Meeting date: Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 16 January 2019
Agenda: Response to the Outcome of the Meaningful Vote in Westminster, Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Future Economy, Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Highland Youth Survey
- Response to the Outcome of the Meaningful Vote in Westminster
- Portfolio Question Time
- Scotland’s Future Economy
- Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
- Highland Youth Survey
Response to the Outcome of the Meaningful Vote in Westminster
The first item of business is a statement by Michael Russell on protecting Scotland’s interests: response to the outcome of the meaningful vote in Westminster. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement. I encourage any member who wishes to ask a question to press their request-to-speak button as soon as possible.
Those with an interest in the ironic might remember that, five years ago this very week, the United Kingdom Government released what was the latest paper in its “Scotland analysis” series of publications, which was devoted to attempting to undermine Scotland and the case for independence. Entitled “EU and international issues”, that item extolled what it claimed were the many benefits to Scotland of the UK’s membership of the EU. Not much of it has lasted well. In the light of last night’s events, people might find the following assertion particularly ironic. It said:
“The UK uses its influence within the EU to Scotland’s advantage on a whole host of issues of particular interest to people and businesses in Scotland, such as budget contributions, fisheries, agricultural subsidies and Structural Funds. Scotland benefits from this and from the UK’s strong voice in Europe, where it contributes to and participates in discussions and negotiations from its position within the UK.”
What a difference five years makes.
We might remember how Ruth Davidson put it at the time:
that is, to Scottish independence—
“means we stay in, we are members of the European Union.”
Well, it did not. We all know that we are now imminently threatened with not being members of the European Union.
The Scottish Government was elected in May 2016 on a manifesto that said that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another independence referendum
“if there is a significant and material change”—[Interruption.]
I am talking about the Government that was elected; the Tories were not elected to Government. The manifesto said that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another independence referendum
“if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”
But today is not just about the constitution. [Interruption.] It ill behoves the Tories to laugh at anything today. There will be real losses, which every one of us will experience and for which we have never voted. If Brexit happens, it will remove all the claimed benefits of EU membership. Moreover, it will substitute for them more incompetent leadership, and even greater dictation, by the complete chaos of the Westminster system.
There are actions that we believe that the UK Government should take immediately to stave off complete disaster. I shall come to those in a minute, but let me first pause to reflect on the enormous dangers that we are now in, and how they have come about.
Last night was not just a defeat; it was a rout. A Prime Minister—a Tory Prime Minister—who had spent two and a half years negotiating a withdrawal agreement had that agreement defeated by a historic margin: one never seen before at Westminster and in part caused by one of the biggest revolts within a political party that has ever taken place there.
No wonder the Prime Minister’s deal went down to such a heavy defeat. It would make people poorer. It would drag Scotland out of not just the EU, but the single market and the customs union. It would put Scotland at a competitive disadvantage against Northern Ireland and, far from bringing stability, it would open the door to many more years of difficult negotiations, disputes and inevitable uncertainty for citizens and businesses.
In a normal political world, with normal, accountable, self-aware politicians, the scale of that defeat would have led to the immediate resignation of, if not the Government, then at least of the leader of that Government. Instead, the Prime Minister behaves as though this is all somebody’s else’s fault, as Ian Blackford said last night. All that she could come up with was the offer of talks with Opposition parliamentarians—something that she should have done at the start of the process, not at its disastrous denouement.
Moreover, her MPs, including former members of this Parliament, have emerged blinking into the daylight today, shaking off the dust and rubble of the defeat from their shoulders and asserting in the media’s tented village that has grown up around the UK Parliament that the disaster is in some way not a problem for her and their party, but a problem for the EU, which they now expect to come running back to the negotiating table, full of contrition at its stance. That is self-deluding mince. It is arrogance born of ignorance.
The EU and Ireland are clear that the deal can change only if the red lines change. If the Prime Minister will not change her red lines, there can be no change to anything that is on the table. There can be no change to the backstop or financial arrangements or to the need for regulatory alignment if there are to be tariff concessions.
There is stalemate in that crumbling palace beside the Thames. That stalemate, exacerbated by the delays that the Prime Minister has been solely responsible for, is costing business, EU nationals and all the rest of us very dear.
What must be done now? Fortunately, despite genuine differences of opinion on the question of independence, there has been general consensus, with the exception of the Tories, on the steps that should be taken to protect Scotland and mitigate the damage of Brexit for the whole of the UK. In these worsening circumstances, with the UK Government humiliated and leaderless, but still arrogantly self-deluded, such a plan is required more urgently than ever.
Last night, the First Minister spoke to the Prime Minister. Today, she is in London meeting MPs. She and the First Minister of Wales have also sought an urgent meeting of the joint ministerial committee at plenary level, and she has written to the PM regarding that and the best way forward. The first part of the plan must be to rule out having no deal.
Last week, in adopting the amendment tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper to the Finance (No. 3) Bill, the House of Commons began to demonstrate the force that it is prepared to put into frustrating the UK Government, should it choose to pursue a no-deal outcome. That is good, but more is required—in particular, from the UK Government, which can and should rule out having no deal now and forever.
By supporting the Scottish National Party amendment to Labour’s motion on the economy this afternoon, this Parliament can reaffirm its rejection of having no deal. However, until that happens, it will be necessary, if regrettable, for the Scottish Government to go on with and, indeed, intensify its work to prepare as best it can for that eventuality. To that end, we continue to engage with the UK Government on our planning and preparations for a potential no-deal outcome. We are making every effort to ensure that the vital importance of getting the information that we need is recognised. The Scottish Government resilience committee now meets weekly to manage and escalate matters, as needed, supported by a rapid response group of officials, which will grow as need requires. We have a public information campaign in the final stages of development, and we are making initial decisions on issues such as the stockpiling of medicine, medical devices and clinical consumables, emergency transportation, support for supply chains, diversion of local produce and a host of other issues.
All that activity has become a significant focus of our resources and efforts, as it has to be for a responsible Government. However, it remains the case that the UK Government could and should choose today to remove that risk and cost.
Secondly, the Prime Minister must write to the EU immediately, requesting an extension to the article 50 process. That will require unanimous agreement among the EU27. However, given the scale of the defeat last night, it surely must be inconceivable for the Prime Minister to simply attempt one more heave. More time is needed, but that time has to be used to a productive end, not just to try once again to save the PM’s face.
Every member of the SNP group in Westminster has signed the motion of no confidence that was tabled by Jeremy Corbyn and is being debated at Westminster today. We will support it, and we are ready for—indeed, we would relish—a general election fought on the issue of Brexit and Scotland’s future. However, if that motion fails, we will immediately step up our support for a second EU referendum, and I profoundly hope that the Labour Party will do the same. The Scottish Government is clear that the best outcome is to remain in the EU. A second referendum with remain on the ballot paper is an opportunity for that to happen and for the wishes of the people of Scotland to be respected.
The third key step is for the UK Government, or for a UK Parliament that is now controlled by its members, to bring forward a proposal to legislate for a second EU referendum. Preferably, that should be the motion that the UK Government tables by next Monday. With Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and Green support, and given the already-declared intentions of some Tory members, it would command a majority and would begin to break the logjam that has paralysed politics at Westminster.
As UK parliamentarians cannot agree on any outcome of the Brexit process that would be best for the country, they must, as a matter of democracy, return to the people. If that return cannot be in the form of an election, it must be in another referendum, which is based on the full knowledge of what leaving the EU actually entails and in which overspending and illegal interference are rigorously policed against.
Holding a second EU referendum would take time. Legislation would be required in the UK Parliament, alongside consideration of the question and preparations by the Electoral Commission, before a formal campaign period could take place. The interaction with the European Parliament elections in May would need to be addressed. The First Minister will be making all those points today. She will make them to the Prime Minister at a joint ministerial committee plenary, if the PM calls such a meeting.
I will conclude on a more positive vision of the future because, in all the chaos and uncertainty in Westminster, there is an opportunity to shine a light through it and persuade the country of a better, brighter alternative. Scotland has for many centuries enjoyed a deep and mutually beneficial relationship with our European neighbours. We are a proud European nation and, for the past four decades, we have been an active and committed member of the European project. Membership of the EU has enriched Scotland and, indeed, the whole of the UK. Individuals, businesses and communities have gained from the ability to live, study, work, trade and travel in the 28 member states, and membership of the world’s largest single market, extending to 32 countries, is a fundamental part of our economy. Let us not forget that, at 500 million people, the single market is eight times the size of the UK.
In return, we have shared our expertise and leadership in areas that range from progressive social policies that improve the wellbeing of citizens to innovation that contributes to world-leading efforts in science and technology. Free movement of people, which is particularly important to Scotland, helps to address skill gaps and deal with an ageing population. In total, more than 230,000 people from other countries in the European Union now live, work and study in Scotland. They contribute to the diversity of our culture, the prosperity of our economy and the strength of our society.
The EU is not just about jobs and the economy. It is not, in the words of Martin Schulz, merely an economists’ club. Membership of the EU is about solidarity and shared values. We have seen that in how Ireland has been buttressed and supported by the other member states in its essential demands. We, on the other hand, have been left isolated and ignored by the other member of this so-called “precious union”.
I am ready to make the case for Europe passionately and proudly in a second EU referendum and to contrast it with the Prime Minister’s deal, which will only leave this country and its people impoverished. I call on all parties in the chamber, each of which campaigned to remain in 2016, to hold to their principles: first, to support the plan that has been laid out by the First Minister, and then to join with her, me and this Government to make the positive case for EU membership for Scotland.
I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement, but it is yet another reminder—as if one were needed—that, for the SNP, Brexit is not about our future relations with Europe; for the SNP, Brexit, like everything else, is all about independence. On just the first page of the statement, Mike Russell bangs the independence drum not once, not twice, but three times.
We were then treated to yet another Mike Russell performance about the dangers of a no-deal Brexit. I do not support a no-deal Brexit, I have never supported a no-deal Brexit and I cannot foresee the circumstances in which I would do so. However, the cold, hard truth is that those who have made a no-deal Brexit all the more likely are the MPs who last night voted against the Prime Minister’s deal, including every SNP MP.
The cabinet secretary said that the First Minister is in Westminster today meeting SNP MPs. My first question to him is: is Nicola Sturgeon in London as leader of the SNP or as First Minister of the Scottish Government? We know that she does not need to be in London to speak to the Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister phoned her last night, so why is she there today—as party leader or as First Minister? [Interruption.]
Yesterday, the Prime Minster reached out to all other political parties to seek a deal that, first, can be agreed with the European Union, secondly, can command majority support in the House of Commons and, thirdly, respects the referendum result that we leave the European Union. That was a serious offer and should be taken seriously. Will the SNP play a constructive role in cross-party talks or will it merely retreat to the familiar playground politics of playing to the nationalist gallery and bang on only about independence?
In considering the largest-ever defeat that a Prime Minister has experienced, it is, perhaps, important to point out to Professor Tomkins that there were 35 SNP MPs who voted against the Prime Minister’s deal and that there were 118 Tory MPs who did so. It is remarkable. We did not have even a third of the influence that those Tory MPs had. [Interruption.] Astonishingly, some Tory MSPs are even trying to answer back on that point. There is not an ounce of shame among them, and there should be more than an ounce of shame. This was the largest-ever parliamentary defeat, greater even than the defeat of Ramsay MacDonald in 1924, in the Campbell case, which I will not go into in great detail. The fact that that happened has just been ignored by the Prime Minister.
I say clearly to Adam Tomkins that there is a way forward. I have spent more time discussing and being positive about this issue than anyone else in this chamber—certainly considerably more time in that regard than Adam Tomkins; I cannot remember the last time that I heard a positive word from him. I am ready to go back into that process—there is meant to be a meeting of the JMC (European Union negotiations) in Cardiff next week. However, as was clear from the words of Michel Barnier this morning and a list of other contributions from leading European politicians today—I can read them out, if the member wishes—there will be no change unless the Prime Minister’s red lines change, and we have had no indication from Adam Tomkins that any of those red lines will change at all. Of course, as usual, Adam Tomkins does not believe in a single one of those red lines. I am afraid that I cannot take seriously politicians who, in the face of the facts, including the facts last night, continue to posture in that way.
I thank the cabinet secretary for the early sight of the statement.
Last night was, indeed, a historic occasion. After all the debate, the discussions, the arguments, the bribes, the handing out of knighthoods, the Government being held in contempt of Parliament and monthly ministerial resignations, the Prime Minister has gone down to the biggest defeat of any Government in modern history. This is an abject humiliation that leaves May without a shred of credibility, exposed as the worst Prime Minister since—well, since the last one.
There were 118 Tory rebels. I say to Mr Tomkins, go and hae a greet at them, will ye? I think that, while Ms Davidson is away, she should have a reshuffle and put Mr Tomkins out of his misery. He has contributed nothing during our debates over this period.
Over the past two years, the Prime Minister has completely failed to engage in any discussion to build unity or a majority on Brexit. There has been no discussion with the leader of the Opposition or the shadow secretary of state, no involvement of the Scottish or Welsh Parliaments and no attempt to bring together leave and remain voters; there has been only an arrogant belief that her view of the world will prevail, with the alternative being no deal. We do not accept that, and we will never accept it. It was Labour that suggested a transition period. It was Labour that called for the meaningful vote. It was Labour that called for membership of the customs union. We have called for fair immigration, the retention of the rights that we have gained and an agreement that ensures that the country is secure and that works for the nations and regions of the UK.
Last night, Parliament humiliated the Prime Minster. Three Scottish Tory MPs did the right thing. The rest of them joined the entire group of Tory MSPs in their supine and sycophantic support of a bad deal. That will not be forgotten.
Does the cabinet secretary agree with me that, if the Prime Minister had an ounce of self-awareness, she would have resigned immediately? Does he agree that this deal is dead, that the Prime Minister has no credibility, that we cannot have a no-deal Brexit—it would be a disaster for our communities—and that there should be a general election so that we can elect a Government that will, in all its work, deliver for the many, not the few?
I have indicated in what I have said and I will say again that I hope that the motion of no confidence succeeds; I hope that that triggers an election and I welcome the prospect of that election. As I said, I relish the opportunity to contest that election on the issue of Brexit and the future of Scotland. However, if that does not happen, we have to move quickly to the people’s vote; I hope that the Labour Party will support that.
On Mr Findlay’s other points, I agree that it is absolutely inconceivable that a Prime Minister who has gone down to a defeat of this nature has not resigned; that she did not stand up at that moment and say, “I will now resign.” It is shameful. She should be ashamed of that, but so should her entire party. However, her entire party is now so supine that it cannot say, “Go—this is the time to go.” In fact, it has not even raised it. Instead, we have had—I agree with Mr Findlay on this—continued negativity and lack of input from the lead spokesperson for the Tories, who has contributed nothing at all. The reality is that he and his reputation have suffered greatly, particularly because of the way that he approached the matter of the Supreme Court.
It is extraordinary to remember that the EU referendum was called by a Conservative Prime Minister in an attempt to heal his party’s internal divisions over the issue of Europe. Now, two and a half years after that referendum took place, we have a UK Conservative Government that still has no clear idea about where it intends to end up, with just 10 weeks to go until its preferred date for leaving the European Union.
That contrasts hugely with the situation here in Scotland, where our Parliament has a clear majority against Brexit on principle, a clearer majority in favour of a people’s vote and an even clearer majority in favour of casting a no-confidence motion at Westminster against the UK Government.
However, is it not also clear that, for those of us who believe in Scotland’s future as an independent member of the European family on our own terms and in our own right, we could hardly wish for a better advertisement for our cause than the shambolic, absurd theatricalities that we have seen at Westminster, a Parliament in which not only Scotland’s interests but the whole idea of rational debate appear to be held in utter contempt?
That is absolutely the case. Anybody standing outside the UK and looking at this situation will despair. The comments from other European countries and from newspapers are legion today. In many of the comments, there is an affection for the UK and for Scotland, an astonishment about the situation that has arisen and a recognition that Scotland did not vote for this and did not wish it. At some stage, Scotland will have to make a choice between following this disastrous route or making sure that it rejoins the family of nations.
Of course the First Minister will speak for this Parliament and for Scotland when she is in London today, because that is what she does as First Minister. She speaks for the majority in this Parliament who, as the member rightly says, have consistently voted against Brexit and against the shambolic Tory Brexit. Many people in these islands are sympathetic to that, and many people outside these islands recognise that that is the case.
We will continue to ensure that we deliver for the people of Scotland. The people who are failing to deliver for the people of Scotland are the Conservatives, both at the UK and the Scottish level. Their recognition of their failure is shown by the fact that, every time something positive is mentioned, they groan. Scotland is groaning at them now.
Last night, Theresa May’s deal was savaged by MPs—mostly her own, despite her showering them with knighthoods and honours and giving £1 billion to the Democratic Unionist Party. Today, the Prime Minister will not say to whom she intends to talk, she will not say what plan B is and she will not change her red lines. She carries on as though nothing has happened.
Does the cabinet secretary accept that Theresa May must decide what comes first: her party or the country? Does he agree that the decision on what to do cannot be left to a divided Conservative Party and that, therefore, the Scottish Government needs to be rock solid in support of a people’s vote? I recognise the cabinet secretary’s support for that.
Yes. The only issue that I have with what Mr Scott said is that he got the Prime Minister’s priorities wrong. Her priorities are, first, her job, then her party and then her country. That is why what we are seeing is shameful—she is preserving herself in office at the expense of all of us. For example, preparations for a no-deal Brexit are costing businesses millions of pounds. I know of businesses that have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds because of the no-deal uncertainty, which the Prime Minister could have taken off the table weeks ago. She is personally culpable for that expenditure.
Governments are spending money, too. The fact that the Scottish Government and others are putting a huge amount of time and effort into doing as much as they can to prepare for a no-deal scenario is directly down to her. The Prime Minister should have the self-awareness to realise that, whatever she wanted to do two and a half years ago, she has been an abject failure and that, in those circumstances, she should resign.
We will go on supporting a people’s vote, because it is the right next step. Today, we will know whether the motion of no confidence has succeeded and whether the Government will fall. The moment we know that, if the Government does not fall, the next position must be that we must have a people’s vote. Why is that the case? As I have outlined, we need to return to the people in one form or another, and we know that there is a majority in the House of Commons for a people’s vote. If the Labour Party, the Scottish National Party, the Liberals, Plaid Cymru and the Green MP support it, along with the Tories who are committed to it, we will get a people’s vote. If there is to be such a material change, it follows that the EU will accept a delay in article 50. There is a clear set of steps that can be taken. That is absolutely obvious, and the First Minister will say that today. I know that that position has wide support. We must try to make sure that that happens and to consign to the dustbin of history the Prime Minister and those who have supported her failed enterprise.
Theresa May’s red lines—abandoning free movement, the customs union and the single market—meant that her deal was bound to fail, because it would deliver only more years of uncertainty. The UK Government’s approach has been characterised by procrastination, self-delusion and incompetence. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the past 24 hours are a brutal reminder that Westminster is not working and that the Scottish Parliament could do a much better job if Scotland had the full powers of an independent country?
That is absolutely clear. I have believed that for many years and the evidence is all around us that that is the case.
Of course, it is important to recognise—the member touched on an important point—that, although the no-deal uncertainty can be completely taken away today, it could also, by the will of the Prime Minister, if she were to continue to survive, continue for an extremely long time. Even if there was a deal and the UK left the EU on 29 March, at any stage during the discussions on the future relationship, those negotiations could collapse, leading to the end of discussions and no deal. If the UK was to leave the EU on 29 March—I hope that that does not happen—we would have got over only the first hurdle, and there would be considerable hurdles left.
Unless the Prime Minister rules it out and sense prevails and we have a people’s vote, this whole venture can continue for a considerable period of time. It is already causing vast damage, and it can cause even more damage.
It appears from today’s statement and others that the SNP clearly views a second EU referendum as the only way forward. Given that the cabinet secretary has previously welcomed alternative proposals, such as one relating to membership of the European Free Trade Association and a customs partnership, does he agree with Ian Blackford that the “ship has sailed” on such alternative proposals?
I treat that question very seriously, as it is important. As Mr Cameron is aware, at this particular juncture, given the crisis that has been created by the Prime Minister and what has happened since the postponement of the first meaningful vote, the only way to break the logjam that we are now in is to have a people’s vote.
If a set of proposals for a Norway-plus model or whatever we might call it were on the table and could command a majority—[Interruption.] I am answering this in a serious way, and I think that Tory members might want to listen. As they have created the mess, it would be helpful to them if they understood some truths about it.
The reality is that, if a detailed proposal for a Norway-plus arrangement were to be put forward and if it could command a majority in the House of Commons, it would be worth continuing to consider it. First of all, however, there is no such proposal on the table. Secondly, there seems to be a difference between those suggesting that continued membership of the single market, which would require freedom of movement—something that appears to be absolute anathema to the Prime Minister and those around her—and those suggesting continued membership of the customs union, which is a different matter.
If there were a serious proposal on the table and if Mr Cameron could demonstrate to me and to this Parliament that it was capable of getting majority support, we would, of course, not turn our noses up at it. However, the way out of the impasse that we are in at this juncture, which, frankly, we would have to describe as an emergency, is a people’s vote—if it is not a general election, which is the only caveat that I would make.
With the historic scale of the defeat of the Tory Government in last night’s vote, EU citizens living in Scotland will understandably be deeply concerned about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. Those people are our work colleagues, our neighbours and, in many cases, our family members. What message does the Scottish Government have for those people, who contribute so much to our public services, our economy, our communities and daily life in Scotland?
That point is probably the most important of all. Last night, when the Prime Minister rose on a point of order after the outcome of the vote, she attempted to give some reassurance, but not in the terms in which it needed to be given. The terms of such a reassurance are very clear: the Prime Minister should commit to applying all the conditions in the withdrawal agreement that pertain to EU citizens without reservation in any deal that there might be or in no deal. In other words, what is in the withdrawal agreement should be imposed unilaterally.
That in itself will not reassure all the individuals involved, who are very nervous about these matters. The Scottish Government will want to continue with its efforts to tell EU nationals that we support them in their wonderful contribution to Scotland, and we will want to ensure that they are provided with as much help and information as we can give. For those in the family of organisations within the Scottish Government, we will pay the costs of settled status. We will also continue to argue that there should be no fee for such status, because we think that the way in which that is being done is completely outrageous, and we will want to make sure that we do anything more that we can do.
Of course, the best way of guaranteeing all that is to have the people’s vote to reject leaving the EU and to return to the benefits of freedom of movement. It is utterly astonishing that there are politicians going around crowing about the end of freedom of movement. Freedom of movement is a wonderful gift to all of us; it benefits this country and everyone in it as well as those who come here and those from here who go elsewhere. To regard it as an onerous burden is not only nonsensical but deeply offensive.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that the scale of last night’s defeat, which was not foreseen by anyone, means that the Prime Minister should, out of respect for parliamentary democracy, do the right thing and resign? Does he also agree that there are now no paths that provide any real certainty?
With regard to his statement, is the Scottish Government indicating that its position is that if there were to be an extension of article 50—for which I think there is a case—it would not consider supporting a radically different or better deal?
No, I cannot say that that is the Scottish Government’s position.
On whether there is something that people and parties can coalesce around, the clear likelihood is that that is a people’s vote. That is available and has clear support in the House of Commons and support from the Labour Party and the SNP. It is the most likely option, but I am not ruling anything out.
However, I note that very recently—within the last hour or so—a Downing Street spokesperson has ruled out moving to a customs union in cross-party talks. The type of freedom of movement that might have been envisaged to be on the table—for example, membership of the single market and customs union, which Donald Cameron raised—has therefore already been ruled out by the Prime Minister. If it has been ruled out by the Prime Minister, the only way that it could succeed would be if a legitimate proposal that commanded at least some support among the Tory party was put forward and fleshed out.
Nothing is clear on the way forward. The clearest way forward at the moment would undoubtedly be to rule out a no-deal Brexit, to ask for an extension of article 50 and to hold a people’s vote. The timescale for that would be tight—nobody would deny that. It is likely that extension of article 50 would be only until the end of June. In those circumstances, it would all have to be done with dispatch. However, it could and, in my view, should be done.
If we end up having a second EU referendum, will the cabinet secretary give an undertaking that this Parliament will be consulted before the Scottish Government makes up its mind on the preferred wording?
Does the cabinet secretary agree that a referendum that restricted the choice to one between remaining in the EU and supporting Theresa May’s deal would carry no credibility, given the scale of that deal’s defeat in the House of Commons last night by those who support remaining in the EU and by those who support leaving the EU?
It will be a game of two halves. I am quite willing to accept Alex Neil’s first thesis: that there should, in the event that there is a people’s vote, be a substantial discussion in this Parliament about the nature of the people’s vote, the question and the circumstances under which the referendum should be held in Scotland. The referendum would be organised by Westminster, but Scotland would want to input to it. I am therefore happy to give that undertaking.
On the question, a referendum must offer real alternatives. The problem with the EU referendum in 2016 was that neither alternative was particularly fleshed out. The changes to the UK’s membership of the EU that were proposed by David Cameron were not really understood, and the arguments of those who wanted to leave the EU had no shape or substance.
Therefore, there must be real alternatives. Although I am not saying that there are not other possibilities, the real alternatives at present are between remaining in the EU on the terms that we currently have or leaving under the Prime Minister’s terms. No other set of terms has been worked out. For all their weaknesses, a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration exist and, therefore, offer a real choice. I am happy to continue to debate and discuss the issue with Alex Neil—there are issues to be debated and discussed. However, my view at the moment is that that choice is the most likely. It is not, however, the only choice; there could be other choices.
Is the cabinet secretary confident that he can look Scotland’s fishermen in the eye when he and his party are agitating to lock them in the hated—[Interruption.]
I will try again, Presiding Officer. Is the cabinet secretary confident that he can look Scotland’s fishermen in the eye when he and his party are agitating to lock them in the hated common fisheries policy?
With two years of wasted negotiations, pointless delaying of the vote and the clock ticking—there are 72 days to go—surely the Prime Minister must now seek an extension to article 50 to prevent the UK from crashing out of the EU with no deal. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that would be a hugely damaging outcome for my constituents in Cowdenbeath and for my country, which the Conservative Party appears to care very little about?
I have been struck by the interviews that I have heard on BBC Radio Scotland yesterday and today in which it seemed that the importance of jobs and the economy were entirely ignored by Conservative spokespeople. They wanted either to attack the SNP—which is a bit of a fixation for them; they should try to get over it—or simply to talk about the weaknesses of other members of the Conservative Party, which appears to be their favourite game.
The reality of the situation is that huge issues are at stake for ordinary men and women—EU citizens and others who live here. Each community is under threat.
On Friday, in my constituency in the Highlands and Islands, I was at a very positive and productive meeting of fishermen. I declare an interest as honorary president of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association and of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation. All the people who were at that meeting—there were 50 or 60 people there—were hugely worried about not being able to get their produce into Europe for sale. There was huge worry about a range of problems that will be created by Brexit.
In the circumstances, I could look anybody in the eye and say that the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Government are concerned about the jobs and the future of the people of Scotland. That concern would best be addressed by our being in the EU as an independent member.
Given that the current Scottish draft budget was based on the assumption that the UK would leave the EU on 29 March, will the Scottish budget have to be rewritten if article 50 is extended?
I am seeking information. As James Kelly will know, that question is above my pay grade: I have to get information from others on it. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work advises me that if there is a supplementary UK budget—the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, of course, said that that is likely, if there is no deal—it is clear that we would also have to have a supplementary budget.
In my statement, I made quite a lot of the cost of there being no deal. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work knows better than anyone that there are already substantial demands on the Scottish purse because of issues that we are having to address through the resilience committee, which is chaired by the Deputy First Minister. There will continue to be pressures. A supplementary UK budget would require that we follow suit and that we receive resources to allow us to meet those costs.
Following her crushing defeat last night, the Prime Minister said that she wanted to hold talks with others to agree a way forward ahead of her making a fresh statement in the House of Commons on Monday. Given the cabinet secretary’s recent experience, will he set out the extent to which he believes that to be a genuine offer and what, if any, movement there has been on the part of the UK Government to actually listen to the concerns of the Scottish Administration and the people of Scotland?
Clare Adamson has asked a very good question. There was, some weeks ago, a very good commentary on that issue by Ryan Heath of Politico Europe, in which he listed the things that the Prime Minister had got wrong from the very beginning. It is a long list, and it needed more than one issue of Politico Europe to get through it. At the very heart of the commentary was the fact that the Prime Minister had not, at the earliest stages of the process, sat down with Nicola Sturgeon, Jeremy Corbyn and Mark Drakeford or his predecessor and asked how we could bring together our concerns in order to make progress on the matter. That never happened.
In the JMC, there has been detailed discussion about many of the details, but the Prime Minister and people including Damian Green and David Lidington have not at any stage asked what it would take to allow the process to move forward. That is what I understood the Prime Minister to mean when she rose to her feet last night. By lunch time today, she was already ruling out issues—saying what she will not discuss—so it seems to me that the process will not make much progress.
Of course the SNP will take part in the process. Ian Blackford will take part in it at Westminster, and the First Minister stands ready for it, as I do. I would be happy to have the discussions. However, at the end of the process, there has to be some indication that the Prime Minister is listening—that is not always the indication from the Prime Minister—and that she is prepared to change her red lines. That is not only in order to get agreement in the House of Commons but, more crucially, to get agreement from the EU. Nothing will change unless her red lines change. If Downing Street says that it has ruled out moving to a customs union in cross-party talks, that is a red line that prohibits certain things from happening. If Downing Street is ruling out freedom of movement issues, that is a red line that rules out many other things. That needs to be understood.
The cabinet secretary indicated in his statement that the first part of the plan must be to rule out there being a no deal Brexit. Having voted against the deal last night, his MPs have made that outcome more likely. [Interruption.] What compromises is the cabinet secretary willing to make to avoid a no-deal scenario?
I am not sure that the cabinet secretary heard that question.
I point out as kindly as I can to Alexander Stewart that even if every single SNP MP had voted for the motion, it would still have been voted down by the Tories.
Scotland voted overwhelmingly, and by a huge margin in my constituency, to remain in the EU—not that our view was reflected by our MP yesterday.
I have two questions. Does the cabinet secretary agree that all EU nationals in the UK should have a vote in a people’s vote? If the Labour leadership does not get behind a people’s vote, what other options are open to Scotland?
Those are both very good questions for which I thank Gillian Martin.
In answer to the first question I say yes—of course the Scottish Government’s position on franchise is that all EU nationals should have a vote. If such a referendum were to be held under a Westminster franchise that would not be the case, nor would it be so for 16 and 17-year-olds. Therefore, that issue would need to be addressed and we would need to make sure it was understood at Westminster. The Westminster franchise does not allow those people to vote, and there are no plans to change the franchise in that way.
An amendment to the original referendum bill was proposed by the SNP, among others, which sought a quadruple lock that would require all the nations of the UK to vote in favour of Brexit in order for it to go through. That is another approach. That amendment was defeated. Gillian Martin has raised an important point that will need to be considered.
In respect of other options, I am working as hard as I can with the Labour Party—the SNP group at Westminster is doing so, too—to ensure that the people’s vote happens. I do not want to consider that it might not happen.
However, there are, of course, other options. As every member knows, I have said from the very beginning that, at the end of the day, the people of Scotland can choose not to be part of Brexit, and to choose that Scotland be independent within the EU.
That concludes the statement on the response to the ministerial vote. We will take a few moments for the ministers and members to change seats.