Stephen Gethins, MP for North East Fife, including St Andrews, was recently appointed as the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) Westminster Spokesperson for Exiting the European Union. Elected in 2015, Mr Gethins will be responsible for representing the party’s views on negotiations as the UK prepares to leave the EU.
In a comment to The Saint, Mr Gethins specified a few of the negotiation goals he is taking to Westminster, including: respect for “Scotland’s democratic decision”; Scottish access to the European single market; and a preservation of Scottish influence within the single market. These goals are among the five ‘tests’ for a successful negotiation previously emphasised by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Indeed, the “democratic decision” Mr Gethins referred to was at odds with the rest of the country. While the United Kingdom as a whole voted Leave, two-thirds of Scotland elected to remain.
More than 1.6 million voters, or 62 per cent, cast their ballot for continued membership in the EU. Fife itself proved to be a closer race, with Remain only garnering 58.6 per cent of the total regional vote.
“It is now time for the UK Government to respect the decision made by the people of Scotland and demonstrate rather than assert – against evidence to the contrary – that being in the UK can work for Scotland,” he added.
Ms Sturgeon has used this fresh divide to renew the conversation about an independent Scotland after the country voted to remain a part of the UK in 2014, saying in a recent speech that the option of independence should be “kept on the table.”
Citing commitments from the Party’s 2016 manifesto that Scotland is entitled to a second referendum, “if there is a significant and material change in circumstances,” Mr Gethins made it clear that, although independence is an option, the SNP’s main goal is, “to protect Scotland’s interests in the European Union.”
“[Scotland] must be able to work in solidarity with other EU partners to promote security, tackle global challenges, and encourage EU sponsored study exchanges,” Mr Gethins said while elaborating on the desired outcome after Article 50 is triggered. British withdrawal from the EU may be especially problematic for the University, as more than a quarter of St Andrews students are foreign citizens.
While students from non-EU countries will not see much difference, those studying under the provisions of the Erasmus programme, of which Mr Gethins was a part when he studied at the University of Antwerp, are likely to face the most change from leaving the EU.
“One of the biggest problems for students, staff and the wider university is uncertainty,” said Mr Gethins.
“The UK government must provide greater clarity about the deal it will seek and should guarantee the right to remain to EU nationals who have made Scotland their home.”
In the meantime, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Sally Mapstone has already made it clear that she will be advocating for those St Andrews students who may be affected by a British exit during their course of study.
In a June 24 email to students and staff, she stated, “…the referendum result will not affect [your] fees or support. Where we have made an arrangement with you, we will honour it.”
When asked if he had been in contact with the University about the impacts of Brexit, Mr Gethins noted that he is in constant communication with St Andrews officials, but could not discuss the topics of those conversations.
However, he affirmed his commitment to advocating for the interests of students and staff in the upcoming negotiations.
Mr Gethins also encouraged students to stay in contact during his appearances on campus, as well as on Facebook at ‘Stephen Gethins MP’ and Twitter, @StephenGethins.
“[I] always welcome the chance to talk to St Andrews’ various student groups,” he said.