Sturgeon’s plans are the only ones on offer

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses the press on her proposals to keep Scotland in the European single market. Picture: PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses the press on her proposals to keep Scotland in the European single market. Picture: PA
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THE chances of Scotland securing a special deal to avoid the worst of Brexit may be slim – but no-one should blame Nicola Sturgeon for trying.

The plans unveiled by the First Minister at Bute House yesterday set out first the case for the whole of the UK remaining a member of the single market and then a plan for Scotland to stay in the single market if the rest of the UK left – which would involve membership of the European Free Trade Area (Efta) and the European Economic Area (EEA) but, Ms Sturgeon stressed, no need for a “hard” border with England.

The First Minister made clear the proposals in the document were not her ideal way forward. She believes the UK would be best off staying in the EU and Scotland best off as an independent country within the EU. The ideas she presented in the document “Scotland’s Place in Europe” are a compromise, she acknowledged.

But, it is worth noting, they are also the first plans published anywhere in the UK offering a potential route ahead over Brexit.

While the UK government has hidden behind Theresa May’s mantra that “Brexit means Brexit” and the Cabinet ministers most closely involved in the withdrawal from the EU have shown themselves at odds with each other or been slapped down by the Prime Minister for their comments, Ms Sturgeon and her team have been working away to come up with specific proposals to put forward which they believe could help mitigate the impact of Brexit.

The possibility of a second independence referendum is still there in the background. Ms Sturgeon – who described a fresh vote as “very likely” after the Brexit result – said she had not changed her mind “one iota” on the issue.

But she also insisted she wanted to give the UK government the chance to consider her proposals before trying to move ahead on the referendum option.

The First Minister said her plan offered a “flexible” approach that took into account the needs of different parts of the UK, put forward in good faith.

There have been mixed messages from the UK government on this, as with much else.

On her first trip to Scotland as PM, back in July, Mrs May told the First Minister she was “willing to listen to options” about Scotland’s relationship with Europe.

In a phone call ahead of yesterday’s plans being unveiled, the Prime Minister told Ms Sturgeon she would “look very seriously” at the proposals.

But in the meantime, Chancellor Philip Hammond came to Edinburgh and appeared to rule out a special Brexit deal for Scotland, saying it was “not realistic”.

And after Ms Sturgeon published her paper yesterday, Mrs May seemed to play down the prospects of a separate deal, saying “there may be proposals that are impractical”.

Ms Sturgeon readily accepts the proposals she has put forward would not be easy but, as she says, almost every aspect of Brexit has its own complexities and complications.

And she believes they can mostly be overcome if there is the political will. “Everything about Brexit is difficult and challenging.

“This is about trying to find a sensible way through it.”

If she is right and what is at stake is Scotland’s future prosperity – jobs, investment, trade and standards of living – she would be failing in her duty if she did not try to find a path through the Brexit morass.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com