Failure to "return to sanity" by Labour could doubt future of union - UK's longest-serving MEP

UK's longest serving MEP says support for Scottish independence could rise as a result of Brexit

SCOTTISH LABOUR MEP David Martin has said that if his party does not "return to sanity" then more Scots could question the future of the union.

In an interview with CommonSpace, the UK's longest serving MEP warned that if Brexit leads to a declining economy south of the border and a future England becoming "less tolerant", unionist Scots may reconsider their future within the UK.

"If, frankly, my own party does not show any sign of recovery or return to sanity and we end up with an England that is less tolerant than it currently is, is less committed to defending public and social services, and if the result of Brexit is we end up with an England that is an declining economy, I think more Scots will start to ask themselves the question, 'why do we want to be attached to such a nation?'" he said.

David Martin MEP

When asked about the likelihood of support for Scottish independence increasing within the next few years as a result, he said: "I'm not advocating [Scottish independence], but I think it definitely could."

Scotland backed remaining in the European Union with 62 per cent of the vote in June 2016. England and Wales voted for Brexit while Northern Ireland voted to Remain. The final vote across the UK as a whole was 52 per cent in favour of leaving the European Union.

However, ahead of the EU referendum, the SNP won the May 2016 Scottish elections on a manifesto which included a mandate to seek a second independence referendum if there was a "material change" in circumstances, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will. 

When asked about the likelihood of support for Scottish independence increasing within the next few years as a result, he said: "I'm not advocating [Scottish independence], but I think it definitely could."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced at Bute House earlier this month that she would seek to hold an independence referendum between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019. The Scottish Parliament backed the plan on Tuesday by 69 votes to 59.

The Scottish Government's position on Scotland's future relationship with Europe was articulated in December 2016 in its document, 'Scotland's Place in Europe'. It wants the country to remain within the European Single Market. Membership of the Single Market would mean the acceptance of the 'four freedoms' of movement - goods, services, capital and people.

However, the UK Government's position is at odds with Scotland's. Prime Minister Theresa May has already said that the UK will leave the Single Market. In the same speech, she said that Brexit had to mean the number of people coming into Britain from Europe would to be controlled.

Martin indicated that the option of Scotland staying within the European Single Market, while remaining part of the UK, is now almost gone, saying that other member states wouldn't have been very hostile to such an idea, but that it was up to the UK to ask for a "differential solution".

The MEP for Scotland also thought any trade deal between the UK and EU might not be struck until 2024.

"In my view, the best we will do in the two years of the Article 50 period is get some of the fundamentals done. We won't do much more than that. We certainly won't have the trade deal settled by then." David Martin MEP

"I think we are frankly a long way from a settlement," he said. "In my view, the best we will do in the two years of the Article 50 period is get some of the fundamentals done, like - if we're lucky - [dealing with] the Irish border, the free movement of people and the amount of money Britain has or hasn't got to pay.

"We won't do much more than that. We certainly won't have the trade deal settled by then."

The MEP is confident that UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny are determined to keep the border between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland open, but he added that challenges lie ahead: "To be fair on both of them, surely they are both committed to trying to achieve that. I don't think it is at all simple, though.

"It comes back to what form of Brexit we have and if we have a very hard Brexit with no trade, customs or any other agreements, it is very difficult to see how that Irish border can remain open.

"I mean, it may be open in the sense that there are no barbed wired fences or massive customs posts, but there would have to be measures in place to track - using modern technology with tracking devices and so on - goods and services that are moving across the frontier."

Northern Ireland has been locked in political crisis this year and could face another Stormont election or the prospect of direct rule from Westminster after a deadline for forming a fresh ruling administration passed on Monday, adding to the current concerns regarding the future of the UK-Ireland border and the future of the island of Ireland itself. Enda Kenny appealed to EU leaders on Thursday to include the Good Friday Agreement in the "ground rules" for the UK-EU negotiations.

"What's been true actually for most of my time in the [European] Parliament is regardless of our party differences, when it comes to issues that specifically affect Scotland, we [Scotland’s MEPs] generally manage to work pretty closely together and represent the Scottish interest." David Martin MEP

In July last year, SNP MEP Alyn Smith described 'Team Scotland' on his website consisting of MEPs including himself, David Martin and Catherine Stihler (both Labour), Ian Hudghton (SNP) and Ian Duncan (Conservative) - all five campaigned for Remain in last year's EU referendum. Scotland's other MEP, David Coburn of Ukip, was in favour of leaving the EU.

Martin said that they worked well together to defend Scotland's interests: "Brexit, we haven't actually discussed collectively, because there's not really been the need or the opportunity. 

"We all had our views on the referendum and the five of the six [MEPs] were all campaigning strongly to stay in.

"What's been true actually for most of my time in the [European] Parliament is regardless of our party differences, when it comes to issues that specifically affect Scotland, we generally manage to work pretty closely together and represent the Scottish interest.

"We've managed to pull together."

Martin has been a Labour MEP since 1984. In June 2016, he became a member of the Standing Council on Europe, which is a group of experts tasked by the Scottish Government to find ways of securing Scotland's relationship with the European Union.

Pictures courtesy of Steve Eason and European Parliament 2016

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