THE prospect of being dragged out of the European Union against our will poses a key question for all of us fortunate enough to live in Scotland: what kind of country do we want this nation to be?
My great fear at the moment, seeing the process at close quarters, is that not only will there be a hard Brexit but that this will inevitably lead to a hard Britain, a place where very few of us would choose to live.
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I think there is little doubt that the right-wing of the Tory Party, which has hi-jacked the Brexit process, is intent on profoundly changing the UK – with disastrous consequences for Scotland.
Astonishingly, the Scottish Tory Party, under Ruth Davidson, is prepared to cheerlead for such a disastrous choice, turning its back on the interests of the people they are meant to serve.
Currently, the UK Government has one objective that overrides all others: cutting immigration. That aim is to be pursued at any cost but that cost will fall particular heavily on the people of Scotland.
Abandoning freedom of movement — which means that we can go and work in Europe and citizens from other European countries can come and work here — means that Scotland will have to leave the single market, the world’s biggest trading bloc.
This will hit jobs, living standards and wages. It means we will be poorer, permanently, than if we stayed inside. Our public services will suffer, our colleges and universities will decline and our vital industries – especially finance, tourism, agriculture and tech – will be desperately short of key workers.
I understand why some people voted Leave but I don’t believe many expected to have to pay such a heavy price. And those who were worried about immigration weren’t told the truth.
In reality, immigration from the EU is overwhelmingly positive in its effects. Most of the population growth we need in Scotland comes from EU citizens living and working here as they have done for a long time. They pay their way.
Theresa May and her Tory Party are also against devolution. They want to run everything from London – and in the way they choose. For example, there is no doubt that the long-term intention of the Tories is to slash rights and social protections in order to compete with countries outside the EU, and they don’t want Holyrood standing up for Scottish workers.
Consequently, the promises made to Scotland about the “automatic” transfer of powers to Holyrood after Brexit are already being broken. That will immensely weaken how a Scottish Government can support our farmers and fishermen, how we build up our businesses and our economy, how our justice system protects our citizens and how we all look after our environment.
In December, the Scottish Government put forward a fair, reasonable and workable compromise to let Scotland stay in the single market without stopping the UK leaving the EU. It would preserve our trade with the rest of the UK whilst keeping our European links open and it would give us the powers we need to keep Scotland moving forward.
It is a win/win proposal, but to happen it has to be put on the table by the UK in the negotiations which will start when Article 50 is triggered. So far we have had no response to our request, except a lot of time-wasting by Whitehall.
Scotland didn’t vote for, doesn’t want, and won’t flourish in a hard Britain created by a hard Brexit. We are a modern, outward looking, welcoming European nation.
If the UK Government wants to pretend Britain can live in a faded imperial past, then we can’t afford to join them in that depressing fantasy. We can do so much better than that.