Nicola Sturgeon today unveiled ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe’ – the first plan anywhere in UK for dealing with Brexit. It’s a bit of an odd thing to watch, a highly detailed policy document being tossed into the void. You can read it here ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe’.

A key section is here:

20. In the context of Brexit it is important to distinguish between membership of the EU and membership of the European Single Market. As we make clear throughout this paper, the Scottish Government recognises that a majority of voters in England and Wales voted in favour of leaving the EU. But, as we note at various points in this paper, we do not accept this requires any part of the UK to exit the European Single Market. This is because, since 1994, it is possible for some countries outside the EU to be in the European Single Market. This is the course of action we urge the UK Government to pursue.

Some commentators – such as the Very Reverend – believe this is all just a nonsense and these proposals will be completely rejected, and they may well be. Certainly the UK Govt has suggested little other than contempt for any proposals.

But there’s two other things going on here.

The first is a detailed layout of what our ACTUAL benefits are of being part of Europe, a project that the Scottish Government can’t afford to leave to anyone else, and second that the UK Govt is so bewildered confused and directionless that it might actually need the odd Olive Branch of coherence as it staggers about the corridors of Strasbourg sans Scooby in the following months. Either way its clear that this document is far beyond the expected blah blah blah of going through the motions.

They are indeed “detailed, serious and reasonable”:

Theresa May’s response if predictably bland and incoherent.


This is frankly hilarious. She compares the other devolved countries to the Scottish position. “We’ve been encouraging devolved administrations to identify their particular concerns” she says. What exactly is the Welsh Government going to say, in this context?

Two responses to the Scottish Govt paper are interesting.

In section 88, 89 and 90 they write:

88. Energy and climate policy has domestic, regional and global implications and connections. The EU’s legislative reach, market influence and climate diplomacy are extensive. The EU has led international efforts to secure a global, legally-binding agreement to address climate change, and was instrumental in two decades’ worth of complex negotiations with other major economies such as the US, China and India, to deliver the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015. Through the UK’s membership, Scotland has benefited from being a direct part of the EU’s considerable diplomatic clout in the climate negotiations, projecting our domestic climate leadership internationally, through collective effort with our EU partners – an influence that would diminish outside the EU. At home, the EU’s climate and energy objectives are also increasingly important in UK and Scottish efforts to address the energy and climate goals of ensuring secure, affordable and de- carbonised energy supplies while also ensuring that those energy supplies continue to drive competitiveness and economic growth. Companies developing clean, innovative technologies have been supported by crucial EU funding to explore ocean energy, alternative fuels, energy storage and smart grid technology.

89. Examples of recent EU awards to Scottish marine projects (not yet drawn down) include €37.4 million of NER 300 funding for MeyGen phase 1B and Sound of Islay; €10 million of Horizon 2020 funding for Scotrenewables Tidal Power; and €3.9 million to support tidal energy testing and demonstration in waters around Orkney. The European Investment Bank (EIB) has also agreed to provide £525 million to support the construction of the Beatrice windfarm. This is the single largest support ever for investment in an offshore wind project by the EIB. Scotland needs to continue to benefit from EU programmes, co-operative projects, and access to the preferential lending of the EIB, but also has huge expertise we want to continue to offer.

90. Maintaining access to the internal energy market is also a priority for energy stakeholders in Scotland, as it is across the UK47. The internal market is vital to delivering low cost, affordable energy, and to driving de-carbonisation and investment in renewables. EU legally-binding renewable energy and energy efficiency targets have driven the huge growth in renewable energy in Scotland, giving certainty for investors and making a significant contribution to achieving our climate change targets. Internal market rules ensure fair access for suppliers, set a framework for interconnection, and protect consumers. This contributes to lower energy costs, greater security of supply, and the competitiveness of our business and the Scottish economy.
These are key points. The MeyGen, Islay and tidal projects are huge investments, and the Beatrice wind farm is a massive project dependent on connectivity and support from across Europe. These are the kind of massive projects that we desperately need to innovate economy and ecology.

Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:

“We welcome these proposals from the Scottish Government, which clearly put protecting our environment and co-operation on reducing climate change emissions at the heart of Scotland’s position on Europe. If we really are embarking on the risky adventure of leaving the EU then this is a good set of proposals which safeguard many of the benefits of our current European membership including environmental protections, free movement of people and consumer rules that protect us from harmful chemicals in food and other products.”

He continued: “The vote to leave the EU is a huge challenge to decades of progress on improving the environment and working together to tackle climate change. The Scottish Government has already made welcome commitments to maintain current environmental protections and to continue to work together on climate change, and these are strongly re-inforced in these proposals and in today’s statements from the First Minister.”

Secondly, our education system is at threat by being pulled out of Europe.

Commenting on the paper, Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal of Edinburgh Napier University said:

“Higher education transcends borders. Our relationships with Europe, European universities and other European institutions remain very important to us. Since the Brexit vote we have been clear that our priority is to work with all Governments and stakeholders to ensure those relationships are preserved. We welcome publication of this document as a clear record of the Scottish Government’s priorities and intentions in regards to the European Union. There are aspects of Scotland’s interests, as identified by the Scottish Government, that we strongly identify with including economic interest, solidarity and influence. We welcome the pragmatism in the Scottish Government’s approach and echo the call for all sides to use ‘imagination and flexibility’ in these unprecedented negotiations.” 

She added: “The Scottish Government’s paper clearly sets out the importance of Scotland’s higher education sector’s relationships with Europe. Our priorities in the negotiations relate to the continued free movement of student and staff talent, and access to and influence over European research funds and collaborations. It is helpful to see these so clearly identified as one of the many priorities of the Scottish Government in this document. We urge the Scottish and UK Governments to find a way forward that supports universities as a welcoming space and a constructive partner for our European friends. ”

Our renewable energy potential, our climate change strategy, our university sector, those aren’t insignificant areas to be gambled away on the whim of Farage’s psyche or the political ambitions of Liam Fox and Boris Johnston.  They are massive pasts of our future economy and our cultural heritage.

There are an estimated 80,000 jobs in Scotland at risk if we become disconnected, and the institutions and research centres that can see a productive future are beginning to wake up to those harsh realities and the benefits of being part of Europe. Nicola Sturgeon’s   “compromise” whereby Scotland remains in EU single market even if rest of UK leaves is likely a sophisticated bluff, but it is one with enough finesse common sense and detail that it has to be taken seriously. It is as pragmatic and detailed as the UK govt plans are fantastic, ideological and elusive.