The Scottish Parliament resumed business this week after a short recess and matters Brexit continue to dominate.
The see-saw between Holyrood and Westminster continued with the first Brexit focused Holyrood evidence session featuring two UK government ministers. Scottish Secretary David Mundell said that the triggering of Article 50 should not be a “red line” for talks over Scottish engagement in the Brexit process. Mr Mundell and fellow UK minister Greg Hands both gave evidence to Holyrood’s culture, Europe and external affairs committee on the implications of Brexit for Scotland.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon quickly countered, warning that “time is running out” to find an agreed UK-wide position on Brexit, calling the coming weeks “critical”, but Mr Mundell told MSPs that talks could continue after Article 50. Crucially, he also said the Scottish Government was “entitled” to a formal response to its papers of Brexit proposals.
Waters were muddied further after two leading experts said a Yes vote to leave the UK could result in Scotland having the fastest ever entry to the European Union. Tobias Lock of Edinburgh University and Kirsty Hughes of Friends of Europe, who have both extensively researched accession agreements, have published a landmark report which charts what they say is straightforward path for a new Scottish state to join the EU by 2023. In their report, the academics cast doubt on perceived roadblocks to EU membership, including the threat of a Spanish veto.
Back in domestic politics, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay finally saw his Budget Bill pass yesterday evening, albeit narrowly and only then with the support of Holyrood’s six-strong Green MSP group. The Scottish Government won the final vote by 68 to 57, with the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems voting against.
It was a bitter final Stage 3 debate that reminded us once again that Derek Mackay is ‘no John Swinney’ when it comes to fighting his corner against opposition attacks – and another election is looming in just 71 days….
And finally …. Scotland’s political parties are gearing up for their Spring conferences, with Labour meeting in Perth this weekend. Jeremy Corbyn is making a rare visit north of Carlisle to address the faithful. With all five main parties meeting over the next four weeks, get set for a festival of party-political podium-thumping, as Scotland’s politicians ramp up the rhetoric ahead of May’s council elections and the seemingly unending series of rants about Brexit and Donald Trump.
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