Sturgeon is not the only fish

Sturgeon is not the only fish

by Brian Monteith
article from Tuesday 26, July, 2016

ORANGES are not the only fruit and Sturgeon is not the only fish. There is a different way for Scottish politicians to deal with the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union than is currently in evidence, and it is a very simple one requiring two relatively easy steps.

The first step is to accept with good grace the democratic outcome of the British people; that the majority of those who voted decided we should leave the EU by a convincing majority.

The second step is for people to embrace that result, even if they did not support it, and ask “how can we make this work for us?”

Let us remember the question was about the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU, for Scotland was not mentioned on the referendum ballot paper, and so it will be the UK that negotiates the ending of our EU membership and its replacement with a new relationship. This provides Scottish politicians with many positive opportunities, for following Brexit there will be a redistribution of legislative and administrative responsibilities, together with concomitant changes in government spending.

It is beyond dispute that in the Scotland Act 1998, even as amended, all government responsibilities that are not reserved automatically become the competence of the Scottish parliament. When EU competencies return from Brussels to London those that are not expressly reserved, such as employment law, industry, environment, higher education, fisheries and farming, go directly to Edinburgh.

To date this important consideration has been completely ignored by the First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon has made a miss-step; instead of looking to magnify division and nurture a new grievance she could have shown dignity in defeat by accepting the outcome of the democratic process she signed up to. It was she that made speeches in England and embraced the whole UK-wide debate on television, thus it is she that should have accepted the result of the UK in its entirety and then looked to protect and enhance the interest of the Scottish parliament as we prepare to leave the EU.

Instead she has sought at every turn to try and maximise party advantage by visiting Brussels as if she were a head of state (only to get a few fleas in her ear), while rattling her sabre about a possible second independence referendum – that only serves to destabilise an already faltering Scottish economy.

She should now be left by her opponents to stew in the broth of her own making. She will be treated politely and listened to by Theresa May, but the more she makes unreasonable demands so the more she will marginalise herself. As her former professor of law at the University of Glasgow Alistair Bonnington pointed out, in a letter to the Scotsman, she has failed to grasp “how the institutions of government work in the free world”.

This disappointing behavior by the First Minister now provides a great opportunity for Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, and Kezia Dugdale, leader of Scottish Labour, to show what should be done when you put country before one’s party – or oneself. Either separately or jointly (and officially or unofficially) these two doughty remain campaigners should say they will do their best to make Brexit work for Scotland and use all of their power and influence to call upon Theresa May’s government to implement as much devolution as possible as EU competencies are returned to the UK.

The point is that the UK’s relationship with the EU has become very complex over the last forty years and there are many activities, such as environmental controls and industrial strategy, where the Scottish Government can lay claim to be the chief legislator and gatekeeper ahead of Westminster.

Who is making this case, who is demanding such an outcome? The silence of Scottish politicians putting our interests first is deafening, primarily because they have yet to accept defeat and move on to a positive footing.

There are three competencies that the Scottish Government should be especially seeking to adopt, namely the powers over fishing, farming and higher education. If Nicola Sturgeon will not lobby the Prime Minister and meet with Andrea Leadsom (agriculture minister) and Justine Greening (education minister) to ensure that the requisite powers will made automatically available to her then Davidson and Dugdale should show how it can be done.

In fisheries Scottish ministers should be meeting the representatives of the fishermen and allied trades such as processing, to hear what type of fisheries management regime they would recommend. They should also be visiting the governments of Iceland, the Faeroes and Norway – all of whom have experience in managing their own fisheries – to learn how best to reclaim our grounds and manage them in the interest of the fishing communities of Scotland. Davidson and Dugdale should already be booking their flights to Reykjavik, Tórshavn and Oslo to learn for themselves the advantages that can be had.

They should be pouring over past research papers on how Scottish waters could have their own fisheries regime and speaking to think tanks about what would be the best variant of the best model to adopt. They should be instigating hearings in the Scottish Parliament Committees and building alliances with politicians of all parties inside and outside the Scottish Parliament.

In farming Scottish ministers should be meeting the representatives of the NFU and specialist sectors such as dairy cattle and hill farming to learn what they could do to improve upon how farming support is currently administered. Instead of girning about Brexit our politicians should be designing a new system suited to Scottish agriculture that reflects the peculiar challenges of its ecosystem and economy, so ensuring that Holyrood rather than Westminster will make the decisions that matter.

Davidson and Dugdale should be getting their Wellingtons on and rolling-up their sleeves down on the farms of Scotland to hear what our ambitions should be. I have met a number of farmers that believe better schemes could be devised that not only help farmers but also provide better value for money for the taxpayer and consumer. The potential for positive outcomes for producers and consumers alike – that are better than the way we do things at the moment – are boundless.

Davidson and Dugdale should be exploring the possibilities and convening in-depth debates and analysis without waiting on our grandstanding First Minister.

In higher education Scottish ministers should be meeting with the universities individually and as a group to learn what would be the most beneficial arrangement for future Scottish undergraduates and the institutions themselves. Should Scotland want the UK to remain as a member of Erasmus Plus, the body that promotes the exchange of students within the EU and non-EU states? And if the UK chooses not to do so Davidson and Dugdale should be asking what different, maybe better, arrangements might be possible?

Scottish politicians should be getting ahead of the game and instead of focusing on the issues of the single market and the freedom of movement of labour – that will undoubtedly be decided on a UK-wide basis – they should turn to what they can have most influence over and make the most impact to improving Scottish lives.

The potential for a beneficial impact is not just for individuals and communities involved directly in these sectors but the wider economic performance of Scotland as a whole. With more successful farming, fisheries and Higher education sectors Scotland can enjoy real benefits from Brexit that were denied in the campaign but could become a reality. The same goes for employment law, industrial strategy, environmental policy and other areas of responsibility that could yet be devolved.

There may be some at Westminster who will seek to retain the competencies that we regain from the European Union but they should be resisted, and David Davis should be convinced to ensure the Scotland Act is adhered to. If our First Minister finds it beneath her to fight for those powers to come to Holyrood then Davidson and Dugdale should show she is putting party before country and could not be more wrong.


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