Column: Conference Season


 

The weather is turning and the nights are drawing in. As memories of our month-long heat wave begin to fade, political anoraks are enjoying political conference season.

Conferences are an opportunity to meet fellow members, discuss and debate the big issues of the day and leave united in the knowledge that decisions have been reached democratically and fairly.

However, for the UK’s largest two parties, the opposite appears to be the case.

Last week the Labour Party held their conference in Liverpool and this week the Tories met in Birmingham.

Unsurprisingly, one issue has dominated both – Brexit.

The debate about customs union membership, the single market, and a second Brexit referendum have been raging on the conference floor and at the fringe events, yet little agreement has been found.

The Labour Party offered no clarity on their position. Their Brexit Spokesperson said in his key-note speech that he backed a second referendum with remain on the table before being quickly over-ruled by Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour’s lack of unity on the big topic of the day was followed by more infighting at the Tories annual gathering.

After Boris Johnston had finished running through fields of wheat, he took to the stage to tell Tory members the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan is ‘deranged’ and unworkable.

As he set out his pitch for office, he declared to a receptive room that the Government should “chuck Chequers”. At one point he even suggested Theresa May risked being prosecuted under an ancient law which states “no foreign court or government shall have jurisdiction in this country”.

He also said the Prime Minister is disappointing pro-Brexit voters by not being bold enough in her engagements with EU leaders and that there would likely be a rise in UKIP votes as a result.

And while to those on the outside it may seem like Boris Johnston is leading a circus, his actions affect our national interests.

Scotland did not vote for Brexit, but if the UK is going to leave the EU, I want the best deal for Scotland and the best deal for my constituency. Unlike Labour or the Tories, the SNP has a plan on Brexit that would, as far as possible, protect jobs and our economy.

As things stand, it looks like the UK government will get a bad deal, or no deal at all. The latest research presents a stark picture of the shock a bad deal will have on Scotland – leaving every Scot worse off by £2,300 a year, wiping out 80,000 jobs, and damaging growth and business opportunities for decades.

The UK government urgently needs to change tack. Instead of infighting, it must look at the successful trade agreements of our neighbours.

In my opinion, Norway’s deal with the EU points the way forward. Norway is not a member of the EU but, in almost all areas, Norwegian businesses trade across the EU without extra charges or barriers.

Norway is one of the most successful countries in the world. It regularly tops the tables for wealth, equality and living standards. In contrast, all evidence points to the UK’s current approach to Brexit being bad for household incomes and our economy.

At SNP conference this coming weekend, I will be articulating the case for the UK to stay within the single market and customs union, similar to our Scandinavian neighbours.

But if the UK Government want to continue pushing for a no-deal or bad-deal Brexit, they should not drag Scotland with them.

If the UK government won’t fight for a deal for the whole of the UK that protects jobs – I want one for Scotland.

It is time Theresa May woke up to reality and halted to her disastrous plan to take the whole UK off the Brexit cliff.