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A Scottish view on Brexit

Arthur Sullivan
December 12, 2018

Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU in 2016. As the Scottish Trade Minister Ivan McKee explained in an interview with DW, the country is eager to promote itself in the face of ongoing UK political chaos.

A women in a Scottish dress
Image: Getty Images/JJ.Mitchell

Ivan McKee is a member of Scotland's devolved Parliament and is the Scottish government's Trade, Investment and Innovation Minister. He is a member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which advocates for Scottish independence from the UK.

He recently completed trade trips to Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and France as part of his ministerial role and he explained to DW that despite the ongoing political chaos and uncertainty around Brexit, Scotland is eager to maintain and promote its trade links with the rest of the EU.

DW: You recently visited Hamburg in your capacity with the Scottish Executive. What was the aim of your visit?

Ivan McKee: There were a number of messages we wanted to get across and one of the key ones is that Scotland is very much open for business. We have got long and deep trade links with Europe, with Germany and with Hamburg in particular and it was important to reinforce those and to look for opportunities to increase trade between Scotland and that part of Germany.

Read more: Scotland wants to avoid Brexit but doesn't know how

Is the intention to promote Scottish-only trade or do you include UK-wide trade as part of the remit?

Our job in the Scottish government is to promote trade links between Scotland and the rest of the world and that's what we are doing. Clearly Brexit and the confusion around that makes our job even harder but we are working as hard as we can to make sure we maintain and enhance those links everywhere we can, particularly in Europe.

When you talk to representatives of European countries, is it difficult to isolate Scottish interests and the Scottish angle from the wider UK one, given that Scotland is not yet an independent state?

Schottland Regierung | Ivan McKee, Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation
Ivan McKee, Scottish Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation Image: Scottish Government

I think people understand the unfortunate situation that the UK government has got itself into. I think they welcome very much the message that the Scottish government communicates around about our desire to stay as close to Europe as possible, the fact that we think — and the people of Scotland overwhelmingly think — that Brexit is a mistake, the fact that we want to keep Scotland in the customs union and the single market and to continue to trade as freely as possible with the rest of Europe.

That message is well understood and very welcome by everyone we meet. Our job is also to push Scottish business and improve Scottish trade links across Europe. People understand that Scotland's economy and Scotland's businesses on their own have got a huge amount to offer and they are very keen to work and trade with us.

Nothing seems to be fixed in Westminster or in British politics as a whole at the moment with regard to Brexit. What is the current position of the SNP with regard to Brexit, what would you most like to see happen right now?

Our position is that there are two options that allow us to move forward from the current mess that we are in. One of those is a solution that keeps the UK as a whole in the customs union and single market. The other option is a second referendum and we are happy to work with partners in the UK parliament that can work with us to bring about a majority for either of those options.

Scotland: Fears of losing EU workers

The SNP advocates independence for Scotland, but the Brexit vote in 2016 has obviously complicated matters greatly. Where does the Scottish independence question sit right now, given those complications?

Clearly Brexit is damaging for the UK and it is damaging for Scotland's economy and at the moment, that is our primary focus — to protect Scotland's economy and its jobs That is very much what we are working to protect, by bringing about a change in the Brexit decision or by insuring there is a Brexit that keeps us in the customs union and single market and minimizes that damage.

Looking at it in the context of Scottish independence, if you look at the opinion polls over the last four years pretty much all of them have shown an increase in support beyond that which was achieved in 2014. The appetite for independence is still very much there.

Read more: UK is 'making a mess' of Brexit, Scotland's Nicola Sturgeon tells DW

The first Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that when Brexit is clear, when the situation we find ourselves in is clarified, then at that point we will take a view on what the route forward for Scotland is and whether that involves a second independence referendum.

Scotland voted overwhelmingly (62 percent) to remain in the EU back in 2016. So what is the mood you are detecting from your constituents in Glasgow on the current state of affairs with regard to Brexit?

People are astonished that the UK government could be so useless and incompetent and that's the prevailing sense. People know that Brexit is damaging and they know that the harder the Brexit, the more damaging it is and they can't believe that the UK government hasn't got a grip of this and brought about a solution to protect Scotland's economy.

Both you and your party leader Nicola Sturgeon have said that the current proposal would give Northern Ireland unfair advantages over Scotland. Is that a fair representation of your position?

Absolutely. If a part of the UK like Northern Ireland finds itself in a place where it can trade freely within Europe and at the same time trade within the UK, then clearly any inward investors looking at that scenario would find that attractive. It would certainly put Scotland at an economic disadvantage when we are competing for those kinds of investments.

This interview was conducted by Arthur Sullivan, and was edited and condensed for clarity.