By Jim Sillars
The SNP anti-Brexit policy has failed, and unless that is recognised and a new policy produced, Scotland's people will pay the price first, followed by the SNP at the hands of the people.
There is a price to be paid for blind adherence to a failed policy, but such is the now pathological condition of the SNP membership in its worship of Nicola Sturgeon, joined by a good chunk of the Yes movement, it is as yet unseen.
But reality exists outside the boundaries of the party's membership, and a political price will inevitably be exacted by the people of Scotland when they realise the economic price they will pay for an SNP Government's obsession with sabotaging Brexit, while others seize its opportunities to our nation's disadvantage.
My commitment to independence is unwavering, but I recognise it will not happen until the Yes movement is properly organised on a national level, has produced a policy framework which will convince the majority that independence is infinitely preferable to continued Union, and builds a campaign to grow a level of support able to fend off the inevitable Project Fear that will be hurled at us next time. The Yes movement is not in that position, and the SNP is not in a position to be sure of commanding a majority at Holyrood in 2021, without which it will be difficult if not impossible to extract the power to hold a referendum.
What if in 2021 the Yes movement on its own has amassed a majority in the polls for independence, but in the election Labour Yes voters, for example, back the Labour Party and not the SNP, robbing the latter of the needed majority? I could happen if Labour voters prefer their party to govern rather than the SNP. What power has the Yes movement then to get that power from Westminster to have the referendum? How much thinking about that problem is being done now?
The 2021 election and how the SNP does in it, is supremely important. That is why it is imperative that the First Minister is challenged, and change demanded in the anti-Brexit policy, which has and will continue to fail. It is high time the Yes movement realised devolution is not something to be saved, because it is rooted in the Unionist canon that sovereign power is retained at Westminster, but something to be used as a transition to independence.
The SNP Government should abandon the idea that it can scupper Brexit, because it has no power to do so; and instead should now seek to use leaving the EU as a means, this side of independence, to improve the economic condition of Scotland and the social condition of our people, where one in four children living in poverty should make us all deeply ashamed. Those children cannot wait for independence to improve their lives. It must be done now.
The priority now should be exploiting the opportunities inherent in Brexit to create better paid jobs by lifting our economy to a higher level of skill and technical expertise, and drive our exports to a greater volume at the same time. Leaving the EU makes possible what is not possible within it. Others, near neighbours in England, competitors for investment, are doing exactly that, and if Scotland does not get its post-Brexit act together, we shall fail the people.
The SNP Government obsession with charging Westminster with a 'power grab' over repatriated powers, has meant no Scottish concentration on the terms of the ultimate trade deal that will emerge from UK-EU negotiations. Yet it is the terms of that deal that will determine what we can do in future in respect of developing new economic policy.
Take procurement rules. In negotiations, the EU side is expected to seek continuation of the present procurement rules that forced the Scottish Government to put the CalMac and Northern Ferries out to EU wide tender. If it succeeds in inserting them into the Brexit treaty, will there be a level below which the Scottish Government can discriminate in favour of Scottish companies such as Calmac where the social factor is as great as the economic one? Has the Scottish Government demanded that the UK Government stand firm on that? If so, they have yet to tell us.
If, however, the EU procurement rules are not in treaty, it becomes a UK matter only; so what demands have been made for a policy suitable and essential for Scotland's economy? What new procurement rules and powers, as distinct from those to be repatriated, have our Government sought?
Take the new power that will come to set up free port zones which, because of EU state aid rules inhibit their creation while we remain inside it. Free of the Customs Union, FTZs will be an option for far sighted ambitious UK economic areas, to attract huge investment, boost manufacturing and international trade and stimulate local businesses.
The North of England has been working away quietly ever since the Brexit vote, and today, 18th June, a report identifies seven free port opportunities: Immingham and Grimsby, Hull Port, the Hull and Humber rivers, Tees and Hartlepool, Liverpool, the Tyne, and Manchester airport. Not one in Scotland.
Key to the success of an FTZ in attracting investment is an airport, deep water access to allow volumes to be maximised, and land available. Scotland meets the test in them all. We have Prestwick Airport a poorly used asset that is costing money, a natural deep-water port at Hunterston in North Ayrshire, land in Ayrshire and Inverclyde, and a crying need for significant economic development to reduce the levels of unemployment and poverty in the area.
So, why is Scotland missing from the list of potential FTZs? Because so obsessed has been the First Minister's Government with the timing of the powers we shall be getting, constantly trying to stir up anger over a supposed 'power grab,' that the eyes that should be on a post-Brexit economic ball, are blind. A growth strategy? An FTZ in Ayrshire-Inverclyde would be a practical expression of what that should mean.
It is time for the First Minister to abandon a game she cannot win. There will be a Brexit treaty. The UK, with devolved Scotland within it, is leaving the EU. It is time for Scottish policy to take account of that reality. Time to exploit its opportunities, and do the people a favour in seeking to address their immediate needs for economic growth, jobs and a higher standard of living. Independence will be much easier to achieve in a Scotland where its people's self-confidence is rooted in solid economic ground, that provides good paying jobs and public policy can not only preach fairness, but accomplish it. That is the immediate task before us.