Theresa May accidentally helps Scottish independence cause '“ Tommy Sheppard

The UK Government's Brexit deal must be rejected, and the UK should stay in the EU, writes Tommy Sheppard.

Thursday, 6th December 2018, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 7th December 2018, 11:25 am

Scotland did not vote for Brexit – 62 per cent of us rejected the idea in June 2016. If asked again today, that figure would be even higher. People feared that Brexit would be bad for them. And they were right.

Theresa May’s deal is bad for Scotland. I don’t pretend that the world will end overnight – it won’t. Instead there will be a slow, steady erosion of living standards. A gradual impoverishment that will make us £1,600 per person worse off within a decade. And, as ever, those at the bottom of the economic ladder will be hit worst.

The Northern Ireland backstop puts Scotland at a clear disadvantage. And by stroking the fetish of immigration control, this agreement would prevent people coming to live and work in Scotland.

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Theresa May has ignored the fact that 62 per cent of Scots wanted to stay in the EU (Picture: AFP/Getty)

So how did we get here? The Brexit odyssey has been characterised by disrespect of other opinions – a masterclass in how not to do contemporary politics. This UK Government’s approach speaks to its own insecurity. So many of our current problems stem from the fact that the Government has continually looked inward trying to patch over divisions in the Tory party, rather than outward to heal divisions in the country.

But it is the approach to the Government of Scotland that has seen disrespect plumb new depths.

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It fell to the Scottish Government to suggest a compromise. In December 2016, Scotland’s Place in Europe was published. The SNP administration believe in independence for Scotland and membership of the EU but this document argued for neither of those things. Instead it argued that the UK should not seek to isolate itself but remain part of the Single Market and Customs Union.

Tommy Sheppard MP credit the photographer Philip Stanley Dickson

Yet for two years, the UK Government has refused to engage in discussion about this way forward – dismissing and disrespecting the views of the Scottish Government at every turn.

We argued for a differentiated approach for Scotland – one which would have recognised that there are different economic consequences of Brexit in different parts of the UK, never mind different views amongst the people who live there. This would have required new legislation to give the Scottish Parliament additional powers including some economic levers and authority over work visas. All doable. All less traumatic than what is proposed now.

But our pleas were met with belligerent intransigence. The proposal was derided as a Trojan horse aimed at breaking up the union. In truth, it is the refusal by its rulers to recognise diversity within the UK that will do more to aid its demise than I ever could. There are far too many who claim they want Scotland to be part of the union but would prefer its representatives to be seen and not heard.

Then came the ultimate slap in the face. Not only is it possible for different parts of the UK to have different relationships with the EU, but this is exactly what the Government proposes in respect of Northern Ireland. Of course, there are very particular factors in NI but still it’s possible for a part of the UK to have a different post-Brexit arrangement. So why then say this cannot even be discussed in relation to Scotland? It’s an insult to the views of people in Scotland. And for the first time since the post was created in 1885 we now have a Secretary of State arguing for the material disadvantage of the area he represents. So what now? Well, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. The most important thing that we can do is to reject this deal. It is crystal clear the alternative is not to leave without a deal, but not to leave at all.

Tommy Sheppard is the SNP MP for Edinburgh East