Scottish Brexit study lays challenge for Tories and Labour

by Kirsty Hughes | 16.01.2018

The Scottish government has published its study into the impact of Brexit. This gives the SNP plenty of ammunition in Brexit debates – not least to ask where the UK government and Labour opposition’s impact studies are.

It looks at three scenarios: a “soft” European Economic Area (EEA) Brexit; a free trade deal with the EU; and a WTO “no deal” outcome. Based on some in-depth economic modelling, the report concludes that by 2030, Scottish GDP would be 2.7% lower in the EEA scenario, 6.1% lower in the free trade deal outcome, and 8.5% lower in the WTO scenario (at a cost by then of £12.7 billion a year). These estimates are within the range of other studies by independent bodies, if at the pessimistic end.

The Scottish government makes clear that its preferred scenario is for the UK to stay in the EU. But, if that doesn’t happen, then it wants the UK to stay in the EU’s single market and a customs union. They also want substantial devolution of migration policy to Scotland, given the damage they see the loss of free movement of people doing to Scotland’s economy and society.

As well as putting pressure on other parties, notably the UK government and Labour, to do their own assessments. The report might even be used in the autumn as the basis to call for a second independence referendum, if Brexit talks lead to a harder “Canada-style” deal.

But despite the SNP’s emphasis on their first choice being to stay in the EU, the report does not set out any strategy to halt Brexit. Nicola Sturgeon still refuses to commit to a second EU referendum, while repeating her mantra of the last four months that it is “almost irresistible”.

How the other parties reacted

Party reactions in Scotland spoke volumes to how the Scottish Brexit debate is stacking up. The pro-independence Greens backed the report as illustrating the “devastating” impact of Brexit. The Scottish Lib-Dems called it “useful”.

Over the last 18 months, Scottish Labour had been backing the Scottish government in their push for Scotland to stay in the EU’s single market, even if the rest of the UK did not. Their reaction to this report showed how they are now changing under their new leadership. Scottish Labour chose to emphasise pushing for the best Brexit deal for the whole UK, rather than recognising the damaging impact even a “soft” Brexit could have.

The Scottish Conservatives particularly rallied to label the Scottish government’s strategy as being only about independence. Ruth Davidson said it was part of Sturgeon’s strategy to break up the UK. And Theresa May’s Scottish secretary, David Mundell, in a series of tweets, also emphasised that the 54 page impact paper was really about independence. Mundell also tweeted: “It also does not recognise that we’re seeking a new deep and special economic partnership with the EU that works for Scotland, and indeed the whole of the UK, and is of greater scope than any existing agreement.”

The Tory strategy in Scotland appears to be to sidestep any serious debate on the damage Brexit will do by alleging even serious analysis on impact is really about independence. Anyone hoping Ruth Davidson or Scottish Labour might lead a push for “remain” – supported now by 68% of Scottish voters – should think again.

Kirsty Hughes is director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

2 Responses to “Scottish Brexit study lays challenge for Tories and Labour”

  • What on earth can Mr Mundell mean by his statement of a deep and economic partnership with the EU of greater scope than any existing agreement ? Does he not know what the options are for the UK on withdrawal from the EU ?

  • Every time I hear the phrase ‘ new deep and special relationship’ with the EU, especially from the PM, I cringe. This really is playing with words.

    Like somebody filing for divorce from their partner, then saying I want a new deep and special relationship!