Majority of MSPs back Scottish Government's single market call

The Scottish Government is to ask opposition MSPs to back its call for Scotland to remain in the single market after Brexit.

Holyrood will debate whether the call for Scotland to remain in the single market.

MSPs passed a motion from ministers on Scotland’s place in the single market by 65 votes to 32, with 20 abstentions - with the Tories and the Liberal Democrats voting against the Government, and Labour abstaining.

The five party leaders at Holyrood had been united on their desire to keep Scotland in the European Union in the run-up to June’s referendum, and immediately after that vote MSPs unanimously agreed to give First Minister Nicola Sturgeon a mandate to hold direct talks with European institutions.

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But this time only the Scottish Greens backed the motion from the SNP administration, which called on Theresa May’s UK Government to seek to keep Scotland in the single market and said that “in the event that the UK Government cannot or will not secure that option” that place should still be “fully protected”.

Afterwards, SNP MSP Ash Denham called on Labour to make clear if it still wanted Scotland to stay in the single market, which allows for the free movement of people and goods across Europe.

Ms Denham said: “Today’s debate was an opportunity for Holyrood to unite against a hard Tory Brexit and stand up for Scotland, and I warmly welcome that a majority in parliament voted to maintain single market membership.

“While the Tories seem to have long given up on single-market membership and become born-again Brexiteers, Labour’s position is now utterly bamboozling.

“Labour voted for membership of either EU or the single market four times in six weeks - indeed, just last week they explicitly voted in favour of ‘maintaining membership of the single market’ in the parliamentary motion on Brexit and health.

“Do they still want Scotland to retain our EU membership? Do they still want Scotland to retain membership of the single market? Do they still support the Scottish Government’s efforts to maintain Scotland’s place in Europe as Kezia Dugdale declared just two months ago or have they wearily given up?”

She added: “It’s important that we get a clear and unequivocal statement from Labour on whether they still recognise the overwhelming vote of the people of Scotland that we should remain in the EU and within the single market.”

During the debate, Labour’s Jackie Baillie accused the Government of using its motion to make a “thinly-veiled attempt to pursue the only thing that unites the SNP, which is independence”.

She said she was “disappointed the SNP appear to want to break the consensus” at Holyrood, arguing MSPs should focus on “access not membership of the single market”.

“The SNP want continuing membership of the single market but don’t tell us how this would be achieved,” she said.

“In truth, membership of the single market requires membership of the European Union.

“Scotland would need to be an independent country and would then need to apply to join the EU as a new member state.

“Even I, committed as I am to membership of the EU, would want us to pause and think about the terms of any such entry.”

She continued: “Access alone will be difficult to negotiate. It is unclear what price would be exacted in return.”

Ms Baillie said a deal involving Scotland becoming a member of the European Economic Area was possible but called for a debate around the pros and cons.