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The next item of business is a statement by Nicola Sturgeon on the outcome of the United Kingdom general election. The First Minister will take questions at the end of her statement, and I encourage all members who wish to contribute or to ask a question to press their request-to-speak buttons as soon as possible.
Let me begin by thanking the returning officers and everyone involved in organising the election. Their efficiency, integrity and hard work, in this case at very short notice, are essential to the smooth conduct of our democracy.
I also want to congratulate successful candidates from all parties and commiserate with the unsuccessful candidates. As somebody who stood unsuccessfully in two Westminster general elections, I have a good understanding of how they will feel. In addition, it is worth recognising that this was the first December general election in more than 90 years, and I suspect that the candidates and activists who are still thawing out will hope that it will be some time before the next winter election takes place.
Notwithstanding the challenges of bad weather and dark nights, it is important to note that turnout in Scotland actually increased—a fact that I am sure will be welcomed by all of us.
The election was comprehensively won in Scotland by the Scottish National Party. Indeed, one has to go as far back as the election of Ted Heath in 1970—the year I was born—to find a party that got a higher share of the vote across the United Kingdom than the SNP did in Scotland last week. That is by any measure a significant vote of confidence and my colleagues and I will work hard each and every day to repay the trust that has again been placed in us. It was also an endorsement of our election message that Scotland does not want a Boris Johnson Government, that we do not want to leave the European Union and that, although opinions may differ on the substantive question of independence, we want Scotland’s future to be in Scotland’s hands.
By contrast, although the Conservative Party won a majority UK-wide, it was once again heavily defeated here in Scotland, having fought the election on the single issue of opposition to an independence referendum. It lost not only vote share but more than half its seats. In fact, the Conservatives have now lost 17 consecutive Westminster elections in Scotland, stretching as far back as 1959. In spite of that—and this is a serious point—we face a majority Tory Government implementing a manifesto that Scotland rejected. Furthermore, 74 per cent of votes in Scotland were cast for parties that either supported remaining in the EU or were in favour of a second EU referendum. Ninety per cent of seats were won by pro-EU or pro-EU referendum parties. Regardless, however, we are set to be dragged out of the EU against our will.
Such a democratic deficit is not only undesirable—although it most certainly is that—but completely and utterly unsustainable. The fact is that this election demonstrated a fundamental point: the future that is desired by most people in Scotland is very clearly different to that which is favoured by much of the rest of the UK. It is therefore essential that a future that is outside Europe and governed by an increasingly right-wing Conservative Government is not foisted upon Scotland. Instead, we must have the right to consider the alternative of independence. That is why, later this week, in line with repeated election mandates—which were reinforced once again last Thursday—I will publish the detailed democratic case for a transfer of power from Westminster to this Parliament to allow for an independence referendum that is beyond legal challenge. This Parliament will also vote on the final stage of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill, which will put in place the framework for a future referendum.
There are already some signs that those who previously opposed an independence referendum, when faced with the democratic reality of Thursday’s result, are now rethinking that position. I welcome that, although I also want to be clear that I do not assume that an acceptance of Scotland’s right to choose will always equate to support for independence, just as I do not assume that everyone who voted SNP last week is yet ready to vote for independence. I recognise the work that those of us who support independence still have to do to persuade a clear majority in Scotland that that is the best way forward for our country.
Nevertheless, it is clear that there is a growing cross-party recognition that election mandates must be honoured, that there has been a material change of circumstances and that the question of independence must be decided by the people and not by politicians. Given the nature of what we are now facing in terms of UK governance, that is a matter of some urgency, which is why this Government wants people to have a choice next year.
Back in the early 1990s, when Scotland was facing the prospect of a fourth Tory Government with no mandate here, there was a coming together of political parties, communities and civic Scotland.
That resulted in the establishment of this Parliament, which has achieved much. However, a new Brexit-focused Tory Government presents risks that few could have predicted at the dawn of devolution. So, I hope that in the coming days and weeks, we will see a similar coming together around the idea of Scotland’s right to choose a better future.
Of course, we must also redouble our efforts to protect Scotland as best we can with the powers that we already have. This Government is determined to do that, and I ask other parties in this chamber to support us in that task. I will cite just one example. Last month the Resolution Foundation published research showing that, under Conservative plans for social security, child poverty could reach a 60-year high. By 2023, more than one in three children across the UK could be living in poverty. I am sure that no one in this chamber will find that remotely acceptable. That means that our child poverty action plan and our work to implement the new Scottish child payment will be even more important than they were already.
Of course, it now seems inevitable that at the end of January, Scotland will be taken out of the European Union against our will. Throughout the Brexit process, the Westminster Government has ignored the wishes of the people of Scotland and the views of this Parliament. Now, it seems that the Prime Minister is determined to quickly push through the withdrawal agreement bill. This Parliament will have to consider whether it will give consent to that bill. If the UK Government was to press ahead without that consent, that would be further proof of Westminster’s contempt for devolution and its willingness to tear up established constitutional rules in its pursuit of Brexit.
The hard Brexit—possibly a no-deal Brexit—favoured by the Prime Minister poses a real danger to our economy and to social and environmental safeguards at a time when we must substantially step up our efforts to tackle climate change. Brexit will also put parts of our health service in the sights of US trade negotiators. It could mean, for example, that the national health service has to pay higher prices for drugs. Brexit is the cause of significant uncertainty and worry for our fellow EU citizens, who contribute so much to modern Scotland. Scotland must respond to, and seek to overcome, those challenges.
To that end, just as we did in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, the Scottish Government will in January convene a number of round-table meetings, bringing together key groups that represent different aspects of Scottish life. Those will include civic society, trade unions, the business community, religious and minority groups and our partners in local government. We will also engage with the standing council on Europe to ensure that we take whatever steps we can to retain our relationships in Europe and identify ways to ensure that our voice and our interests are heard. We will listen to the conclusions of the citizens assembly when it reports in the spring about the kind of country that we should be seeking to build.
There is also a particular and immediate challenge that will require cross-party co-operation. This Parliament is required to deliver a budget before the start of the next financial year, and Scotland’s local authorities would expect to set their budgets in late February or early March. At this point, the UK Government has not confirmed when it will produce its own budget—and with it the block grant adjustments for Scotland—but it might not be until March. Although contingency planning and alternative options have been under consideration for some time, meeting this timetable will require parties to work together. In the spirit in which this Parliament was established, and notwithstanding the many disagreements between us, I hope that we can find common ground and work together on a range of issues.
This is indeed a watershed moment for Scotland. We are facing a Tory Government that Scotland did not vote for, and which many fear will pose a real danger to our country and the fabric of our society. This Parliament has a duty to protect the values that people in Scotland voted for. I believe that we can only fully do that with independence, and that is why later this week I will take the next steps to secure Scotland’s right to choose.
However, independence is not an end in itself. It is all about building a fairer and more prosperous country, so we will also do everything we can to achieve that with the powers that we have right now. We must tackle child poverty; protect our NHS and help it overcome the challenges of rising demand; and support an open, innovative and export-orientated economy. We must ensure that Scotland remains an open, welcoming, inclusive country, where people treat each other with kindness, dignity and compassion.
That is not a task for any one party—although as Scotland’s Government, my party will take a lead—but a job for all of us. My commitment is that I will seek to work with members across this chamber and with civic Scotland as we face the challenges ahead—and, most important, as we seek to build the better, fairer and more prosperous Scotland that people did vote for.
I cannot help but contrast the First Minister’s haste to make her statement today with what happened two years ago, in 2017, when we were obliged to wait three long weeks after the general election before the First Minister deigned to provide Parliament with her thoughts. I am trying to think what is different.
What the election has confirmed beyond doubt or debate is that the whole United Kingdom together will be leaving the European Union at the end of next month. The campaign to stop that happening has failed—our departure is going ahead, and the result of the 2016 UK referendum will be respected.
I know that there are deeply held views about Brexit across the chamber, but given that it is now happening, Brexit is no longer a “What if ...?” It is a political reality for us all. The whole UK together will enter the period of transition and leave on the basis of the future trading arrangements with our EU partners, which are to be negotiated next year.
Given that, will the First Minister now seek to engage constructively with the UK Government, whose responsibility it is to lead those negotiations on our future relationship, as we prepare to leave? Will the First Minister give Parliament an assurance that she will do so not on the basis of pointlessly seeking further to frustrate Brexit, but on the basis of having acknowledged that it will happen?
Will she seek to represent key interests in Scotland whose future prospects depend on her doing so—for example, the north-east’s fishing industry, which stands to benefit from our departure?
Will she heed the words of business organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry, which are urging us all to break the cycle of uncertainty that has hung over Scotland for so long, so that we can all move on together?
After the 2017 general election, I took time to reflect on the results. I respectfully suggest that Jackson Carlaw do the same now. I remember being told by the Tories, back then, that because the SNP had lost a third of the seats that we had previously held, we had no right—even though we had won the election overwhelmingly—to implement the manifesto commitments that we had put forward in that election campaign.
Here we are today, however. The Tories lost the election overwhelmingly in Scotland; they lost more than half their seats, but we are in the ridiculous position in which they are arguing that it is their manifesto that should be implemented, not the manifesto of the party that fairly and squarely won the election here.
The Tories fought the election on the sole issue of opposition to an independence referendum. This is what the Tories said the day before the election last week:
Well, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP did win the election and, frankly, democracy should follow.
I will do, on Brexit, what I have done for three and a half long years: I will try to engage with the UK Government, and I will try to protect Scotland’s interests. However, if the experience of the past three years is anything to go by, I would be better advised to bang my head off a brick wall. Conservatives at Westminster are not interested in Scotland’s voice and have no interest in standing up for Scotland’s interests.
For Jackson Carlaw to stand up in this chamber and gloat about the fact that every part of the UK will be leaving the EU together is a disgrace, and it is a democratic disgrace that Scotland faces being dragged out of the European Union against our will. That is why we should have a choice about a better future. If the Scottish Conservatives had any respect whatever for democracy, that is exactly what we would have.
I will make two brief points. First, the Scottish Labour Party is happy to support the Scottish Government’s demands to have a seat at the table in the Brexit negotiations. We think, after last Thursday, that that is more important than ever.
Secondly, the First Minister has compared the position in Scotland today with the position in 1992. Again, I state for the record that we are happy to work on a cross-party basis, as we did then, to resist the attacks that Boris Johnson will make on the people.
However, there is a fundamental difference between now and 1992. We now have the Scottish Parliament. Will the First Minister use all the powers of the Scottish Parliament as part of that campaign of resistance? I am happy to join the First Minister in George Square. Will she use the powers of this Parliament?
Yes, I will. A considerable part of my statement was about how we need to redouble our efforts to use the powers of this Parliament, which this Scottish Government has always done, to protect Scotland from an increasingly right-wing Conservative Government. What we are doing already to mitigate welfare cuts, the plans to introduce the Scottish child payment and so many more of our policies, are designed to do exactly that. I welcome any attempt to work on a cross-party basis to that effect, and will reach out to anybody in this Parliament who wants to do so.
However, I say to Richard Leonard in all sincerity that there is a fundamental difference between us. I support the ability of the Scottish Parliament to do as much as it can, but I never supported having a Scottish Parliament just so that we could mitigate the worst impacts of a Conservative Government at Westminster. I believe fundamentally that this Parliament will be better as an independent Parliament, so that we do not have to mitigate what a Tory Government does, and so that we can decide for ourselves the policies that are right for Scotland.
I respect the reality, although I disagree with it, that when push comes to shove, Richard Leonard is happier with a Conservative Government at Westminster than he is with self-government for Scotland. For all that, the point around which we should be able to unite is this: it is not for me, neither is it for Richard Leonard, Jackson Carlaw or Boris Johnson to decide whether Scotland should become independent. It is for the Scottish people to decide whether Scotland should become independent. My party has a mandate to offer that choice, so I welcome the many voices in Scottish Labour saying that that mandate should be respected. Richard Leonard should reflect carefully on that.
The Scottish Greens are more than ready to campaign again for Scotland’s future to be decided by the people who live here, and for independence to be the path that we take. We are ready for that campaign to begin, and we are ready to win it.
However, the Scottish Government must recognise that it has a more urgent task to tackle, first. That task is to protect people from the party that brought us the bedroom tax, the two-child limit and the anti-immigrant hostile environment. Now that the Boris Johnson Government has a majority, we can expect it to be brutal to the most vulnerable people in our society.
Does the First Minister agree that investment in public services, in community resilience and in local support networks has never been more important, and that it must be a feature in the budget that we will look at in the coming weeks?
I also want to ask about a policy that the UK Government has not put much flesh on the bones of: the industrial-scale tax-avoidance and money-laundering scam that is known as free ports. Can we have an assurance that the Scottish Government will do everything possible to resist the application of that policy in any part of Scotland?
I have been very clear that the way to ensure that we maximise trade between Scotland and all of the UK, and between Scotland and the rest of Europe, is not to have free ports, but to stay in the customs union and the single market, or—preferably—to stay in the European Union. Anything short of that would be second best and would raise a range of other questions.
On Patrick Harvie’s other question, I agree that our immediate task is to protect Scotland as much as we can from the Conservative Government. That is what we have been doing for the past few years, since the Tories have been in Government. We are spending more than £100 million a year on mitigation of welfare cuts, including the bedroom tax, and we are using our limited welfare powers to raise the incomes of the poorest people in our society.
Our ability to do that will always be constrained by the budgetary decisions that are taken at Westminster. At the end of this decade, our budget will be £1.5 billion lighter in real terms than it was at the start of the decade, when the Tories took office.
Patrick Harvie will hear no argument from me about the need for us to do everything that we can to protect people from the Tories. However, the best thing that we can do to protect Scotland from the Tories—I know that Patrick Harvie agrees—is give people the choice of an alternative future in which we will never again have to put up with a Conservative Government for which we did not vote.
The benefit of independence would be that we could have our disagreements in the Scottish Parliament, but people voting in elections would get the Government that they voted for, rather than having a Government that is foisted upon us and which does so much damage. That is why giving people in Scotland that choice is so urgent.
I do not want it to be the case that, over the next few years, Scottish Governments of whatever colour or party can only mitigate the impacts of Tory policies. I want us to escape Tory policies completely, and once and for all. That is what we will get with independence.
I congratulate the First Minister on the election last week. She achieved a vote share of 45 per cent—among those who voted. However, I question whether all those who voted for the SNP voted for another independence referendum. John Nicolson failed to mention independence in his campaign leaflet setting out SNP priorities. Member of the UK Parliament, Richard Thomson, said:
“a vote for me ... is not ... a vote for Scottish independence and I will never, ever, try and claim it as such”.
Does the First Minister see that the country has had enough of division and that we need to learn the lessons of Brexit, rather than repeat them with independence? She has failed to persuade even half the country that there should be another referendum.
Many people from across the UK showed last Thursday that they had had enough of the Liberal Democrats—but that is another matter altogether.
This is a matter for the Presiding Officer, but I think that we might save a bit of time in the Scottish Parliament if we would just combine the Tory and Liberal Democrat questions, because they are pretty much the same. They show the same deeply undemocratic approach on Scotland’s ability to choose our future.
As I have said in responding to the results in the early hours of Friday morning and in my statement today, I do not assume that everyone who voted SNP last week supports independence, as per the quotation that Willie Rennie read out from Richard Thomson. However, it is reasonable to say, and not credible to deny, that people understood the SNP’s proposition on offering people in Scotland a choice.
Before the election, the Tories and their Liberal partners said that I did not talk about anything other than an independence referendum. Since we won the election, they have been trying to say that we did not tell anyone that that is our policy. That is completely ridiculous. We were clear about our policy—but even if we had not been, the Tories and the Liberals were being very clear about our policy.
Jackson Carlaw said that opposition to an independence referendum was on the ballot paper. It was on the ballot paper—and the Conservatives and the Liberals lost the election in terms of the share of the vote and of the percentage of seats that were won by the SNP. Both are higher than what Boris Johnson got, which he is claiming is a mandate to “Get Brexit done.” Their contempt for democracy is not making those parties seem tough—it is making them seem ridiculous. The more contempt they show for Scottish democracy, the more support for Scottish independence will rise.
Not only did the Scottish Tories fight their campaign on the single issue of opposing an independence referendum
“the Union is on the ballot paper”.
Given that the Conservatives lost the majority of their seats in Scotland, including Stirling and Ochil and South Perthshire, which straddle my constituency, does the First Minister agree that the election was a clear rejection of the Tories’ opposition to an independence referendum and that the people of Scotland must have their say?
Happily, I have a Scottish Conservative leaflet with me. Here is what it says:
“On Thursday, you”— the Scottish people—
“will decide whether or not there is another independence referendum. There is only one way to stop it”— voting
The Scottish Conservatives’ vote share declined; the Scottish Conservatives lost more than 50 per cent of their seats; and the SNP won the election with a higher share of the vote, and a higher percentage of seats, than the Tories managed UK-wide. I think that that is pretty decisive, and if the Tories and any party in the chamber have any respect for democracy, they will allow the people of Scotland to choose a better future: with independence.
Today the Fraser of Allander institute predicted that the Scottish economy will grow faster as a result of the Conservative victory in the general election. One immediate beneficiary of that is of course the First Minister’s Westminster colleague Ian Blackford, who stands to make a reported seven-figure sum from the sale of his interests in the company Commsworld—a sale that depended on a Conservative election victory.
The Presiding Officer:
Order, please. [
.] Mr Fraser, hold on a second. [
Order! I appreciate that this is the first discussion after the election, but I ask colleagues to listen to the questions, and then we will hear the answers. I ask the Cabinet to set an example.
Murdo Fraser to finish his question—or to start his question again.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Just in case they did not hear it, let me remind SNP members that Mr Blackford stands to make a seven-figure sum from the sale of his interest in the company Commsworld—a sale that depended on a Conservative election victory.
Does the First Minister agree with the Fraser of Allander institute analysis that Mr Blackford is not the only one who will benefit from the post-election economic bounce?
Looking around, I see that, not surprisingly, Ruth Davidson is not in the chamber. I suspect that, had she been present, Murdo Fraser might not have been quite as keen to talk about the outside earnings of members of Parliament. I will move swiftly on.
The tone and the tenor of Murdo Fraser’s question tell us everything that we need to know about how down in the dumps and mired in doom and gloom the Scottish Conservatives are. And why would they not be so? They have just lost more than half their seats in Scotland.
Jackson Carlaw is now styling himself as the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. I am not aware that he has even given anybody the chance to put forward a nomination to oppose him. That is the Scottish Conservatives’ commitment to democracy.
They had the opportunity, Jackson, which is more than you have given anybody else.
On the question about the Fraser of Allander institute, I think that it was the institute—I will be corrected if I am wrong, but it was certainly a range of experts—that said that Brexit, particularly the hard Brexit favoured by Boris Johnson and now by his loyal Scottish leader, Jackson Carlaw, will cost every person in Scotland £1,600, compared to staying in the European Union. That is the price of the Conservatives’ obsession with Brexit, and it is a price that people in Scotland simply should not have to pay.
The reality of the situation—the Tories know it fine well—is that Scotland once again sent a message to Westminster that Scotland does not want to leave the EU. I ask the First Minister whether the UK Prime Minister has given any indication at all that he will respect the voters of Scotland and our desire to remain in the European Union.
I am sorry to say that neither the Prime Minister nor any member of the Conservative Party has given any indication that they are prepared to respect the democratic wishes of the Scottish people. As I said in my statement, the Scottish Parliament will require to decide whether it gives consent to the withdrawal agreement bill that will come forward soon. I anticipate that the legislative consent debate and vote will take place in the Parliament early in the new year. Let us be in no doubt: if the Conservatives ride roughshod over the will of the Parliament as well as the will of the Scottish people, they will simply demonstrate again that they have no respect for the voice of the Scottish people or Parliament and are prepared to rip up the longstanding conventions that have underpinned the working of the Parliament.
I think that that would be deeply regrettable and that it would—as will everything that the Scottish Conservatives and the Conservative Party generally are saying on the issue of Scotland’s future—simply lead to an increase in support for Scotland becoming an independent nation.
Patrick Harvie said that there are more urgent tasks. The First Minister outlined in her speech some of the dangers of Brexit. Is it not the case that, over the next period of time, the focus of the Scottish Parliament and the whole Government should be on getting to the table at which the negotiations are taking place and protecting Scotland’s interests, standing up for them and ensuring that, whatever Brexit has done, we do the best to get the best possible Brexit for Scotland?
I will do that to the very best of my ability. I and ministers in the Scottish Government have done that every day for the past three and a half years since the Brexit vote. To be fair to Alex Rowley, he has been very constructive in debates and votes in the Parliament. Notwithstanding that, I remember putting forward “Scotland’s Place in Europe” i n December 2016, which was an attempt at a compromise. In reluctantly accepting that we would leave the EU, we put forward membership of the single market and the customs union as the compromise position, and it was rejected, as every overture and attempt that the Scottish Government has made has been.
I will do that, and we have done it for three and a half years, but that has still taken us to the point at which, in a matter of weeks, we will be taken out of the European Union against our will, with all the damage that that will do. This morning, we heard talk of putting into the withdrawal agreement bill a hard deadline for the extension period. That brings back to the fore the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, with the even deeper damage that that will do.
I have great respect for Alex Rowley’s position on some of these matters, but there will come a point at which Labour will have to decide whether it wants to be always trying to mitigate what the Tories do to Scotland and always accepting second best. The best possible Brexit is not a good Brexit, because there is no such thing as a good Brexit, and Scotland voted against any Brexit. Labour will have to decide whether its role in politics is to mitigate what Tory Governments do to Scotland or whether it has a bigger role to play in an independent Scotland in which we can have positive debates about the fairer and more prosperous country that I believe that, working together, we would be able to build.
In the SNP manifesto, we put forward the suggestion of an NHS protection bill to expressly and explicitly protect the NHS from privatisation and the impact of trade deals. The bill that we proposed would also give the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly—I hope that it will be up and running again soon—a role in the agreement of trade deals. I very much hope and expect that the new, enlarged group of SNP MPs will seek to progress that in the House of Commons.
Despite the panicky denials from Boris Johnson and, indeed, President Trump in the election campaign, there is no doubt that a trade negotiation between the UK and the United States of America, particularly under the current US Administration, would put our NHS at risk. All of us have a duty to do everything that we can to protect the NHS from that.
In the past week, we have heard Derek Mackay describe the UK as a “dictatorship”, Stewart Hosie describe the Prime Minister as a “despot”, and the First Minister talk about “imprisonment”. There are countries in the world in which those terms have real, terrifying meaning. I note the First Minister’s call to find common ground. Does she really believe that such incendiary, inappropriate and ill-considered language is appropriate in a liberal democracy such as that of the UK?
To be perfectly frank, I am not sure that Liam Kerr and the Tories are on the strongest ground there. When it comes to democracy, let us remember that, just in the past 24 hours, we have seen the grotesque spectacle of somebody who did not even bother to stand in the election and somebody else who stood in it but was defeated and rejected by his constituents being appointed to the House of Lords so that they will continue to sit in the Cabinet. I do not know what word Liam Kerr would use to describe that; “democracy” is certainly not the word that I would use.
Liam Kerr can take issue with the language—he is perfectly entitled to do that—but as long as the Conservatives are holding to the position that they appear to be taking, he cannot take issue with the substantive point, because if the Conservatives’ position is that it does not matter how people in Scotland vote in elections and they are going to decide what the future for Scotland should be, then what is that, if it is not what is being described in the way in which it is being described?
It is perfectly legitimate for the Tories, Labour, the Liberals and everyone to make the case against independence and for Scotland remaining in the union, but the union can continue only by the consent of people in Scotland. It is not acceptable, democratically or in any other sense, for the Tories to block the right of the Scottish people to make that choice. It is a deeply undemocratic position and a deeply unsustainable position, and if Liam Kerr and the Tories do not like how we are choosing to describe it, I suspect that they should spend more time changing that position and accepting democracy instead.
The First Minister will be aware of comments that have been made by the Tories, who claim that we do not have a mandate to pursue an alternative path for the Scottish people. Does she agree that, given that the SNP won 47 out of the 59 seats in Scotland and secured a higher share of the vote than the Tories secured across the United Kingdom, it is the Tories who do not have a mandate either to impose austerity on Scotland or to drag us out of the European Union against our will?
The Tories here have to decide. They cannot have it both ways. If their position is that 45 per cent of the vote—a higher share than any party UK-wide has secured since Ted Heath, as I said—and 80 per cent of the seats is not a mandate for the SNP to implement our manifesto, then, equally, their securing 43 per cent of the vote and a much lower percentage of seats UK-wide cannot be a mandate for Boris Johnson to implement his Brexit deal. It is one or the other; it cannot be both.
We can often tell these things when we are standing here in the chamber, and I can tell that deep embarrassment is emanating from the Tory benches right now, however much the Tories deny it—[Interruption.] What they cannot deny is that the only issue that they spoke about in this election campaign was their opposition to an independence referendum. The title of the Scottish Tory manifesto was “No to indyref2”. People in Scotland saw all that and were inundated with leaflets coming through their doors saying, “You’ve got to vote Tory to stop indyref2”, but they decided not to vote Tory and to take half the Tories’ seats away from them and give the election victory to the SNP instead.
The Tories have to decide whether they accept democracy or not. The more they stand against democracy, the more support for Scottish independence is going to rise. They should be well aware of that.
The lateness of the UK budget brings major challenges for the Scottish budget. What contact has the First Minister made with the UK Government to resolve the timing of the budget? When is the timing likely to be known? What contingency plans has the First Minister made to ensure that councils can set their budgets and that newly devolved social security payments can be made?
Before the election, the Scottish Government made contact with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We made clear the impact of a delay to the UK budget on our ability to put forward and pass a budget here.
We do not yet know when the UK budget will be; we will make attempts to find that out. There are reports that it could be as late as March, which has profound implications for this Parliament’s ability to do its job of scrutinising and passing a budget. I hope that all parties recognise how unsatisfactory that position is and urge the UK Government to bring forward its plans.
I say this to Labour members almost more in sorrow than in anger: does it not paint a picture of just how unsatisfactory the current state of affairs is right now, that this Parliament—the national Parliament of Scotland—cannot even pass its annual budget, because a Westminster Government has decided to delay its budget? No self-respecting Parliament should be in that position.
For goodness’ sake, let us make this Parliament an independent one, so that we can determine not only the timing of our budget but the contents of the budget for every area of responsibility. Surely even Labour can see that that is a better position to be in than one of constantly supporting Tory Governments at Westminster over self-government and self-respect for Scotland.
The Prime Minister has said that he will introduce legislation to leave the EU by the end of next year, with or without a trade deal in place. Will the First Minister reiterate her intention to encourage all elected representatives across Scotland to work together to protect Scotland’s interests and prevent us from crashing out of the EU against our will?
On the substantive issue, I absolutely agree. We must do everything that we possibly can to protect Scotland’s interests. We must—[Interruption.]
We must make sure that, when it comes to trade negotiations, the voice of this Parliament is heard as far as it possibly can be. However, I cannot in all honesty say to the people of Scotland that my experience—Scotland’s experience—of the past three years fills me with optimism that our voice is going to be listened to and our interests protected. I fear for what trade negotiations—particularly those with the United States—will mean for our NHS and public services. What we should be demanding, short of Scotland being independent, is not just a voice but a vote for this Parliament before trade deals can be signed off. There are many countries in which parliaments already have the ability to do that—I think that Belgium is one of them—and that is what we should be demanding in Scotland.
In her statement, the First Minister accepted that, last week, the majority of voters across Scotland voted for candidates who did not want another independence referendum. [Interruption]. That is the truth, and in her statement the First Minister accepted it. Therefore, does the First Minister think that the majority of Scots—to use her own language—feel “imprisoned” in the UK?
I did not say what Mike Rumbles says that I said. I really think that other parties have to listen to themselves. They seem to be at great pains to deny the democratic reality that the SNP won the election on Thursday, and that we won it overwhelmingly. In a democracy, the party that wins the election has the right to implement its manifesto. It does none of the parties any credit to deny that reality. I have said, repeatedly, that I do not assume that everyone who voted SNP would vote yes to independence in a referendum. However, I believe that people in Scotland deserve that choice, because as we face this juncture and the prospect of five years, at least, of a Boris Johnson-led Tory Government, the people of Scotland have the right to choose a better alternative. Whether they opt for that better alternative is up to the people of Scotland, but that is for them to decide—not for us as politicians. I do not know—well, I think that I do know—why other parties in this chamber are so scared about that prospect.
When the Tories were rejected in the 1980s and the 1990s, it did not bring about a Parliament right away. Instead, it brought about a constitutional convention that collectively negotiated and agreed a proposal for a Scottish Parliament that was endorsed by the people. As a democrat, I believe in the sovereignty of the people, but I also believe that no referendum can take place until we know the outcome of Brexit. Will the First Minister change her approach? Will she genuinely work across this Parliament and accept that a referendum before we know what is happening with Brexit is the last thing that our economy and society need?
I will seek to answer the question in what I think may have been the spirit in which it was asked. I am keen to work across party boundaries as much as I can. I recognise that many people in the Scottish Labour Party, although not everybody, are thinking very deeply about those questions, and I am very open to discussions about how we can find the common ground between us.
What I would say to Neil Findlay, in all sincerity, is that I understand the argument that we have to wait and see what Brexit looks like, but that the other side of that argument is that we should not wait to allow the damage of Brexit to be done to us. Instead, we should take the opportunity to choose a better future.
That is my view, but I am happy to talk to anyone across this chamber who is willing—as I think that Neil Findlay has indicated that he is—to respect the mandate that the SNP Government has and to respect how the people of Scotland voted in the most recent election, as well as in the previous general election and the most recent Scottish Parliament election.