The grim reaper of Brexit is haunting us here in Scotland. As negotiations began in Brussels this week, and Britain made her first concessions, there are growing fears that the forecasts of economic doom are going to be proved true.
Farmers at this weekend’s Royal Highland Show outside Edinburgh are worried what it will mean for their European subsidies.
Although when Mr Gove spoke to the Edinburgh Reporter at the show he did not seem to agree :
— Edinburgh Reporter (@EdinReporter) June 22, 2017
Not to mention what will happen to the thousands of migrant labourers who flock here every summer from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania to help bring in the fruit and vegetable harvest.
Among the 200,000 visitors expected over the four days of the show was one of the grim reapers himself, the new agriculture minister Michael Gove. This is the same high-browed man who caused havoc when he was let loose on the English education system and who first backed Boris Johnson for prime minister and then pulled the rug from beneath him, leaving them both sprawling on the floor. It’s hard to believe he’s from good old Aberdeen.
It’s not much wonder that Scottish farmers are pretty sceptical that Mr Gove will defend their interests in Brussels. The SNP government already believe there will be a “power grab” by Westminster as powers and payments under the Common Agriculture Policy come back to the UK.
Scottish fishermen will also be wondering how he will defend their industry. It’s already a complicated matter, given that Britain exports most of what we catch and imports most of what we eat. The other EU countries are rumoured to be determined to keep access to UK waters, and European ownership of the fishing fleet, as part of the overall Brexit deal. The SNP say this is exactly what happened the last time the Conservatives were in charge of fishing negotiations.
Then there are Euro tremblings in the financial sector in Scotland. The questions for the likes of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management – who this week agreed to merge – include doubts over whether they will be able to trade freely across Europe. Will they have to move their offices to Paris or Frankfurt ?
The SNP want a direct seat at the negotiating table in Brussels and their 35 MPs at Westminster will be keen to use their weight in the hung parliament to “defend Scotland’s interests.” The Conservatives have responded by appointing Ian Duncan to the post of minister in the Scotland Office. They say he will bring his expertise as a Member of the European Parliament to the job and he will indeed represent Scotland’s interests.
Whether or not Edinburgh North and Leith candidate Iain McGill is chosen to succeed him in Brussels is another question. One which we have asked but as yet have no answer to.
What they seem to have overlooked is that only a fortnight ago, Mr Duncan was rejected by the voters of Perth and North Perthshire in the General Election. He will be brought into the government via a back door in the House of Lords. “A reward for failure,” said the SNP’s Pete Wishart who took the seat by 21 votes. “This is democracy, Conservative style,” Nicola Sturgeon took some delight in telling MSPs at First Minister’s Question time.
But this week the SNP government has not exactly given democracy a good name. A report from the Auditor General pointed out that Scotland’s further education colleges are facing a deficit of £8m this year, plus an increased wages bill, and student numbers are falling. The attainment gap among school pupils remains as wide as ever, according to the government’s own figures. Another 2,000 local council staff have lost their jobs over the past year because of budget cuts. And ministers were forced to admit that too few requests under the Freedom of Information Act were being answered.
Indeed the whole parliament came in for criticism from the Presiding Officer’s own inquiry.
MSPs were told to get out and about more, beef up the committee system and “cut the waffle”.
It doesn’t sound as if there will be any room in the new dispensation for debates over “snips and snails and puppy dog’s tails” and other things that little boys are made of.
So it’s as well this week that MSPs finished considering an amendment to the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2006 which forbids the docking of dogs’ tails.
Gamekeepers will now be allowed to dock the tail of working dogs to prevent them getting injured in deep undergrowth. You may wonder why MSPs didn’t think of that in the first place.