It is with a conflicted sense of sadness and relief that I speak in the debate on the internal market: sadness that it should be necessary at all, due to the withdrawal from the EU and the UK Government’s subsequent failure to develop common frameworks in a timely and—I stress this—inclusive, way, now mirrored in the UK white paper, which is disrespectful to the devolved Administrations; and, at the same time, relief that there is an opportunity to explore how best to proceed in the interests of Scotland, working with the Scottish Government, our Parliament and a range of stakeholders.
] This unilateral imposition hinders local-level democracy, jurisdiction and economic—[
]—which can so often enable better outcomes for communities and allow them to shape their own lives. Restrictions on the development of community wealth building would be regrettable as we come out of Covid-19.
The white paper’s proposals are beholden to capital and have no loyalty to place, collaboration or subsidiarity. They risk undermining any partnerships between local public sector bodies, communities, locally owned businesses and trade unions.
I will specifically turn to the environment, which is my brief. I emphasise the four guiding UK environmental principles: precaution, prevention, rectifying pollution at source and polluter pays. Those principles matter for our communities and our sustainable development—from the quality of the air that we breathe to the water that we drink, from the purity of the sea water around the northern isles, where there are mussel farms, to the sustainable—[
]—and much more. The UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, which is before the Finance and Constitution Committee and the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, gives the opportunity to ensure that environmental principles are enshrined in Scottish law—indeed, possibly more of them: human health, innovation, non-regression, sustainable development and either a duty to have regard to principles or a requirement to act in accordance with them.
Those are all significant issues to explore and get right, but they pale into insignificance when we reflect, as we do today, on the threat to it all from the aims—both explicit and implicit—of the UK internal market white paper. The serious lack of respect that has been shown for the devolution settlement is arrogant and completely unacceptable. In my view, the writing was on the wall when the common frameworks did not materialise quickly, and now the white paper poses a serious threat to a range of those common frameworks themselves.
The UK Government’s cavalier attitude to environmental standards and other important EU developments in the public interest is at the heart of a dangerous challenge to our devolution rights. It is clear that the UK Government is not aiming for a baseline that we can all live with but has a very different agenda: weaker regulation of business. As the cabinet secretary stressed in his statement,
“The only certainty is that these proposals would undermine the high quality and standards that Scotland has set for food production and animal welfare for the sole purpose of allowing the UK to do bad trade deals.”—[
, 30 July 2020; c 40.]
The Royal Society of Edinburgh shed light on the stark dangers that that presents in its submission to the ECCLR Committee on the continuity bill. It said that:
“It is important to remember that the environment is not constrained by territorial boundaries. The development and agreement of common frameworks on the environment between the UK and Scottish Governments will therefore be crucial. A common environmental framework will ensure measures enacted in Scotland are not undermined by incompatible actions taken in other UK nations by establishing a mutually acceptable baseline of environmental protection.”
Indeed, in some cases, Scotland has chosen to go further than the EU, for example on renewables; and to do differently from England, as we have heard from others, such as in our robust position on genetically modified crops, and on some of our marine protection commitments.
All that could remain possible, but it would have to be from an agreed baseline with no cap on higher standards. Professor Campbell Gemmell summarised the latter possibility well when he said:
“We may choose to do more, different and better and that should be done in the full knowledge of the efforts of, and through active partnership with, our colleagues across the EU.”
However, all that is blown to smithereens by the UK white paper, which I strongly oppose, as does the Scottish Labour Party.
The Finance and Constitution Committee is absolutely right to call for a much longer and more transparent and inclusive public debate on the proposals, given the significance that they have for all UK citizens.
As it is, Scottish Labour will not contemplate supporting the proposals, for the reasons that I and Scottish Labour members—and members of other parties—have highlighted.