James Blake: Brexit has started '“ so what should Remain vote Scotland do to protect its interests?

Scottish MSPs and MPs are being urged to take action to protect Scotland's ­interests during the Brexit process by the ­Royal Society of Edinburgh's Young Academy Scotland.

James Blake is a co-chair of the RSE Young Academy Scotland
James Blake is a co-chair of the RSE Young Academy Scotland

Its new report into the ongoing impact of Brexit features ten articles on different themes – from politics to the economy and national identity to research funding and the creative industries.

Each article has been written by a member of the RSE Young Academy: an organisation which includes ­academics and researchers from Scottish universities as well as ­lawyers, public sector figures and industry representatives.

Together they give an overview to the key challenges, obstacles and issues that Scotland will face over the next 18 months as Brexit negotiations continue.

The report makes 20 ­recommendations for MPs, MSPs and policy makers across the political spectrum. It advocates a proactive approach to protect and enhance Scotland’s international influence and social values in this time of unprecedented disruption. Some of the recommendations are focused on the tone of the political debate. The RSE Young Academy seeks an end to adversarial political point-scoring and urges all parties to come together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration for the national interest.

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It is now six months since Theresa May triggered article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. Since then the negotiations have been delayed and fraught with emotion and frustration. Like it or not, we are now a quarter of the way through the process of leaving the EU. Until the negotiations progress, much remains unclear about the details of the talks and to what extent the Scottish Government and Holyrood can influence the process.

So, what can the people of Scotland do in the face of a Brexit process that the majority didn’t vote for? Should opponents seek somehow to scupper Brexit north of the border? Or should even the most ardent Remainer accept the democratic decision of the UK and make the best of potential opportunities after Britain leaves? These are complicated and thorny questions.

Despite the obscure foundations in this debate, the Young Academy report highlights important social and economic challenges and potential opportunities for Scotland.

For example, preserving the status of EU nationals and maintaining the movement of people into Scotland cuts across a number of sectors including trade links, economic workforce requirements, the creative industries, education, immigration, entrepreneurialism, and the notion of Scotland as an inclusive and international country.

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As Professor Nasar Meer suggests in his article, there is a concept of ‘Big Tent Scottishness’ and we should ­protect the “confidence and willingness” of minorities to make a claim to the “Scottish identity”.

The report also asks whether Scotland could seek to buy into European funding streams important to scientific research projects and arts events. The creative industries are a case in point. A large number of EU funding sources contribute to the growing creative industries sector in Scotland. Just one, Creative Europe, gave £8.2 million to Scottish culture, arts and media projects in the last 10 years. The scheme is also an important network for Scottish producers, film makers, animators and artists to showcase their work. Would it be possible for the Scottish Government to join the Creative Europe scheme in the same way that Norway has?

At her speech in Florence in ­September, Mrs May hinted that the UK might opt in to some EU funding schemes. But could the Scottish ­Parliament make similar choices independently of Westminster? Likewise, as Europe continues to discuss the future of the Single Digital Market, could Scottish Ministers proactively engage with EU partners to protect the interests of companies here?

The RSE Young Academy of Scotland does not take sides. It remains neutral and independent of party politics. Yet it does seek to have a strong voice over the future of Scotland in the time of Brexit by cutting through the confusing mix of claim and counter-claim and relying on evidence and research.

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One example is the creation of a new online Brexit Observatory, which you can find at www.youngacademyofscotland.org.uk/news/brexit-observatory-assessing-the-impact-of-the-brexit-vote.html. This has started gathering testimonies about individuals and organisations in Scotland being affected by Brexit. In time, we hope the Observatory will turn into an online resource of case studies which will provide some much-needed data about exactly how Brexit is having an impact on Scotland.

James Blake is a co-chair of the RSE Young Academy Scotland.