SCOTLAND could achieve “neo-independence” if Nicola Sturgeon stops talking about a second referendum and uses Brexit to secure major new powers for Holyrood, a former SNP Cabinet minister said today.
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).
Ms Sturgeon has pledged to ‘’explore all options’’ to protect Scotland’s interests in Europe and said another referendum on independence is ‘’highly likely’’.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Neil instead 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.
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 (PM Theresa) Mrs May eventually gets her act together, the Scottish Government should immediately publish its ‘list of Scottish demands’ for the Brexit negotiations.
“Don’t wait for Whitehall. Set the agenda now. Force the UK Cabinet to acknowledge Scotland’s priorities. Pre-empt any attempt by the UK Government to place unacceptable limitations on Scotland’s Brexit ambitions.”
Mr 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 argues 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.