Scotland's place in Europe - Willie Rennie


This week's publication from the SNP Government on Europe is a barely concealed attempt to advance the case for independence.

The Liberal Democrats commitment to membership of the European Union is clear. We are now the only party to be pro United Kingdom and pro-European Union. The SNP, Labour and Conservatives have given up on the UK in the EU and it is no surprise that the SNP have given up on the UK too.

Let me explain why I gave such a clear response to the SNP's paper.

Back in June the First Minister said she would consider all the options on our relationship with the European Union. This week her paper excluded a number of options including the Liberal Democrats’ preferred solution of the UK in the EU through a Brexit Deal Referendum. This was not one of her three options. It was not on the list.

The expert group under the chairmanship of Anton Muscatelli did not have its work published this week. I had expected the group to report but instead the SNP Government took control. The diplomatic language in the response statements from some members of the Muscatelli Group still managed to articulate their scepticism about the options. The Scottish Government report is a selective, partisan political report that was not the objective, expert report we were promised.

The First Minister’s Scottish-only solution of keeping Scotland alone in the single market whilst remaining part of the UK is complex and confused. The First Minister herself admits the proposal for a Scottish only solution is complicated. It certainly is. Just read the section on how imported goods from the EU would be handled to understand the extra costs for business and the consumer from two international trade regimes in the one United Kingdom. It is confused when it talks up the devastating loss there would be from being outside the EU single market but plays down the same loss from being outside the UK single market.

The final, and biggest, flaw in the report is the development of a narrative that prepares the ground for another independence campaign. The First Minister mentioned independence eleven times in her foreword alone. If the UK Government does not agree to the SNP plan then they will deploy that as justification for independence. For the SNP everything is about independence no matter how much they pretend otherwise, no matter how much they claim to be compromising and no matter how reasonable they sound.

We will explore all the options but we should not give up on the UK in the EU. Tim Farron and I have set out the campaign for a Brexit Deal Referendum. We should maintain our strong support for Scotland in the UK. The SNP paper threatens all of that which is why we rejected it.

I said at the start that we are now the only party that is pro UK and pro EU. It is a stance that has an appeal to the public, as was shown by the people I met in the Richmond by-election.

In politics there come times when political parties have to get out in front and persuade people to come with them. This is such a moment.

Without us, without our Party, there is no-one to lead and articulate the case that is pro UK and pro EU – whether for people in Scotland or in Richmond – today or this time next year.

This is a battle we can win. It would represent a full-on defeat for conservatism. It would be a victory for those who want us to be liberal, tolerant and open.

The alternative is to carve up the country and hope we can live in the good bit. And hope business and commerce can cope with the confused and complex consequences. It doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t want to build up barriers, I want to break them down.

We should not leave behind the people of Richmond. We should build a common cause with them.

There is a long way to go.

The Scottish Government is the first to publish its options. The UK has still to publish anything meaningful. But even when they do, there is a long way to go.

The outcome is not what Theresa May puts on her wish list, but what the 27 other countries put their signature to. When that becomes clear we will need to be there for the people of the UK.

That is why we should continue to be the voice for the UK, including Scotland, in the EU.


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