John’s Speech in New Independence Referendum Debate

The Scottish Parliament will today complete the debate on the proposal to push for a section 30 order for a new independence referendum. The debate was scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, the 21st and 22nd respectively. Due to the terror attack in Westminster, the debate last Wednesday was halted and will take place today (28th March).

John spoke during the open session of the debate on the Tuesday, you can read or watch his speech below.


John Finnie:

I have not heard anyone say anything other than that Scotland finds itself in a significantly changed position. We, on these benches, because of that significant and material change to which the First Minister alluded, believe that the Scottish Government has an unquestionable mandate to take the course of action that it has taken. Likewise, the Scottish Green Party has an unquestionable mandate to pursue the section 30 order on the basis of a conference decision.

People have made many particular points at times, but nothing stands still and we have moved forward considerably. In fairness to Ruth Davidson, she referred to Brexit as “a major challenge” to our country. It is unfortunate that the single market options have been ruled out; it is also extremely unfortunate that there was not a willingness to engage in negotiations.

A number of people have talked about the need to consider the implications of Brexit, and that is what I will do in the brief time that I have. Members might well think that the most appropriate person to consult on the implications of Brexit would be the UK Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and might take some reassurance from the fact that he said:

“I do my job on the basis of facts”.

We know that the PM has repeatedly insisted that leaving the EU with no trade deal is better than a bad deal. However, Mr Davis has admitted that leaving the EU without a deal will lead to new tariffs and other barriers to trade. Although he said that the UK Government

“could not quantify the outcome”,

he acknowledged that there would be significant implications if that were to happen.

I will list some of those implications: the loss of financial passporting, the loss of the EU open skies agreement and the possibility of the reintroduction of border checks between the north and the Republic of Ireland. Mr Davis also acknowledged that leaving the customs union could cause delays at customs—that may be the case at the moment, but the situation would be exacerbated—and it would probably cost UK tourists access to free health insurance cards.

When asked whether the Tory Government had made an assessment of the economic impact of all the changes, he said that that

“is not possible to calculate.”

He added:

“I cannot quantify it for you in detail … I may well … do so in about a year’s time”

and insisted:

“You do not have to have a piece of paper with a number on it to have an economic assessment.”

That is genuine frontier gibberish, as far as I am concerned.

We know from a leaked Treasury forecast last year, when George Osborne was chancellor, that crashing out of the EU on World Trade Organization terms could cost the UK 7.5 per cent in lost GDP growth by 2030.

The important issue for me is what all this means for our EU citizen friends and neighbours who are in the UK. The loss of freedom of movement would not be one way, and freedom of movement is key to the Scottish Green Party’s internationalist philosophy. Conversely, using those friends and neighbours as crude bargaining chips fits entirely with the Tory UK Government’s calculated pandering to xenophobes and, lest we forget, with the Labour Party and its now infamous immigration control mugs. The reality is that the UK has taken an unfortunate lurch to the right. Freedom of movement is a fundamental, non-negotiable foundation stone of the kind of Scotland that we want to see.

The implications have already started to show in higher education. Who will apply to university if they are unsure whether they will be permitted to stay, or indeed whether they will be welcome? Applications are down. That is unfortunate, because last year, when I represented the independent group on a joint team that was looking at post-study visas, there was cross-party consensus. Indeed, Liz Smith from the Conservatives was extremely helpful in making representations at UK level. It is unfortunate that that is not where we are now.

John Scott (intervention):

Does Mr Finnie think that the First Minister’s priority is still education?

John Finnie:

It is for the First Minister to say what her priorities are.

The implications for research funding are already becoming a reality, as is the loss of valuable researchers. As Times Higher Education reported yesterday, under the headline,

“Brexit: ‘fantastic’ UK researchers head for Canada”,

the University of Waterloo is recruiting British academics who are worried about their future and their families. It is perhaps not ironic, given that the university is located in Ontario, close to the American border, that it has experienced a similar flow of United States academics looking to move since Donald Trump’s election.

There are broader implications for research into climate change and disease. Science is global, and many of the world-leading programmes in which the UK is currently involved cannot be scaled down to national level. In such matters there should always be the maximum international co-operation.

Why do we support the timeframe that the First Minister outlined? The Scottish Green Party is deeply concerned that the decision about Scotland’s future and that of our EU citizens should take place before those citizens are disenfranchised—that important point is catered for in our amendment. I hope that our EU nationals all hang around to vote for a positive future, but we know that EU nationals are already leaving. I know of a Polish gentleman who manages a restaurant in Inverness; he is learning German, because he sees his future in that country. He is not going to hang around.

We have a growing ageing population. That is something to celebrate, as members said. The Highlands need to import people, and the Scottish Greens warmly welcome the First Minister’s invitation to people to come and live in Scotland. We know that people who have come are net contributors—although I do not view such things in the light of cold economics. They have certainly enriched our country.

The EU was set up with laudable aims and it would be disappointing if the United Kingdom played a part in its fragmentation.

The timeframe is right, and the details of negotiations will be known. Scotland’s EU citizens can have their say, and the people of Scotland are sovereign, as Bruce Crawford said. There must be an informed choice about two futures. One of those is riddled with uncertainty, with the only guarantee being that the UK’s elites—the bankers, the generals and the public schoolboys—will continue to benefit from the growing inequality that is an essential part of the UK’s DNA. The alternative is a chance to make our own choices—yes, in uncharted waters—and to work together to make social and environmental justice the foundation stones of our future, with a just and welcoming Scotland taking its place among the countless other small independent nations of the world.