Scotland must have the right to choose
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking in a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the subject of Scotland’s choice.
Following the debate parliament voted in favour of the Scottish Government motion to seek a Section 30 order from the UK Government to give Scotland a choice between any eventual Brexit deal or an independent future, including a continuing relationship with Europe.
The following day Prime Minister Theresa May signed and sent the letter that triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, starting the process of the UK leaving the European Union. Barely two weeks into the process, many of the UK Government’s declared opening negotiating positions have been seriously undermined.
It is perhaps worth reflecting on how we got here. Last year England and Wales voted to leave the European Union and Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain.
Since the referendum last June the Scottish Government has attempted to reach an agreement with the UK Government about the terms of Brexit that would respect the Scottish people’s 62 per cent vote to remain.
There were options for the UK as a whole and for Scotland in particular to remain in the single market, either through membership of the European Free Trade Association or the European Economic Area.
The First Minister proposed several options that would allow us to respect the UK-wide vote while also respecting the majority of the voters in Scotland.
It is now evident that the UK Government was determined not to listen to the voices across the UK who were offering practical solutions to the problems of Brexit and they definitely did not want to listen to Scotland.
Unlike the Tories and Labour, our starting point is that Scotland is a nation, not a region, not a province, nor a territory. It is not comparable, as is often quoted, with Yorkshire or Maidstone or even the City of London. We have our own distinct legal framework and constitutional background, of which the Act of Union in 1707 was only a part but not a final chapter.
As a nation we have an absolute right to seek to protect our interests and reconsider our relationships with other nations, particularly in the current circumstances.
It is also right that the decision on our future is taken during the timeframe outlined by the Scottish Government, not now but in the period when the terms of any Brexit deal with the EU is clear and during the following six months, when EU member states and the European Parliament will agree that deal. If 27 other countries can have a say on our future we should have the same right.
The Scottish Government’s mandate on this issue is clear and irrefutable. The SNP was elected in 2016 on a clear commitment that it would review the constitutional arrangements and, if necessary, call for the people of Scotland to have a choice if there was a material change of circumstances in Scotland’s constitutional position.
That material change is upon us and it is clear that the interests of Scotland in the current process are to be completely ignored. A hard Brexit will damage our economy and it will damage the global perception of Scotland as an inclusive, forward-thinking and outward-looking nation.
The vote in the Scottish Parliament will ensure that Scotland has a voice and a choice in its future. The Scotland’s choice debate was the very definition of democracy in action. MSPs from all parties had their say and there was a vote on the next step in the process of having a referendum. As the SNP do not have a majority, this vote was passed with cross-party support.
The prime minister said that now is not the time for a referendum. Well, whatever your opinion on independence or membership of the European Union, it should not be a Tory prime minister with no mandate and only one MP in Scotland to decide that.
We know that there will be change, that the status quo will not be an option in the forthcoming referendum. We must choose between two futures. One, we already see, will be damaging and isolationist. The other, whilst challenging, will be ours alone to fashion.
Sovereignty lies with the people. When the time comes I trust the people to make an informed choice.
It is clear that the interests of Scotland are to be completely ignored