It's strange to think that a month ago we were due to be leaving the European Union. With the leaving date pushed back to October 31st Parliament took a short Easter recess allowing us all time in our constituencies. And now it almost seems as if no-one is even talking about Brexit.
Of course, I am going to talk about Brexit but before I do I want to talk about the other big topic that has hit the headlines - Climate Change. About time. Protesters like Extinction Rebellion and campaigners like Greta Thunberg have managed to do something hundreds of well-penned articles in newspapers have not: put the destruction of our planet front and centre.
Protecting the environment and preventing climate change must be a priority - it is the number one issue facing humanity. I used my latest Edinburgh Evening News column to raise the issue and I’m proud that at the SNP party conference delegates unanimously passed my resolution on climate change. You can watch my speech here. And on Sunday the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, declared a Climate Emergency making Scotland the first country to do so. It’s vital now that we follow up these words with actions.
And so to Brexit. We started the month with a series of indicative votes on the 1st April. Prior to those votes I raised my concerns as the UK government tried to prevent Parliament discussing alternative ways forward on Brexit. Watch it here. Theresa May is fond of saying Parliament needs to say what it does want rather than what it doesn't but then she tried to stop us doing just that.
I voted for three out of the four options in that vote – the compromise position of remaining in the Customs Union and Single Market, holding a public vote and revoking Article 50 as a fail safe measure. I know some have raised concerns that the SNP did not vote for Kenneth Clark’s option of a Customs Union. However, while the SNP has been prepared to compromise, we cannot do so on freedom of movement. As the SNP’s Westminster Leader Ian Blackford said last week “For Scotland, freedom of movement without any caveats is essential, not just in principle but for the sake of our nation’s prosperity.” I could not vote for a Brexit that would end this key freedom.
On Tuesday 9th April, the UK government tabled a motion, as required by the Bill in Yvette Coopers’ name, mandating the Prime Minister to seek an extension of Article 50 to 30th June 2019. The SNP put forward an amendment that would have required this to be the minimum or earliest date the PM could agree to however the amendment wasn’t taken. I, and my SNP colleagues, voted for the motion which was agreed to 420-110.
At the EU summit, the deadline was extended to the 31st October, with the option to leave sooner should a deal be agreed in the House of Commons. And so the UK will now be taking part in the European elections – something I think we shouldn’t be scared to promote (see my recent comment piece for the Times). Of course, if the UK leaves the EU before the 23rd May then the elections can be cancelled but I think that’s highly unlikely. So make sure you're registered to vote. You have until 7th May. Find out more here. If you're a citizen of another EU country you also need to complete another form by the same date - info here.
You'll be aware that throughout this Brexit process my colleagues and I have raised significant concerns about the UK government riding roughshod over the devolution settlement. Hence me asking about its plans to keep devolved governments informed during Wales Questions. I still don't know why the Minister couldn't have just said yes.
Finally, the UK government might not think it's a priority but it's high time we got rid of the stain on our democracy that is the un-elected House of Lords. I raised this again during this month's Cabinet Office Questions.
Time is running out for many of Edinburgh's small businesses. Today I've written to the Chancellor asking for additional emergency assistance for our hospitality sector through the COVID-19 epidemic.