It’s been a little while since I've written a blog on Brexit. Things are now moving quite quickly so I thought it might be helpful for me to share a few of my thoughts on where we are.
The proposal put forward by Theresa May last week is not a good one and not one I can support. While the SNP Scottish government remain of the view that the best option for Scotland would be to remain in the European Union they have, time and again, put forward compromises that would respect the wishes of the Scottish people, and those of the rest of the United Kingdom. These have been dismissed out of hand by the UK government.
We have argued that if the UK does not wish to stay in the single market then Scotland must be given the power to establish a different relationship with the EU – one that safeguards our economy and respects the opinions of the people who live here. We have been repeatedly told that it is impossible to have a differentiated settlement for different parts of the UK without comprising the integrity of the UK. And yet this deal proposes just that for Northern Ireland.
The current deal would not only see Scotland taken out of the Single Market against our interests but also place us at an economic disadvantage to Northern Ireland.
The bottom line for me, and for the SNP, is that - short of continued EU membership – we must have continued, permanent membership of the Single Market and Customs Union. The people of Edinburgh East did not vote for this shambles and I will not support it. Earlier this week the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, visited Westminster to seek to find consensus on alternatives with opposition leaders, and to reiterate the Scottish government’s position with the Prime Minister.
Yesterday’s political declaration agreed between the UK government and the European Commission is full of warm words and easy platitudes. In truth it is nothing other than an indication of what might happen and has no legal status. Nonetheless within the text of this document the writing is on the wall for the Scottish fleet within the fishing industry. It’s now clear that the UK government’s intention is not to take full control of fishing rights in its territorial waters but to allow access to them by other EU countries in return for preferential trading agreements. This is a slap in the face for Scotland’s coastal communities and is the direct opposite of promises made by the Scottish Conservatives. How Mundell is still in post baffles me but I look forward to questioning him at Scottish Questions next Wednesday.
At the heart of this process there is a growing political crisis stemming from the inability of parliament to back the government. As we approach Christmas, parliamentary gridlock looks inevitable with no majority either for May’s proposals or any other deal. In these circumstances the arguments for the electorate to have the final say on whether they want this deal or would prefer to end the catastrophic process now are becoming irrefutable. The PM keeps referring to 17.4 million who voted for Brexit but refuses to accept that several million might have changed their mind. Democracy didn’t end on the 23rd June 2016 and I think it’s right that people ought to be given another say. Hence the SNP supports proposals for a so called ”People’s Vote”.
But a further vote won't necessarily resolve the issue that Scotland faced in 2016 where we voted to remain and the rest of the UK voted to leave and we face exit anyway. I have long argued that if a second EU referendum is to take place then there must be agreement that the views of the component nations of the UK are respected. And in the event of Scotland rejecting the Brexit deal proposed by the UK government (and in circumstances where the rest of the UK agreed) then the Scottish Parliament must be allowed to determine a different relationship with the EU. This would not necessarily mean independence - although that might be the simplest way to achieve a different deal - but would require a further round of devolution to give the Scottish Parliament the competence to make such an agreement.
So as things stand I will be voting against the government when the opportunity comes. This does not mean, by the way, that I wish to leave with no deal. Quite the contrary. I reject completely that this is a binary choice between May’s deal and no deal. I believe there is a majority in the House of Commons to reject the deal, extend article 50, and send the UK government back to Brussels to renegotiate without the “red lines” that have hampered discussions so far.
Events are changing daily, and the SNP will continue to press the Prime Minister to respect the views and needs of Scotland.
Four weeks ago I was worried about writing this column on the eve of the last major parliamentary debate on Brexit. Anything could have happened, rendering my speculation obsolete by the time you read it. I shouldn’t have fretted. Anything could have happened but nothing did.
Here I am again. Groundhog day. It’s Tuesday. There’s a big debate tomorrow.
Tuesday. Another day spent discussing Brexit. Another day of my life I’m not getting back.
We are no further forward. As the clock ticks down to exit it’s only fair to ask: What the hell is Theresa May playing at?