RENNIE: Independence legislation undermines cross party talks


The Scottish Liberal Democrats have threatened to boycott cross party talks on more powers as the SNP push forward independence legislation.

Willie Rennie has today responded to a letter from the First Minister inviting him to take part in cross-party talks on more powers for Holyrood. The SNP Government is pressing ahead with independence referendum legislation which the Lib Dem leader says needs to be dropped if the party is to participate.

Commenting on the response to the First Minister, Willie Rennie said

“The independence legislation would cast a dark shadow over any cross party talks. It would be impossible for confidence to be built and the talks to succeed with that hanging over us.”

The text of Willie Rennie’s letter can be found below:

Dear First Minister,

Thank you for your letter of 24th April 2019 following your statement to the Scottish Parliament.

You will know that the Scottish Liberal Democrats have always come forward with constructive proposals to reform the way the UK works through the work of the Constitutional Convention which led to the establishment of the Parliament then the Steel and Campbell Commissions which led to the Calman and Smith Commissions and significant new powers on tax and welfare. We have been deeply committed, long standing supporters of this process over many decades.

Our work on the Continuity Act last year, where we proposed amendments to establish ways to develop UK-wide frameworks and a dispute resolution mechanism, is another good and more recent example of our commitment to the reform of the UK.
We also have a long standing commitment to a UK written constitution, electoral reform and a reformed second chamber. We believe in the strength of the partnership across the United Kingdom.

Much of this has been achieved through genuine, authentic and meaningful cross party work.

In April you set out a number of courses of action, including cross-party discussions.

You say in your letter that these cross-party discussions “would not therefore start with the fixed positions of any party”.

However, I cannot understand, and you should explain to me, how you can possibly achieve this whilst piloting legislation for an independence referendum through the parliament at the exact same time. It would be very hard for us to accept that you keep independence as a fixed position while claiming you are participating in cross-party work “in good faith” without a fixed position.

To be clear, your government’s independence preparations and legislation should not progress if you wish us to participate in cross party talks.

We have also been invited by your Minister Mike Russell to participate in the Citizens Assembly. We are supportive of such means to resolve some issues but I am afraid our scepticism applies to this process too.

The initiative is clearly to promote independence and you have no intention of dropping your pursuit of independence even if the Assembly clearly rejects it.

My party would have been prepared to accept these invitations if we could see that there was an genuine, authentic and meaningful foundation for them.

I am afraid we have been let down before by your government’s promises of consensus in cross-party work:

The independent commission on local tax reform saw 16 of its 19 recommendations dismissed by your ministers within weeks of publication.
John Swinney lambasted the Smith Commission, to which he had subscribed, within minutes of its conclusion.
You assured the Chamber the week after the Brexit referendum in 2016 that your plans were “emphatically not” about independence, but four weeks later said, “it may well be that the option that offers us the greatest certainty, stability and the maximum control over our own destiny is that of independence.”
You took the votes from Remain supporters on 23rd May and portrayed them as supporting your moves on independence within a few days.

I was also struck by the contradiction in your tone on 24th April. You told the Chamber from your written notes: “I will try to set an example of constructive, outward-looking and respectful debate.” This fine sentiment was followed by 45 minutes of unscripted abuse for each and every one of your opponents. This shows why we are sceptical.

I hope that you will see the sense in halting your work on independence as that may overcome our scepticism about whether your approach is genuine, authentic and meaningful. I look forward to you confirming that you will stop your preparations for an independence referendum in order to engage sincerely and in good faith with other parties.

Yours sincerely

Willie Rennie MSP


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