Gil Paterson (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP):
On 9 June, a Conservative MSP appeared alongside the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, when he highlighted a Treasury analysis suggesting that unemployment could rise by about 43,000 in the two years following a Brexit vote. That MSP said:
“Thousands of Scottish jobs are reliant on the exports we sell within the EU. I’ll be voting to remain in order to ensure we can create thousands more”--
that is thousands more jobs--
“over the coming years.”
On 22 June 2016, the same Conservative MSP said that if the UK were to leave the EU the rest of the EU would impose tariffs and taxes. If we swing forward only a few months, the same MSP—post referendum—is saying that we need to make Brexit work. The MSP now talks about the opportunities of Brexit, despite the evidence mounting of the potentially huge damage it threatens to jobs, to investment and to Scotland’s economy as a whole. That MSP is none other than the leader of the Scottish Tories.
In the referendum, Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU. Every local authority said remain, including local authorities that contain Conservative constituencies. The Scottish people have spoken, so why is this so-called Scottish party not listening? Why is it abandoning what it stood for pre referendum? Why have party members become born-again Brexiteers? They should try and explain that one to the country. How much more does it take to convince the Tories what the people of Scotland want? Is 62 per cent now not good enough? I remind the Tories that Scotland is an equal partner in this United Kingdom—the union that they strive to defend and to protect.
There is no doubt that Scotland is and remains an attractive and stable place in which to do business, but the referendum outcome presents a significant challenge to our economy. As I mentioned, even the former Chancellor suggested that unemployment could rise by about 43,000 in the two years following a Brexit vote, but—as many members have said—according to the Fraser of Allander institute’s paper, a hard-right Tory Brexit threatens to cost 80,000 Scottish jobs and to cost Scotland’s economy up to £11 billion a year by 2030. Those figures can be put into context when we consider various businesses and associations’ concerns about the effects on losing access to the single market.
As a member of the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, I recently heard the food and drink industry’s concerns. It identified three top issues, the first of which was on trade. The industry highlighted that about 76 per cent of all the food that is exported from Scotland and goes out of the UK goes to the European Union, and emphasised that continued access to the European market in as pragmatic, tariff-free and sensible a way as possible must be a priority for us all to achieve.
The second issue was access to labour. About a third of our food manufacturing workforce comes from the European Union. The committee heard that reassurances to the existing workforce and on-going access to the EU workforce after Brexit are crucial to achieving the ambitions for further growth.
The final issue was access to funding and what that might mean for agricultural support in particular. The committee understands that about £400 million to £500 million is paid directly to farms through EU funding, and that another £300 million to £350 million is paid through rural development measures. That supports much of the raw materials that go into food and drink manufacturing.
The people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the European Union, and it is vital that any Brexit negotiation acknowledges and respects that choice. I welcome the fact that, by the end of this year, the Scottish Government will bring forward its own detailed proposals to protect Scotland’s interests. I expect all Scottish parties to at least be supportive of protecting Scotland’s interests. I commend the cabinet secretary’s motion to the Parliament.
Press releases prepared by Alan Ferguson, Gil Paterson MSP's communications manager, who can be contacted at email@example.com or 07342 061722..