Brexit discussions in and around the Scottish Parliament
The week before last, after the usual very early Tuesday morning journey through to Edinburgh, I started on a run of sitting days dominated by parliamentary activity.
My first event was giving evidence to the Delegated Powers and Law Reform committee about the UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill. It won’t be a surprise to regular readers of this blog that I made it abundantly clear that, as the bill currently stands, we will not be able to recommend that the parliament gives consent to the legislation. In outlining our concerns, I highlighted the need to protect the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament by ensuring that powers on devolved areas – such as agriculture and the environment – come straight to Holyrood. This position is exactly the same as that held by the Welsh Government.
The following day I led a debate in the parliament which was an opportunity to update my fellow MSPs on a range of issues around Brexit, including feedback on the latest negotiations, following on from the Prime Minister’s speech, the outcomes of the Joint Ministerial Committee I had attended in London, the Scottish Government’s action and of course the latest on our work to encourage the UK Government to respect devolution. My motion which repeated our stance on the EU Withdrawal Bill and completely opposed a “no deal” Brexit was supported by a majority of MSPs.
On Friday I travelled to Dunkeld for the National Farmers Union for Scotland Autumn Conference. It was good to meet up with old friends and contacts before I took part in a question and answer session with the UK Government Minister Ian Duncan.
A wide range of issues were discussed including the need for clarity on how any transition period would affect the Common Agricultural Policy. Afterwards I spoke with a number of journalists, including the agriculture specialists and the BBC and STV about the need for more information from the UK Government on these issues.
On Monday last week I attended the Convention of the Highlands and Islands in the Corran Halls in Oban. I made a presentation about the potential impact of Brexit on the Highlands and Islands, which covered a wide range of issues including workforce and funding for infrastructure projects. Other sessions saw discussions on health and social care and digital connectivity – both of which are high priorities for people living in remote and rural communities.
In the afternoon Transport Minister Humza Yousaf – one of five ministers attending the Convention – met some local people to discuss parking issues that have arisen as a result of the rebuilt slipway at Gallanach which serves the new ferry for Kerrera. I was grateful for his very helpful input.
The highlight of Tuesday for me was undoubtedly meeting a range of young people at the Young Scot headquarters in Edinburgh for a discussion on the impact of Brexit. This session was also broadcast live on Facebook.
Given the impact Brexit will have on their future, I think it is vital that young people are able to have their views heard and taken account of and judging on this event they’ve no shortage of views to give. I have made a commitment to ensure that we establish a formal means of allowing young people’s voices to be heard in our Brexit process and this meeting was a good next step with that pledge but there is more to do.
On Wednesday, alongside Justice Secretary Michael Matheson I met with Rob Wainwright – the Head of Europol – to discuss key justice and security issues that arise from the current Brexit process and on Thursday I had a good chat with the new Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Rebekah Widdowfield, who happens to have been one of the senior civil servants in Higher Education when I was Education Secretary. It was good to catch up and to look at ways in which the immense knowledge base of the Royal Society can be brought to bear on Brexit issues in Scotland.