Lesley Laird: SNP and Tories are both in utter chaos over Brexit

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Last week, we saw yet another speech on Brexit that fundamentally changed nothing. In fact we saw two.

Because in addition to Theresa May’s non-update to the House of Commons, Nicola Sturgeon addressed the Royal Society of Arts.

Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May both gave speeches about Brexit that changed nothing, says Labour's Lesley Laird

Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May both gave speeches about Brexit that changed nothing, says Labour's Lesley Laird

The problem the First Minister has is no matter how much she attempts to pose as the guardian of common sense in the Brexit process, people in Scotland simply do not trust her anymore. People across Scotland see Nicola Sturgeon as attempting to use Brexit as launchpad for another unwanted independence referendum, rather than an honest broker looking out for people’s best interests.

No matter the warm words from the SNP leader, the cold reality is that for the people continue to see their party as motivated as what is best for independence first, and what is best for Scotland second.

At SNP conference, we heard that the £45 billion of trade with the rest of the UK branded a weakness.

Meanwhile the controversial ‘Cuts Commission’ – the fresh economic prospectus for leaving the UK that proposes extending austerity by another decade (otherwise known as the Sustainable Growth Commission) – was nowhere to be seen.

The inherent contradiction of calling out the economic vandalism of Brexit whilst flagrantly ignoring the economic costs of independence is now increasingly exposed.

This approach, of being prepared to sacrifice thousands of jobs for the sake of lowering one flag and raising another, has told the people of Scotland all they need to know about what makes the SNP tick.

The reality is that Brexit throws into sharp relief the challenges of independence. If removing ourselves from a political and economic union of 40 years standing is proving so challenging, imagine the difficulties of leaving the 300-year-old Union of the UK.

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The truth is that at every stage of the Brexit saga the SNP have changed its position.

An independent Scotland must be back in the EU was the starting bid on 24 June 2016, a policy that is now more of a strong preference, and as other senior SNP leaders have said in recent months, EFTA would be a good stopping off point. So, why this most recent change?

It is simple – they realise that full membership would be politically unworkable. Unworkable in that one third of the SNP’s voters voted to leave the EU. Unworkable in that as a result of new rules on membership to the EU, an independent Scotland would have to accept the Euro. Unworkable in that they would have to accept Schengen, which as they pointed out in the 2013 White Paper was not their preference. So now the First Minister is resigned to finding another solution – but only one that, as always, helps move the dial towards another independence referendum.

The Tories, the reason we are in this mess, are no better. There were excited reports that David Mundell and Ruth Davidson would resign if the integrity of the UK was compromised by the final Brexit deal – yet neither is willing to back Labour’s plan for a Customs Union.

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The Tories cannot agree on Europe. Never could and by the looks of things never will. History will show David Cameron’s sloppy handling of this issue is not only an act of vandalism on Europe, but an act of vandalism that could potentially break up the union that the Tories claim to want to protect.

As events of the last 18 months clearly show, the only thing the Tories are interested in protecting is themselves and their party. Whether it’s Brexit, Universal Credit, RBS branch closures or boundary reviews, nothing gets in the way of their attempts to stay in power.

Labour set six tests for the Brexit deal. These tests were based on promises made by the Tories on what they would deliver for the British people. We’ll vote against any deal that does not meet those tests. In that event, Theresa May and the Tories should make way for a Labour government that delivers for all of the people of the UK.

The reality is, the problems faced by the communities across the UK – which fuelled the vote to leave the EU, including a million Scots – will not be addressed by nationalism and isolationism. Only a radical shift in power, wealth and opportunity can deliver that.

That is why it is truly only Labour offering the real alternative to this mess. It is only Labour who are prepared to address the root causes of the issues that this country faces.

Income inequality, lack of housing, homelessness, failing economic and industrial performance – the list goes on. These are the real levers to fix the issues that have left communities across the country left behind.

And it’s clear that north or south of the border, it is only Labour who has the ideas and the political will to fix them.

Lesley Laird is Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland