Holyrood Magazine
Holyrood Magazine

My article for the Holyrood Magazine about the People’s Vote campaign. You can also read the full article on the Holyrood website here.

Tomorrow morning, the Commons corridors will be bustling with MPs on their first day back at work after the summer recess.

It’s safe to say that none of the parties has enjoyed the break.

The Tories are in abject chaos over Brexit, my own party’s self-inflicted failings have lost us the support of the Jewish community, the Lib Dems are unsure how long Vince Cable is going to remain leader, and the SNP is on the brink of civil war following the allegations against Alex Salmond.

We live in extraordinary political times, and with the party conference season just around the corner, things are not going to quieten down anytime soon.

Amid all the political infighting, there is – however – only one issue that will shape our country for generations to come: Brexit.

The supposed deadline for a deal is next month.

At the weekend, Theresa May insisted she will not water down her Brexit plan during negotiations with the EU. She’s behaving like a spoilt child – most adults understand that compromise is required, and EU leaders have said they can’t accept her deal.

And on Sunday we had the astonishing spectacle of the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox refusing to back Chancellor Philip Hammond’s warning that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit could damage the economy.

Every study, every expert and every business leader knows that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit will be calamitous for the UK economy. It would slash Scottish GDP growth by nine per cent, and be devastating for Scottish trade.

But, even if we avoid the ‘no-deal’ scenario, there is no such thing as a good Brexit.

It will put jobs and livelihoods at stake whatever happens.

That’s why so many MPs from all parties are demanding we choose the least-worst option for our economy, which is remaining in both the Customs Union and the European Single Market. That is also what is on offer from the EU. It offers us the least-worst option, but our Prime Minister and the right-wing of her party reject it.

Leaving the Single Market could cost up to 80,000 jobs in Scotland, and I struggle to understand why the leadership of my own party – the party of the workers – still refuses to recognise what is at stake here.

Along with many Labour Westminster colleagues from across the UK, and colleagues in Holyrood and Brussels, I will continue to fight for our party to formally back Single Market and Customs Union membership.

Ahead of our annual conference in Liverpool later this month, local constituency branches across Scotland are passing motions in favour of the Single Market and a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. My own party passed such a motion last week.

I’m encouraged that senior Shadow Cabinet figures like John McDonnell and Keir Starmer are not taking this off the table. They know just how popular a People’s Vote is among our party’s membership, and polls show that the country is behind the idea as well.

Yesterday, a new poll for the campaign group Best for Britain found that just 31 per cent of Scots believe Brexit should go ahead if it’s clear that ‘the will of the people’ has moved on such that a majority of the UK public no longer want to leave the EU.

It’s time for the leadership of both my own party and the SNP – which claims to be pro-European – to back a People’s Vote.

But what about the Tories?

The Prime Minister claimed at the weekend that a People’s Vote would be a ‘betrayal’. Actually, given the government has resorted to stockpiling medicines, what would be a betrayal is to not give the people of the UK a say on this final deal. Yes, the UK voted to leave the EU, but that doesn’t mean to say that asking people if this is what they wanted, given what we now know, is undemocratic. It’s the opposite.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has been shamefully silent on the looming crisis. She backed Remain, yet is now content to let Brexit wreak havoc on Scotland’s economy.

For an MSP who represents Edinburgh Central, where the EU is so vital for workers, her dereliction of duty will never be forgotten.

In Westminster, her MPs are merely lobby fodder for a failing Prime Minister and have been rewarded for their blind loyalty in the last few days with Government payroll jobs.  It may be that the Brexiteer right-wing Tories dub her the ‘messiah’, but it’s time for Ruth Davidson to stop putting her own personal ambition and party ahead of the interests of the country.

It’s not only the economy which is at risk as a result of Brexit: it’s also the Union itself.

The Best for Britain poll yesterday found that more Scots could back independence than the Union after Brexit. Voices including Sir John Major and Tony Blair repeatedly warned before the EU referendum that Brexit was a risk to the UK’s existence, and that threat is now very real.

The Tories – who claim the Union is ‘precious’ to them – are playing with constitutional fire again. It is utterly irresponsible.

The only thing worse for our economy than Brexit is independence. It would lead to turbo-charged austerity, with the poorest in society suffering the most. And all this from the basis of the damage of Brexit.

We have Tories blindly damaging the country because they are too timid to stand up to their Brexiteer faction, so make the argument that the UK union is good but the EU union is bad.  In Scotland, we have the SNP which makes the argument that the EU union is good but the UK union is bad.  Both parties are contradictory with these arguments and both are also very, very wrong.

The best path for the UK is both unions – in the European Union and in the UK union.

Like the majority of Scots, I believe in solidarity with our neighbours in the rest of the UK, and our neighbours across the EU.

As Parliament reopens its doors, those of us who want that cross-border solidarity to endure must work harder than ever for it.

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