What the SNP manifesto says about Brexit

What the SNP manifesto says about Brexit

“The SNP believes that if Scotland chooses to become independent, we should be a member state of the EU.”


Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP were in Perth today to launch their manifesto for the general election with a clear pro-EU stance. There are three key planks to their Brexit policy: to fight for Scotland to remain in the single market, to hold a second independence referendum once the terms of Brexit are clear, and then to rejoin the EU if they win their independence referendum. Here, we take you through the details:

  • It is clear that there is no rational case for taking Scotland, or the UK, out of the Single Market. SNP MPs will seek to protect Scotland’s economy by working to protect Scotland’s place in the Single Market.
  • We will fight to maintain Single Market membership.
  • We must make sure that our interests are not ignored in the Brexit negotiations.
  • This election offers people the chance to give the Scottish Government’s proposals real democratic legitimacy and make it impossible for the Prime Minister to continue to ignore Scotland’s voice.
  • If the SNP wins the election, it will give us a mandate to demand a place for Scotland at the Brexit negotiating table and the inclusion of the case for our place in the Single Market in the UK’s negotiating remit.

The SNP are here referring to their Brexit plan, published last December, which purported to offer a way in which Scotland could remain in the EU single market even if the rest of the UK were to leave, although it was greeted with much scepticism at the time. The claim that the SNP winning the election will grant them a mandate to demand a place for Scotland at the negotiating table is likely to be contentious, particularly if the SNP loses seats relative to the 2015 election.

  • A vote for the SNP is a vote to reinforce the Scottish Parliament’s right to decide when an independence referendum should happen.
  • At the end of the Brexit process, when the final terms of the deal are known, it is right that Scotland should have a real choice about our future.
  • Given that an independence referendum would happen at the end of the Brexit process, this election also presents Scotland with a more immediate opportunity.
  • The SNP believes that if Scotland chooses to become independent, we should be a member state of the EU.
  • Before asking people to vote in an independence referendum, we will set out the process by which our membership of the EU will be secured in the circumstances that prevail at that time – such as whether or not Scotland has already left the EU as part of the UK.

This is the SNP’s demand for a second independence referendum once the terms of the Brexit deal are known, although it is presented in a much more low-key manner than many were expecting. The SNP state their view that Scotland should be a member of the EU if it becomes independent, but are distinctly vague on how this would be implemented.

With the collapse of Jolyon Maugham’s comical Irish High Court challenge to ascertain the reversibility of Article 50, Scotland would likely have to go through the full Article 49 accession process, like any other applicant member state to the EU, which would almost certainly not allow Scotland to keep the UK’s current opt-outs on issues like joining the euro. The SNP also fail to clarify at this time whether rejoining the EU would be subject to a further referendum in Scotland, or what other procedure might be used to determine whether Scotland reapplies for EU membership.

  • We will continue, in all circumstances, to demand the scrapping or fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and support Scottish control of Scottish fisheries.
  • We will also oppose any attempt by the UK government to treat the fishing industry as a bargaining chip.
  • Fishing is fully devolved and whatever future Scotland chooses, we will expect all powers over policy to be repatriated to Scotland when the UK leaves the EU.
  • SNP MPs will press for EU fisheries funding to be matched and transferred to Scotland in full.

The issue of fisheries has proved to be a contentious one in Scotland so far in this general election campaign, with Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson trading accusations over the Common Fisheries Policy, the EU policy which has dealt much damage to Scottish fishing communities over the decades. Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that there is no legal provision for an EU member state to not be part of the Common Fisheries Policy, so the SNP’s pledge to support “Scottish control of Scottish fisheries” whilst rejoining the EU appears to be little more than wishful thinking.

  • Until such time as Scotland chooses to be independent, SNP MPs will support increased powers for the Scottish Parliament. These will include:
    • powers that will be repatriated from Brussels to the UK that currently sit within the competences of the Scottish Parliament, like agriculture, fisheries and environmental protection;
    • powers to be repatriated in reserved areas, such as employment law, which protect fundamental rights currently enjoyed by the people of Scotland;
    • new powers, beyond those being repatriated, including, but not limited to immigration; powers to conclude international agreements in areas of the Scottish Parliament’s responsibility, and powers that would allow Scotland to meet the regulatory and administrative requirements of continued European Single Market membership.
  • We will expect all powers over agriculture and rural policy to be repatriated to Scotland.

Labour’s manifesto has already promised to implement the the SNP’s expressed wish for all powers being repatriated from Brussels to be devolved to Scotland in areas where the Scottish Parliament already has competence, while the Conservatives and Lib Dems have also indicated their desire to do so, albeit without making a commitment as firm as the “presumption of devolution” which Labour have pledged. However, the SNP’s calls for Scotland to gain powers in reserved areas and even “powers to conclude international agreements” go far beyond this, and would certainly exceed the constitutional bounds of Scotland’s current devolution settlement.

  • So long as Scotland is covered by trade arrangements negotiated by the UK government, the SNP will call for greater transparency in any proposed international trade deals following Brexit, with the UK and Scottish Parliaments being given a say.
  • SNP MPs will also seek to ensure that any future trade deals secure geographical indications for key Scottish food and drink products like Scotch Whisky, Arbroath smokies and Stornoway black pudding.
  • We will also seek a cast-iron guarantee from the UK government that they will seek the consent of the Scottish Parliament under the Sewel Convention to the terms of the Brexit Bill.

Typically, trade deals around the world (and indeed all international treaties) are negotiated and signed by governments, but must subsequently be approved by national parliaments for them to be ratified, and for them to take effect in domestic law. Hence, the UK Parliament will inevitably have a say on any future trade deals negotiated by the Government. The SNP is calling for the Scottish Parliament to also be called upon to formally ratify any trade deal, which could lead to repeats of the situation when the Wallonian regional assembly infamously held up the EU-Canada trade deal.

The UK Government is likely to argue that the Scottish Parliament does not need to have a say, as under the Sewel Convention, Holyrood’s approval is only sought when UK legislation affects devolved matters, and foreign relations are specifically excluded from the devolution settlements. A vote for the Scottish Parliament on the ‘Brexit Bill’ – presumably the Great Repeal Bill – is also likely to be a bone of contention between Bute House and Downing Street, as it could open the door to the SNP obstructing Brexit by holding the Bill up indefinitely in Holyrood. London is unlikely to want to concede on either of these points.

  • Brexit threatens the fundamental rights that people in the UK currently enjoy, including workers’ rights, as well as vital social and environmental protections. SNP MPs will hold the Tories to account to ensure that the rights and protections currently safeguarded by EU membership are not diminished after the UK leaves.
  • The SNP will fight to protect the rights of pregnant women and new mothers afforded under EU laws, ensuring that maternity and workplace rights are not eroded.

Workers’ rights and environmental protections make an appearance here as they do in all the other major parties’ manifestos. While the SNP have not put in misleading information on maternity rights in the way the Liberal Democrats did in their manifesto, it is worth remembering that UK law already grants far more extensive maternity rights than EU law does.

  • The benefits delivered by EU funding for Scotland are significant and wide-ranging – supporting jobs, paying for new infrastructure across the country, funding research at our universities, and providing support for our farming and fishing industries.
  • There should be no question that we should have full control of EU agricultural funding following Brexit.
  • SNP MPs will demand urgent clarity from the UK government on long-term funding arrangements after the UK leaves the EU, and ensure that current funding levels are matched.

Of course, so-called ‘EU funding’ is simply UK taxpayers’ money in the first place, some of which is then channelled back to the UK via Brussels with strings attached. The Conservatives have pledged to use the ‘structural fund’ money which comes back to the UK from the EU to create a UK Shared Prosperity Fund to reduce inequalities across the four nations of the UK, although this will probably not be what the SNP has in mind. However, any long-term arrangement which resulted in Scotland receiving significantly more funding than under the current arrangements would likely be unpopular in the rest of the UK.

  • SNP MPs will continue to press the UK government to confirm the rights of EU nationals to remain as a matter of urgency. We expect the rights of UK nationals living in the EU to be guaranteed in the same way.
  • The current UK one-size-fits-all approach to immigration is failing Scotland. The SNP will continue to seek devolution of immigration powers so that Scotland can have an immigration policy that works for our economy and society.
  • The UK government recently introduced a Skills Immigration Charge – a charge for employers, including the public sector, of £1,000 per non-EEA worker per year.
  • We oppose this policy and remain concerned that the UK government will implement a similar charge for workers from the EU post-Brexit. SNP MPs will oppose any such moves, and press for the charge to be scrapped altogether.
  • We will also support the right to vote of citizens from other EU countries resident here.

Like Labour and the Lib Dems, the SNP call for a unilateral guarantee of EU citizens’ rights in the UK, while offering nothing more than vague hopes that the EU does the same for UK citizens in the EU. The SNP reiterate their calls for Scottish immigration policy to be devolved to Scotland, while expressing their opposition to the Conservatives’ ‘Skills Immigration Charge’. EU citizens are currently able to vote in local and European elections, but the SNP have gone further in their manifesto, while also calling for the introduction of proportional representation in Westminster elections.

  • SNP MPs will press the UK government to commit to the Open Skies Agreement in Brexit negotiations to ensure there is no loss of flights to or from Scotland and our airports are not disadvantaged.
  • The SNP will call on the UK government to stay part of the EMA so that access to vital drugs is maintained, and so that we can continue to participate in Europe-wide clinical trials and data sharing.
  • SNP MPs will press the UK government to ensure continuity in cross-border health insurance arrangements – including the European Health Insurance Card.
  • Scotland’s universities receive vital research funding from the EU, through programmes like Horizon 2020. SNP MPs will continue to work with Scotland’s universities and institutions to seek clarity from the UK government on what will replace this funding.
  • The SNP believes that our students should be able to seamlessly travel to Europe for study and we will support the continuation of programmes like ERASMUS+
  • SNP MPs will work to protect Scotland’s place in Europe’s energy markets and funding programmes – ensuring continued funding and cooperation with the EU for Scotland’s renewable energy sector.
  • SNP MPs will seek to ensure that Scotland does not lose out on the EU commitment to abolish mobile roaming charges.

Pledges like these, including continued close cooperation with the EU in a wide range of areas including science research and student exchange programmes, are ones which the major parties are generally in broad agreement over, although the SNP has gone further on issues like EU energy markets.

Ultimately, it’s a manifesto designed to give the Scottish Government the opportunity to claim a mandate to take on Westminster at various points during the Brexit negotiations. However, what they can truly claim a mandate for is far from clear, particularly given that most Brexit issues are likely to fall under the sphere of reserved international matters. Moreover, the EU has made it clear that it is negotiating directly with the British Government. In any case, it’s hard to see the SNP dropping its core policy of a second independence referendum, whatever the outcome of Brexit may be.