Ruth addresses Holyrood on EU referendum result

28 Jun 2016

(Check against delivery)

Presiding Officer

I thank the First Minister for advance notice of her statement.

Too often political events are described as seismic or earth-shattering, when in truth the tremors are more for politicians, than working people.

Last week’s referendum was not one of them. It is a defining moment in our country’s story.

It is deeply significant for all of us. I find myself reflecting that this time just seven days ago, I was in final preparations for the BBC debate arguing in favour of the European Union where I was told that we were over-playing the impact of Brexit.

Well, a week is indeed a long time in politics. It turns out that major constitutional decisions – like on the EU or on Scottish independence – do indeed have major economic consequences.

So, last week’s decision was not the one I supported. Not the one I campaigned for and I am deeply disappointed by the result. But the first message I want to send today is that my belief in our capacity to overcome these challenges, as Scots, as members of the United Kingdom, has not diminished one inch.

The challenges are indeed great. They are complex. There are questions upon questions with more that have not yet been formulated, never mind answered.

But we are a nation with a fundamentally strong economy, an educated workforce, a developed diplomatic network and a capacity to overcome those challenges we face, of that I am certain.

Presiding Officer, we are seeking to amend the Government’s motion today, but let me begin by setting out where we wish to support it.

First and foremost, let us unite in this parliament in saying to people from across the European Union: you are welcome, you are wanted. Your contribution is recognised and this is your home.

Too often, I fear, the referendum debate was guilty of discussing the contribution of EU migrants to this country as some sort of necessary evil: to fill in the gaps in our labour market.

Let’s now say it loud and clear: We don’t just need your labour, We want your values, your brains, your culture. You.


And let us also unite in expressing our disgust at the racist insults and attacks that EU citizens have faced in the days since the referendum. It is shaming to our country. It is not in our name.

Second, the Scottish Conservatives today wish to pledge our support for the Scottish Government’s full engagement with the UK Government and other devolved administrations in the coming weeks and months as Britain’s renegotiation are taken forward.

It can’t be over-stated how important this new settlement will be for all of us. It will define our new relationship with the European Union for the coming generations.

It is vital we get it right. And it is vital that all voices are heard in putting that deal together.

I want the First Minister of Scotland involved. I want the First Ministers of Wales and Northern Ireland involved.

And, having stood alongside him last week and seen him take on my Conservative colleagues and argue for his city, I can absolutely say I want the mayor of London at the table too.

I am pleased the Prime Minister has repeatedly made it clear he wants the devolved administrations integrally involved. This is the correct way to progress.

And even though the vote was to leave the EU, our motion makes it clear that we want to protect and maximise Scotland’s place in Europe the continent, and in the European single market.

I am not going to try and pretend today this will be easy: my scepticism is on record.

But we all now have a duty to those many people whose jobs rely on trade with EU member states to put our scepticism to one side, and to push for the best deal possible.

In so doing, we need to ask ourselves some practical questions. Do we want Scotland to remain subject to EU law?

Do we want powers over issues such as farming, fishing and the environment held at Brussels or devolved to this chamber?

How do we protect the passporting rights of Scotland’s financial services?

These are the practical tasks that lies ahead in the short term. But in saying that, I do not try today to brush aside the more fundamental consequences of last week’s result.

….consequences which, for those of us here in Scotland, have a wider and deeper significance.

As our amendment makes clear, Scotland – and Northern Ireland – are to leave the European union even though a majority did not want it.

In response, the First Minister has made it clear in the days since the vote that she wants to explore what options are available to Scotland.

Again, let me say where we agree with the First Minister.

We welcome the formation of an advisory group on this issue. We are indeed in unprecedented territory so the more expertise we have on this, the better.

If the Scottish Government wants to explore Scotland’s options within the United Kingdom, then we can support her in that.

However, it is after this stage that we have concerns with the Scottish Government’s approach in the days since the result.

I cannot ignore the fact that, within hours of the vote becoming clear on Friday morning, the Scottish Government had pushed the question of independence front and centre.

I cannot ignore the First Minister’s Dover House announcement that she’d already instructed government officials to start drawing up the necessary legislation for a second independence referendum.

Nor can I ignore it when I hear the First Minister justifying this on the basis that the UK as constituted in 2013 “no longer exists”.

And I cannot ignore the SNP Westminster leader telling the House of Commons that in order to remain a European country, an independence referendum may have to happen.

Now – I hear the First Minister telling us that this motion today is nothing to do with independence.

And yet, in the days since the result last week, it feels to many people across Scotland that the SNP is talking about nothing but independence.


The First Minister speaks of people in Scotland who are worried and outraged at the EU result.

I feel duty bound today also – to speak up for the many people in Scotland who have contacted me and my colleagues in the last few days to say they too are worried, deeply worried, about the prospect of another referendum on independence.

And that is why we have included our opposition to this prospect in our amendment today.

You do not dampen the shock waves caused by one referendum by lighting the fuse for another.

Nor by saying that the economic impact of leaving one Union means you should sever ties with a greater Union whose value in trade eclipses the former many times over.

My view is this.

My arguments in favour of the UK in 2014 were not just based on the economic risks of independence – convincing as they were.

It was also because I believed that we in Britain had more in common than that which divides us.

Does last week’s vote test that notion? Yes, it does. And there is little point in pretending otherwise.

It tests it, but it does not break it.

It does not break the continuing logic of our sharing power within a United Kingdom, not splitting it up.

It does not break the arguments in favour of our OWN single market, a market which is MORE important to Scotland’s prosperity than the EU, not less.

It does not break our shared story which, despite the shock waves of the last few days, will endure.

And the referendum result last week does not overturn the vote we had a mere 21 months ago to remain part of the United Kingdom.

I know many people are hurt by last week’s result – including some who voted No in 2014. I am one of them.

But the lessons of last week’s referendum are not a simple ‘them and us’ . Not when a million of our countrymen voted to leave too.

The lessons are more profound.

Do we have more in common across the UK than that which divides us? Yes – way, way, too much.

* people who feel disempowered and voiceless.

* anger at the way power has been abused, in politics, finance and the media.

* frustration at a lack of access and of barriers to social mobility

* and a growing sense of insecurity among families who feel the world is passing them by.

These are the questions we must face up to, as the country reflects on this debate, and they affect us all, no matter which part of the United Kingdom we are from.

And these are the questions we should be answering – not repeating the same old arguments of the past.

Presiding Officer, I think we all can now agree that referendums are bruising.

Not just bruising, but on matters of such significance, they are wounding too.

But, from now on, I hope we still find time to learn the right lessons – not the wrong ones – to emerge as a stronger society, a better nation, and a still United Kingdom.

I move the amendment in my name.