07 February 2017

S5M-03858 Withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-03858, in the name of Michael Russell, on article 50.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

It is always interesting to listen to what Opposition parties have to say, and many ironies emerge. One of the ironies is that by far the strongest supporters of the United Kingdom, as shown in the EU referendum, are the people of Gibraltar, 95.9 per cent of whom voted to remain in the EU. It is not simply a matter of the United Kingdom discriminating against Scotland and refusing to engage and listen. The UK Government is being absolutely fair—it is against everything that anybody says that is different from its own settled ideas. The Gibraltarians, who are the most loyal of UK citizens and the most committed to remaining in the EU, are being ignored. I hold no brief for the Gibraltarians. I have met ministers from there and it is always interesting to do so.

Adam Tomkins said that we want the fullest possible participation in European markets; indeed, that is what the UK Government white paper says. It uses the phrase “mutually beneficial” with reference to the customs union on a dozen occasions, so we know that the UK Government is committed to achieving that. How can we achieve that? The strongest and most certain way of achieving a mutually beneficial European market is by being in the single market.

Douglas Ross took us back to the referendum of 2014 and told us that it was on a simple question: should Scotland be an independent country—yes or no? In other words, it told us nothing whatever about Scotland’s attitude to the EU in 2014. That is the assertion that I have heard from him.

What, in turn, was the question that was asked in 2016? It was: should the UK be in the European Union—yes or no? It told us nothing whatever about our attitude to the single market. It told us nothing whatever about our attitude to the free movement of peoples. It answered one simple question, and we have that confirmed by Douglas Ross. It is perfectly permissible to stay in the single market, the EEA and EFTA and still be consistent with the result that was delivered on 23 June 2016. That is the argument that is being put by SNP members today.

Adam Tomkins is, of course, a young and inexperienced politician, certainly in comparison with me, on both counts. He has either forgotten or never been aware of the considerable number of occasions on which the UK Parliament, and particularly the House of Lords, has amended legislation to affect Scottish competences in legislative and administrative matters without our having had the opportunity to bring forward a legislative consent motion. I think that he suggested that that is unconstitutional, but maybe not. It is certainly not a position that I can support.

I intervened on Ross Greer to ask whether what the UK Government has published is a white paper. There are only four lines in the UK Parliament’s description of white papers and it is clear that white papers come before bills. What do we have? We have a white paper that purports to have 77 pages, but six of them are blank and four are just the introduction, so the white paper is actually just 67 pages.

The Scottish Government published 650 pages when going into the 2014 referendum. What other things have we got? The “Travel Choices for Scotland” white paper from the UK Government had 114 pages. A paper on prosperous communities through local government had 247 pages, and there were 128 pages on educational excellence. We can see that the UK Government’s Brexit white paper is a shoddy and inadequate piece of work. In fact, it is no white paper whatever—it is a white flag that is giving in to people elsewhere. It will give us nothing for Scotland and it will sell out our fishing communities again. That is the Tory plan—that is what the Tories are going to do.


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