What Scotland Thinks of Brexit? Not much according to extensive new report

By Joan McAlpine

What Scotland Thinks should be read by all decision makers.

A total of 150 organisations and individuals took the trouble to submit their views, some technical and exhaustively researched, others speaking from the heart or from direct experience, to the Scottish Parliament's Committee for Culture Tourism, Europe and External Relations. They were responding to a call for evidence in our enquiry into The EU Referendum and its Implications for Scotland.  Parliamentary Committees do not regularly publish a comprehensive synopsis of evidence such as this.  But when people take the trouble to engage with politicians, they deserve to have their voices heard. The Scottish Parliament's committee system was established to enhance political engagement and to allow citizens the best possible access to their elected representatives. Brexit: What Scotland Thinks demonstrates how enthusiastic the public, business and civic society is to engage with MSPs on an issue with far reaching implications for Scotland and the people who live and work here.

The overwhelming majority of the submissions expressed concern at the uncertainty caused by the referendum result. By and large, Scotland thinks Brexit is bad for the economy and investment, bad for business and workers' rights, bad for the environment, education and health. It is also bad for people. There was considerable anxiety expressed about the future of EU nationals living in Scotland - for their personal security and the contribution them make to our economy and society.

The evidence included large organisations that you expect to hear from, such as the CBI in Scotland who outlined concerns around inward investment and explained the complex international supply chains which will invariably be affected by leaving the single market and the customs union. Highland and Islands Enterprise noted that 55% of businesses in their area were concerned. In the Information Technology sector, represented by ScotlandIS, concern was particularly great, with three quarters of members who responded to a survey believing Brexit would have a negative impact. The Fraser of Allander Institute, in research commissioned by the Scottish Parliament and already released, predicted that leaving the single market entirely - as is proposed by Theresa May - could result in the loss of 80,000 jobs in Scotland and a drop in the value of real wages of £2000. There were also valuable contributions from individual companies such as MacDuff Shellfish in Mintlaw, Aberdeenshire, which exports 80% of its products to Europe, or the Glasgow based TBR Global Chauffeuring company which attributes its growth to the valuable contribution EU nationals make to its business and the way it can operate seamlessly across borders. Construction Scotland noted that the cost of raw materials has risen as a result of the falling pound's affect on imports and expressed concern about future access to skilled labour.

Concerns expressed in the evidence went beyond the economic impact, critical though that is. Numerous environmental protection organisations, including the RSPB, Scottish Environment Link and the Scottish Wildlife Trust were concerned about the removal of the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It is this court which enforces environmental regulations and without it there was a real fear that our environment will suffer. Also on deregulation, Scottish Hazards was concerned at weaker health and safety protection after Brexit. Along with the STUC, they pointed out that the UK was already one of the most "lightly regulated" countries in Europe and further loosening of regulations would be damaging to workers. These statements were submitted before Theresa May made her threat to change Britain's economic model if she failed to secure a good deal from the EU.

The European Investment Bank is another institution which is highly valued in Scotland, according to our evidence. The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations noted the importance of the EIB to building affordable homes in Scotland. Scottish Renewables and the CBI also stressed its importance.

The advantages of free movement of people came up repeatedly. We learned from the General Medical Council that around 1167 doctors working in Scotland are EU nationals as are 15% of our university academic staff. In fact 181,000 EU nationals have made their home here in Scotland and their future is uncertain. Submissions from a range of experts examined the impact on relations between devolved governments and the UK. The Law Society of Scotland urges in its written evidence that negotiations should take a whole UK approach that involves the devolved administrations. Our committee will examine if that's the case.

Inevitably, there was concern about what happens to funding from Europe after the UK leaves. Farmers in Scotland receive a 16% share of the UK's Common Agricultural Policy CAP payments. This is considerably more than Scotland's UK population share, but there are no answers on how it will be distributed after 2020.

Similarly £88 million of research funding for universities comes from Europe, and much of that is contingent on being a member of the single market. After 2020, we simply do not know what will happen to it. Much of this funds vital medical research, as submissions from Alzheimer's Research UK, the Academy of Medical Sciences and Cancer Research UK - among others - pointed out. Disabled people's charities, including ENABLE and Inclusion Scotland, wrote that European structural funding supports employability schemes helping vulnerable people into jobs. Scotland's local authorities, represented by COSLA, are particularly concerned about the future of these structural funds. Again, there is no indication of what will replace them - if anything. COSLA are also concerned that any future Free Trade Agreement negotiated by the UK risks giving multinational companies the right to privatise our public services.

The committee report is only a taster of the evidence we received. The actual submissions are available online too. I hope this report makes a difference. It is not too late for government to sit up and take notice of What Scotland Thinks. There is still time - but it is fast running out.


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