Building a consensus on Scotland in Europe

Last Monday I returned to a House of Commons that was reeling from the impact of the Brexit vote. With both Government and Opposition parties in disarray and focused on their own internal problems, I was able to see the current crisis in British politics up-close.

We still don’t know when, or how, the dust will settle — so much depends on the outcome of the Tory leadership race.

But after last week we do now know that Brexit brings with it enormous uncertainty — with billions wiped off the share value of Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds, the UK’s credit rating downgraded and Sterling at a 31 year low. 

Businesses of all sizes need stability and an understanding of the context they’re going to operate within if they’re going to thrive. Yet this is something that a political system in crisis simply can’t deliver.

What makes this all the more concerning is that Brexit may end up being driven by divisions within the Tory party rather than the national interest.

In contrast to the political infighting taking place at Westminster a clear consensus is developing in Scotland on this issue.

Last week the Scottish Parliament passed a cross-party motion for the Scottish Government to engage with EU institutions. We now have a panel of expert advisors working to secure the nation’s continued membership of the EU.

But for a proper understanding of the risks surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU — we need to consider the impact it will have closer to home.

As a rural economy, the Borders is exactly the kind of region that is vulnerable to the Brexit bite.

In 2014 Scottish farmers received £824 million from the EU. According to NFU Scotland, every £1 of EU common agricultural policy payment that is paid out to Scotland puts £4 into the rural economy.

European structural funds in Scotland from 2014 to 2020 are worth €985 million—money that pays for everything from infrastructure to innovation. On top of that, rural development funding supports things as varied as broadband and farm diversification.

Last Friday I attended a meeting on these issues hosted by the Borders Chamber of Commerce. It was a reminder of the talent and skills that underpin the economic potential of our region.  

It was also great to see a unity of purpose at the meeting which contrasted so strongly with the chaos I’d seen in Westminster at the start of the week.

My key concern at this crucial time is to do the best job I can to represent the Borders. In particular, I will ensure that we put pressure on the UK government to offer firm commitments on post-Brexit funding for the rural economy.

On issues of such importance, it’s vital to build cross-party consensus. Politicians who remain more interested in point scoring and intrigue should reflect that it was such behaviour that got us into this mess in the first place.