Brexit minister Michael Russell will today demand that the UK government listens to “Scotland’s voice” after MSPs voted overwhelmingly against leaving the European Union.
Mr Russell was last night heading to London for a meeting with UK ministers as tensions between the Scottish Government and Theresa May’s administration intensified following last night’s Holyrood vote.
MSPs backed a motion rejecting the UK government’s proposal to implement Article 50 by 90 votes to 34 during a stormy debate in the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Russell will today meet UK Brexit Secretary David Davis at a session of the Joint Ministerial Council and claim the UK government has been ignoring First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s views on Brexit.
Speaking after the vote, Mr Russell said: “Scotland’s national parliament has today sent a clear message to the rest of the UK and Europe – we oppose a catastrophic hard Brexit that dumps Scotland outside of the single market against its wishes.” He expressed frustration at Mrs May’s attitude towards Ms Sturgeon’s “compromise” Brexit proposals, which aim to protect Scotland’s relationship with the single market.
“So far the UK government has offered nothing – not a single compromise in return, or even a view on our proposals,” Mr Russell said, adding that promises of a “UK agreement” were “empty”.
The First Minister has repeatedly warned that a hard Brexit raises the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Mr Russell said: “Today’s vote is therefore a key test of whether Scotland’s voice is being listened to and whether our wishes can be accommodated within the UK process.
“There is still time for the UK government to recognise the existence and importance of devolution, the views of this parliament and the clear, democratically expressed voice of the people of this country – but that time is running out.”
While the Supreme Court has already ruled that the UK government does not need to consult the devolved administrations before it starts the formal process of leaving the EU, Mr Russell insisted the debate in Edinburgh was ‘’more than symbolic’’.
SNP MSPs were joined by the Greens and the Liberal Democrats to vote against the triggering of Article 50.
They were also joined by most Labour MSPs, including Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale, who voted against EU withdrawal despite UK leader Jeremy Corbyn’s insistence that MPs vote for triggering Article 50 at Westminster.
The split in Labour over EU membership was apparent when three Scottish Corbynistas, Elaine Smith, Neil Findlay and Richard Leonard, took the unusual step of voting with the Tories.
The SNP MSP and former Scottish Government cabinet secretary Alex Neil – who previously revealed he voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum – did not vote because he has not returned to parliament after a heart procedure.
Despite describing yesterday’s vote as “one of the most significant in the history of the Scottish Parliament”,
Ms Sturgeon only appeared fleetingly in the Holyrood chamber yesterday. The First Minister was present at the beginning of the debate – which she did not speak at – and reappeared to cast her vote at its conclusion.
The Conservative MSP John Lamont accused the Scottish Government of trying to “manufacture a grievance out of nothing”.
Mr Lamont said: “Despite the rhetoric from the Scottish Government, the reality is there is plenty of opportunity to engage in the process of the UK leaving the EU.
“I can see no compromise in the SNP’s positions, they are obsessed with stocking up the politics of grievance and their agenda for independence and nothing else.
“Instead of constantly trying to undermine the process, the Scottish Government really should get on with the job of getting the best deal for Scotland. Their current grandstanding is putting that at risk.”
Ms Dugdale said she accepted the UK was leaving the EU, but did not accept the Prime Minister’s leaving terms.
“That’s why I don’t believe Article 50 should be triggered right now,” Ms Dugdale said.
The Scottish Labour leader warned against holding another Scottish independence referendum saying: “The only thing worse than Brexit for Scottish jobs and the economy would be independence.”
She added: “I voted to remain in the EU last year for many of the same reasons I voted to stay in the UK in 2014 – because I reject a narrow Nationalist view of the world. The view that blames something or someone else for our country’s problems – whether that’s England or Westminster, immigrants or the EU.
“Nationalism, an ideology on the rise the world over, is about breaking apart and creating division. Brexit and independence are two sides of the same coin.”
Speaking before voting with the Tories, Mr Findlay warned against moves to “ignore” the result of last year’s EU referendum.
He said: “Politics and democracy across the world is in a very fragile state and I think we enter into very treacherous waters indeed if we say to the people we’re going to change the rules after the match has finished, and your vote does not matter and we’re going to ignore it.
“The reality is that out there in our country, people are divided on our future relations with the EU. Scotland did not speak with one voice in the referendum.”