Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland needs free movement of people

Nicola Sturgeon will today say that free movement between Scotland and Europe must be maintained as she seeks to secure the country's role in the European Union following the Brexit vote.

Nicola Sturgeon meeting EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in the wake of the Brexit vote. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon meeting EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in the wake of the Brexit vote. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The First Minister will make a keynote speech in Edinburgh setting out five “key interests” for Scotland in the aftermath of the UK’s decision to leave the EU in last month’s referendum.

Ms Sturgeon’s determination to maintain free movement of labour with other European countries will put Scotland on a collision course with the rest of the UK, with immigration widely seen to be the key factor in securing the Leave vote.

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The First Minister will say this is a “vital interest” that she wants to safeguard for Scotland.

Scots voted 62 per cent to 38 per cent in favour of staying in the EU, but the majority weight of votes for Leave in England and Wales was enough to swing the result.

Ms Sturgeon will address an audience made up of business leaders, charities and public sector organisations at a conference organised by think-tank the Institute of Public ­Policy Research.

She will say: “I am determined that we find or create the options that best preserve the five key interests that depend on our relationship with the EU. Our democratic interests – the need to make sure Scotland’s voice is heard and our wishes respected.

“Our economic interests – safeguarding free movement of labour, access to a single market of 500 million people and the funding that our farmers and universities depend on.

“Our interests in social protection – ensuring the continued protection of workers’ and wider human rights.

“Our interest in solidarity – the ability of independent nations to come together for the common good of all our citizens, to tackle crime and terrorism and deal with global challenges like climate change.

“And our interest in having influence – making sure that we don’t just have to abide by the rules of the single market but also have a say in shaping them.

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“Democracy, economic prosperity, social protection, solidarity and influence – these are the vital interests that we now seek to safeguard.”

The SNP leader has said she is ready to stage another ­independence referendum if this proves the only way to maintain Scotland’s interest with the EU, but will look to see if this can be secured within the UK.

Ms Sturgeon will tell her audience today that she will “explore every avenue and every option for doing so” in the weeks ahead.

SNP MP Stephen Gethins has already started visiting European capitals to gather support for Scotland remaining in the EU. He has visited Brussels, Paris and Belfast in an effort to maintain Scotland’s place in the bloc, while also remaining part of the UK.

Mr Gethins said: “In politics, where there’s a will there’s a way. Brussels is the home of innovative political solutions and I’m confident that there’s an innovative way of making this work for the UK, for the EU and for Scotland. It’s really important to reach out to our partners in Europe.

“The reaction has been very supportive and sympathetic. There are huge levels of interest in Brexit, of course, but also in Scotland in particular.”

Gethins, who has given evidence to the French parliament on Brexit, added: “I was surprised at the extent of support in Paris. Every question was about Scotland and every one was supportive.”

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Prime Minister Theresa May has said she is “willing to listen to options” that the SNP present, but she has described some of the early ideas as “impracticable”. Scottish Secretary David Mundell said the idea of Scotland remaining in the UK and EU is “fanciful”.

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “It is right that the Scottish Government should be examining how best to further our interests as the United Kingdom begins negotiations with the European Union.

“However, as two million Scots agreed in 2014, leaving the United Kingdom is not in Scotland’s interests, and the Scottish Government should therefore end its flirtation with yet another divisive ­referendum on independence. Its focus as we enter this ­crucial period should instead be to work with the UK ­government to get the right deal for families and firms across Scotland.

Meanwhile, oil tycoon and former Scottish Government jobs commissioner Sir Ian Wood has warned Scotland “would have very little ­influence in Europe” as a small independent member of the EU.

He said EU accession is “a long process and one that would be damaging, with a lot of uncertainty for the oil and gas industry”.

He said: “I was in favour of remaining in Europe. I have this idea we are becoming too divisive in the world.

“Everyone wants to be independent, but I think bigger economic units are more successful. We actually have to be better at living and working together.”

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Opposition parties in Scotland also called on the Scottish Government to set out a plan to deal with the post-Brexit economic growth after it emerged last week that growth in Scotland is now flatlining.

Labour’s public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie has written to Scottish Government economy secretary Keith Brown asking him to set out the preparations and actions earmarked to deal with the fallout of leaving the EU and the wider problems facing Scotland’s economy.

She wrote: “With the uncertainty caused by Brexit likely to result in diminished investment and a further reduction in output, it is time that both the Scottish and UK governments set out coherent plans for the future of the UK and Scottish economies.

“It is clear that a substantial change of direction is needed, one that encourages investment, and creates the high-skilled, well-paid jobs that will support economic growth and raise living standards across Scotland and the UK.”

Ms Baillie added: “I would, therefore, be grateful if you could outline to me what plans you have made, and what action you will take, to deal with the fallout from the vote to leave the EU along with the wider problems afflicting Scotland’s economy and labour market, with particular regard to the actions you will take to support investment in the construction and manufacturing sectors and in the economy as a whole.”