A Brexit Braveheart?

26 August 2016

On the morning of the EU referendum result, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared it was “democratically unacceptable” for Scotland to be prised from the EU against its will.

Though she has made clear to Prime Minister Theresa May that Scotland officials will continue to court EU institutions and member states, and press for another Scottish Referendum, Ms Sturgeon now has to contend with Theresa May’s firmly imposed new maxim: "Brexit means Brexit".

While the Scottish Government has prepared a new IndyRef Bill, it requires the legislative consent of the UK Parliament if it is to take place. During a 45-minute meeting with Ms Sturgeon in July, Ms May explicitly ruled out chances of a second plebiscite, but hinted that a different relationship between Scotland and the EU was not off the cards.

Flexibility was the key conclusion from that discussion, as Ms Sturgeon warned that a second referendum would be called if Scotland’s interests were not protected.

The nation is set to lose a substantial amount of programme funding from the Multiannual Fiscal Framework, with a reported total of €985m earmarked for the 2014 to 2020 scheme.

With this in mind, Ms Sturgeon’s appointment of Mike Russell as the Scottish Government's Brexit Minister this week indicates that she intends to maximise Scotland’s influence throughout the negotiation period, and, as she said in response to the appointment, “to protect Scotland’s interests and our relationship with Europe, especially the Single Market”.

Mr Russell will not immediately assume this new post, formally referred to a Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland's Place in Europe, as the role will be subject to a vote in Scottish Parliament.

Born and raised in Bromley, London, the former Education Minister and veteran SNP politician will report directly to Ms Sturgeon, though his views on the future relationship with the EU remain just as firm. Addressing the Scottish Parliament in June, he declared that Scotland must stay in the EU “no matter how, and no matter what it takes”.

Chief among the concerns he will be expected to press on is the continued membership of the Single Market, as the EU is the primary destination for international exports from Scotland.

The Scottish Government has attempted to bolster this argument with the publication of a research paper on the Potential Implications of the UK Leaving the EU on Scotland’s Long Run Economic Performance this week. The report has claimed that if Scotland was forced to leave the EU, it could reduce Scottish GDP by up to £11.2bn per year by 2030

On migration and freedom of movement, Mr Russell has stated that a “touchstone” in the negotiations will be European citizenship. “I do not want to give that up and I will not give it up”, he declared, echoing Ms Sturgeon’s recent emotive address to EU nationals in Scotland.

Criticising the Government’s failure to provide assurances for the future of EU nationals in the UK, Ms Sturgeon said the continued refusal to do so “breaks my heart”.

Working alongside Mr Russell on Scotland’s Brexit strategy will be Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs Fiona Hyslop and Minister for Europe Alasdair Allan, Both are expected to focus primarily on engagement with EU institutions and member states.

Outside of the Government, the newly formed SNP team will have to bring on board a largely sceptical opposition, as there have been suggestions that the party could use the opportunity to pursue its nationalist agenda.  

Writing ahead of the vote, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson took to the pages of the Financial Times to warn that Brexit could “grant fresh oxygen to those who want to pull Britain apart”. However, she has since urged the UK Government not to block a possible second referendum.

Meanwhile, Labour’s Kezia Dugdale has refused to rule out a vote, but sources suggest that senior party members are exploring options for Scotland and Northern Ireland to have a separate federated membership of the EU

Whilst discussion over the possibility will remain high on the Scottish political agenda, news of Scotland’s public spending deficit emerged this week, with data showing it to be more than double that of the UK’s in proportionate terms, standing at £15bn. It serves as a pertinent reminder that although the SNP Government will attempt to influence negotiations, ultimately factors outside its control continue to undermine calls for independence. 

Jasmine Mitchell
Jasmine Mitchell
Political Analyst

Jasmine Mitchell is a Political Analyst at DeHavilland, where she monitors the UK Parliament and devolved institutions. She first joined DeHavilland as a Research Assistant in January 2015. Jasmine holds a BA in Modern History and Politics from the University of Liverpool and a Masters in Conflict, Security and Development from King's College London.