SINCE THE HISTORIC referendum result on 23rd June last year the immediate go-to argument from the SNP has been that ‘Scotland voted to remain”. Conveniently side-stepping the fact that the EU referendum was a UK-wide vote. Something that the Scottish Government acknowledged in its own White Paper for Scottish Independence, where on page 210 it states,
“if we remain part of the UK, a referendum on future British membership of the EU could see Scotland taken out of the EU against the wishes of the people of Scotland.”
Despite this reference, Scots still voted overwhelmingly to remain in the UK. Subsequently, the United Kingdom voted by 52%-48% to Leave the EU.
True to her nationalist politics, the First Minister hailed the votes of 1.6 million Scots who voted to Remain as representing “Scotland’s voice”. Meanwhile, the votes of 1 million Scots who voted to Leave were simply airbrushed out of the picture altogether. Imagine that just for just a moment: over ONE MILLION Scottish voices silenced. The First Minister did not even stop to consider that, among the Leave voters who were now being deleted from Scotland's national story were thousands of her own supporters.
The SNP has been trying in vein to convince us that its proposals for a differentiated Scottish deal ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe’ are a “compromise” with the UK Government; but in reality they are a deliberate, unworkable fudge in which Scotland would retain free movement and single market membership whilst the rest of the UK leaves. This so-called “compromise” would slam down a hard economic wall between Scotland and the rest of the UK: a market worth four times more to Scotland than the EU.
In fact, all the SNP can really muster in its 50+ page document is to say ‘Give us everything we want, and we will take the threat of independence off the table. For a while.’ Maybe. The SNP can dress this up as a “compromise” all it wants; I call it constitutional blackmail!
In the Scottish Parliament, we have heard the First Minister warn against the rise of populism across the world. However, the SNP Government itself is repeating the very mistakes that cause these movements to flourish. In continuing to dilute the referendum results of 2014 and 2016, in dismissing the voices of No and Leave supporters the SNP only feeds voters’ disaffection with the democratic process and distrust in politicians. There is palpable frustration amongst Nationalist Leave supporters for this SNP Government’s disregard – contempt, even – for the benefits of Brexit for Scotland. The iron grip of the Nationalist machine would never let any member admit it, but the SNP is well aware that Brexit presents a world of opportunity for Scotland. I want to focus on two of these substantial benefits:
First, we can control immigration, ensuring that skills and innovation are welcomed with open arms. Contrary to Nationalist belief, the vote to Leave the European Union was not about the UK “shutting up shop” and closing its doors to the world in the name of some protectionist, xenophobic agenda. The people of the UK, including one million Scots and 400,000 SNP supporters, voted Leave for a plethora of reasons; one of which was to create a fairer system of immigration that is fit for purpose in the age of globalisation.
The EU rules on free movement are, at their core, inherently unfair and arbitrary. It is a ridiculous notion that, by the simple fact of your birth in an EU member state, you have the right to move without restriction throughout the European Union, regardless of your skills or capability to contribute to your chosen State’s society and economy. Meanwhile, highly skilled workers from other parts of the world have to jump through hoops in the vague hope of making Europe their home. The burden imposed on our economy and public services by uncontrolled free movement, and large pockets of unskilled labour from Europe, has meant we have to turn away people from other parts of the world who have vital skills which could contribute enormously to our society.
EU free movement is inherently unfair and inward looking - consumed by the overriding goal of forming a European super state. Whilst the EU is obsessed with European integration, it is ample time the UK took a different path; a path that allows skilled migrants from across the world to come to the UK, fill skills-gaps, and form a bedrock of our economy.
Secondly, Brexit provides an unparalleled opportunity to regain control of 200 miles of territorial waters, reinvigorating our fishing industry and coastal communities, especially in the North East. The decline in the fishing industry has been steady but clear since the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and its draconian quotas came into existence: landings of fish in the UK have more than halved since the 1970s, from 948,000 tonnes to 451,000 in 2014. The CFP has been destructive to the fishing industry, particularly in the North East, and gravely unfair to hard-working fishermen.
We have a huge opportunity to assert control over our 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone allowing us to establish a fairer and more appropriate share of catching opportunities for fishermen in the UK. Indeed, the House of Commons Committee on Exiting the EU heard evidence that the UK fishing industry may double its catch when we take back control of our waters. Creating a boom for Scottish fishing and heralding the renaissance of our fishing industry for generations to come.
Yet the SNP would happily march our fishermen out of the UK and back into the EU. We would be left in a bizarre position where English fishermen would have full control of their EEZ, while the Scots would be stuck with the current arrangements that they voted against! I think the prospect of a second independence referendum based on Scotland breaking away from the UK in order to remain in the EU will be a very difficult argument for the SNP to make.
Nicola sturgeon’s attempt to use the Brexit vote to increase support for independence has been flawed. She has delegitimised the honest views held by SNP Leave voters. Unlike the SNP I believe in the talents and the ability of the Scottish people. I am confident that we can make Brexit an unequivocal success where Scotland will flourish within a global, outward looking United Kingdom.
Ross Thomson is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the North East and party spokesman for further education, higher education and science.