The UK government must respect devolved nations on Brexit

The decision of the High Court to rule that Parliament must be consulted before triggering Article 50 may well go down as a pivotal moment in the journey the UK has embarked upon in the wake of the EU referendum.

Amid the heat of the political and public debate over the shape of Brexit, the views of Parliament and the competing egos of the Prime Minister’s cabinet, the judges of the High Court have offered a clear and dispassionate view about how the U.K. government must now proceed.

The High Court’s ruling could not be a surprise to anyone who followed the case. That it has come to this is not the fault of the judges or those who took this action to court – it is entirely down to the arrogant determination of the UK Government to plough their own furrow without consulting parliament or the rest of the country about their negotiating strategy.

The UK Government’s opposition to Parliamentary approval for Article 50 has never been based on any high legal or constitutional principles, it was a flagrant attempt to avoid MPs and other parliaments scrutinising and debating the UK Government’s intentions for a future relationship with Europe. To be frank, the Prime Minister doesn’t want parliamentary scrutiny because she knows it will expose her lack of a coherent plan.

The Scottish Government had a representative observing proceedings throughout this case and we are currently considering whether we should now seek to become participants in the appeal process.

Any decision we make will not be about thwarting the result in England and Wales.  I accept that those parts of the UK voted to leave the EU.  Our decision will be about how we best make sure the actions of the UK Government properly respect the way in which all parts of the UK voted – which is why debate in the Scottish Parliament, and Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies should be as important as a debate and vote in Westminster.

Of course, the UK Government could accept the court’s decision now, rather than rail against it.  The courts have provided an opportunity to return to the beginning of the process, a chance for Theresa May to end the obfuscation and set out clearly to the Parliament and to the country, the type of Brexit she believes would be best for the UK.

Above all the High Court has presented an opportunity for the UK Government to step back from the brink of a deeply damaging hard Brexit.

There is no meaningful democratic mandate for a hard Brexit, and I don’t believe there is a Parliamentary majority for it either. Continued membership of the single market is the obvious consensus position and that is what I will continue to argue is best for the UK’s future relationship with Europe.

I also believe that  continued membership of the single market is also essential if we are to address the economic situation that underlies many people’s motivation in voting for Brexit.

A hard Brexit, with damaging economic consequences, would hinder any attempts to address that key challenge highlighted by a number of communities that voted to leave – inclusion.

We know that people on low incomes and  in areas with low employment rates were more likely to vote leave.  UK economic policy – arguably over several decades, but particularly in recent years – has not given people hope that things will get better.

The severity of Government’s ideologically driven cuts has permanently reduced the productive capacity of the economy.  Austerity has hindered, rather than helped, attempts to reduce Government debt –  categorically and comprehensively failing its objectives while imposing needless hardship and disproportionately affecting women, people on low incomes and the disabled.

At the same time austerity has also stifled the debate about the other key issues facing our economy – how to ensure that everyone can earn a decent living as more jobs become automated, how to adapt to an ageing population or how to transform to a low carbon economy.

Where the hardships of austerity have led to pressure on public services, to a perception that people are losing out, or that free trade and immigration are leading not to economic improvement, but to economic dislocation, then the result has been a vote against the status quo and to leave the European Union.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer must recognise this in his forthcoming Autumn Statement and invest in the economy and in public services to offer more hope for the future, rather than joining the Brexiteers in playing on the fears of the present.

And all of us who support free trade, who welcome immigration and who believe that the benefits of globalisation, if properly managed, should benefit everyone have a job to do to ensure that is the case.

The sustainability of those policies into the future depends on our ability to ensure they benefit everyone, giving each person a fair chance to contribute to sustainable economic growth and to benefit from that growth.

In my view this inclusive growth is a not only basic morality, but is also now a political imperative.

In everything I say and do, in responding to the result of the EU referendum, I am determined that Scotland will continue to be – not just a successful, dynamic and open economy, but also a fair, inclusive and welcoming society.

In the months and years ahead, the Scottish Government will argue passionately for staying inside the single market. We value the ability to co-operate and trade freely with our European neighbours.

We will also argue for inclusive growth at Westminster; and we will attempt to exemplify it through our actions in Scotland.

We will work to ensure that free trade and free movement support sustainable growth. We will aim for that growth to benefit individuals and communities across the country.

By doing that, we can help to create a wealthier, fairer, and better society. That’s something which will bring benefits to Scotland – and maybe also, to all of the nations of these islands.

This article was originally published in the Observer