Ian Swanson: Richard Leonard under pressure from own MPs over Brexit

Ian Murray and Kezia Dugdale support single market membership. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Ian Murray and Kezia Dugdale support single market membership. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THE Scottish Labour leadership is coming under pressure to take a more radical anti-Brexit stance by backing continued membership of the single market.

Spearheading the campaign are former leader, Lothians MSP Kezia Dugdale and Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray, who have helped form a new group to press the case.

Spearheading the campaign are former leader, Lothians MSP Kezia Dugdale, and Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray, who have helped form a new group to press the case.

The issue is expected to be a key talking point at the party ­conference which opens in Dundee on Friday.

UK leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is due to address delegates on ­Friday afternoon, has already shifted Labour’s stance and advocated ­continued membership of a customs union. That change could yet allow opposition parties at Westminster to combine with Tory rebels to defeat the government.

READ MORE: Brexit: Kezia Dugdale launches EU single market campaign for EU

But Ms Dugdale, Mr Murray and Scottish Labour MEP Catherine ­Stihler, who are joint chairs of the new Scottish Labour for the Single Market group, want to go further. Ms Dugdale said: “Jeremy Corbyn’s welcome ­decision to support a customs union puts clear blue water between us and the Tories.

“However, if we are to leave the EU, the least-worst option for limiting the damage caused by a Tory Brexit is to also remain in the single market.

“This is the only way to tackle ­austerity, protect jobs, and defend our hard-won rights for workers and consumers.

“Scottish Labour can lead the way and help persuade our party to ensure the UK permanently remains in the single market.”

A series of motions submitted for debate at the conference call on the party to support permanent UK ­membership of both the EU’s customs union and the single market.

But up until now Scottish leader Richard Leonard has adopted the same stance as Mr Corbyn, saying Labour wants to retain the benefits of the single market but arguing the UK cannot still be a member after it leaves the EU. A Scottish Labour spokesman says: “Richard campaigned to remain in the EU but he accepts the referendum result. There is no state which is a full member of the single market which is not a member of the EU.”

Pro-single market campaigners, however, point to the members of the European Economic Area – Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland – which have access to the single market, allowing the free movement of goods, services, money and people, without being members of the EU.

READ MORE: Ruth Davidson ready to defy UK Government on Brexit

The analysis published by the Scottish Government in January of the economic impact of different Brexit scenarios found that Scotland would be worse off in every case. But staying in the single market and customs union was by far the least damaging.

Instead of being £2,300 a head worse off every year under a no-deal hard Brexit or £1,600 per person poorer under a Canada-style deal, staying in the single market would leave Scots just £688 a year worse off.

Although any prospect of a ­separate Brexit deal for Scotland seems to have disappeared long ago, it is always worth remembering in debates north of the Border on future relations with the EU, that while the UK result was 52:48 per cent for Leave, Scotland voted 62:38 for Remain.

Theresa May’s lack of a Commons majority and the divisions within her party leave her very vulnerable if opposition parties manage to agree on an alternative way ahead and act on it.