Scotland has given its verdict on the UK’s Brexit chaos and the numbers are spectacular. The SNP has achieved its best-ever European result, and the highest vote share of any party in Western Europe. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reflects on the options now facing Scotland.
Leadership, in any walk of life, can be challenging and Theresa May’s tenure as Prime Minister was never going to be plain-sailing.
The hand she was dealt when she took office three years ago was not an easy or obviously winning one. Her predecessor, David Cameron had gambled on an EU referendum and lost, her party was divided and the country’s future relationship with the EU was uncertain, to say the least.
Now, just three years after she entered Downing Street as Prime Minister, Theresa May has set her date of departure.
One of the messages she stressed in her resignation statement was the need to compromise. Unfortunately, her conduct as Prime Minister was far removed from that rhetoric. To put it bluntly, compromise is what Theresa May failed to do, refused to do even, at every stage of her Premiership. And that is, in no small measure, why we are in now in this mess.
Theresa May’s first visit as Prime Minster was to Scotland.
I met her at Bute House and she stressed that she wanted Scotland to be an equal partner in the Brexit negotiations. She spoke of a ‘special bond’, a ‘precious union’ and that her government would ‘stand up’ for Scotland’s interests.
It is fair to say that I was sceptical even then. However, I was prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt. However, despite her warm words, these stated intentions were never put into practice.
In the three years that followed her visit, Scotland’s needs were side-lined, the Scottish Parliament’s powers ridden roughshod over and every single attempt by the SNP and Scottish Government to find compromise and an acceptable – even if not ideal – way forward ignored in favour of pandering to the hard Brexit faction of her Tory party, and also to the DUP.
And the worry now, with her departure , is that it is the hard Brexit faction that is now in the ascendancy. Because the hard reality is that, while Theresa May’s resignation on Friday felt somewhat inevitable, it does nothing to resolve the current state of affairs and the Brexit impasse. Indeed, she leaves the country with the prospect of an even bleaker future of an uncompromising Brexiteer in Number 10 who will pursue a hard or no-deal Brexit at all costs.
As things stand, the favourite to replace her is Boris Johnson.
On Friday at an economic conference in Switzerland, he said he’d be prepared to walk away from the EU with no deal if he cannot negotiate what he’d deem to be a suitable arrangement.
As if the thought of Boris Johnson – or another of the hard Brexiteer cabal – in Downing Street isn’t distressing enough, the delivery of a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic.
Scottish Government research has already shown that the UK government’s proposed Brexit deal could see a 6% fall in GDP by 2030, worth over £1,600 per person in Scotland.
Under a no-deal, Scotland would be facing heightened economic uncertainty, an increase in unemployment by around 100,000, a 10% – 30% depreciation in sterling and a possible recession.
That is an unacceptable price for remain-voting Scotland to pay for a Tory Brexit obsession.
Whoever takes the reins of the chaotic Tory party, it would be deeply wrong given the current mess the UK faces for them to take hold of Downing Street without a General Election.
Whilst it has been Tory party policy to refuse the public a second vote on EU membership, it’s time for the balance of power to be shifted away from the archaic 1922 Committee and for the people to be given a say in the future direction of the country, and who leads it.
For Scotland, we may have another decision to make. The events of recent years pose serious questions about our own future and whether or not we’re content to continue on this destructive path.
Whilst the SNP at Westminster and the Scottish government have tried hard to stop Brexit for the whole of the UK, the prospect of a hard Brexiteer in Downing Street makes it more important that we consider all our options.
We must therefore focus our efforts on doing everything in our power to protect Scotland from this destructive path, which is why I announced the Scottish Government’s intentions to give people in Scotland the choice of becoming an independent country.
More detail on the framework legislation that will put the rules for a future referendum in place will be set out in the coming days. The Bill is a necessary part of the preparations we need to make to offer people in Scotland the choice of independence in a referendum within this parliamentary term.
Whoever is in Downing Street, and whatever disastrous Brexit policy they pursue, one thing is clear – there must be an alternative choice for Scotland. As the UK continues on a damaging Brexit path, I believe that more people will opt for the positive choice of joining the other small, prosperous, independent nations that play a full part in the European family of nations.