No vote on single market membership at Scottish Labour conference

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Scottish Labour bosses now have a “clear position” on Brexit after a bid for the party to change its stance in favour of permanent single market membership for the UK was quashed.

Delegates at the Scottish Labour conference in Dundee voted by a clear majority in favour of a “unity statement” put forward by the party’s Scottish Executive Committee – which outlined shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer’s six tests, but made no mention of single market membership.

The issue was debate after several constituency Labour Party branches put forward motions to the conference in favour of keeping the UK in the single market after it leaves the European Union.

While a motion stating “Scottish Labour supports the UK remaining permanently in the European single market and customs unions” was put forward, this was not voted on after the the SEC statement was backed.

Scottish Labour chairwoman Linda Stewart said there was a “clear majority” in favour of this.

“I’m very pleased we can now move forward with a clear position on Brexit,” she added.

The debate came after more than 40 senior members of Scottish Labour, including more than a dozen councillors, signed an open letter backing permanent membership of the single market.

While Jeremy Corbyn has ruled this out, former Scottish leader Kezia Dudgale, MP Ian Murray and MEP Catherine Stihler are all campaigning for a policy shift.

Speaking during the debate Ms Stihler: “Brexit is the defining issue of our time. Leaving the European Union will cost us jobs, reduce our global influence and even poses to threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

She insisted there “is no good Brexit”, adding that it would not be possible for the UK to “cherry pick our way to a post-EU future with the same benefits we currently enjoy”.

The Scottish MEP said: “Leaving the European Union has severe consequences but there are choices and we as a Labour Party and movement have to keep all options open.

“That’s why I firmly believe remaining part of the single market and customs union is the only way we can mitigate the worst aspects of leaving the European Union for working people.”

Donald MacKinnon, from the party’s Western Isles branch, argued the motion backing single market membership should have gone to a vote.

“The SEC shouldn’t have interfered with the democratic process of conference,” he said.

He told fellow activists: “It is clear that Theresa May and her Tory government are intent on driving forward a hard-right Brexit that would leave us outside the customs union and the single market.

“It is our duty as party to stand up and oppose this race to the bottom Brexit that the Tories are so keen on delivering.

“The way to achieve this is to remain in the single market and the customs union permanently.”

But Rhea Wolfson from the party’s Almond Vally branch called on members to rally around the SEC statement.

She added: “Our priorities must be realistic and based on protecting people. We all stand to lose if Labour is sucked into posturing and division.”

Meanwhile former MSP Cara Hilton, speaking on behalf of the SEC, said the statement “sends out a strong bold message that on Brexit there is now clear red water between our party and the Tories”.

She added: “We as a party must respect the results of the referendum. So our task now is to secure the best possible deal for the people of Scotland.”

And Scottish Labour’s Brexit spokesman Neil Findlay was clear to supporters of staying in the single market that “the reality is you can’t be a full member of the single market without being a member of the EU.”

While Norway is in the single market but not the EU, he said this position left the country duty bound to adopt EU rules on a range of areas without any influence on those.

Mr Findlay said: “Being outside the EU and inside the single market means you are a rule taker but not a rule maker, and that is not in our national interests. Rules and laws would be made and we would have no say.”

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