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Scottish Government starts its Brexit negotiations with Westminster

Nicola Sturgeon has today outlined the Scottish Government’s proposals for Scotland’s Brexit settlement, in a paper titled ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe’. These proposals set out the foundations for Scotland’s own negotiations with Westminster, writes David Johnstone from Grayling Scotland Public Affairs.

The First Minister’s proposals to “protect Scottish national interests” outlined differentiated options for Scotland to retain Single Market access, in the event that the rest of the UK opts to leave.

Noticeably absent from the paper itself, were references to a second independence referendum. Instead the FM sought to focus on what options there are for a post-Brexit Scotland, and the new powers the Scottish Government wants for Holyrood.

Adopting the Norway Model for Scotland

The FM made it clear that the Scottish Government’s favoured solution was for the UK, as a whole, to remain a member of the European Single Market through the European Economic Area Agreement. However, if the rest of the UK chooses to leave the EU and EEA, the Scottish Government wants a differentiated solution for Scotland to be built into the negotiations.

The Scottish Government’s suggested that their preferred solution is the ‘Norway Model’. This agreement would seek to keep Scotland in the European Economic Area (EEA), by Scotland becoming a full or associate member of the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA), and thereafter becoming party to the EFTA EEA Agreement.

This would allow the UK to leave the EU, but for Scotland to retain access to the Single Market, and uphold the ‘four freedoms’; free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. This would be subject to negotiations by all parties and the paper explicitly states that ‘concessions’ would need to be made on all sides.

While feasible in principle, the plans would involve the transfer of significant powers to Holyrood. Indeed, if the rest of the UK seeks to leave the Single Market, the Scottish Government wants new powers over trade, immigration, and concluding international agreements in order to meet the requirements of EEA membership.

These proposals are being floated as a compromise, however it is highly unlikely that such a significant transfer of powers will be granted by Theresa May’s government. Phillip Hammond has already ruled out any special deal for Scotland, and it is assumed the UK government will continue to adopt this line.

More devolved powers for Holyrood

The Scottish Government outlined other powers which they want to see devolved regardless, such as employment and health and safety laws – citing the need to protect key rights. In addition, powers over fishing, agriculture, and social protection have also been requested.

While much of the spotlight is on differentiated status, the Scottish Government’s main priority is to obtain further devolved powers for Holyrood, irrespective of its relationship with Europe. The FM is seeking maximum concessions from Westminster; reiterating that the Scottish Government retains the options to call a second referendum to “protect Scotland’s interests”.

The UK government is likely to grant some further powers to Holyrood as part of a Brexit settlement, perhaps in areas like fishing, farming and employment that were outlined today. However, the SNP knows there is very little hope of Scotland alone remaining in the Single Market, and is therefore leveraging this position to gain further concessions, or – if there is public appetite – to trigger a second referendum.

While today’s announcement has laid the foundations for Scotland’s Brexit settlement, it should be viewed as an opening move, in a negotiation that is set to last for quite some time.

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