LibLink: Willie Rennie: Why Sturgeon no longer has my backing over Brexit

In June, Nicola Sturgeon erected a very big tent as she said she was going to explore all options to ensure Scotland’s continuing place in the EU, given the huge Remain majority north of the border.

Since then, SNP ministers seem to have narrowed the options to independence. They are talking about nothing else. Mike Russell, a man who spent 7 years as education secretary upsetting people, has been appointed as Brexit minister. It’s not the best appointment to a job that needs finesse and diplomacy.

Sturgeon, says Willie Rennie in an article for the Scotsman, has broken the consensus on the EU. He offers his own alternative first:

Liberal Democrats have a positive, optimistic outlook which seeks to break down borders and barriers and work in partnership with our neighbours. We are the only party fully committed to Scotland in the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom in the European Union. We call this policy No Borders. No Borders means we want to keep our country in the EU and believe that voters should have a say on any final Brexit agreement in a referendum.

The reason is simple. The leaders of Leave failed to tell anyone what Brexit meant before the referendum so it would only be right for people to have the chance to decide once we know. It would be the democratic thing to do. That is my positive solution to Brexit.

He explains why the First Minister has lost his trust:

Yet the only solution that the First Minister has offered in the last two months is independence. She has been hyperactively bouncing around the country over the summer advancing any argument that will advance her independence ambition. For someone who said she did not favour Brexit, she has shown a remarkable degree of enthusiasm ever since. In contrast, she has made little attempt to propose a solution that may garner the support of my party and others.

I know her activists believe this is a golden opportunity to win independence but she has a responsibility to lead the country, not just her party. In that last BBC debate in the May election she was silenced by the audience when she sought to make the case, again, for independence. She appears to have forgotten that people wanted her to focus on day-to-day issues such as the NHS, education and the economy.

She is now planning to ask Parliament to agree legislation for another independence referendum. That may have been something she said she would do in the hours after the Brexit vote but she also promised she would do so much more than just that. She promised she would explore all the options.

Sturgeon could have done so much more to keep everyone together, yet she has shown no interest in doing so. It’s a real shame. I was really optimistic about this at the start but I think that Willie has made the right call. It was only ever about independence, not about reaching out and working together across Scotland.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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7 Comments

  • John Peters 2nd Sep '16 - 10:55am

    Sturgeon seems to have misjudged the Scots. The Union they prefer is the UK.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Sep '16 - 1:05pm

    “She appears to have forgotten that people wanted her to focus on day-to-day issues such as the NHS, education and the economy.”
    Perhaps some Lib Dems should heed that advice as well, rather than continue to bang on about the evils of Brexit 😉

  • Willie has given up on getting a special arrangement for Scotland and has resorted to stamping his feet and having a tantrum.

    To reiterate, this is hardly a situation the Scottish Government wanted and one which it went out of its way to avoid. It even proposed amendments to the EU referendum legislation that would have required a leave vote in all four parts of the UK before leaving the EU, reflecting the idea that all four parts are equal partners in the UK. The London based parties rejected this idea that Scotland is an equal partner in the UK and have only themselves to blame now. Has Willie repented and now sees Scotland as an equal partner in the UK in his proposed second EU referendum? There is no sign that he has. Nor has he provided any reason why the UK government should listen to him.

    The only foreseeable way we can keep Scotland in both unions is to get the UK government to include a special arrangement for Scotland, that keeps it in the EU, into the UK negotiating position and then have that position accepted by the EU. In order to do that we need some leverage. The threat of a “which union” referendum must be on the table to provide that leverage. In order for that to be a credible threat, the legislation for one must be in place so that it could be credibly carried out at what could potentially be short notice. A “which union” referendum is less likely to come down on the side of the UK the harder the form of brexit that is proposed by the UK government.

    The tories know this and so the threat of such a referendum will put pressure on the UK government to either put a special arrangement in the UK negotiating position that gives Scotland a special arrangement that keeps it in the EU or to gamble and adopt a softer form of brexit for the UK than they would otherwise have done in the hopes that it is sufficient to placate enough of the Scottish electorate. But in that latter case, Willie will have to decide between an independent Scotland at the heart of Europe or being a peripheral part of an isolationist UK. Again, not a situation that the Scottish Government sought or of its making despite anything Willie might want you to believe.

  • Dan Falchikov 2nd Sep '16 - 4:16pm

    Utterly bonkers. How has the Scottish party allowed itself to become the most hard line unionist party north of the border? Staying in both the UK and the EU isn’t on the table and no amount of wishful thinking will make it so.

  • Simon Banks 6th Sep '16 - 7:55pm

    It doesn’t seem to have got through to DC that the whole point of this debate is about one way Scottish Remainers could get continued EU membership, namely by breaking away from the UK. So the issue for pro-EU unionists becomes which union they want most. Some of us in the Remain camp warned this would happen and were told we were scaremongering.

    Of course, there is another way. The UK, if any, could decide it wanted back in and apply. Any election result, referendum or not, is reversible.

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