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From Brexit U-turns to the ‘power grab’, this is how the Tories sold out Scotland

‘AS part of the UK, Scotland can be part of a new deal that renews our relationship with Europe,” Ruth Davidson said, promising “a better deal” for Scottish taxpayers.

That was in May 2014 as the then-Scottish Conservative leader set out her party’s prospectus in that year’s European parliamentary elections. Those were taking place before either of the referenda that would set the course for several turbulent years and end with Davidson quitting elected Scottish Parliament politics to take up a seat in the House of Lords.

During that period, the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party has swung solidly behind the Brexit it once opposed and lost the leader who’d been lauded as the saviour of Conservatism north of Berwick.

In doing so, it’s moved from reassuring Scots that their future lies within an improved European Union to voting against other MSPs trying to protect Scotland’s parliament from a Westminster “power grab” through the UK Internal Market Act.

READ MORE: European movement in Scotland: Backwards-looking Brexit held time still

When MSPs voted on that last October, the Tories were the only party to oppose a motion that agreed “not to consent” to the legislation because it “constrains the competence of the Scottish Parliament and breaches international law”.

Douglas Ross – who is now in the job vacated by Davidson – had insisted that “not one” power would be removed from Holyrood under post-Brexit plans laid out by Westminster.

Earlier this year that government announced it will bypass Scottish and other devolved governments in replacing EU structural funds with a pot controlled by Whitehall in a move described by Vaughan Gething of the Welsh Government as being “as subtle as an earthquake”.

That Holyrood vote came just over a year after the party jettisoned Davidson’s opposition to a No-Deal Brexit to fall-in behind Boris Johnson’s approach after months of internal party struggles. Davidson – an ally of David Cameron and Theresa May – had stepped down as Scottish Conservative leader in August 2019 over new PM Johnson’s handling of Brexit. Conflict with him over the issue, she told ITV’s Lorraine programme had “made it harder to be as good a leader, as clear-sighted a leader, as I had previously been”.

“I don’t know whether he desperately believes in Brexit or he doesn’t believe in Brexit and I’m not going to pretend that I do,” she said of Johnson.

“But I think people can tell if politicians are basically telling the truth or not and if they can tell if they mean what they say.”

READ MORE: Brexit’s big beasts: The five main characters and where they are five years on

In the same month as that interview, Davidson’s interim replacement Jackson Carlaw said he’d back the PM in leaving the EU by the stated October 31 deadline, even without a deal. That was amidst determined insistence from the Scottish Government, amongst others, that No-Deal would be a disaster.

“At some point you have to say we have to move on,” said Carlaw, who by December of that year was saying he’d campaign to Leave if he could go back to 2016 and do it all again. “I think we are at that point now.”

Scottish Tory MPs swung behind Johnson too, with Scotland Secretary Alister Jack praising the Brexit deal as being good for Scotland.

When EU withdrawal finally took hold in January this year, it left cargoes of Scottish langoustines rotting in containers amidst a paperwork avalanche that was burying businesses. Companies had been plunged into a red-tape crisis of the likes they’d never seen before, with problems so bad that one major logistics provider announced a suspension of its services.

In 2014, then-Tory MEP candidate Ian Duncan had told voters they’d bring about reform that would exempt “more and more small businesses from the burden and tangle of red tape”. This week analysis from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) revealed an almost -50% fall in EU sales in the first three months of 2021. The drop took performance to a ten-year low and added-up to a £2 billion economic hit, with fish, whisky and lamb – all Scottish export successes – amongst the products to suffer the most. Dominic Goudie, FDF head of international trade, called this “a very clear indication of the scale of losses that UK manufacturers face in the longer-term due to new trade barriers with the EU”.

READ MORE: Five years of Brexit: Tory ministers ‘hostile to Scotland’, Michael Russell says

SCOTTISH Tory MPs also voted against manifesto commitments to protect food standards after Brexit, rejecting a Lords amendment to the Agriculture Bill that aimed at ensuring new arrangements would line-up with UK animal welfare and food safety minimums. David Duguid, Andrew Bowie, John Lamont and Jack all backed the Government on that, despite election pledges to voters.

Farming leaders feared that would allow hormone-fattened meats and more to enter the food chain. A new trade deal with Australia, where the use of hormones is allowed, has now sparked “deep concerns” in the sector, union NFU Scotland says. It fears a “dangerous precedent” has now been set over the lack of industry consultation on the matter, despite government claims that it will lower tariffs for British farming exports to nations in the Pacific.

Then there’s the small matter of the Northern Ireland protocol. In October 2018, Davidson and colleague David Mundell said they’d resign if Northern Ireland was given a different Brexit deal from Scotland because this would “undermine the integrity” of the UK.

Mundell is still on the Tory benches in the Commons, and Davidson? Arise, Baroness.



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