Each week we welcome the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions. These important steps return some sense of normality and are critical to the survival of many businesses.
However, stormy weather lies ahead. The UK Government remains intent on finally leaving the European Union (EU) once transition ends on 31 December, regardless of the economic damage and even if we are in the midst of a second wave of Covid-19 infections, which remains a real possibility.
The pandemic has had a truly seismic effect. The UK economy contracted by 20.4% in only three months. In these circumstances, and with the constant danger of a COVID-19 resurgence, to contemplate leaving the EU now is madness.
Whilst the UK Government claims to want a deal, EU leaders have highlighted the obstinacy of UK Ministers during Brexit talks. In normal times, securing an agreement would be difficult. In the midst of a global pandemic there is simply not the time necessary to develop new trade agreements. Other countries are fully mobilised in tackling the pandemic and are not prioritising a Brexit agreement or trade deals.
This situation makes a no-deal Brexit highly possible, and we know the damage this will cause. The UK Treasury estimates the UK economy will be 8.5% smaller by 2030 compared with continued EU membership, while ending the transition period could remove £3 billion from the Scottish economy in just two years. This cannot be overstated. It will mean businesses going under and up to 80,000 jobs lost. Our exports will become less competitive and inflation will rise. Scotland did not vote for this, yet it is the price we pay to stay in the UK.
Even if the UK Government secured a trade deal with the United States (US) by December, which the Americans say is very unlikely, this will not replace the benefits of EU membership. Regardless of whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden occupies the White House, a key US demand is to open the UK to US food imports, undercutting our farmers with products banned in the EU, such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone injected beef.
The Tories voted against protecting farmers from these sub-standard imports in May, and last week opposed a clause to exempt the NHS from any future trade agreements, opening up the possibility of US commercial access to the NHS.
Farming and healthcare are both devolved to Scotland yet the Tories ignore Scottish concerns, gambling with our food and animal welfare standards, public services and future prosperity.
Rather than listening to Scotland, Boris Johnson and co plan to further undermine the Scottish Parliament, by creating an ‘internal UK Market’ and giving an unelected body a veto over the democratic wishes of the Scottish people. Holyrood policies such as free tuition fees and the smoking ban, as well as food and animal safety could all have been vetoed had this already been in place. It fundamentally undermines the principles of devolution.
Clearly, the UK Government believes that, failing to win elections in Scotland, it will seek to dismantle institutions it cannot control. Last week’s whistle-stop, tick-box, visit to Scotland to tell Scots how lucky they are to be governed by Westminster only shows how out of touch the UK Government is.
It is no surprise that with the contempt Scotland is being treated, support for independence is rising to historic levels, even in the absence of political campaigning.
Independent countries thriving within the EU is not new. Many are prime examples of fairer, more equal and prosperous nations.
The more the UK Government seeks to tighten its control, the more its support will slip away. Scotland will be an independent country once more.