21 March 2017

S5M-04710 Independence Referendum

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-04710, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on Scotland’s choice.

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

Listening to colleagues across the chamber has been an interesting exercise in democracy. When the Official Report is published, I will definitely read some speeches with great care. I will read Alex Rowley’s contribution, not because I agreed with his conclusions, but because of the quality of the argument that he deployed in support of his conclusions, and I will read Bruce Crawford’s speech again because of the moderation of his expression and his felicitations.

Ivan McKee delineated an interesting approach, and Adam Tomkins—who is not a man who I have often found myself in agreement with, in conclusion—at least had the decency to argue a case in which step A was followed by step B, which was followed by step C. I see that he has been absent from the chamber for some time. I hope that he, too, will read a number of speeches from the debate.

Jenny Marra talked about how difficult it is to get into the EU, but an interesting thing about the EU is how flexible it is. It took only three months for East Germany to get into the EU, curiously enough. There is also a curious exception in the EU that is relevant to my constituents’ particular hatred of the common fisheries policy, which is entirely justified—the SNP has sustained its opposition to the common fisheries policy from 1975 to the present day. There is a full member of the EU that is not in the common fisheries policy, even though it is a coastal state: Gibraltar. It might be a tiny exception, but it shows that democratic societies and institutions are capable of being flexible.

I want to talk a little about why the United Kingdom might now be past the point of recovery. The people who voted to leave the EU in the recent referendum should perhaps take heart from the fact that under the rules for admission to the EU, the United Kingdom could not be re-admitted. The reason for that is article 2, which requires respect for democracy and stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy. Functional democratic governance requires that all citizens of the country should be able to participate, on an equal basis, in political decision making at every single governing level. In the UK, the majority of national politicians are unelected and cannot be dismissed. Therefore, in European terms, the UK is not a democracy. That should give heart to those who voted to leave.

Of course, there is more to say in that regard when we consider the processes in Westminster. Alison Thewliss, my MP colleague, has discovered that it is impossible for any parliamentary process to oppose a negative instrument. In the case in point, that penalises tax credit applicants who have a third child by requiring them to show that the child was conceived through rape. That is not how a modern progressive democracy should work.

I want to say a few words about fishing, because there is no doubt that people who have interests in fishing were the most antipathetic to the European project—and with good reason. When I came to Parliament in 2001, my first speech was on the common fisheries policy, at a time when we were savaging our fleet at Europe’s behest, while the EU was funding the building of new boats in Spain—which were, of course, to fish in our waters. If we get anything out of the position that we are in today, it is the opportunity to reset access to our national waters. The four candidates who stood in my parliamentary constituency in last year’s election were all remainers, but we all share a duty to support the interests of our constituents.

Lewis Macdonald: Should a second independence referendum go ahead, is it Mr Stevenson’s intention to ask the fishermen in his constituency to vote to leave the United Kingdom in order to rejoin the European Union?

Stewart Stevenson
: I direct the member to “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, paragraph 127, which sets out that, under our proposed compromise,

“we are clear that under this option we would not remain within the Common Fisheries Policy.”

We are being flexible and offering compromise. Would that others would do the same.

Let me say a little about where the UK and Scotland can go from the guddle in which we find ourselves. “Guddle” is the only word for where we are at the moment. In times of crisis, the UK has, on occasion, been bold enough to bring everyone into the room in an attempt to solve a problem. On fishing, the simple point is that fishing would be protected and the arguments would be taken forward if the Scottish fishing minister led the way in debates with the EU. I urge the UK Government to listen to that suggestion. The approach would take a burden off its shoulders and give it time to do other things, and it would help us and ensure that we got the outcome that we require for our fishermen.


Stewart Stevenson
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