12 Sep 2016
Ruth Davidson has today announced the formation of a new expert group to advise the Scottish Conservatives on the impact of the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
The Scottish Conservative leader told an audience of diplomats in London that it has become clear over the summer that the SNP government intends to use the Brexit negotiating period to drive the case for independence.
As a result, the party has appointed a group which will now examine how best to ensure Scotland, as part of the UK, manages both the risks and opportunities of its post-EU future.
Those on the panel include Gavin Hewitt, the former chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association and, prior to that, the UK Ambassador to Belgium, Finland and Croatia, alongside Sir Iain McMillan, the former director of CBI Scotland.
They will be joined by MSPs who voted for both a Remain and a Leave vote in the June referendum.
In her speech at the European Council on Foreign Relations, Ruth will also draw a comparison between Brexit and Scotland’s own devolution journey.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said:
“We have to accept that we are at the start of what will inevitably be a lengthy process.
“A good parallel is with the Scottish Parliament. When it was first set up in 1999, it became a cliché to declare that this was a ‘process not an event’.
“The point was, while power was being transferred from London to Edinburgh in the form of a Bill, devolution would take time and would evolve.
“And indeed it has: later this year, we will adopt tax and welfare powers that were never even conceived when devolution was first proposed.
“The legal framework is one thing. The change in political culture is another.
“I believe the same thing will be true of Brexit.
“We have begun a process of taking power that currently exists within the European Union and sending it to the United Kingdom.
“And while there will be a day when we leave the European Union, that will be just the event.
“There will also be the process of constructing of a whole new set of power lines to support the transfer of authority from Brussels to Britain.
“It will involve a protracted period of negotiation. We may end up with something that, right now, is hard to picture and will change and evolve over time.
“None of this makes for a neat sound-bite when asked for Yes or No questions on what Brexit includes.
“But it is closer to what I believe will happen.
“We’re not heading into the EU exit shop at Brussels airport and grabbing a hard’ version or a ‘soft’ version off the shelf. This isn’t like buying shoes.
“Rather, we are starting a conversation with the EU where we should take our time in order to negotiate a bundle of bespoke agreements which are tailored to our national interest – and which, crucially, should also suit our neighbours across Europe too.
“My hope is that taking this route will ensure that the deals we strike will meet the unique requirements of the United Kingdom – including Scotland.”
She uses the example of Scotland’s fishing and farming industries as two sectors which must now be on the look-out for opportunities.
She criticises the SNP’s strategy since the Brexit vote, saying that the decision to push ahead with a referendum risks putting Scotland “in limbo”.
On the Scottish Conservatives’ own plans, she said:
“I think the Scottish Government has got it wrong in its response to the Brexit vote.
“The First Minister tried to use the vote to create a bow wave surge for independence. It hasn’t worked but I don’t think the SNP will stop trying.
“And sadly, in our judgement, the push for separation will continue to be the main priority for the SNP government as we head into Brexit discussions – and not the best interests of Scotland and the United Kingdom.
“So while I will continue to support the Scottish Government’s involvement in Brexit discussions, I am also announcing today that the Scottish Conservatives will form our own expert group to assess the risks and opportunities of Brexit for Scotland.
“As well as two of my MSPs – one who voted Remain and one who voted Leave – I am delighted to say that the group includes a panel of leading figures including Sir Iain McMillan, the former head of CBI Scotland, and Gavin Hewitt, the former chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association and, prior to that, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Belgium, Finland and Croatia.
“I will ask them to report to me on how best they believe Brexit can deliver for Scotland and – crucially – for the entire United Kingdom.
“We believe that Scotland’s interests are not served by constantly trying to pick apart the United Kingdom.
“We believe that Scotland’s best interests are served by ensuring the strength and durability of the entire United Kingdom of which we are a key part.”
The Scottish Conservative advisory group comprises:
Gavin Hewitt, former chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association
Sir Iain McMillan, former director of CBI Scotland
Rhona Irving, formerly tax partner at PWC
Allan Hogarth, of AH Strategies Ltd
Prof Adam Tomkins, Scottish Conservative MSP
Alexander Stewart, Scottish Conservative MSP
Ian Duncan, Scottish Conservative MEP