FOR THE AVOIDENCE OF DOUBT Jim Sillars has kindly given us the letter he sent to David Mundell…
21stJune , 2018
The Rt. Hon. David Mundell, Secretary of State, The Scotland Office, Dover House, London SW1A 2AU
As a number of your colleagues found it helpful to quote me in the Sewell Convention debate on Monday past, I hope you will consider other views of mine which arise out of the positive aspects of Brexit. They do exist, but I am afraid that ‘negative group think’ which seemed to form quickly after the EU referendum, prevents them being recognised in some quarters.
I fear that some of my colleagues in the SNP have ignored the fact that we who voted Leave on a purely UK ballot paper, and won a majority, are just as determined to see Brexit happen as they are to prevent it. Which is why I intervened in the row over the so-called ‘power grab’ which, with none of the present powers held by Holyrood being taken away, and a limited number of additional powers held back by time limits protected by ‘sunset clauses, ’ is no grab at all. But that is between me and them.
This letter is concerned with one of the powers that will be held temporarily by the UK Government; and it raises a question about another Government policy that may, and I hope will, emerge when the Brussels obsession with uniformity no longer applies in our economic planning.
First is policy on procurement. EU procurement rules have been a bone of contention in Scotland, particularly over matters such as the contract for the Western Ferries and the Northern Isles services. Many hold the legitimate view that local economic impact and relations between communities and those delivering the services, should outweigh rigid procurement rules. Having read some economists’ analysis of the construction of the new Forth Road Bridge, there seem to have been occasions when it was impossible, although desirable for local economic reasons, to state a preference for a Scottish input.
I would like you to consider arguing within Government, when the power returns from Brussels, for a two-tier procurement policy, which would enable local preference to be made when it would be in either the economic or social interest of a community to do so. The CalMac contract, about which there was so much anger, was in the range of £900 m. Would it not be a sensible policy, with substantial benefits to local economies, if a level was set at £1.5 bn below which local preferment, could operate, with all much larger public contracts being made available to all in the UK?
The second matter is whether free trade zones will come into being, something that could not happen without Brexit. I learn from the Daily Telegraph that In the North of England seven are being planned, with a potential benefit of £9bn investment and 150,000 jobs created; and that Government Ministers are looking favourably on these ambitious projects. That would be a welcome Brexit dividend for those areas.
May I ask why your office has not put forward such a proposal for Scotland, when we have Prestwick airport and the natural deep water facility at Hunterston in close proximity to each other, in a country crying out for development, when these types of assets are essential for a successful FTZ? So far, I have not seen anything coming from the Scottish Government either. Would it not be for the public good if you and they got together, to ensure that if the FTZ policy emerges with official UK Government backing, that Scotland is in the mix?
As I am a member of the SNP, out of courtesy, I am sending a copy of this letter to Ian Blackford and to Mhairi Black, because it is her generation who will have so much to gain from Brexit, and the opportunities it offers whether the context be the United Kingdom, a devolved Scotland, or an independent one. It is not often we get a policy that will be beneficial in all three constitutional settings, but this is one.
I shall also release a copy to the media, the day after you should receive it, as some may think the issues of procurement and FTZs are of public interest.