Stur­geon: Scot­land will pay to keep EU cit­i­zens af­ter Brexit

First Min­is­ter writes ex­clu­sively for the Sun­day Her­ald as SNP Con­fer­ence starts to­day

Sunday Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREW WHI­TAKER

NICOLA Stur­geon has vowed to pay to keep EU cit­i­zens in Scot­land af­ter Brexit. The First Min­is­ter says that if they are forced to pay a fee to re­main her gov­ern­ment will cover the cost. Writ­ing in the Sun­day Her­ald, Stur­geon an­nounced the dra­matic move ahead of the start of SNP con­fer­ence to­day.

She said the mea­sure was needed to pro­tect EU cit­i­zens from the “loom­ing threat” of the Tories’ “ex­treme Brexit” plans. “Above all, it will send a clear mes­sage that EU cit­i­zens are wel­come here,” Stur­geon said.

Stur­geon at­tacked the Tories’ “con­tin­ued fail­ure to of­fer com­plete, un­equiv­o­cal guar­an­tees on the rights of EU cit­i­zens liv­ing here”. This was “morally indefensible” and “eco­nom­i­cally short-sighted”, she said.

Theresa May has said that EU cit­i­zens liv­ing in the UK af­ter Brexit will be of­fered a new “set­tled sta­tus”. How­ever, they will all be re­quired to ap­ply for a spe­cial ID card grant­ing them the right to live in Bri­tain. A Bri­tish em­bassy source told the Sun­day Her­ald that the charge was ex­pected to be sim­i­lar to that for a UK pass­port, which is cur­rently £72.50.

Stur­geon promised that if the UK Gov­ern­ment de­cides to charge for that sta­tus, Scot­land’s de­volved public bod­ies will meet the costs. She said: “Those EU na­tion­als who are al­ready liv­ing and work­ing here un­der free­dom of move­ment should not be made to jump through hoops to re­main. The UK Gov­ern­ment must guar­an­tee their rights and make the process for stay­ing here as sim­ple and easy as pos­si­ble – for ex­am­ple, peo­ple who are con­tribut­ing to our coun­try should not have to pay a fee to stay here. It is their right as EU cit­i­zens. “But though we do not yet con­trol im­mi­gra­tion rules, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment will act where we can. As a con­crete ex­am­ple of that, I will con­firm this week that if the UK Gov­ern­ment im­poses charges on EU cit­i­zens forced to ap­ply for set­tled sta­tus, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment will en­sure that de­volved public bod­ies meet these costs for those work­ing in our public sec­tor. “This will give prac­ti­cal help to the in­di­vid­u­als con­cerned and it will also help us to re­tain the doc­tors, nurses and other val­ued public ser­vants that we need.” In re­sponse, Labour also pledged sup­port for EU na­tion­als liv­ing in the UK. Scot­tish Labour Brexit spokesman Lewis Macdon­ald said: “We will guar­an­tee the right of EU cit­i­zens to stay in this coun­try from day one of the next Labour Gov­ern­ment – not just in Scot­land, but right across the UK. The only party that can kick the Tories out of Num­ber 10 and de­liver a job­s­first Brexit is Labour.” A UK Gov­ern­ment source said: “EU na­tion­als liv­ing in the UK make a huge con­tri­bu­tion to our econ­omy and our so­ci­ety. We have acted quickly to give them cer­tainty and will set out as soon as pos­si­ble the de­tail of how that process will work.”

Stur­geon has also in­sisted that Scots must have the right to vote on in­de­pen­dence once the terms of Brexit are known, leav­ing open the pos­si­bil­ity of a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum before the next Scot­tish par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in 2021. She said: “The SNP’s po­si­tion is clear – Scot­land voted to stay in Europe, and we op­pose the Tories’ ex­treme Brexit plans to drag us out of the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union, which threat­ens un­told dam­age to jobs, in­vest­ment and liv­ing stan­dards.

“Brexit against our will is a clear illustration of what can hap­pen to a coun­try that does not con­trol its own af­fairs. And that loom­ing threat is why I be­lieve that Scot­land should have a choice on its future once the terms of the Brexit deal are clear.”

Stur­geon also said the SNP was in an “un­par­al­leled po­si­tion of strength” af­ter a decade in of­fice. She dis­missed sug­ges­tions the party was on a down­ward spi­ral af­ter its elec­toral set­back in June’s Gen­eral Elec­tion.

Stur­geon is to de­liver the clos­ing speech on Tues­day at the SNP’s first ma­jor gath­er­ing since the Gen­eral Elec­tion, when it lost 21 of the 56 West­min­ster seats it had won two years ear­lier.

Her speech comes as a new opin­ion poll showed the SNP has a com­mand­ing lead over both the Tories and Labour. If an elec­tion was held now the SNP would take 42 per cent of the con­stituency vote and 35 per cent of the re­gional list vote for Holy­rood in a YouGov sur­vey of over 1,000 Scots. This would give the party 57 seats at Holy­rood, down from 63. Labour polled 25 per cent in con­stituen­cies and 24 per cent for re­gions, while the Tories were backed by 25 per cent and 23 per cent in the re­spec­tive sec­tions of the vote – re­turn­ing them to third place.

Stur­geon said that the SNP was the only cred­i­ble op­tion for pro­gres­sives in Scot­land as an al­ter­na­tive to a right- wing UK Tory Gov­ern­ment and a di­vided Scot­tish Labour party.

Stur­geon added: “Con­trary to the claims of our op­po­nents and some com­men­ta­tors, the SNP re­mains in an al­most un­par­al­leled po­si­tion of strength for a party which has been in of­fice for a decade – in­deed, polls show that we are in a stronger po­si­tion now than we were at the same stage of the elec­toral cy­cle in pre­vi­ous years.”

Deputy First Min­is­ter John Swin­ney will also claim to­day in his speech to the con­fer­ence that the SNP is the “only pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ment” in any part of the UK. Swin­ney will say that the SNP’s is pur­su­ing a rad­i­cal agenda in gov­ern­ment by ban­ning frack­ing and

lift­ing the public-sec­tor pay cap. “In re­cent weeks, our bold and am­bi­tious pol­icy plans have set the agenda in Scot­land and been heard around the world.”

In a sep­a­rate move, SNP MEP Alyn Smith has launched a ro­bust de­fence of the party’s “in­de­pen­dence in Europe” pol­icy, amid claims from some se­nior col­leagues it should be ditched. Smith will pub­lish and de­liver a book, Scot­land In Europe, at the con­fer­ence. He said it re­asserts the SNP’s pol­icy that an in­de­pen­dent Scot­land must be a full EU mem­ber state.

The “in­de­pen­dence in Europe” stance was adopted in the late 1980s by the SNP, which had pre­vi­ously been Eu­roscep­tic. Smith said: “We need to re­mem- ber that we are a pro-Euro­pean party. We have a pol­icy and we need to de­fend party pol­icy.”

Lead­ing SNP fig­ures such as Alex Sal­mond have sug­gested Scot­land would try to join the Euro­pean Free Trade As­so­ci­a­tion rather than the EU im­me­di­ately af­ter in­de­pen­dence. How­ever, for­mer Cab­i­net min­is­ter Alex Neil has gone fur­ther and said the SNP must scrap its pro-EU pol­icy if it is to win an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.

THE SNP gath­ers in Glas­gow to­day for our an­nual con­fer­ence, buoyed by the fact that fully a decade into gov­ern­ment we re­main in a com­mand­ing po­si­tion in Scot­tish pol­i­tics. More than 10 years on from be­com­ing the gov­ern­ment at Holy­rood we are record­ing dou­ble-digit leads over our op­po­nents in the opin­ion polls, show­ing that we con­tinue to hold the trust of a huge sec­tion of the Scot­tish elec­torate.

That trust was not eas­ily won – I know from my own ex­pe­ri­ence of long years of op­po­si­tion how hard we had to work to per­suade peo­ple to give us the chance to gov­ern. And it is trust I do not take for granted. I will al­ways lis­ten to the peo­ple and seek to re­flect their hopes and as­pi­ra­tions as we aim to shape the nation for the bet­ter.

That is why, con­trary to the claims of our op­po­nents and some com­men­ta­tors, the SNP re­mains in an al­most un­par­al­leled po­si­tion of strength for a party which has been in of­fice for a decade – in­deed, polls show that we are in a stronger po­si­tion now than we were at the same stage of the elec­toral cy­cle in pre­vi­ous years. We are out-polling our per­for­mance in 2008 and 2012 when, like now, we were a year or so on from win­ning a Holy­rood elec­tion. The rea­sons for that strength of sup­port are rooted in the fact that we con­tinue to de­liver for peo­ple across Scot­land. We are mit­i­gat­ing Tory aus­ter­ity, while set­ting out our own dis­tinc­tive, bold pol­icy agenda which is help­ing to re­shape Scot­land for the future. And we are de­liv­er­ing every day while our prin­ci­pal op­po­nents con­tinue to tear them­selves apart – ob­sess­ing about them­selves rather than think­ing about how to bet­ter the lives of the peo­ple who elect them.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s con­fer­ence speech tra­vails were un­for­tu­nate, and she can­not be blamed for things that were out­with her con­trol – but in truth, the episode merely sym­bol­ised the ut­ter chaos she is now pre­sid­ing over on a daily ba­sis. The UK Gov­ern­ment, at a time of prob­a­bly the big­gest peace­time chal­lenge in liv­ing mem­ory, is lurch­ing day to day from cri­sis to cri­sis – rud­der­less, clue­less and in­creas­ingly lead­er­less.

Whether the level of dis­con­tent among Tory MPs is enough to force Theresa May from of­fice in the near future re­mains to be seen. The only cer­tainty amid the tur­moil is that the Con­ser­va­tives do not have their eye on the day job, whether that is Brexit or the mul­ti­tude of other chal­lenges they should be fo­cus­ing on.

As for the Scot­tish Tories, for all the re­cent hype, the polls sug­gest they are now on the slide. This is a party, it should be re­mem­bered, which has not won a sin­gle elec­tion in Scot­land in more than 60 years. And they are in­creas­ingly be­ing ex­posed – not just for the ques­tion­able opin­ions of some of their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives – but also for their lack of poli­cies.

Aside from their con­sti­tu­tional ob­ses­sion they have noth­ing to say, and have now fallen be­hind a bit­terly di­vided and lead­er­less Scot­tish Labour party in the polls. Labour them­selves do not have the an­swers Scot­land needs – on too many is­sues they vac­il­late and equiv­o­cate.

That is the case on Tri­dent, where the op­po­si­tion of some in the Scot­tish party is trumped by UK Labour’s pol­icy to re­new nu­clear weapons on the Clyde. And it is the case with Brexit, where Labour’s po­si­tion re­mains what might char­i­ta­bly be termed as opaque. The SNP’s po­si­tion is clear – Scot­land voted to stay in Europe, and we op­pose the Tories’ ex­treme Brexit plans to drag us out of the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union, which threat­ens un­told dam­age to jobs, in­vest­ment and liv­ing stan­dards. Brexit against our will is a clear illustration of what can hap­pen to a coun­try that does not con­trol its own af­fairs. And that loom­ing threat is why I be­lieve that Scot­land should have a choice on its future once the terms of the Brexit deal are clear. And there is ev­i­dence of a growing dis­con­tent in Scot­land at Brexit it­self and with the Tories’ bungling of the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Mean­while, the Con­ser­va­tives’ con­tin­ued fail­ure to of­fer com­plete, un­equiv­o­cal guar­an­tees on the rights of EU cit­i­zens liv­ing here is not only morally indefensible, it is also eco­nom­i­cally short-sighted. Those EU na­tion­als who are al­ready liv­ing and work­ing here un­der free­dom of move­ment should not be made to jump through hoops to re­main. The UK Gov­ern­ment must guar­an­tee their rights and make the process for stay­ing here as sim­ple and easy as pos­si­ble – for ex­am­ple, peo­ple who are con­tribut­ing to our coun­try should not have to pay a fee to stay here. It is their right as EU cit­i­zens.

But though we do not yet con­trol im­mi­gra­tion rules, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment will act where we can. As a con­crete ex­am­ple of that, I will con­firm this week that if the UK Gov­ern­ment im­poses charges on EU cit­i­zens forced to ap­ply for set­tled sta­tus, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment will en­sure that de­volved public bod­ies meet these costs for those work­ing in our public sec­tor. This will give prac­ti­cal help to the in­di­vid­u­als con­cerned and it will also help us to re­tain the doc­tors, nurses and other val­ued public ser­vants that we need. Above all, it will send a clear mes­sage that EU cit­i­zens are wel­come here. Ten years on from en­ter­ing of­fice for the first time in our his­tory, the SNP gath­ers for our con­fer­ence in great heart. We have weath­ered chal­lenges along the way, but we re­main full of the en­ergy and vi­sion needed to build a con­fi­dent, com­pas­sion­ate and suc­cess­ful Euro­pean nation.

Pho­to­graph: Jane Barlow/ PA Wire

First Min­is­ter Nicola Stur­geon will ad­dress the SNP con­fer­ence on Tues­day

Nicola Stur­geon: ‘SNP is in great heart’

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