Conservative MSP Douglas Ross bemoaned, in the Scottish Parliament debating chamber, today the amount of time that has been spent discussing Brexit and its implications for Scotland. He felt that this was to the detriment to other matters. To be fair, it is to the detriment of other matters; however, that is the reality of the political landscape we find ourselves in. Whether people like it or not, Brexit is going to swallow up vast amounts of government time (both in Edinburgh and in London), parliamentary time (both in Holyrood and Westminster) and civil service time (both at a Scottish and UK level).
We hear talk about soft Brexit and hard Brexit, but the reality is that Brexit itself is hard. EU law directly affects or influences almost every single area of devolved responsibility. Reserved matters which will be affected by Brexit also have direct implications on areas of devolved responsibility. The reality is, especially as we continue through a period of austerity, that things have to give to make way for Brexit. More and more ministerial time will be taken up with Brexit as will the time spent by Civil Servants. Yes, the business of Government must go on (and it will do so), but the priorities will have to change. A lot of time will be spent on figuring out what needs to be done to ensure that when the UK leaves the European Union there aren’t any lacunas in the law and as time progresses and we learn more about what the UK’s new relationship with the EU will be legislation will need to be enacted (both in Holyrood and Westminster) to give effect to that. Ensuring that there are no lacunas and that the legislative framework is in place to give effect to our new relationship with the EU, whatever shape that will be, will feature highly on the legislative agenda between over the majority of this Session of the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Ross pointed out that Education was said by the First Minister to be her and her Government’s number one priority; well, education will be affected by Brexit. Changes to rules on immigration may well impact upon the recruitment of staff and students, it will have an impact upon issues like tuition fees and university and secondary school foreign exchange programmes to name some areas. Mr Ross highlighted the ambition of getting more women to take up the STEM subjects; well here is another area where Brexit will have an impact: through research funding. A lot of research funding (from PhD level all the way through to top end research) derives from EU sources. Research work undertaken can act as a way to inspire young people, including young women, into STEM subjects.
I have been known to castigate and criticise the SNP on many occasions over the years; however, I can’t help feel that the Conservative Party are being rather foolish here. It was the decision of the former Conservative party leader to hold the referendum that will now result in one of the biggest constitutional, legal and political upheavals in a very long time. Mr Ross and his conservative colleagues may not like the amount of time that Brexit will eat up over the coming years, but they’ll just need to lump it for that’s the reality of the political landscape in which we live.