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The following interview with Sir George Reid appeared in the Scottish Herald. He spoke at our meeting on February 23rd.
The former Presiding Officer at Holyrood said he felt a “moral responsibility” to speak out against a change which would “negate everything I’ve believed in all my public life”.
He told the Herald he was too old for a leading public role, but could not ignore the risks posed by Brexit, adding: “You can either whimper and whine or fight back. If you don’t fight back you’ve lost already.”
He said Brexit reminded him of Donald Dewar’s famous words at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999: “This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves.”
He said: “Brexit is as big as Suez in dictating the next 50 years. We’re stripped of the identity we’ve had for 40 years, and in terms of carrying ourselves, it’s carrying ourselves in a world characterised by a race to the bottom, low wages rates, and threats to social cohesion.
“It’s about the sheer threat to what sort of country we are and how we conduct our affairs.”
He said that, despite the differences between Holyrood parties, there seemed to be a “Scottish bottom line”, which was to maintain the fullest possible links to Europe, and that consensus should be used to extract a better deal for Scotland from Theresa May.
He wanted to “to get as close as possible to a Scottish common voice, to see that in opinion polls, and to make that very clear to a Cabinet that I don’t think gets Scotland.
“It is to make clear it’s not just the SNP. It’s bigger than the SNP and nationalism. This is about a nation, where it’s going, how it perceives itself, and what sort of society it will be. The more than comes through, the more they will think about that.
“There has to be as much cross party openness and engagement as possible, and a programme of engagement in Europe itself, including bringing speakers from Europe here.”
He said Brexit might not happen if public opinion swung against it, but it was impossible to predict the twists and turns of the next 18 months of negotiations. “I don’t rule it out,” he said.
With Ms Sturgeon warning of a second referendum if her plan to stay in the EU single market is rejected, he said: “If we’re not over the Rubicon, we’re getting close to it.”
6th February 2017
EMiS chairwoman, Vanessa Glynn's letter in the Scotsman.
Much has been made of recent figures that show Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK outstrips what we do with other EU states, but that’s no reason to rush headlong out of the EU door.
In fact, an examination of the nuances of trade patterns shows we’re likely to be better off developing business with the world’s largest economic bloc, rather than relying on a simple, one-off snapshot of our economy to tie ourselves to the UK government’s dangerously simplistic EU exit strategy.
Many sectors of the Scottish economy are dependent on EU labour.
First of all, it’s worth noting that the risks of a hard Brexit are huge. The Fraser of Allander Institute estimates there could be up to a 5 per cent reduction in GDP as a whole if Scotland is outside the single market, with a loss of up to 80,000 jobs. The UK’s National Institute for Economic and Social Research expects leaving the single market will be associated with a long-term reduction in UK trade of 22 to 30 per cent. Scotland would suffer as part of that decline.
The much-cited new trade opportunities would not compensate for the loss of barrier-free access to the world’s wealthiest single market on our doorstep – target markets such as China and India, cannot compensate if there are significant losses in the 44 per cent of all exports and 39 per cent of services that go to the EU. Any benefits here or from a US trade deal would take time to develop given the complexity of the different regulatory systems, and in any case most of our current exports to the US, including whisky, are tariff-free already.
But what of the EU’s attractions? Many sectors of the Scottish economy are dependent on EU labour. Ending freedom of movement will impact heavily across the Scottish economy, reducing the working population we need to fund our public services and pensions. In terms of trade, leaving the single market would impact particularly negatively on key growth and high productivity sectors such as food and drink, digital technologies and the university sector.
The single snapshot comparison also doesn’t take investment into account. Money coming from the EU, including from the European Investment Bank and private foreign direct investment, would decrease considerably on leaving. This would have a major effect on key industries where Scotland has forged ahead recently, such as renewables, and where UK funding has dried up.
Fundamentally though, it’s a matter of common sense over anti-EU zealotry. Scotland maintaining its place in the single market need not jeopardise existing trade flows with the rest of the UK – there is no inevitable binary choice between the UK and Europe unless we are forced into that position. But the long-term evidence suggests that if we do have to make it, then we should consider continuing to ally ourselves to the world’s richest and most successful grouping.
18th January 2017
The following article appeared in Third Force, the on-line news of Scotland's Third Sector. This is an extract. The full version can be read here.
Pro-Europe campaigners, the European Movement in Scotland (EMiS) hit out after the prime minister threatened fellow European leaders that no deal with Brussels is “better than a bad deal” in her mind, during a speech on Tuesday where she outlined key objectives she wants Britain to achieve in negotiating its way out of the EU.
"Her desire to leave the single market and restrict freedom of movement, EMiS said, will result in lost jobs, price rises, lower employee protection, restrict rights of all of us to travel, study and live freely, and shatter our standing as an outward looking, progressive nation.
"I am very disappointed indeed that the prime minister has ignored the strong democratic will expressed in Scotland to stay in key European policies such as the single market,” the group’s chair Vanessa Glynn said.
“She asks what kind of country we want to be. We do not want to be a hard right-wing little England Britain where Scotland’s voice is drowned out and we have to think ourselves lucky to hang on to the devolution we have already been given but without our place in Europe.
"EMiS welcomed the proposals put forward by the Scottish Government to protect Scotland's place in the single market and believes only an integrated market with our closest partners, in the world’s biggest free trade bloc, can ensure Scotland's economic and social future."
16th January 2017
The European Movement in Scotland (EMiS) report, "Freedom of movement: why it's central to the Brexit negotiations" claims that if EU nationals are no longer able to live and work freely in Scotland - through one of the key tenets of EU membership - this risks hitting population growth, economic growth and tax revenues.
The group is calling for the Scottish Government to have "special treatment" in the Brexit negotiations and more control over immigration to enable Scotland to retain freedom of movement in the future.
The report states there are an estimated 181,000 EU nationals in Scotland - 119,000 or 66% from Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia which joined the union in 2004.
The influx has boosted population growth - half of the net increase in the Scottish population between 2000 and 2015 has come from people born in EU countries and between 2010 and 2035 the Scottish population is projected to increase by 10.2% above the EU average.
The report states EU migrants form some 30% of employees in sectors such as food and drink, digital industries and hospitality and 16% of academic staff in Scotland's higher education sector are from the EU.
Colin Imrie, who complied the report, said: "Freedom of movement is an integral part of the single market because it has a strong economic purpose.
"We are lucky that Scottish political leaders from both left and right have been less emotive on the issue of freedom of movement than in England so we are able to conduct a more mature conversation about immigration and this fundamental freedom.
"The Scottish Government must be granted more authority over immigration by Westminster, and the UK needs to argue for this special treatment for Scotland to meet its particular economic needs in the Brexit negotiations.
"This would allow EU nationals to come and work freely in Scotland, and Scots could avail of the benefits of working across the entire European economic area, independent of the situation for the rest of the UK.
"Without freedom of movement we will see a reduction in tax revenues which will affect public services, while overall we face the prospect of the very welcome recent increase in the Scottish population going into reverse without the injection of new working-age people into the country as the population ages."