As we still await a coherent move from the UK Government on Brexit, Alex Neil MSP urges the Scottish National Party to seize the initiative and set a clear and ambitious Scottish agenda on the issue
Three months on from the EU referendum it is blatantly obvious the UK Government hasn’t got a clue about how or when to proceed with Brexit.
Theresa May’s Cabinet can’t even agree amongst themselves what their definition of Brexit is, as witnessed by their contradictory statements on the future relationship between the UK and the European Single Market.
The Scottish Government has therefore got a golden opportunity, which it should not let slip, to fill the void by putting Scotland’s Brexit demands at the top of the UK/EU negotiations agenda and doing so now.
Rather than wait until Theresa May eventually gets her act together, the Scottish Government should immediately publish its “List of Scottish Demands” for the Brexit negotiations.
Don’t wait for Whitehall. Set the agenda now. Force the UK Cabinet to acknowledge Scotland’s priorities. Preempt any attempt by the UK Government to place unacceptable limitations on Scotland’s Brexit ambitions.
Top of the list of Scottish demands should be the transfer of the powers being repatriated from Brussels, as they relate to Scotland, to the Scottish Parliament; not Westminster
All the powers relating to existing devolved matters, such as farming and fishing, should automatically transfer to Edinburgh. Brexit also provides the ideal opportunity to devolve all the other powers currently controlled by Brussels to the Scottish Parliament.
This would include powers currently exercised by the EU covering employment laws and workers’ rights, environmental protection, social policy, consumer protection, certain aspects of transport policy, some aspects of energy policy, public health matters, and certain aspects of justice and home affairs policies as well as external affairs.
Finally a range of other powers which haven’t been devolved to Scotland because of EU rules should also be transferred to Edinburgh. The most important of these would be giving the Scottish Parliament full control over Value Added Tax (VAT).
Until now the UK Treasury has argued that VAT couldn’t be devolved because the EU wouldn’t allow rate variations within a member state. After Brexit this excuse is no longer valid. VAT could easily be transferred in toto to Edinburgh.
The UK Leave Campaign’s promise during the referendum that if the UK voted for Brexit then Scotland would get control over immigration policy must also be honoured and included in Scotland’s List of Demands.
The second item on Scotland’s List of Demands should be the transfer of all the funding associated with these new powers mentioned above, including Scotland’s share of the UK annual contributions to the EU budget, itself estimated by the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre to be worth around £800 million a year net of all the funding Scotland currently gets from the EU.
With this money, post-Brexit the Scottish Government could continue to finance all the projects currently supported by the EU in Scotland to the same level of funding as at present and still have another £800 million per annum or so left over to invest as we choose.
The accumulation of all these new powers and finances would bring about “neo-Independence” for Scotland, creating the ideal platform for advancing to full sovereignty for the Scottish people in the early 2020’s.
The third key item on Scotland’s List of Demands must be continuing access to the benefits of the European Single Market. Eleven per cent of all goods and services sold furth of Scotland every year go to the EU.
These exports support many thousands of jobs in Scotland that we can’t afford to lose; so retaining both free access to this market along with the other benefits of the single market, such as “passporting” for our financial sector, is essential.
Scotland should continue to benefit from the free movement of people between Europe and Scotland. The crucial role played by people from Europe and elsewhere in the world in staffing some of our key industries such as tourism, agriculture and horticulture has to be protected. There is no reason why Scotland shouldn’t be able to implement its own immigration policy which would allow free movement to continue.
The UK Government would find it difficult to refuse these demands, if Scotland plays its cards right.
To help ensure our demands are met, the Scottish Government should organise a “Brexit Coalition” of the nations and regions of the UK. Such a Coalition could form a shared platform of key demands that the nations and regions need to be met from Brexit and force Theresa May to reach a deal which is as acceptable to them as it is to her.
This article is also published by The Telegraph online.