario—we have that. It called for a transition period—we have one. It called for EU citizens’ rights to be protected—they have been. It called for no hard border in Ireland—there will not be one. I could go on.
The vast majority of tests set out by the SNP and other people on the deal surrounding withdrawal have been met. However, all that we have seen is opposition to the deal, and that can only be because they are agitating for independence. That is not the way we should be going.
There is significant support across the business community in Scotland for the deal. NFU Scotland has said that
“the deal will allow trade in agricultural goods and UK food and drink to continue ... throughout the transition period”.
Diageo also supports the deal and has said that it will give direction and ensure that there is fairness during the interim period. Sir Ian Wood has said that the deal is “workable” and better than the current system, because
“we’re out of Common Market membership, but we’re maintaining some of the advantages.”
Scottish businesses are clear that they want members of Parliament to back the deal.
The Scottish National Party would do well to remember that there is only one deal on the table; its opposition to the deal ensures that there is even more of an opportunity that the no-deal scenario will happen.
For far too long, we have been waiting for an outcome for the whole country, which is delivering the result of the referendum and leaving the EU in an orderly and managed way. We want to see that orderly and managed exit, and the withdrawal agreement that has been negotiated by the Prime Minister, although far from perfect, ensures just that. It gives us the opportunity to have a transition period and a negotiated way out of the situation. I very much hope that the UK Parliament will approve the deal in the coming days, and I support the amendment in the name of Adam Tomkins.
I am happy to be involved in the debate, which is on an issue of monumental significance for families and communities right across the United Kingdom. People not just in Scotland but right across the UK have been let down by the Tory Government. However, I welcome the fact that people across the parties at the UK level, including Tories, are trying their best to sort out the problem. We should at least recognise that.
I am conscious that there is insufficient time to rehearse all the arguments about how and why we ended up here, with the UK Government in chaos the last time I looked and uncertainty scaled up to a whole new level. However, to be clear, I support people’s right to have a final say on the Brexit project, either by endorsing a deal under which to leave or by voting to remain. If and when that vote happens, I shall campaign emphatically to remain.
No, I do not agree with him.
I do not pretend—nor would I argue, should anyone else assert it—that the decision is easy. There are concerns about the consequences of having a vote, some of which have been articulated on the other side of the chamber. However, given the evidence, I am clear that it remains the right decision.
To coin a phrase, I have been on a journey. I was a reluctant remainer. I valued the role of the EU in post-war European co-operation, yes; the benefits, in particular to young people, of being able to travel, yes; and the role of the EU in securing social and employment rights, yes. However, at the same time, I was uneasy about the EU’s role in bearing down on economic decisions in Greece and Portugal; I was unhappy with decisions that felt distant and not rooted in local needs and experiences; and I was concerned about the distance between some decisions and those who were affected by them—the same feeling that led me to support devolution way back in the day.
However, I am absolutely clear that, whatever people sought in the referendum debate and whatever they imagined that leaving would bring, they could not possibly have imagined this situation. There is frightening evidence of job losses that will perhaps impact most on those who can afford it least; routine discussions about stockpiling the basics such as foods and medicines have become the norm; and millions of pounds have been spent by the Government and businesses to manage a degree of uncertainty that was simply beyond imagining.
This is no longer a theoretical or an academic argument, and it is not a political idea or policy that we can argue back and forth in the chamber; this is having a direct impact on the real world right now. I understand Adam Tomkins’s argument about not wanting to debate the constitution. However, we cannot avoid debating this constitutional decision if we are concerned about jobs, skills and the future of our young people. The issues are absolutely entwined with each other, not issues to be debated separately. We must confront one in order to deal with the other. What we see here and now is surely not what people voted for. Even the most pessimistic remainer argument at the time of the referendum did not stoop so low as to describe what we see now, and what is happening now was certainly never painted on the side of a bus.
We need to think now about how the debate is taken forward. This bit—arguing our corner and confirming our certainties to our colleagues across the chamber—is the easy bit. It is not a proxy debate about other constitutional arguments, and I urge colleagues who take a different view on the question of Scottish independence to be clear that this is a separate argument and that they should be as inclusive as possible in taking it forward. We need to win the argument among those who are not already persuaded—not just those who voted to remain, but the 1 million people in Scotland who voted to leave, without any of the main parties asking them to do so—with the best of intentions and with hope for the future.
I urge people to understand that shrugging our shoulders and just getting on with it is not a choice now. We face massive consequences right across the United Kingdom. On that basis, I support a people’s vote and the opportunity for people to make a decision about the best future for the country.
The UK Parliament has to take control from Theresa May and support giving the people a say on her disastrous Brexit deal, ensuring that an option to remain in Europe is on the ballot paper. The Green motion that we are debating today
“commends the more than five million signatories to the UK Parliament petition to revoke Article 50.”
However, we know here in Scotland that the UK Government has form for ignoring around 5 million folk.
This whole sorry process has shone a light on a number of things but, most of all, it has demolished Tory claims that the UK is a partnership of equals. Scotland’s overwhelming vote to remain in Europe, repeated votes in the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government’s compromise option of single market and customs union membership have all been ignored by the Tories. That does not feel like a partnership of equals.
Not at the moment.
Like many colleagues who were concerned about EU nationals, I reached out to those living in my Ayrshire constituency, and their responses contained strong themes of anger, unfairness and losing a sense of belonging. I will share some of them with the chamber. One person said:
“We think as a family it is disgraceful how the UK government is treating us. We've lived in Scotland for over 12 years, paying taxes, not taking any benefits and now the UK Government wants us registered as though we are cows!! We were thinking we’re settled here but the UK government has made us think differently”.
Another person said:
“You can imagine that I feel deeply insulted by the whole affair as I have been living in the UK for 50 years. There was no need to apply for British citizenship as we are all Europeans and I felt I belonged here, but no more.”
“I am 72 years old and have lived in Scotland for 68 years. I consider it a disgrace that I should be told I now have to apply for the right to reside.”
I, too, consider that to be a disgrace.
Along with the upset that has been caused by the treatment of our EU citizens, one of the most striking things for me has been the contrast between the way in which Ireland has been treated by the EU and the contempt with which Scotland has been treated by the Westminster Government. There has been solidarity and support for Ireland from its EU partners, while Scotland has its national interests ignored and the powers of its Parliament eroded as we are left at the mercy of an increasingly dysfunctional and chaotic Westminster system.
Surely none of us in the chamber who were sent here on the votes of our Scottish constituents could seriously look them in the eye and tell them that it is right and proper that a handful of DUP MPs hold more sway over Scotland’s future than our national Parliament. Surely nobody in the chamber would support Scotland being disadvantaged in UK funding arrangements because of outrageous attempts by the UK Government to win DUP votes.
We need to avoid the catastrophe of a no deal and the damage that would be caused by the Prime Minister’s bad deal. The UK Parliament has to take control and give the people their say, and the option to remain in Europe must be an option on the ballot paper.
After all the debates that we have had in the Parliament on Brexit, it seems astonishing that on 27 March, two days from the defined exit day, there is still a complete lack of clarity on the way forward. We face a Brexit car crash of massive proportions, the prospect of which drove nearly a million people to come out on to the streets of London on Saturday and 5.8 million people to express their view and their frustration through a petition.
That frustration has built over time since the referendum in 2016. As Johann Lamont pointed out, that is because of the impact on families and communities, not just throughout Scotland but throughout the UK.
There are three fundamental problems with Brexit and no deal: the economic damage, the undermining of opportunity for people and the infringement of their rights.
In terms of the economy, it is clear that trade will be affected and reduced. As the Bank of England has pointed out, that will result in an increase in inflation and interest rates. Some assessments have said that it could mean the loss of 100,000 jobs in Scotland. The impact would mean that people would struggle to pay their bills and their mortgages, and their standard of living and ability to support their families would be undermined. That is why people have taken to the streets and to the UK Government petition website in such numbers.
Willie Rennie referenced Erasmus+, which is a scheme that many in the chamber have described as being of great benefit to Scottish students. It covers 53 per cent of exchange visits. The potential ending of that scheme means that Scottish students will not only lose that opportunity but lose the ability to make the most of their education and to go on to make a crucial contribution to the economy.
Bruce Crawford mentioned EU citizens’ rights. The uncertainty facing those who are staying in and contributing to Scotland is a real concern.
As Patrick Harvie pointed out, the fundamental issue is the Tory party’s inability to compromise. Who, at this late stage, did Theresa May call to Chequers at the weekend to find a solution? She called the grand wizards. Down they came from the shires in their Jaguars and sports cars to attend a meeting at which there were more men called “David” in the room than there were women. It was a really select, narrow gathering. As Neil Findlay pointed out, that is why the withdrawal agreement will continue to be doomed. Given that, it is right that people should look at having a lengthy extension of article 50, with a view to seeking a public vote. Like Johann Lamont, with remain on the ballot paper for that referendum, I would certainly support remain. However, if that option crashes out, and we are left in a position in which there is no deal, we should seek the option of revoking article 50.
These are serious times, and we all have to live up to our responsibilities.
Much of the political conversation not just this afternoon but in recent days, weeks and months—and more so in Scotland—has been centred around the premise that Parliament and the people are at odds with one another. Claims have been made that there has never before been such a disconnect between the will of the people and the will of politicians. Some claim—as the motion and some of the amendments today suggest—that this Parliament’s voice is not being listened to. How can it be that 38 per cent of the people outside of this Parliament voted to leave the EU, but fewer than 5 per cent of the members in this Parliament admit—at least publicly—to agreeing with them? Can we honestly say that this place is truly representative of the people it claims to serve?
Let me make some progress—I have lots to say on this topic.
I was elected to this Parliament under three years ago, just one month before the EU referendum delivered the verdict of the British people. It was an interesting time to be elected, but at no point did I think that we would be having a debate in this place in which every political party in the chamber except the Conservatives would be willing to put its name to a motion that sought to overturn the result of a referendum whose final outcome was agreed by 1 million Scots.
In my short time as an MSP, I have sat here daily and listened in debate after debate to other parties deliberately and willingly trying not just to brush aside but to disrespect the results of the two referenda that have been put to this country. Two historic referenda, with high turnouts and significant public engagement, are being brushed aside because MSPs think that they know better.
I hear the passion with which the member says that the 38 per cent in Scotland who voted leave should not be ignored. Why on earth should the 62 per cent who voted remain be ignored? What about the 48 per cent across the UK who have been so comprehensively ignored by the UK Government taking the Brexit process to the extreme?
Perhaps Patrick Harvie can answer this question: why does he choose to ignore the 55 per cent of Scotland who want to remain in the UK? Please tell me that. That is the question that I have not heard an answer to.
Let me move to a note of consensus. Patrick Harvie’s motion
Perhaps surprisingly to some, I commend them, too. I commend them just as I commend those who marched in London, many of whom I consider my friends. I do not agree with them, but I am proud that we live in a society that allows for that demonstration. However, we must not forget that, for every one person who signed the petition to revoke article 50, three who voted to leave the EU did not. Online petitions and street marches do not make for constitutional change. If we go to the public and ask for a decision, we must respect that decision.
I have very little time.
The Scottish Greens put out a tweet earlier today saying that
“The Scottish Tories are *very* upset” about the motion. Do you know what? They are. I am upset that the Parliament wants to agree to a motion that has no respect for the 43 per cent of voters in North Ayrshire who voted to leave, or the 45 per cent in Angus, or the 49.9 per cent in Moray. I challenge constituency members, when they go back to their constituencies on Friday, to tell those people who voted to remain in the UK and voted to leave the EU why they sought to revoke that message.
I do not think that the SNP has given full thought to the consequences of what is a fundamental error of judgment on its part. It is setting a very dangerous precedent, too. If one referendum goes a way that it does not want it to go, it simply calls it again. If it thinks that people have changed their minds, it calls it again. If the divorce is too painful or difficult, it calls it again. I know for a fact that, if the tables were turned and we were coming forward with plans to overturn the result of an independence referendum, the SNP would be in uproar over our demands to deny the will of the people. Its hypocrisy knows no end.
We will reject the motion quite simply because there is only one party in this Parliament that respects the outcome of both of the referenda that this country has voted in, and that party sits on these benches.
In any debate on Brexit, we should always remember that the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland voted to remain. Scotland should not be taken out of the EU against our will. Scotland’s votes to remain have been ignored by the Tory Government and we have been ignored since. Votes in this Parliament have been disregarded. The Scottish Government’s compromise proposals have been dismissed and the Prime Minister has instead pandered to the extreme Eurosceptics in her party, regardless of the cost to Scotland. That has to change and our voice must be heard. We support holding another referendum with remain on the ballot paper or revoking article 50 to avoid a catastrophe.
Adam Tomkins argues that the only option to avoid a no-deal Brexit is the Prime Minister’s deal, but we now know that there is another way to avoid the catastrophe of no deal, and that is to revoke article 50. That is the subject of Joanna Cherry’s amendment, which has been accepted for debate and voting in the UK Parliament this evening. I say to the Conservatives that the Conservative Foreign Office minister Mark Field said on 24 March:
“My personal view is I would be happy to revoke article 50, but I appreciate that is probably a minority view. If we get to this utter paralysis, and I sincerely hope that in the next 48 to 72 hours we do not, then if that becomes an option, it’s an option that I personally would take.”
The referendum on the EU was more than two years ago, and much has emerged in that time about the flaws in that referendum. We now have a better understanding of the potential impacts of leaving the EU and the damage that would result. Willie Rennie reflected that in his thoughtful speech. However, we understand that the hard Brexiteers have now taken control.
People are allowed to change their minds in the light of the new information and new circumstances since the referendum. That is the very nature of democracy. Indeed, polling suggests that some people have done so. I say to Jamie Greene most sincerely that he talked about the EU referendum being the final outcome, but that is the problem. It was not the final outcome. If it was, why on earth would Westminster still be trying to determine the final outcome of Brexit in a series of votes two and a half years after the original referendum?
Of course, it is thanks to the cross-party group of Scottish parliamentarians that we know that the UK has the right to revoke article 50. The UK has not left the EU, and the European Court of Justice judgment on 10 December creates a clear route for the UK to revoke notification under article 50 and remain in the EU.
If anything, developments since the referendum have that the leaders of the leave campaign demonstrated contempt for the electorate—both leavers and remainers. They did not advance a single plan or position, for cynical, tactical, political reasons. That is why it was not a final outcome, because the content of what would be the plan was never known. Instead, there were false claims about extra money for the NHS.
Johann Lamont is right and Alexander Stewart is wrong. This crisis affects things to do with this Parliament. It affects jobs, housing and the future of our young people, and it must absolutely be debated in this Parliament.
A further referendum, which allows a clear, informed choice and is conducted properly, would respect the electorate by offering a proper choice instead of the flawed vote in 2016.
It is important that Parliament comes together, and I welcome what Neil Findlay said about Parliament’s efforts to do so on many issues with regard to Brexit and what he meant by a “public vote”. There are times when this Parliament must come together to reflect the views of people and find a way forward, and this debate is one of those times. We are not here just to provide comment or to be passive—as the Conservatives seem to be—in the face of crisis. This Parliament is about providing the people of Scotland with leadership and providing a way forward. We need to have a referendum to provide real choice with clear information and to make sure that we can chart a new route forward.
There have been many good speeches in this short and very important debate. I thank the Greens for bringing it here. We will support the motion, but we think that it should be strengthened with our amendment.
I thank colleagues from three of the other parties in the Parliament for working constructively with us on the motion and for the amendments that have been lodged.
Johann Lamont summed up very well when she said that we cannot help but debate this issue. It brings us no pleasure to debate this crisis, but when tens of thousands—if not 100,000—jobs in Scotland are at risk from the Conservative proposal, and far more if there is no deal, and when our rights as workers and our environmental protections are put at risk because of the crisis, it would be a dereliction of duty for this Parliament to pretend that it is not happening and talk about something else.
Johann Lamont was right to say that this is a moment for those of us on both sides of Scotland’s constitutional question to come together to say that we have a way out. We propose a way out of this crisis because collectively we know what is in the best interest of the people of this country.
I will briefly engage with Adam Tomkins’s hypothetical question, because it is interesting. I reference what Willie Rennie said about the referendum in 1997. If the yes side had won in 2014, it would have been on the basis of a white paper. I did not agree with everything that was in the white paper, such as what it said about NATO, but there was a plan for what would have happened, as there was in 1997. Not only was there a plan, but there was no treaty timescale, so we were not going to activate a two-year stop clock before anyone was ready or had come up with a plan. Most critically, in 2014, the Scottish Government proposed a one-Scotland, team-Scotland approach; every party in this Parliament was invited to take part in the negotiations that would have commenced if Scotland had voted for independence. What a contrast with a UK Government that cannot even compromise with the moderates in its party.
We should consider how we have reached this stage. How has one of the world’s wealthiest countries, which is not at war nor suffering from a natural disaster, put itself in the position of stockpiling food and medicine? Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in 2016, by almost two to one, and the UK result was narrowly to leave. No attempt was made by the Conservative Government in Westminster to recognise the strong remain votes in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.
Nor did it recognise that a narrow result overall was a mandate for compromise. It has deliberately sought to ignore and circumvent this Parliament at every stage. While we have worked to protect the interests of Scotland—even within the Brexit process, as we did with the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill—the Conservative Westminster Government has been underhand, obstructive and arrogant in its efforts to stop us.
Any rational government would have realised that such a massive undertaking on the basis of a narrow result in favour of a vague idea rather than a specific plan would mean unavoidable compromise. Theresa May’s Government, which is far from rational, decided that its path to Brexit lay through the radicalised extremists on its hard right. The misjudged opportunism of calling an election to crush the Labour Party, only to lose her majority, had the outcome of making May dependent on a second group of hard-right extremists in the DUP.
Proposals to remain in the EU customs union and maintain either full membership of or greater alignment with the single market have been made by the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Labour Opposition and they now find their most effective advocate in Tory MP Nick Boles. If those proposals had been the basis of Theresa May’s plan, I doubt that those of us in the Green Party and others who were inclined towards stopping Brexit completely would have had much of a chance. However, if the proposals were not acceptable to the hard right of her own party, they were not acceptable to Theresa May in Downing Street.
We have a Prime Minister who willingly handed over her Government and the country as hostages to Jacob Rees-Mogg; who started article 50’s two-year countdown without a plan; and whose electoral opportunism backfired so badly that she is dependent on the votes of a party that opposed the Good Friday agreement in order to deliver a Brexit that profoundly endangers the peace process that the agreement has delivered.
The Conservative strategy has been to use the biggest constitutional upheaval in modern UK history to deliver not the best, or maybe the least-worst, outcome for this country, but to continue its own 40-year civil war over Europe. Instead of ending it, as David Cameron intended, the Conservatives have taken it to new heights and they have dragged the rest of us to the brink with them. [
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
It was not until almost two thirds of the way through the article 50 period that the UK Government finally decided on its preferred outcome. With the resignations that followed the Chequers deal, it was immediately clear that the plan did not have the support of the Prime Minister’s own party. Yet, instead of seeking to reach out and forge a compromise with the Opposition, Theresa May is still playing chicken with madmen inside her own party, risking the catastrophe of no deal in a painfully drawn-out attempt to get her own terrible deal passed. That strategy has failed: it has seen the Prime Minister’s deal rejected by the House of Commons twice and it has demonstrated that, although there have been crueller Conservative Governments in modern history, there has been no Government as incompetent as this one.
Scotland voted for none of this. Today’s Green motion gives us the opportunity to assert what we believe is the best way out of the crisis. For that, we can thank my Green colleague, Andy Wightman, who led a cross-party group of politicians comprising me, Alyn Smith MEP and Joanna Cherry MP from the SNP, and MEPs from the Labour Party, David Martin and Catherine Stihler. The historic ruling in that article 50 case established that the UK has the right to unilaterally revoke article 50. It is worth noting that the Conservative Government fought us every step of the way in that process. It is the only Government of which I am aware that has gone to such lengths to limit its own options, but it lost and we won. Now we have a way out.
The Brexiteers had their chance to negotiate an orderly exit from the EU. Their uncompromising, impossibilist approach has squandered that chance, all but collapsed their Government and put the whole country at risk. Fortunately, MPs are beginning to take back control from the Government, but the process is clearly far from over.
Although 17.4 million people in the UK—1 million people in Scotland—voted to leave, I doubt that many of them voted for this humiliating mess. I can only ask the Brexiteers in the Conservative Party this: when their own Government is estimating that Scotland will lose between 80,000 and 100,000 jobs due to its Brexit proposal, is that really what they think people voted for, and why are they backing it now?
There is a way to check what people voted for, though. The decision can be handed over by a deadlocked Westminster to the people. Let the public decide between this bad deal and the opportunity to remain part of the European family of nations. If MPs refuse to give the public that final say, and if they cannot come to any agreement as the clock winds down to no deal, we must say today—on behalf of the people of Scotland and all those who will be hurt and put at risk and who will suffer from a no-deal Brexit—that article 50 should be withdrawn and the Brexit crisis ended.
Today, European Council President, Donald Tusk, told MEPs that they must stand up for
“the increasing majority of people” in the UK
“who want to remain in the EU.”
He said that those people
“may not feel sufficiently represented by UK Parliament”—
I know that feeling—
“but they must feel represented by” the European Parliament,
“Because they are Europeans.”
Today, we have the opportunity to show the people of Scotland that we represent them and that we defend Scotland’s overwhelming remain vote. This is a European nation, we are a European people, we believe in a people’s Europe and we know that it is time to let the people cancel Brexit.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I rise to make a point of order under rules 8.5.3 and 8.5.6 of the standing orders, which concern the admissibility and selection of amendments.
“to leave the EU with a withdrawal agreement.”
Would it have been permissible for that amendment to make reference to “the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement”?