NICOLA Sturgeon should use Brexit to secure a swathe of new powers for Scotland to bring about “neo-independence” and a new case for sovereignty, a former SNP minister has said.
Alex Neil, who stepped down from the cabinet after May’s Holyrood election, urged the Scottish Government to exploit the “golden opportunity” presented by the vote to leave the European Union (EU) ahead of establishing a fresh platform for “full sovereignty in the early 2020s”.
The First Minister has pledged to “explore all options’’ to protect Scotland’s interests in Europe, warning that Brexit could cost its economy £11 billion by 2030.
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She has also said another referendum on independence is “highly likely’’ and has announced plans to publish a draft bill setting out plans for a second plebiscite during the parliamentary year.
But yesterday Neil urged SNP ministers to publish a list of demands, including continued access to the single market and the transfer to Scotland of EU-related powers in areas including farming, fishing, employment law, environmental protection, social policy and consumer protection.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “Three months on from the European Union referendum, it is blatantly obvious the UK Government hasn’t a clue about how or when to proceed with Brexit.
“The Scottish Government therefore has a golden opportunity, which it should not let slip, to fill the void by putting Scotland’s Brexit demands at the top of the UK-EU negotiations agenda and doing so now.
“Rather than wait until Mrs May eventually gets her act together, the Scottish Government should immediately publish its ‘list of Scottish demands’ for the Brexit negotiations.”
Neil said immigration policy should also pass to Edinburgh, along with control over VAT, with the argument that it could not be devolved because the EU prevents rate variations within a member state now invalid.
The Airdrie and Shotts MSP and former social justice secretary argued the funding associated with these powers should also be transferred, along with Scotland’s share of contributions to the EU budget, estimated to be worth around £800 million a year net of the funding Scotland currently gets from the EU.
He said: “With this money, post-Brexit, the Scottish Government could continue to finance all the projects currently supported by the EU in Scotland to the same level of funding as at present, and still have another £800 million or so a year left over to invest as we choose.
“The accumulation of all these new powers and finances would bring about ‘neo-independence’ for Scotland, creating the ideal platform for advancing to full sovereignty for the Scottish people in the early 2020s.”
He called for the Scottish Government to organise a “Brexit coalition” of the nations and regions of the UK. “The UK Government would find it difficult to refuse these demands, if Scotland plays its cards right,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister insisted yesterday Brexit would enhance rather than diminish Scotland’s status.
Writing in Holyrood magazine ahead of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, May, who backed a Remain vote, said leaving the EU offered the UK “an exciting chance to forge a new role in the world”, with Scotland playing a key part. She said: “As I told the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, when I met her at Bute House – my first visit outside London as Prime Minister, on only my second full day in the job – we will engage fully with and are willing to listen to options from the Scottish Government as we formulate our negotiating position for leaving the EU. There should be no doubt: we will get a deal that works for us all.
“As we strike that deal, we have an exciting chance to forge a new role in the world. Scotland’s status will not be diminished by that; it will be enhanced.
“We will go out into the world with the aim of being a leader in global free trade, one that makes the most of our advantages, from the financial expertise of Edinburgh to the shipbuilding prowess of the Clyde and the globally renowned food and drink produce of Scotland’s countryside.”
Some 62 per cent of Scots voted to remain in the EU in June’s referendum, but face being taken out because of the overall Leave result across the UK.
On Friday Sturgeon set out fundamental questions May must answer about Brexit, demanding to know whether May wants the UK to remain in the single market, whether British citizens will need visas to travel to Europe and whether workers’ protections such as holiday pay and maternity rights would be guaranteed.