Steadfastly European, Scotland's past, present and future

Steadfastly European, Scotland’s Past, Present and Future reflects on the impacts of Brexit and re-emphasises our ongoing commitment to European values.

4. Brexit – a defining moment

With such a past and such a present, it is no surprise that a clear majority of people in Scotland, and the Scottish Government, opposed from the outset the proposition that the UK should leave the EU. As the Scottish Government set out at length in its "Scotland's Place in Europe" documents, Brexit was never in the interests of Scotland economically or socially, or consistent with the Scottish Government's outward-facing principles of collaboration and partnership. This has been recognised in the Scottish Parliament where the majority of members have repeatedly voted against UK Brexit legislation. 

The arrangements which the UK Government has negotiated to replace almost 50 years of increasingly close cooperation are very disappointing to many and the Scottish Government has set out in detail the harm Brexit will do to Scotland, as well as across the UK in general. Moreover, Brexit has taken place against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Often those who have been most impacted by the Covid-19 crisis will be the worst affected by what is now obvious from the final Brexit deal. While a `no deal' outcome would have been even worse, the Scottish Government is very clear that what has been agreed is a very `low' deal, and represents a far harder Brexit than could have been the case had the UK government taken a different approach. Indeed the Scottish Government is clear that this Brexit deal contradicts many of the promises made by Leave campaigners prior to the referendum.

Against its will, and in the middle of a pandemic and resultant economic turmoil, Scotland has been undemocratically removed from a Single Market worth £16 billion in exports to Scottish companies – and which by population is seven times the size of the UK – and the Customs Union. The UK's approach has also prevented Scotland's participation in valuable EU programmes such as Erasmus, Creative Europe and LIFE, as well as access to critical co-operation measures in criminal justice, security and law enforcement.

This outcome is all the more disappointing as it was entirely avoidable. Indeed, the Scottish Government sought to help the UK avoid such an outcome. It put forward common-sense compromise proposals, based on sound evidence, to keep the whole of the UK in the Single Market and Customs Union. But those were summarily rejected, replaced by the UK Government's self-imposed red lines which narrowed drastically the options available, between no deal and a low deal, both considerably worse than the deal Scotland and the UK had as members of the EU. The Scottish Government also argued for an extension to the transition period beyond the end of 2020, which could have been sought by the UK Government. Despite the context of the pandemic, the UK Government refused to seek that extension.

The end of the transition period has brought further change and disruption. Despite the continuing challenges and uncertainty, the Scottish Government will continue to focus on the most critical impacts that threaten significant harm to Scotland's citizens, economy, environment and security. And it will continue to vigorously defend the interests of EU citizens who have chosen to live, work, and contribute in so many significant ways to our economy and our society.

Brexit has not only damaged Scotland's economic and social interests, and our valued place in Europe and the world. It has been used as an opportunity by the UK Government to challenge, and ultimately undermine, key aspects of the internal devolution settlement. 

For many areas covered by EU law, for example agriculture or education, it should be the sole responsibility of the Scottish Parliament to develop, fund and implement policies that have been `returned' to the UK as a result of exiting the EU. However, the recent United Kingdom (Internal Market) Act 2020, imposed on Scotland by Westminster despite the explicit opposition of Scotland's Parliament, effectively undermines many areas of devolved competence and weakens the role of Scotland's devolved administration in shaping decisions on post-Brexit policies that directly impact on the people of Scotland. 

In short, the whole Brexit process – the decision itself, the outcome of the negotiations and the way those negotiations were conducted – has been a defining moment leading the Scottish Government to reaffirm its commitment to the EU and to the values it holds dear. 



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