My article for the Edinburgh Evening News on why we need a Brexit Action Plan. You can read the article on the Evening News website here.
Brexit’. A few years ago, no one would have had any idea what you were talking about. Now it is an established part of the political lexicon that comes with so many unanswered questions for people in Edinburgh.
It was devised by David Cameron in 2013 to fix the age-old rift in the Tory party between the Eurosceptics and the Europhiles. He probably thought it would never even happen. The Tory gamble with the country has failed.
Now, with Mr Cameron having fallen on his sword, the fallout from his failed plan is being dealt with by his successor. What is Theresa May’s plan? Judging by her choice of Cabinet, somewhat odd.
Her new Foreign Secretary is Boris Johnston, a man who has single-handedly alienated most of mainland Europe and is now in charge of Brexit. He will have to exhibit reserves of intelligence, acumen and empathy hitherto expertly hidden.
And what of Scotland, which, of course, voted to remain?
Nicola Sturgeon has spoken a lot about Brexit but her plan is imprecise. The negotiating platform she set out in a speech earlier this week seemed to be underpinned by the only destination she wants to arrive at – independence.
This was emphasised by SNP MP, George Kerevan, who must be applauded for breaking with the iron grip of SNP discipline, with a plan for independence. He wrote a commendably honest, but terrifying, article in which he called for independence with a new Scottish currency. Admitting it would mean a minimum of five years of ‘post-independence fiscal consolidation’, also known as severe cuts. He also said that a new currency would require substantial reserves to prop it up and those would come from selling public assets.
Scottish Labour and the Scottish Parliament have voted to support the First Minister’s efforts to secure the advantages Scotland gets from the EU, but she has failed to explain what action her Government will take to deal with the immediate aftermath. We need a proper plan, based on a realistic appraisal of the significant challenges to Scotland -; not posturing for another independence referendum. It’s simply not a viable or desirable option.
Our Brexit Action Plan outlines some practical steps both governments could take. The priority for the UK Government is to maintain the workers’ rights and entitlements currently underwritten by EU law, to reassure EU citizens can stay in the UK and to protect the economy.
The priority for the Scottish Government is to explore ways to boost the domestic economy, already underperforming. To that end, our new tax powers should be utilised to increase investment in public services, and our new capital powers deployed to expedite major infrastructure projects like housing, creating jobs and stimulating growth. To reassure businesses, a Government-backed Brexit Fund should be created to provide finance and guarantees to support trade.
And with stubbornly low oil prices, both governments should create a new public body to identify and sustain the long term viability of North Sea assets.
Crucially, we must also respond to why people voted leave. I suspect much of it is down to domestic public policy failures.
The Conservatives didn’t plan for a leave vote. Their dereliction of duty has cost us dearly. But we mustn’t sleepwalk into compounding this mistake. By developing a coherent plan now, we can protect our economy in the present, and build for the future.
Many talk of the “mandate of the Scottish people” but only mention the EU referendum. Well, both governments should respect the mandates they have been given by Scots – that negotiations must be underpinned to keep Scotland in the UK with the advantages of the EU.