Meeting date: Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 06 September 2016
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Programme for Government 2016-17, Programme for Government 2016-17, Junior Minister, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Stand Up to Bullying Campaign
- Time for Reflection
- Business Motion
- Topical Question Time
- Programme for Government 2016-17
- Programme for Government 2016-17
- Junior Minister
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Stand Up to Bullying Campaign
The next item of business is consideration of motion S5M-01254, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the appointment of a junior Scottish minister.16:53
I am pleased to seek Parliament’s approval of the appointment of Michael Russell as the Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe.
Earlier this afternoon, I set out our programme for government, which shows our clear commitment to delivering on the manifesto commitments that we were elected on. However, we must acknowledge—as I did earlier—that we are in a very different context from the one that we expected in May.
On 23 June, the people of Scotland cast a clear and decisive vote to remain in the European Union, and the Government is committed to protecting Scotland’s interests. As part of our response to the vote, Parliament mandated the Scottish Government to hold discussions with the United Kingdom Government, devolved Administrations, EU institutions and member states on protecting Scotland’s interests and our relationship with Europe.
Tomorrow, I will provide a full update to Parliament on recent developments and the work that the Government is undertaking. However, Parliament is already aware that we have a commitment from the Prime Minister that the Scottish Government should be involved in the development of the UK Government’s position ahead of article 50 being triggered and beyond and that options to protect our relationship with Europe will form part of those discussions. We intend to see that commitment honoured.
Of course, there is still a woeful lack of detail from the UK Government on what Brexit will actually mean. Whenever somebody comes out with any semblance of detail, somebody else in the UK Government seems to contradict them, as was the case today. However, it is essential that, as the position develops, Scotland’s voice is heard loudly and clearly.
Today, I seek Parliament’s agreement to the appointment of a dedicated Government minister whose sole focus will be to represent and protect all of Scotland’s interests throughout the process. The role requires someone who is not a shrinking violet, and I hope that Parliament agrees that I have not chosen one to perform the role. As the minister for the negotiations, Michael Russell will require to become almost as familiar with the corridors of Whitehall as he is with those of Holyrood, but I have no doubt that he will make his presence felt. Michael brings to the position a wealth of experience as a Scottish Government minister. As the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, he completed implementation of curriculum for excellence, expanded free early learning and childcare and led the charge to keep tuition in Scotland free. As the Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution he established Creative Scotland, and as the Minister for Environment he oversaw important reforms to crofting. He has a deep understanding of the European Union’s vital importance to all aspects of life in Scotland, from research funding for our universities to international support for our festivals and agricultural payments for our farmers.
In his new role, I have asked Michael Russell to engage, alongside other colleagues, with a wide range of individuals, communities, businesses and organisations to ensure that the broadest range of Scottish interests and concerns are taken into account as we move forward. In tandem with that work, Fiona Hyslop and Alasdair Allan will continue to engage with EU institutions and member states, and I will convene them and other relevant ministers in a new Cabinet sub-committee that will direct all our work on EU-related matters. That, along with the appointment of a new dedicated minister, will ensure that we are fully equipped and ready to protect Scotland’s interests in Europe and in discussions with the UK Government.
I am happy to move,
That the Parliament agrees that Michael Russell be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister.16:56
He was spurned and consigned to the back benches just two years ago, cast out from influence and the public eye, but today he sees his career resurrected—yes, like Lazarus. He is the Che Guevara to the First Minister’s Evita, the David Essex to her Elaine Paige. He is the rebel returned to the cause, a political romance reset by Brexit. If only the song they sang on the balcony of Bute house was as sweet. Mr Russell returns to the heart of Government, where he decidedly believes he belongs and, in truth, I find myself welcoming his appointment.
Sometime intellectual, sometime muse; classic romantic—some would say romanticist; sometime tartan revolutionary; sometime diplomat, sometime partisan bruiser, Mr Russell is a big beast in a job that requires just that talent. The big decision for the First Minister was not his appointment but the beard. Conventional wisdom has it that no politician who aspires to be serious and recognised as such will sport a beard. However, this is 2016 and we live surrounded by bearded political giants such as Jeremy Corbyn, David Mundell and—in a rather half-hearted, cultivated stubble sort of way this afternoon—Humza Yousaf.
This is an unforeseen appointment to an unforeseen EU referendum result. Few of us here sought this outcome, even if a million Scots voted with the majority in the United Kingdom to leave. There was, undoubtedly, a leadership vacuum at Westminster following the resignation of the Prime Minister, which was filled by the election of Theresa May. In one of her first acts—which I hope all will welcome—she came to Scotland to meet the First Minister, and the substance of that discussion was that Scotland’s voice demands our active representation in the planning of the UK negotiating strategy and beyond.
That requires someone who has the talent and guile to listen to the broader and somewhat contradictory voices in Scotland that will need to be represented and not exclusively to the results of any one party’s questionnaire. Undoubtedly, a variable deal for Scotland can be secured, and the tone and sincerity of Mr Russell’s participation in the discussions and preparations that will now take place will be crucial. We, on this side, believe him to be the man for the job and welcome and support his appointment this afternoon.16:59
Michael Russell’s return to office today is not quite the mirror image of that of David Davis in another place, but the parallels may be instructive. Both have been leadership contenders in their respective parties; both have more recently retreated to the back benches; and both have been brought back to the front line by the events of an extraordinary summer.
Do the parallels go further? The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union in the United Kingdom Government will clearly consider it a success if he makes Brexit as definitive and irreversible as he can. There are perhaps some—Nicola Sturgeon seems to have a view on this—in his own party who hope that he will fail and not all of them sit on the back benches.
That is true of David Davis, but what will constitute success for Mr Russell, who is to enjoy the even grander title of Scottish Government Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe? Protecting Scotland’s place in Europe is an objective that we share and we welcome the appointment of a minister with that specific task. We have said from the outset that engagement with UK ministers and other devolved Administrations will be critical to achieving that end. We have also said that the process of engagement in Britain and Europe must be transparent and fully accountable to this Parliament, and we repeat that call today. We look forward to hearing from Mr Russell in due course on what he thinks success will look like in his new post and how he will go about achieving it.
Just as we know that the secretary of state for Brexit is fully committed to exiting the European Union, we expect the minister for UK negotiations to be equally committed to making a success of those negotiations, while recognising the challenges that he will face. That means doing all he can to achieve outcomes that truly respect the wishes of the people of Scotland on all the big issues that we face. On that basis, we welcome today’s appointment.17:01
On behalf of the Scottish Greens, I congratulate Mike Russell on his appointment.
Mr Russell followed my first speech in this Parliament by revealing that, in the first vote in the United Kingdom on the European Union, he had defied his own party to vote in. A sympathetic reader of history might say that he was a man ahead of his time in the 1970s—I will not comment on what they might say about the intervening decades, as Mr Carlaw summed it up quite well. On this occasion, however, there will not be much room or much need for defiance of the party line—achieving our common goal will be challenge enough.
It is simply unacceptable that we, as the Parliament of this nation, are forced to contemplate which form of Brexit will be the least worst for our economy, our society and our environment. We must then persuade another Government—one that we did not elect—to choose that option; yesterday, that Government showed how clueless it is about what it has unleashed. It is a simply farcical situation that, yet again, raises questions about where the power over Scotland’s future should lie.
The Greens look forward to working with the Scottish Government and other parties who are committed to our continued future in Europe—a future that our electorate voted for with a much larger mandate than for any one party in this Parliament. We look forward to examining every option that will secure that future, including our preferred option of an independent Scotland with its own seat at the European table and of a Scotland that not only fights to retain workers’ rights, environmental protections and limited financial regulation, but can strengthen them here and across this continent. I look forward to working with Mr Russell and others for our common goal of a Scotland with a secure European future.
The question is, that motion S5M-01254, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, be agreed to.
Motion agreed to,
That the Parliament agrees that Michael Russell be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister.
I congratulate Mr Russell on his appointment. [Applause.]