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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 27 June 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motions, Topical Question Time, European Union Negotiations and Scotland’s Future, NHS Ayrshire and Arran Maternity Services (Review of Management of Adverse Events), Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, Scottish Information Commissioner, Decision Time, Online Exploitation and Abuse of Children


Contents


European Union Negotiations and Scotland’s Future

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a statement by Nicola Sturgeon on European Union negotiations and Scotland’s future. The First Minister will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions before then.

14:25  

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Like other countries, Scotland faces big challenges. Some of those challenges, such as Brexit, are not of our choosing, but we must always remember that Scotland is one of the richest countries in the world, with resources and talent in abundance. Our task is to make the most of our great potential and build the kind of country we want to be—a fair, prosperous, open and tolerant country.

In working towards that goal, my responsibility as First Minister is to build as much unity and consensus as possible. That is why, after the election—which was, of course, won by the Scottish National Party in Scotland—I said that I would reflect on the outcome and, in particular, on the issue of an independence referendum. I have done so carefully, taking time to listen to a broad spectrum of voices both within and outwith my party, and I want to set out today where those reflections have taken me. Before I do so, though, let me underline two enduring points.

First, it remains my view and indeed the position of this Government that, at the end of the Brexit process, the people of Scotland should have a choice about our future direction as a country. Indeed, the implications of Brexit are so potentially far reaching that, as they become clearer, I think that people will increasingly demand that choice. We face a Brexit that we did not vote for, and in a form more extreme than most would have imagined just one year ago, and now the terms of that Brexit are being negotiated by a United Kingdom Government with no clear mandate, precious little authority and no real idea even within its own ranks of what it is seeking to achieve.

While we must hope for the best, the reality is that, with the UK Government’s current approach, even a so-called good deal will be on terms that are substantially inferior to our current EU membership, and of course there is now a real risk that the UK will crash out of the EU with no deal or a very bad deal, with deep and long-lasting consequences for jobs, trade, investment, living standards and the opportunities that are open to future generations.

On top of all that, as we saw so clearly in the deal that was struck with the Democratic Unionist Party yesterday, we now have a UK Government that talks about wanting to strengthen the bonds of the UK but, in reality, is so desperate to cling on to power at any cost that it is prepared to ride roughshod over the very principles of the entire devolution settlement. If Scotland is not simply to be at the mercy of events but, instead, is to be in control of our own future, the ability to choose a different direction must be available to us.

Secondly, there is no doubt that the Scottish Government has a mandate to offer the people of Scotland that choice within this session of Parliament. We have now won not one but two elections with that explicit commitment in our manifesto, and the Scottish Parliament has also endorsed that position. By any normal standard of democracy, that mandate is beyond question. Opposition parties, no matter how strongly they disagree with us on independence, as is their right, should therefore stop trying to turn the basic rules of democracy on their head.

The mandate that we have is beyond doubt, but deciding exactly how and when to exercise it is a matter of judgment, and it is a judgment that must be made in the interests of the country as a whole. That is what I have been thinking carefully about.

Before, during and since the election campaign, I have had hundreds of conversations with people in every part of Scotland about the issues of Brexit and a second independence referendum. There are, of course, some people who do not want another referendum ever, because they oppose independence in all circumstances. I respect that position. It is entirely honourable and just as legitimate as the position of those who support independence in all circumstances and want another referendum tomorrow.

However, many people—probably the majority—fall into neither of those categories. Indeed, having spoken to many people who voted yes in 2014 and to many others who did not but who would be open minded in future, I have been struck by the commonality of their views. They worry about the uncertainty of Brexit and the lack of any clarity whatsoever about what it means. Some just want a break from the pressure of making big political decisions. They agree that our future should not be imposed on us but feel that it is just too soon right now to make a firm decision about the precise timing of a referendum. They want greater clarity about Brexit to emerge first, and they want to be able to measure that up against clarity about the options that Scotland would have for securing a different relationship with Europe.

In the meantime, whatever their scepticism about the likely outcome of the negotiations, they want the Scottish Government to focus as hard as we can on securing the best possible outcome for Scotland. Indeed, that view has even more force now that the general election and the weakness of the UK Government has reopened the possibility, however narrow, of averting a hard Brexit and retaining membership of the single market.

I have a duty to listen to those views and I intend to do so. The Scottish Government remains strongly committed to the principle of giving Scotland a choice at the end of the process. However, I reassure people that our proposal is not to have a referendum now or before there is sufficient clarity about the options, but rather to give them a choice at the end of the Brexit process when that clarity has emerged.

I am therefore confirming today that, having listened and reflected, the Scottish Government will reset the plan that I set out on 13 March. We will not seek to introduce the legislation for an independence referendum immediately. Instead, we will, in good faith, redouble our efforts and put our shoulder to the wheel in seeking to influence the Brexit talks in a way that protects Scotland’s interests. We will seek to build maximum support around the proposals that are set out in the paper that we published in December—“Scotland’s Place in Europe”—to keep us in the single market, with substantial new powers for this Parliament. We will do everything that we can to influence the UK in that direction.

At the end of the period of negotiation with the EU, which is likely to be around next autumn, when the terms of Brexit will be clearer, we will come back to Parliament to set out our judgment on the best way forward at that time, including our view on the precise timescale for offering people a choice over the country’s future.

In setting out our position today, I am also issuing a challenge to the other parties. The Scottish Government will stand the best chance of positively influencing the Brexit outcome if we are at the table, with the full backing of our national Parliament, arguing for the sensible option of staying in the single market. So join us now, with no equivocation. Back the demands for the democratically elected Scottish Government to be at the table and able to influence the UK’s negotiating strategy, and for Scotland and the UK to stay in the European single market.

The second conclusion that I have reached is this. During the past few months, the focus on the when and how of a referendum has, perhaps inevitably, been at the expense of setting out the many reasons why Scotland should be independent. The fact is that we are talking about another referendum so soon after the last one only because of Brexit. It is certainly the case that independence might well be the only way to protect Scotland from the impact of Brexit. However, the case for an independent Scotland is not just about Brexit; it goes far beyond that.

Many of us already believe that independence is the right and best answer to the many, complex challenges that we face as a country, and also the best way to seize and fully realise our many opportunities. However, we must persuade the majority in Scotland of that. We have not done that yet, but I have no doubt that we can. The challenge for all of us who believe that Scotland should be independent is to get on with the hard work of making and winning that case—on all its many merits—in a way that is relevant to the changes, the challenges, the hopes and the opportunities that we face now and in the years ahead. That is what we will do.

Of course, we will not do that on our own, because the independence case is bigger than us. My party will engage openly and inclusively with, and work as part of, the wider independence movement. We will seek to support, to engage and to grow that movement and to build the case that having decisions made by us—not for us—offers the best future for our country.

We will make, and seek to win, the case that governing ourselves is the best way to tackle the challenges that we face as a country—from building a better-balanced and more sustainable economy to growing our population, strengthening our democracy and tackling deep-seated problems of poverty and inequality.

My last point today is this. The SNP Government has been in office for 10 years, and I am incredibly proud of our achievements, which have been delivered in the most challenging of circumstances and in the face of unprecedented Westminster cuts. I am also clear about our priorities as we move forward: not just fighting Scotland’s corner in the Brexit talks but growing our economy and making sure that the public services that we all rely on are there when we need them, from cradle to grave. That means continuing to work each and every day to improve education, to equip our national health service for the challenges of the future, to lift people out of poverty and to build a social security system with dignity at its heart.

Of course, any Government, after 10 years, needs to take stock and to refresh. Over this summer, as we prepare our next programme for government and our budget for the year ahead, that is exactly what we will do. We will set out afresh our vision for the country that we lead, together with the creative, imaginative, bold and radical policies that, as far as is possible within the current powers that are available to us, will help us to realise that bold, ambitious vision for Scotland.

We look forward to getting on with the job in the best interests of all the people of Scotland. [Applause.]

The Presiding Officer

We have about 30 minutes for questions. There is a lot of interest in the statement.

Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

The glum faces protest too much with extended applause.

Since the 2014 referendum, no one—not me and not anyone else in the chamber—has ever called for members on the SNP benches to revoke their belief in independence. The issue that we have had this past year has been with a First Minister who has tried to use the UK’s decision to leave the European Union to impose on Scotland another referendum on independence at the earliest opportunity.

It has been no to a once-in-a-generation referendum and no to the Edinburgh agreement on respecting the result; it has just been a single-vision drive to the line by Nicola Sturgeon to try to secure her place in history. As her own MSPs have accepted, that decision cost her 21 seats and the support of half a million Scottish voters in the general election.

Whether they were yes voters or no voters, most people simply do not want a referendum on Scotland’s independence brought back any time soon. Furthermore, none of the questions that are raised by Brexit is answered by ripping Scotland out of our own union of nations, out of our biggest market and away from our closest friends.

I am afraid to say that today’s statement will fail to give any assurance to those people that the First Minister is listening to them. She—again—makes virtually no mention of her domestic responsibilities. Instead, she appears to be in denial about her mistakes over the past year and, as a result, is leaking credibility and confidence in her leadership by the hour. Her response has not been to reflect, but simply to lash out at the UK Government at every opportunity and to sing the same old songs in the same old tune.

The First Minister claims to be putting the referendum to one side and says that she will not introduce a referendum bill in this Parliament immediately. Why does she not just give the country certainty and take it off the table for the rest of this session of Parliament?

The First Minister

To use Ruth Davidson’s language, the reason why it would be wrong to take a referendum—a choice over our future—“off the table” for the duration of this session of Parliament is this: the Conservative Government at Westminster is taking the entire country down a path towards potentially the most damaging thing that has happened to us for a generation or more. We do not yet know the destination of that journey, but we know that if the Tories get their way the outcome could be devastating for Scottish jobs, for trade, for living standards and for the opportunities of generations to come.

I do not think that it is right for Scotland to be left at the mercy of wherever the Tories want to take us, regardless of how damaging it is to our present and to our future. That is why I believe that at the end of this process people should be able to have that choice.

Equally, I recognise that people do not feel ready, right now, to say when that choice should happen, because of the uncertainty that has been created not just by Brexit but by the reckless approach to Brexit that the UK Government is pursuing. We will take account of and listen to that, and over the next months we will do everything in our power, with absolute focus, to try to get from Brexit an outcome that best protects Scotland’s interests. I repeat my challenge to the other parties: if they also have Scotland’s interests at heart, they should get behind this Government in seeking to be at the table influencing the negotiations and getting the best outcome for Scotland.

It used to be that Ruth Davidson thought that being in the EU was best for Scotland, but then she capitulated. It used to be that Ruth Davidson thought that being in the single market was best for Scotland, but then she capitulated. For once, can Ruth Davidson stand firm and back the Scottish Government in getting the best deal for Scotland?

The difference between this Government and the UK Government is this: we will continue to make decisions and judgments that we consider to be in the best interests of the country. That is in stark contrast to the UK Government right now. Having blundered and miscalculated its way into an EU referendum, and then into a hard-Brexit position, and then into a general election, it is now desperate to cling to power at any cost, regardless of the damage that that will do to our economy, to the reputation of the country, to the devolution settlement and even to peace in Northern Ireland. That is a shameful approach to governing.

What is even more shameful is that Ruth Davidson is prepared to be a cheerleader for all of that. Ruth Davidson can continue to be a cheerleader for the Conservatives. I and this Government will continue to take the decisions that we think are in the best interests of Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

The First Minister says that she has heard the views of the people and reflected on the result of the general election, and her incredible conclusion is to double down and continue with her campaign for independence.

The truth is that the threat of an unwanted second independence referendum is dead. That did not happen because Nicola Sturgeon wanted it to happen; the people of Scotland have taken that decision for her. However, the First Minister is digging her heels in, putting her fingers in her ears and pressing on regardless. She is just not listening. Why does she not understand? The people of Scotland sent her a clear message in the general election: get back to governing. When will she listen and get on with the job that really matters—improving our schools, growing our economy and fixing our national health service?

The First Minister

It is clear that Kezia Dugdale scripted that question before she saw or listened to the statement that I have just made. We will not proceed with legislation for an independence referendum immediately. Instead, we will do everything in our power to get the best possible outcome from Brexit and everything in our power to protect Scotland’s interests. Then, at the end of that process, we will judge the best way forward, to make sure that Scotland is not at the mercy of the outcome of the process, regardless of how damaging it is going to be.

The difference between my position and Kezia Dugdale’s position is quite simple. I want Scotland to be in control of our own future. I do not want us simply to have to accept any decision that is imposed on us by a Tory Government at Westminster, regardless of the damage that it does. I want us to be in control of our own future as a country. Labour, having advised many people in Scotland to vote for the Conservatives, wants to leave the future of our country entirely at mercy of the Conservatives. That is the difference between us, and it will continue to be the difference between our two parties.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

Scotland has not consented to being taken out of the European Union against its will. Scotland has not consented to the social and economic wreckage that we know will result if that is what happens. If the First Minister does not introduce a referendum bill until after autumn next year, how long will it be after we have been dragged out of Europe without having consented to it before the people of Scotland are even entitled to make their choice? After negotiations between the UK Government and EU institutions and decisions made by every other member state in Europe, why should the people of Scotland be the only ones without the right to make a decision on that timescale?

The First Minister

I believe that Scotland should have a choice at the end of the process but I recognise that the uncertainty around that process—which is not of our making but is entirely down to the incompetent, reckless approach that the UK Government is taking—makes it difficult even for people who want to have a choice at the end of the process to see right now how we can set a firm timescale for it. That is why I said that we are resetting the plan that I outlined on 13 March. We will not introduce legislation right now; we will put our shoulder to the wheel of seeking to get the best deal for Scotland and will make a judgment on the right time for a choice when we have greater clarity. On the timescale that is being followed, I estimate that that will be around the autumn of next year.

That is the sensible and responsible way forward because it does two things. First, it recognises people’s desire not to be rushed into having to make a choice before they have the clarity and information to make an informed one. I never wanted people to have to do that; I make that absolutely clear today. Secondly, it ensures that we are able to protect our interests at the end of the process.

I appreciate that many people have not started to feel the real implications and impact of Brexit. I suspect that that is about to start to change, and to change quickly. However, as First Minister, I cannot look anybody in the country in the eye and pretend that I do not have profound concerns about the impact of what is about to happen on people in Scotland, not only now but for many years to come. To choose that would be one thing, but to have it imposed upon us, first through the EU referendum and then through having no choice at the end of the process, would be deeply and profoundly wrong. I am balancing those interests, recognising that people do not want to be rushed and that it is not simply for me to decide the future of the country, but ensuring that it is equally not for a Conservative Government at Westminster to decide the future of the country, regardless of what anybody in Scotland might want.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The First Minister has had a long, hard think about it and the First Minister has concluded that the First Minister should call another independence referendum at a time of the First Minister’s choosing—so absolutely nothing has changed. If she wants to prove that she has listened, she should trigger a vote in the chamber that would rule out another independence referendum in this parliamentary session. Will she agree to do that?

The First Minister

As Willie Rennie did not seem to give any respect to what happened when the Scottish Parliament voted on the matter, why would we expect him to respect the vote of the Parliament in future? It seems that he wants to pick and choose when he respects the will of the Parliament.

I do not agree with the positions of the Conservatives or Labour. They want to leave the country at the mercy of whatever happens in Brexit regardless of how damaging it is, but at least their positions have a degree of consistency and logic to them. There is no consistency or logic whatever in the Liberal Democrats’ position on the issue. They do not want to give people in Scotland a choice in another referendum, but they want to have a second referendum on EU membership. Willie Rennie’s position is ridiculous, which is why so few people across the country take him or the Liberal Democrats seriously.

The Presiding Officer

All the leaders had preambles before their questions. I would appreciate it if all members could get straight to their questions. I ask for straight questions and answers, please.

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

I am obligated to remind the Parliament that I am a parliamentary liaison officer to the First Minister.

As has just been stated, the Parliament democratically voted to seek a section 30 order from the UK Government to enable a referendum to take place. Does the First Minister therefore agree with me that the principle clearly remains that Scotland’s future should be for the people of Scotland and this Parliament to decide, and that the section 30 request should remain on the table?

The First Minister

This is an important matter of principle which should unite people, whether they support an independence referendum or oppose it, and whether they support or oppose independence. Surely the decision on if and when there should be an independence referendum should lie with this Parliament. Anybody who says otherwise is, I think, subverting an important principle of democracy and the principle of the sovereignty of the Scottish people and the sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament, which has long been accepted.

On the issue of a section 30 order, I am saying today that we are not immediately introducing an independence bill to the Parliament. Therefore, the urgency of agreeing that section 30 order is not what it was previously. As a matter of principle, however, that power to decide the question of if and when there should be an independence referendum should be transferred from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament, and everybody who cares about the rights of this Parliament to take these decisions should back that.

Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

Does the First Minister not acknowledge that, on 8 June, her party lost 500,000 votes—one third of its total support—and achieved the lowest share of the vote for a leading party in Scotland since 1955? Yet, she has announced no change. Is it not now clear that the only refresh that Scotland needs and the only way to move beyond constitutional turmoil is for an outraged Scotland to be done with this First Minister and done with this failing Scottish Government?

The First Minister

Whatever Jackson Carlaw might say about the election result on 8 June, one thing is beyond any doubt: the SNP won that election and handsomely beat the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

We should take no lectures right now from a Conservative Government that is reduced to bribing the DUP to keep its hands on power. That is what the Tories are reduced to, completely riding roughshod over the principles of the devolution settlement in order to cling on to power in a tawdry, shoddy deal with the DUP. That should shame the Conservatives.

It is not so long ago—it was 9 June, in fact—that Ruth Davidson’s spokesperson was briefing that she was more powerful than the DUP at 10 Downing Street. How is it, then, that the DUP came away with £1 billion for Northern Ireland and the Scottish Tories came away with zero for Scotland? That says it all about the Scottish Conservatives.

Christina McKelvie (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)

Yesterday’s grubby cash-for-votes deal between the Tories and that DUP threw into sharp relief the democratic deficit that Scotland faces while our key decisions over our future are at stake, with a Government that we did not vote for propped up by a party that we have no choice in ever voting for. Does that not underline the case for Scotland—yes, Scotland—to be given a choice over our future at the appropriate time?

The First Minister

As I have said, we will not proceed right now with a referendum bill. That is an important change that I am confirming and making clear today. However, people can see what is happening at Westminster and the implications that it has for people across Scotland.

Before the election we knew that we were faced with Brexit and with the likelihood of a hard Brexit, taking Scotland out of the single market, with the potential loss of 80,000 jobs and a hit to our revenues and our gross domestic product for many years to come. Now, we are faced with a UK Government that, as we saw yesterday, is completely dependent on the DUP for staying in power. We have seen the lengths that the Government is prepared to go to in order to cling on to power at any cost.

It is of deep and profound concern that we have a Conservative Government at Westminster that blundered into an EU referendum, blundered into the hard Brexit position, blundered into a general election and has now left the country in hock to the DUP. It is so desperate to cling to power that it is prepared to sacrifice almost anything: the economy, the reputation of the UK internationally and even the peace process in Northern Ireland. That is shameful, and it underlines the need for this country not to be at the mercy of whatever a Conservative Government decides to do but to be in control of our own future at the right time. That is the position of this Government and I believe that it is the right and proper one.

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

The First Minister appears still not to understand that confusing the issues of Britain leaving the European Union and Scotland leaving the United Kingdom is a profoundly unwise course to follow. Perhaps she does so because she believes that she won the election a few weeks ago.

If she really believes that the best chance of positively influencing the Brexit outcome is for the Scottish Government to be at the table as part of the UK’s negotiating team and she wants other parties to back her case for that, will she not accept that the way to build a case for joining in a common approach is not to start by saying that the first thing that she will do afterwards is walk away from that common approach altogether?

The First Minister

I am not entirely sure where Lewis Macdonald is coming from on this. I want to build a consensus that says that we stay in the single market. It used to be that other parties in this chamber backed that position. We have an opportunity now to unite this Parliament and unite a majority across the country behind the option of staying in the single market, accepting, however reluctantly, that the UK is coming out of the EU, but refusing to accept that that has to be at the expense of jobs, trade and investment by taking us out of the single market.

I will give members across this chamber the opportunity to decide whether they want to back the Scottish Government in that. We have a period between now and, no doubt, next autumn, when the negotiations will shape this country’s future relationship with the European Union. Are we prepared as a Parliament to put our shoulder to the wheel to try to ensure that Scotland gets the best possible outcome of those negotiations? That is what I and this Government are going to do. It remains to be seen whether the other parties in this chamber have the ability to rise above their hostility to the SNP and for once, put Scotland’s interests centre stage.

Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

I welcome the First Minister’s statement. The key issue here is the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Does the First Minister agree that the three key demands from Scotland must be, first, that we get a successor trade agreement that is right for Scottish jobs and industry, including access to the single market; secondly, that the powers coming back from Brussels to the UK relating to Scotland come to this Parliament and do not get stuck in London; and thirdly, that the £1.6 billion a year, which is Scotland’s share of the EU contributions, comes along with those powers back from Brussels to this Parliament? Does she agree that if, yet again, the UK Government does not deliver for Scotland, the case for an independent Scotland will be unanswerable?

The First Minister

Alex Neil outlines the three broad areas where, over the next year to 18 months, the UK Government has the chance to prove that it is able to act in Scotland’s best interests. Yes, we should make sure that our businesses are not ripped out of the single market. I happen to believe strongly that the best trading arrangement for the future of Scotland when the UK leaves the EU, as long as we are part of the UK, is to be in the single market. That is why we will do everything in our powers to secure that.

Secondly, not only should powers that are repatriated from Brussels come unequivocally to Scotland where they are in devolved responsibilities, and not be centralised in a power grab at Westminster; this is also an opportunity for us to argue for and win new powers for this Parliament. No longer is it acceptable—and this is not just Scotland’s view—for powers over things such as immigration to be centralised at Westminster, because the Westminster approach to such issues is damaging the interests of our economy.

Thirdly, we want commitments on funding to ensure that Brexit is not used as a cover to take funding away from our farmers, our fishermen and our economy in general.

In those three areas, we have an opportunity to make sure that we get the best outcome for Scotland. Those who do not want Scotland to choose independence in the future have an opportunity to prove that they can deliver. Over the next few months, let us see whether Scotland’s interests are protected by the UK Government and the other parties represented in this chamber, and then people in Scotland can make a choice about what their best future might be.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

In March, ScotCen—the National Centre for Social Research—reported that support for Scotland taking a different path in the wake of Brexit is “much lower than ... anticipated”. It said that any second attempt to seek independence because of Brexit is

“unlikely to prove particularly persuasive”.

We knew that at the beginning of March, so why has the First Minister taken four months to admit it?

The First Minister

The member should get his story straight with his leader. She said that I am not changing anything, but he has said the complete opposite. It might be quite hard for the Conservatives to grasp this—looking at their performance just now, I understand that it is very hard for them to do so—but I seek to make judgments that are in what I consider to be the best interests of the country. I accept and understand that not everybody agrees with those judgments, but I seek to be guided, as I have been since the day after the referendum in June last year, by what is in the best interests of the country. That is what I continue to seek to do.

My final point to Adam Tomkins is that if the Conservatives are so sure and certain that people in Scotland do not want independence, why are they so scared of ever putting it to the test?

Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP)

In the light of the complete disarray at Westminster, has the UK Government given any indication that it will revisit the timescales for when the terms of the Brexit deal will be clear, as they should be, and has it communicated that to the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

The First Minister

That is a good question. In reality, it remains the case—I very much hope, as everyone in Parliament should, that it will change—that there has been very little meaningful communication between the UK Government and the Scottish Government about the Brexit process. I hope that that changes, and that it changes in a substantial way. I know that people in other parties in the chamber find it difficult to agree with the SNP even when they think we are right, but it is not just the SNP and the Scottish Government that are making the case that the devolved Administrations have to be much more centrally and meaningfully engaged; Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister, is also doing that. I hope that there will be a very different approach from the UK Government. If there is, this Government will respond constructively.

On timescales, we have to work on the basis of what is being said publicly. We know that the UK intends to leave the EU in March 2019 and, therefore, that a deal must be reached somewhere around six months before that in order for it to go for ratification by other European countries. That will be around autumn next year, which is when I expect the terms of the future relationship with the EU will start to become a lot clearer than they are now.

However, I am not in control of those timescales; even the UK Government is not entirely in control of those timescales, which underlines the importance of having as much dialogue and communication as possible between the Governments of the UK, so that we can influence the issues as much as possible.

The Presiding Officer

I will allow another five minutes, but members will need to be quick with their questions.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

The First Minister has taken a position on two referendums, and was on the losing side in both. Is it not a bit rich for her to lecture anybody about democracy? She routinely ignores the will of this Parliament on fracking, on NHS closures, on council budgets, on Highlands and Islands Enterprise and on the football act, and she ploughs on regardless. We can have a choice after Brexit: it is called a general election, when we can elect Jeremy Corbyn to lead a Labour Government and to change this country. That day cannot come soon enough for me. Does the First Minister fancy a general election tomorrow, the next day, next week or next year? I do.

The First Minister

If only Neil Findlay could have seen the face of his Scottish party leader at that point. He would, no doubt, have been amused.

I would like to give Neil Findlay a reminder and a little bit of an explanation about democracy. I argued to remain in the EU referendum last year, and 62 per cent of people in Scotland voted to remain. I call that being on the winning side of the EU referendum in Scotland. The problem that we have in Scotland, and which Neil Findlay appears to be quite happy with—inexplicably, to me—is that some people think that Scotland’s voice should count for nothing in that, and that we should simply be told what to do by majority opinion across the whole UK.

On Neil Findlay’s second point about a future Labour Government, as far as I can tell right now—I hope that this changes—just as Theresa May does, Jeremy Corbyn wants us to leave the single market, thereby putting tens of thousands of Scottish jobs on the line. I know that there are more sensible heads in the Labour Party, and my colleagues in the House of Commons will seek to work with them to get us to a position in which we have as much support as possible for keeping Scotland and the UK in the single market, because that is what makes most sense for jobs and for our economy.

Maree Todd (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Does the First Minister agree that in assessing the position in which Scotland finds itself, the balance of power between the Scottish Government and the UK Government is an important factor? Does she also agree that any move to re-reserve powers would further undermine the principles of devolution?

The First Minister

It is important in principle, but also important for practical reasons, that there is no power grab of powers that lie within devolved areas. If powers that lie within devolved areas are repatriated from Brussels, they must come to this Parliament. Again, that is not a view that only I hold; it is also held by the First Minister of Wales. We will consider the issue extremely closely when we eventually see the terms of the great repeal bill—on which we have not, of course, seen any detail.

It was confirmed yesterday that the repeal bill will require the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament and the other devolved Parliaments across the UK. That means that this entire Parliament—not just the Government—has both the responsibility and an opportunity to scrutinise the bill very closely before we decide whether to give it our legislative consent.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The First Minister is fond of referring to the 62 per cent of Scots who voted to remain in last year’s EU referendum as “an overwhelming majority”. How would she describe the 63 per cent of Scots who voted in this month’s general election for parties that stood on a platform that was opposed to a second independence referendum?

The First Minister

This might be a useful opportunity—it is certainly one that I am going to take—first to remind people that the SNP won the election, and also to remind people, as Murdo Fraser has just done, of the unholy alliance between Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in that election.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

Hear, hear.

The First Minister

At least one Liberal Democrat is proud of his unholy alliance with the Conservatives, which is always good to see.

We have a tradition, not just in Scotland but in the UK, of deciding constitutional matters by referendum. That is the right thing to do. Of course, during the Scottish independence referendum campaign, it was the Conservatives who told the people of Scotland that the only way to protect our place in the European Union was to vote against Scottish independence. Ruth Davidson said that to the people directly in at least one television appearance. I am not sure how that is working out for her.

As I have said today, we will continue to act in the best interests of the country as a whole by making sure that we do everything that we can to get the best outcome for Scotland from the Brexit talks and not introducing independence referendum legislation while we are doing that, but also by making sure that Scotland is not in the position of having no control over our own future, regardless of the outcome of those talks. That is the right and responsible position to take, and it would be the right and responsible position for anyone who has Scotland’s best interests at heart to take.

Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

No doubt Parliament will be delighted to be reminded that I am parliamentary liaison officer to the First Minister.

Is not it the case that, from the moment that the Scottish Government set out its plans for another referendum, it was clear that that was a means to ensure that Scotland’s interests are protected through the Brexit process? How much more can the Scottish Government impress on the UK Government that we cannot and will not sit idly by as jobs, incomes and our economy are wilfully damaged by Tory policies?

The First Minister

That is a good reminder that, for all the political to-ing and fro-ing that we have in this chamber—in which we all take part—what we are talking about here are jobs, the future of our economy, investment, trade and the ability of our companies to export freely. We are also talking about opportunities—not just for this generation, but for those to come—to travel freely across Europe. Those things really matter, and it is not an exaggeration to say that all of them, to a greater or lesser extent, are on the line right now, as the negotiations continue.

It is absolutely essential that we do everything that we can to protect all those things, which is what this Government intends to do. It is also essential that we make sure that, whatever happens, the future of Scotland is always decided by Scotland. Whatever we choose is up to the people of Scotland, but it should be chosen by us and not imposed on us. That is the principle that will continue to govern the decisions that we make.