Discussions on Brexit
The key theme of my diary last week was meetings, meetings and more meetings. Not unusual in my job, I have to say, but absolutely essential to stay up to speed on current issues and developments and get on with the business of Government.
After a Monday in Campbeltown – which although in my Argyll & Bute Constituency is almost as far from my house as Edinburgh – I had another early morning and long drive on Tuesday, leaving at 6.00am in order to make the weekly meeting of the Scottish Cabinet in Edinburgh.
At Cabinet I gave my usual update on Brexit issues and others reported on key issues in their own portfolios. This is always a useful opportunity to catch up with Ministerial colleagues and discuss shared concerns – often including the impact Brexit may have on key business.
After a short walk to St Andrew’s House I spoke at an event for Scottish Government staff to update them on Brexit. I took this opportunity to set out our key aim of keeping Scotland within the EU and if that’s not possible within the Single Market and Customs Union, as well as making clear that we are working hard to try and secure progress with the UK Government on a number of related issues.
Of course a significant number of Scottish Government staff are our fellow EU nationals, so this wasn’t just a policy discussion. With a number of representatives from our EU nationals network in the audience I was able to reassure them that the Scottish Government is committed to supporting them and fighting to secure their right to continue to live and work in Scotland.
I then answered, along with Ken Thomson (the Scottish Government’s DG for Constitution & External Affairs who chaired the session), a wide range of questions – covering everything from the rights of citizens and the potential impact of Brexit on human rights to the Scottish Government’s position on the EU Withdrawal Bill and our engagement other European countries. It was a valuable opportunity for me to speak with a range of staff – whether these issues directly affect themselves and their families or the policy areas in which they work– and find out their concerns about Brexit.
The session was telecast to other Scottish Government offices in Edinburgh and the following day, I held another one allowing staff from our offices in Perth, Inverness, Pitlochry and Aberdeen the same opportunity to ask questions. This time the themes were largely rural and particularly focused on agriculture and fisheries.
On Wednesday morning, I spoke at the Irish Business Network Breakfast event. It is always good to get feedback from those at the sharp end of the economy on their thoughts and concerns on Brexit. Of course, I also took the opportunity to reassure them that we want to stay within the EU and that Ireland is and will continue to be a close neighbour and partner of Scotland, a fact underlined by the First Minister when she visited Dublin at the end of the week.
Later that day I attended the Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Aviation to hear the worries of the airline and airport sector which are considerable. Then, in the evening my wife Cathleen and I had dinner with the Japanese Consul General whom I met at an event for Japanese businesses based in Scotland, many of which want to stay but have real concerns about leaving the Single Market and about availability of staff.
At other times during the week I met with charities representing children to look at how children and young people can be heard in the Brexit process and with the CEO of Visit Scotland. Everyone has some issues which Brexit will affect and the Scottish Government needs not only to be aware of them but also to find ways of helping if we can.
Although the October recess has now started there is lots in my diary for the next fortnight, and I will try to keep people updated in this blog on events and trips to London and Brussels as well as Glasgow and Geneva.