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FOR three years, Scotland has fought to secure our place in Europe and defend the peoples’ vote for the right to remain within the European Union. This has ranged from an Emergency Bill in the Scottish Parliament to ministerial efforts from the Scottish government to liaise with the British government.
Now, in harmony with the many Scots who desire independence, the Scottish government is putting forward legislation that, if successful, could see Scotland become an independent nation that would be able to pursue membership of the European Union of its own accord.
This follows the EU referendum vote on June 23 2016, where Scotland voted by 62 per cent to remain within the EU. Recent polling shows that pro-EU feeling has grown even stronger since the vote, with two thirds of Scottish voters now supportive of remaining in the European Union (EPC, June 2019).
Over this three-year period, the detrimental impact of Brexit has become clear. Britain, as the fifth largest economy in the world, has moved from being the fastest growing G7 economy to the slowest by 2018. Moreover, Scotland’s chief economist warned earlier this year that a “no-deal Brexit” has the potential to push the Scottish economy into recession, with a predicted GDP fall of 7 per cent.
Conversely, these predictions accompany the fact that there are growing links between Scottish jobs and our nation’s trade with the EU. The Fraser of Allander Institute, an independent research centre connected to the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow), has reported that increased EU demand for Scottish exports since 2017 is linked to the creation of 9,000 new jobs in Scotland. 144,000 Scottish jobs in total relate to the £14.9bn worth of goods and services exported from Scotland to the EU.
The growing links between Scotland and the EU since the 2016 referendum emphasise how negative the economic impact of Brexit and, indeed, a no-deal Brexit outcome would be. It is the SNP Scottish Government’s goal to avoid these negative outcomes.
Membership of the European Union has contributed significantly to Scottish academic output, regeneration and investment into our communities and to benefit our peoples.
The vast majority of Scots want our political energy to focus on laudable and productive aims that improve our society. The more protracted Brexit becomes, the more we will see political and Civil Service resources diverted away from productive domestic initiatives.
The SNP believes that Scotland has the potential to thrive as a small and strong European nation: where our voice has equal footing with other European nations. Scotland shares European values, and the SNP has been one of the only parties in Westminster to consistently promote close alignment with the EU since the 2016 referendum took place. When the possibility of a second EU referendum started to appear possibly achievable, the SNP put its support behind this proposition.
Unfortunately, the political momentum in London funnelled into the Tory leadership contest for the position of Prime Minister, and none of the leadership hopefuls pursued a second referendum.
Scotland has had enough.
Off the back of the spring SNP Conference and success in the EU elections (the SNP won three out of the six Scottish MEP seats), Nicola Sturgeon, as First Minister of Scotland, has led the way in setting out legislation to make a second Scottish independence referendum possible. Unlike Westminster, here in Holyrood we have the votes and party cohesion to bring this forward.
Apart from Brexit, a host of ill-calculated Tory-led UK-wide domestic policies, like universal credit, have worsened the livelihoods of so many. Since the Conservative government came to power following the financial crisis of 2008, we have seen successive cuts to social services and welfare penalise the poorest in society. This is unacceptable. Benefit payments are supposed to assist the poorest and those who cannot work due to disability.
Since Brexit, the way in which these payments are distributed has been altered, and in the process of doing so, the amount given to individuals and families has been drastically cut. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty Philip Alston published a full report in May 2019 that described the impact of cuts to welfare as “with tragic consequence,” and said that these were “ideologically driven.”
I have seen the impact of these cuts in the constituency that I represent. There is growing strain on community-led foodbanks and, following the roll-out of universal credit last December, yet another foodbank has opened. Protecting our citizens, reducing inequality and helping our communities flourish is what we should be focused on — not Brexit.
In Scotland, our policies and political energy is focused on a wide variety of issues. Something I am most proud of is the SNP’s commitment to reducing child poverty. Since we introduced legislation that keeps the Scottish government accountable to reducing this poverty, Scotland has become the country in the UK with the least-worst child poverty rates.
Much more needs to be done — nonetheless, our dedication to this end is making a positive impact. British government policies (like universal credit) continue, however, to affect Scottish constituents and, consequently, undermine the efforts of the Scottish Parliament. All of this spurs the desire of political parties in the Scottish Parliament and Scottish independence supporters for a second chance.
The 2014 Scottish independence vote was a close one — 45 per cent for independence. David Cameron, the then Conservative Prime Minister, consistently told voters in the lead-up to the independence vote that the only way Scots could stay in the EU was by voting to remain within the UK.
Just months after the Scottish independence vote, he announced a referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU. This lie, which swayed many voters, left Scots with a deepened sense of mistrust. It is my hope that Scotland’s place in Europe will be secured as an independent, future focused, pro-European nation.
Together, we can work internationally with our European partners to usher in sustainable green policies, with a focus on equity and tackling poverty, promoting good and fair businesses and collaborating in academic and research excellence. Together we can focus on how to do good and effect change now, whilst responsibly laying foundations for future generations.
Bill Kidd is MSP for Glasgow Anniesland.
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