You’ll not be surprised to hear that ever since the UK voted to leave the European Union, I have been receiving lots of letters and emails from constituents raising their concerns. While there have been a couple of requests asking me to respect the UK wide result and vote to trigger article 50, the vast majority have asked me to do all I can to protect Scotland’s place in Europe.
That’s not a surprise. In Edinburgh 74.4% of people voted to remain in the EU. For all its flaws, people across our city recognised the overwhelming benefits of EU – be they economic, cultural, environmental and civil.
The political ramifications of the vote are vast and the situation changes on what feels like a daily basis. But the SNP both in Westminster and the Scottish Government have consistently sought transparency over negotiation plans for Brexit and, crucially, a special deal for Scotland. The people of Scotland voted decisively to remain in the EU.
Across the UK, it’s clear that a small majority voted for Brexit without knowing exactly how it might happen and having been lied to about what the consequences might be. We have seen some people seize on this as a mandate for their own narrow interpretation of the UK's future relationship with other countries. To prevent that happening in the final plan I have always believed parliament must be the body that decides on the Brexit plan.
On the 24th January, the Supreme Court came to the same conclusion and the following day the Prime Minister finally conceded (after considerable pressure led by the SNP) to producing a White Paper.
The SNP Scottish Government has already produced their own paper outlining how Scotland’s position can be protected. While remaining a party committed to an independent Scotland the paper sets out a well thought through compromise that respects both the 2014 Independence referendum and the 2016 EU result. Scotland can remain part of the European Economic Area (EEA) even if the rest of the UK does not – leading to a relationship with the EU like Norway has. It would enable us to retain access to the single market and retain the freedom of movement of people that our country needs and benefits so vastly from.
If you’ve not already had a look I highly recommend you read the paper, Scotland’s Place in Europe. You can access it here.
To be clear, we are not saying that we will not respect the 23rd of June UK referendum result. There is nothing in the Scottish Government paper which says that any part of the UK would stay in the EU. It is in fact a major compromise being offered and it simply says that there should be differential arrangements after Brexit in Scotland.
Some people have said that it is wrong in principle for Scotland to have any different arrangements and there must be one size fits all across the UK. This view is plainly ridiculous for if it were true there wouldn’t be a Scottish Parliament in the first place.
However to implement such a policy requires political will from Westminster. A will that doesn’t seem to be there. The day before the announcement from the Supreme Court I asked Amber Rudd if the UK Government would look at the merits of an immigration system that allowed differing rules in constituent parts of the UK. Unsurprisingly it was dismissed out of hand (watch it here).
The other key issue arising from the Supreme Court decision was its acknowledgment that the Sewel Convention is not worth the paper it is written on. The Sewel Convention ensures that Westminster will normally legislate on devolved matters only with the express agreement of the Scottish Parliament, after proper consideration and scrutiny of the proposal in question. So the fact it has no status makes something of a mockery of the debate last year on the Scotland Bill following the Smith recommendations.
The entire purpose of the UK Governments proposals was to put this convention on a statutory basis that is, to make it a matter of law that the UK Government would not legislate for something that was under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament.
The Supreme Court may have decide that the Government does not legally have to get the consent of the Scottish Parliament but I believe it has a moral and a political obligation to do so. Theresa May and her government would be foolhardy not to show Scotland the respect we deserve.
The SNP Westminster group will be tabling 50 amendments to the Article 50 bill – not to be obstructive - but to do all we can to protect Scotland’s Place in Europe. I, and the group, will continue to speak up for our constituents.
But there may well come a point when we have to ask ourselves what sort of country we actually want to be.
As First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said after the Court decision: “Is Scotland content for our future to be dictated by an increasingly right-wing Westminster Government with just one MP here – or is it better that we take our future into our own hands? It is becoming ever clearer that this is a choice Scotland must make.”
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?