'Don't give up on Scotland rejoining Erasmus yet', SNP minister states

Michael Russell has said Scotland should not yet give up on rejoining the European Union’s flagship exchange scheme Erasmus, despite being told it was "not possible” for the country to do so.

The constitution secretary, speaking at Holyrood’s finance and constitution committee on Wednesday, said there were still “possibilities” to look at and criticised the UK Government’s planned replacement for Erasmus, the Turing scheme.

Mr Russell was responding following a letter from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in which she said the “only possibility for the UK is to associate as a whole, or not at all” and Scotland would not be able to join while a constituent part of the UK.

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Michael Russell has said Scotland should not give up its hopes of rejoining the Erasmus scheme

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Ms Von der Leyen was replying to a letter signed by MEPs, including Terry Reintke, who had called on the EU to examine ways for Scotland to rejoin the scheme despite Brexit.

Mr Russell, who will step down from Holyrood in May, said the Scottish Government should “continue to argue” for joining the scheme.

He said: "I wouldn't give up on Erasmus yet, what the president of the commission said was factually correct.

“Let’s not give up. There are all sorts of possibilities still to look at, but it is a loss, a substantial loss.

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"The Turing scheme does not deal with youth work and youth issues, which is a huge part of the Erasmus+ scheme and very, very important for Scotland.

"There is a process now of telling people ostensibly what it is going to be about, but there has been no meaningful consultation about what it should be even right down to naming it. This thing just appeared.

"Now clearly work was being done on it and we were not being told about that work, that doesn't give you huge confidence in it.

"I would want to continue to argue, we've got lots of friends in the European Parliament who are very, very keen we continue to have some association.”

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Mr Russell said during the Brexit negotiations, Scotland had believed it would have been possible to negotiate engagement in the scheme from devolved nations even if the UK decided to ditch it, but that officials were only told of the decision to leave the scheme at the last minute.

He said: "We can see Ireland is taking Northern Irish young people under its wing and they will be associated with the scheme through Irish institutions and organisations.

"We need to continue to think about what we can do.

"Two things are shameful about it – we could have remained part of it and it was ridiculous it wasn't, but also it was the manner in which it was done. The UK Government knew perfectly well the view of the devolved governments on this matter and we were not told the truth about it.

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"We were not told and we were never shown the value-for-money assessment that was undertaken and right up to virtually the end we believe the UK Government was intending to stay in or at least trying to stay in. It was shocking."

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