Nicola Sturgeon has attracted praise from across the political spectrum for the coherent, long-term vision she unveiled for Scotland in her Programme for Government before MSPs on 5 September.
Her strong focus on making Scotland a global leader in innovation and the low carbon economy provides a firm basis for public and private investment over the next decade and more to allow its economy to diversify and grow in line with the world economy. The low carbon economy now supports over 58,000 jobs in Scotland and generates over £10 billion in turnover. Recent analysis by the International Finance Corporation indicates that the 2015 UN Paris Agreement on climate change will help open up $23 trillion worth of opportunities between now and 2030.
By placing emphasis in parallel on education and skills and on making economic growth inclusive for all parts of society, she set out a vision for Scotland’s future which will capture the strengths of our whole economy and society and enable us all to live more fulfilled lives. Political opponents have of course called into question the ability of the Scottish Government to deliver on all these ambitions, but the focus now is on delivering what is best for Scotland – all of us can share that view.
There are those who argue that Scotland can pursue these ambitions regardless of the outcome of the Brexit Talks. But those campaigning for as close a relationship as possible between Scotland and the EU in the future cannot be content with this head in the sand approach. The current negotiations between the EU and the UK are increasingly making it clear that the UK as a whole, and Scotland within it, can only secure the benefits of continuing trade in goods and services with the single market if we maintain our commitment to key European values such as freedom of movement and a common regulatory approach to key issues such as food safety and standards and low carbon technology. If the UK wants to diverge from these principles and standards, for example to reach new deals with the USA, then barriers will come up with the EU which will limit Scotland’s ability to pursue the ambitious goals set out by the First Minister.
Europe or bust
Looking in more detail at the proposals put forward by the First Minister, it is also clear that if Scotland is excluded from key European programmes then funding streams will dry up which are crucial to the delivery of Scotland’s policy ambitions. There can be no guarantee that the UK will replace these programmes either in full or in part, and no commitment to allow the Scottish Parliament to manage the budgets assigned to Scotland in the way we now do. Particular questions have to be asked about:
- The establishment of an Innovation Fund to invest a further £60m to deliver innovative low carbon energy infrastructure solutions across Scotland, such as electricity battery storage, sustainable heating systems and electric vehicle charging, building on the momentum generated by the European-supported Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme
- The £18m support – from the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund – through Zero Waste Scotland to help manufacturing businesses unlock the economic potential of the circular economy
- The first tranche of the Scottish Growth Scheme – a key initiative that aims to stimulate over £200m of investment to help businesses grow, was supported by the Scottish-European Growth Co-Investment Programme. Where will the next tranche come from?
- More broadly, in the absence of UK wide public funding for investment banks as the privatisation of the Green Investment Bank shows, who is going to step up to support the work of the new Scottish National Investment Bank in the way the European Investment Bank supports regional development banks throughout the EU? The UK’s decision to leave key institutions like the EIB puts at risk key investments in areas such as renewable energy, where the EIB and EU have been the main public investor in Scotland in recent years.
Freedom of movement
Most worryingly, the determination of Theresa May to restrict freedom of movement for EU nationals after 2019 creates a major barrier to the delivery of the First Minister’s ambitions. There is clear evidence that Scotland’s future economic health, key services such as the NHS, the strength of our key institutions such as our universities and our future public finances depend on the maintenance of the ability of EU nationals to work and study freely in Scotland. Freedom of Movement is also a prerequisite for full participation in key EU programmes such as student mobility (ERASMUS) and innovation (Horizon 2020).
It is for these reasons that the European Movement in Scotland, in its submission to the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry on the Brexit negotiations, has called on MSPs to argue the case, on an all-party basis, for Scotland to take control of migration through the devolution of powers over working and studying in Scotland. Whatever the result of the Brexit negotiations, giving Scotland the power to regulate who works and studies here will help to make it a better place to live and do business for us all.