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Column: Brexit and the Pandemic Have Left Toxic Legacies

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Categories: Column, News

Column from Alyn Smith MP, for local newspaper the Stirling Observer

2023 will mark seven years since 67% of voters across Stirling resoundingly rejected Brexit – joining 62% of voters across Scotland as a whole. Sadly, we know how events unfolded, and this January will mark three years since Scotland was dragged from the European Union against our democratic will.

Many commentators will minimise Brexit, given the scale of the other pressing issues in our headlines and on our screens. And yet in every instance, for every challenge facing Stirling, Scotland and the rest of these islands – Brexit has significantly diluted, decayed or destroyed the tools available to tackle the task at hand.

Take healthcare for instance. It’s no secret health systems across the UK are struggling to cope with the legacy of the pandemic. And yet the Tories have exacerbated skills and labour shortages through the ending of free movement with the EU. Scotland faces an ageing population. More of us will require care, and there will be a smaller workforce to meet that demand. We’re short doctors, nurses and other professionals across a variety of sectors – Brexit has made things worse.

The UK economy itself is creaking, particularly after disastrous treatment from Truss and Kwarteng, and total inertia from Sunak. And yet – manufacturers and export businesses have been left twisting in the wind, buried beneath a sea of fresh red tape and bureaucracy to reach vital European markets. The last thing local businesses need are fresh hurdles to overcome, which the Tories have erected them in droves.

Innovation is what drives economies forward, with new ideas and fresh technologies breathing life into businesses and communities. The Higher and Further education sectors play an undeniable role as engines for learning and growth – and yet, they’ve been shackled and cut off from key funding programmes. The best and brightest from Europe have been further deterred from setting up shop across these islands.

Stirling rejected it. Scotland rejected it. And yet – we’re suffering a set of circumstances not of our making, nor of our political choosing.

I sincerely hope the rest of the UK makes peace with Europe and closer relationships can bloom. But Scotland’s future cannot rest on the whims of Little Britain. 

Independence in Europe offers us a future the UK simply cannot. A full participant in the European democratic project, a proud member of the European family of nations – with all the rights and responsibilities associated with membership of the global A-team.

Be it soaring energy bills, climate change, security, human rights, the cost of living crisis, economic and social recovery; the powers, relationships and values Scotland needs to flourish can be found in the European Union. 

And whilst the people of Stirling remain convinced on the EU proposition, I respect differences of opinion on independence. I was elected in 2019 to fight for Stirling’s interests, and during these lively discussions on Scotland’s future that’s exactly what I intend to continue to do in my new role as the SNP’s Europe and EU Accession Spokesperson. Only through respectful discussion and debate can we reach the consensus we need to progress to a better Stirling and Scotland.