First Minister's Press Conference
8 November 2016
Thank-you for coming today.
As you’ll be aware I have just come from a meeting of the Cabinet. One of the key issues under discussion today was the announcement yesterday of the MoD’s basing review and its implications for Scotland.
The announcement went far beyond many people’s worst expectations.
These are brutal cuts of around one-fifth of the defence footprint in Scotland, The UK Government is proposing to cut centuries-old garrisons like Fort George, Glencorse and Redford, and proposes to remove the Army from large parts of Scotland. People in Fife will be deeply sad to learn that the Royal Navy’s long-standing presence in Fife will be lost.
For the communities and service personnel affected this has been a devastating announcement. The UK Government made these decisions, and I want to stress this point, without any consultation with the Scottish Government. Once again it raises questions about the defence priorities of a UK Government that can afford Trident but is intent on selling off conventional bases around the country.
In the coming weeks we intend to work with all the communities affected - we will argue against the closures but also demand further clarity from the UK Government on how they plan to support the communities concerned. The Economy Secretary will take this forward starting this week.
It is in the spirit of coming together that I can make a more pleasant announcement this morning.
It am delighted to announce today a grant of £145,000 to support the work of Interfaith Scotland.
This is an organisation that brings people and communities together and helps to make real the idea of an inclusive country.
Later today I will be meeting representatives from different faith groups across Scotland at the annual Interfaith Summit and I want to commend their work, not just in helping to build cohesion at home, but also in responding to the humanitarian crises we have seen in so many parts of the world.
The work of groups like Interfaith Scotland clearly and rightly attract near universal support across the country.
In the world of politics, although we and others also seek consensus, there is rightly a contest of ideas and visions.
That has been very clear in the last few weeks both at Holyrood and Westminster.
In essence we now have a right-wing Conservative opposition in Scotland which is part and parcel of an increasingly right-wing Conservative government at Westminster.
In the handling of Brexit I believe we are seeing some of the worst Tory instincts of the past come to the fore.
The Conservatives at Westminster are seeking to bypass the Scottish Parliament and to take steps which will involve fundamental changes to the devolution settlement with no proper scrutiny here in Scotland or indeed at Westminster.
As I have made clear repeatedly since the outcome of the EU referendum, I am not prepared to simply stand by and watch that happen.
We will continue to do all we can to make Scotland's voice, and the views of the Scottish parliament, heard.
As part of that, I am confirming today that the Lord Advocate will make an application to the Supreme Court to intervene in the appeal proceedings to be brought by the UK Government after the Article 50 ruling in the High Court in London last week.
In that ruling, the judges clearly decided that the UK Government could not use the Royal Prerogative to remove rights enshrined in law by the UK Parliament.
The Scottish Government is clear that triggering Article 50 will directly affect devolved interests and rights in Scotland.
And triggering Article 50 will inevitably deprive Scottish people and Scottish businesses of rights and freedoms that they currently enjoy.
It simply cannot be right that those rights can be removed by the UK Government on the say-so of a Conservative Prime Minister without parliamentary debate, scrutiny or consent.
So, in my view, legislation should be required at Westminster and the consent of the Scottish Parliament should be sought before Article 50 is triggered.
Let me be clear - I recognise and respect the right of England and Wales to leave the European Union.
This is not an attempt to veto that process.
But the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland and the view of the national Parliament of Scotland cannot be brushed aside as if they do not matter.
As a country we must not be taken back to the 1980s when Tory governments at Westminster defeated at the ballot box, nevertheless told people in Scotland to do what they were told.
The Prime Minister said that on June 23 people across the UK had voted with, in her words, “emphatic clarity” when they voted by a margin of 4 points to leave the EU.
The margin for remain in Scotland was 24 points: a far more emphatic and clear result.
So the Prime Minister needs to live up to her promise to treat Scotland as an equal partner and listen to the will of the people of Scotland.
Indeed, tomorrow there is an opportunity for the UK government to do just that.
The sub-committee of the Joint Ministerial Committee of the UK Government and devolved administrations that has been set up to deal with Brexit issues will meet in London to discuss the way forward. Mike Russell will represent the Scottish Government at that meeting.
And at the meeting, it is essential that agreement is reached on a substantial work programme, based on the clear acknowledgment of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as decision-makers in the process, not as a pressure group to be merely consulted.
Despite the meeting with the Prime Minister two weeks ago agreeing the need for such a work programme, I am disappointed to say that we have not yet seen any significant opening up of the UK Government or received any clearer indication of their views.
It seems that Nissan has been given more of an insight into the UK’s negotiation strategy than the elected governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
That simply cannot be right.
Before taking your questions, I want to remind you of how I will approach the coming weeks and months in relation to our future relations with Europe.
I will always seek to protect Scotland’s interests.
That means speaking out against toxic anti-immigration rhetoric. Making it clear Scotland is an open and welcoming country.
It means working with others in the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and moderate Tories to keep the UK in the Single Market.
It means we will also set out plans for a distinctive Scottish deal that will retain Scotland’s Single Market membership to protect jobs, and transfer the necessary powers from Westminster to Holyrood, in the event that the rest of the UK leaves the Single Market.
And if it becomes clear that independence is the only or best way to protect Scotland’s interests then that is an option the people of Scotland must have the right to consider.
I’m now happy to take your questions.