This weekend marks 150 days since Britain voted to leave the European Union.
Like the majority of Scots, I voted Remain and I was proud to campaign alongside Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson in the run-up to the referendum.
It was gut-wrenching to lose and to face up to the fact that Britain is heading out of the EU.
Scottish Labour is proud to be a pro-EU party.
I wrote to Nicola Sturgeon last month to spell out Labour’s position and explained that our number one demand was ‘maintaining free access to the EU single market’.
Our trade with the EU accounts for £11.6billion of Scottish export trade and safeguards 250,000 Scottish jobs.
Scottish Labour’s priority will always be our nation’s workers.
In recent weeks, there have been a number of Brexit debates in the Scottish Parliament.
There has, largely, been consensus among the political parties as we seek to secure the best possible deal for Scotland.
That is why we have voted with the SNP 11 times, despite the Nationalists’ failure so far to present a viable plan to parliament.
There was another debate this week, and – as before - we attempted to keep that consensus. But this time, the Nationalists decided to divide us.
The SNP submitted a motion that seemed to admit defeat on keeping the whole UK in the EU single market and asked us to take a leap of blind faith in an alternative approach yet to be revealed.
It set the bar so high that it was likely to fail, as Scotland-only membership is undoubtedly going to be difficult – if not impossible - to achieve. Expert after expert has said as much since summer.
The SNP has not presented a scrap of evidence that single market membership for Scotland alone is possible. Even one of Nicola Sturgeon’s own advisers, Fabian Zuleeg at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, has told the SNP it will not happen.
Membership is different to access.
So why did the SNP insist on this language? Because this was actually a parliamentary motion designed with only one thing in mind: Scottish independence.
It was a cynical bid to hoodwink MSPs into backing a position that - months down the line - Nicola Sturgeon would use to suggest that Holyrood was in favour of Scotland being an independent country with its own membership of the EU single market.
The intransigence of the Nationalists meant that Labour MSPs abstained in the final vote in Holyrood. While we support the SNP’s goal to assist businesses to secure new international opportunities – which was also in the motion – we will not offer our backing for anything that will be used as an excuse for another independence referendum.
We are steadfast in our opposition to another contest: our nation is divided enough Ms Sturgeon, do not divide us again.
So Labour put forward an amendment to the SNP’s motion in parliament.
We called on Holyrood to recognise the ‘importance of Scotland’s place in the UK single market and the opportunities for business and citizens; note the Scottish Government’s efforts to assist business in Scotland to secure new international opportunities; call on the Scottish Government to expand opportunities for business in Scotland to the rest of the UK, and believes that the UK Government should seek to maintain Scotland’s access to the single market and to retain the benefits that it currently derives from the EU customs union’.
Anyone who reads that will know that SNP attempts to suggest Labour supports a hard Brexit is nothing but politicking.
As my MSPs told the Parliament, Scotland’s exports to the EU help to sustain jobs and generate tax revenue to fund the public services we all rely on. Brexit puts all of that at risk.
But our exports to the EU are dwarfed by those to the rest of the UK. Scotland’s trade with the UK single market is worth £48billion - FOUR TIMES that with the EU. In fact, Scotland trades twice as much with the rest of the UK as we do with the EU and rest of the world combined.
Hundreds of thousands of jobs in Scotland are directly dependent on being part of the vital UK single market.
The SNP voted our amendment down.
By not accepting the importance of the UK single market, SNP MSPs showed they are willing to sacrifice Scottish jobs on the altar of independence.
Nicola Sturgeon’s bid to tear apart our Union is an act of economic vandalism, and Scottish Labour will never support a move that would cost workers’ jobs.
The SNP – and the Tories - have no interest in positively binding our country together.
I lead the only party that doesn’t just believe in the United Kingdom for its own sake. We believe in it as the best way to redistribute power and wealth across these islands.
That’s why I am absolutely clear that Scottish Labour will not support any proposal for a second independence referendum.
Our priority is jobs. The SNP’s priority is independence, whatever the cost.