Nicola Sturgeon calls for united front to protect devolution

The First Minister wants to see 'spirit of consensus' to boost Holyrood powers amid fears over impact of Brexit Repeal Bill. Picture: Getty
The First Minister wants to see 'spirit of consensus' to boost Holyrood powers amid fears over impact of Brexit Repeal Bill. Picture: Getty
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BIG cuts to immigration across the UK could have “devastating consequences” for Scotland’s economy, Nicola Sturgeon has warned as she called on her political opponents to unite against a hard Brexit.

The Scottish First Minister said she wanted to build a new “spirit of consensus” to enhance and defend the powers of the Scottish Parliament, claiming that the devolution settlement is being threatened by the EU withdrawal process.

In a speech marking 20 years since the vote to establish the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon said she intended to publish a series of papers making the case for extending Holyrood’s powers in areas such as employment, immigration and trade.

The SNP leader said it was both “necessary and possible” for Scotland to be given the power to set its own immigration policy after Brexit, highlighting the UK Government’s target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands.

• READ MORE: 20 years on: The day a parliament returned to Scotland

Arguing that this was “based on ideology rather than any rational consideration”, Ms Sturgeon added: “Let’s be clear what that would mean for Scotland.

“It would place a bigger burden on today’s young people. It raises again the likelihood of a falling working population.

“And that in turn would mean skills shortages, fewer jobs and fewer taxpayers to pay for a growing demand for public services.

“A debate and target driven largely by the needs and priorities of other parts of the UK could have devastating consequences for our economy and society.”

There is general political agreement in Scotland that levels of immigration should be maintained rather than cut for the economy to grow, with working age migrants needed to fill jobs.

Last month Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson suggested that the UK Government should consider scrapping its net migration target, but her view was dismissed by First Secretary Damian Green.

Ms Sturgeon also repeated her claim that the Repeal Bill poses a direct threat to Holyrood’s powers, accusing the UK Government of trying to “erode the settlement the people of Scotland voted for” in 1997.

Both the SNP and Labour believe that the Bill, which will repatriate thousands of EU laws from Brussels back to the UK, represents a Westminster “power grab” as it will see some powers temporarily re-reserved.

However, the UK Government has dismissed their concerns, insisting that the powers will be devolved in due course and will ensure that the Scottish Parliament ends up with more responsibility than it has at present.

Ms Sturgeon said the devolution settlement was based on the “quite genius” principle that everything is automatically devolved unless it is explicitly reserved.

• READ MORE: Brian Monteith: Holyrood needs to change to create better Scotland

She added: “The EU Withdrawal Bill turns that principle absolutely on its head. Westminster will decide what areas of already devolved policy will actually remain devolved in the future.

“So on the very day that we should be celebrating devolution, we are also being called upon to defend it.”

Scottish Labour’s interim leader Alex Rowley said his party’s MPs would be voting against the Repeal Bill in the Commons alongside the SNP, accusing Theresa May of trying to “centralise power”.

But Scotland Office Minister Lord Duncan insisted: “The Scottish Parliament will not lose a single one of its current decision-making powers through this Bill, despite what the First Minister says.

“Indeed, it is will gain significant new powers as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU. Rather than political posturing, the Scottish Government should work with us to make sure Scottish businesses and people get the post possible deal out of leaving the EU.”

Asked after her speech whether she would take the possibility of a second independence referendum off the table in a similar “spirit of consensus”, Ms Sturgeon said her position on the issue had not changed since she postponed the plans in June.

The Scottish Conservatives accused her of “shameless scaremongering” and said she could not expect to find common ground with other parties until she killed off the idea of another vote.

“People in Scotland are sick to death of the First Minister using Brexit to manufacture more grievance,” said the party’s MP Paul Masterton.