Tories accuse SNP of ‘driving division’ with ‘needless’ Brussels trip

Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Government’s external affairs secretary, has been accused of trying to “drive division” by claiming Scotland is a “distinct political community” within Europe.

Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop MSP.
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop MSP.

Ms Hyslop, who will address newly elected MEPs and EU officials close to the Brexit process at a reception in Brussels tonight marking the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament, is expected to say that devolution has “transformed politics” and has “ensured beyond any doubt that Scotland is a distinct political community within Europe.”

She will also expand on the Scottish Government’s desire to retain strong links with the European Union “despite the threat of Brexit”, and stress how joint funding and collaboration with Europe “has helped the Scottish Government improve the lives of Scots”.

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But her trip was strongly criticised by the Scottish Conservatives as “needless” and an “attempt to drive division between Scotland and the rest of the UK”.

The latest row over the Scottish Government’s actions abroad comes just two weeks after Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt revealed he had ordered his department not to provide any official or consular support for Nicola Sturgeon’s trips if she used them to campaign for Scottish independence.

His decision came after the First Minister’s June trip to Brussels to meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the former European Commission president, and Michel Barnier, the then EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. Ms Sturgeon gave a speech attacking Brexit and extolling her government’s pro-EU, pro-independence stance.

Ms Hyslop will similarly emphasise the Scottish Government’s continued preference to remain in the EU. She is expected to say: “This is undoubtedly a pivotal period for the EU. It is also a critical time for Scotland. Decisions taken over the next few months will impact on us all for years to come. I want to assure you that we are as committed now, as we were 20 years ago, to building and cooperating together.”

However, Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden said: “Once again we have a senior member of the SNP taking needless trips to Brussels to talk up independence. This is yet another excuse for them to try and drive up division between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Given the issues facing and our public services, it’s unforgivable that the SNP are still prioritising independence above all else.”