When I launched the Brexit stakeholder fund last year I said that I wanted it to be a megaphone for under-represented groups and organisations across Scotland. The aim was to ensure a full range of voices were heard, not just those with specialist staff and big budgets. I wanted to hear from as many individuals and groups as possible about how Brexit might impact them. Looking at this report I think it’s fair to say we have managed to cover a wide range of groups and issues: from young and old, to rural and urban to agriculture and culture, as well as those grappling with the crucial issue of citizens’ rights.
My colleagues and I have met with many people who participated in these projects over the last year and the same concerns have been raised time and time again: People are worried about losing the right to live, work and study where they want across Europe; they are deeply concerned about the possibility of food and or medicine shortages; and while many are concerned about the economic impacts on the workforce due to a loss of EU staff, they also feel that we will lose so much more in terms of cultural collaboration and exchange.
From the outset I was particularly keen to hear from children and young people, given that they will feel the effects of Brexit for much longer than any other groups and compounded by the fact those born after 1998 were unable to vote in the referendum. I was able to meet with The Children and Young People’s Panel on Europe several times in the past year, including when they presented their findings to the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe. These impressive young people are the future of our country, they give me hope, and their voices need to be heard.
In 2016, Scotland voted to remain in the EU, but since then the Scottish Government has tried to put forward compromise solutions to mitigate some of the devastating impacts of Brexit. On every occasion these have been ignored by the UK Government. What these projects show on a micro level is that Brexit is complex and its impacts wide ranging. This has also been apparent throughout the negotiations and is why the only option, short of revoking Article 50 if we are facing a no-deal outcome, is to enable the people as a whole to have their say, based on what we now know about the realities of Brexit.
Our work doesn’t end with the publication of this report – I know my colleagues across government are continuing to engage with their stakeholders to ensure that the voices of ordinary people living and working in Scotland are heard in the Brexit process.
This initiative has been about much more than gathering data, however important that may be. It is about hearing the unheard voices. It is by involving and listening to all our citizens that we can ensure a better future for everyone who lives here.
Michael Russell MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations