Scotland should demand single market access after NI deal, says Yousaf

Scotland should “demand” access to the EU single market after Rishi Sunak’s new deal over Northern Ireland, SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf has said.

Speaking at the first hustings in the party’s leadership contest in Cumbernauld, Mr Yousaf asked “how dare (the UK Government)” tell Scotland it cannot have access to the single market while touting the benefits of the new deal – dubbed the Windsor Framework.

The agreement – struck this week – removes the protocol’s barriers on trade across the Irish Sea and hands a “veto” to politicians in Stormont on EU law, a set of concessions from Brussels that went further than many expected.

Humza Yousaf
The SNP leadership candidate was speaking at the first hustings of the campaign on Wednesday (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Speaking to SNP members at the hustings, Mr Yousaf said Scotland should be “demanding” access to the single market, “not asking” for it.

He also said the party should make sure clips of the Prime Minister “extolling the virtues of the deal” are broadcast “in every single living room” in Scotland.

“It makes the argument for us,” he said.

“How dare they? How dare they stop us from having what Northern Ireland has when our people voted resoundingly to stay within the European Union.”

Mr Yousaf added that party members should not stop “reminding people of the harm Brexit has done”.

Fellow SNP leadership candidate Ash Regan also told attendees at the event on Wednesday night she believed Scotland should consider joining the European Free Trade Association as a precursor to rejoining the EU if Scotland becomes independent.

Her position closely aligns to that held by Alex Salmond’s Alba Party, as do others touted by the former community safety minister, including on her approach to gender reforms and the holding of a constitutional convention on Scottish independence.

While the event was marked by the broad agreement on several topics from the candidates, the most stark divergence between the trio was on how to handle the Scottish Government’s gender reforms.

The UK Government stepped in to block the changes in January, setting up a potential court battle between the administrations.

The Health Secretary said he favoured fighting back against the Section 35 order that stopped the legislation passed by MSPs in December, claiming it was about more than just gender reforms.

“This is about the principle of our democracy,” he told party members.

“If we cave in, if we roll over to a Westminster power grab, they will come after legislation after legislation.”

While Ms Regan – who resigned from government in protest over the reforms and cited that moment as her bravest in her political career at Wednesday’s event – said she would not challenge the order in court and she would scrap the Bill altogether.

The SNP has “really lost the trust of the country” through its handling of the reforms, Ms Regan said, adding: “We’re going to be throwing probably hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money into something the public don’t support.

“I think it’s been quite a divisive issue in the parliament as well and I think bringing it back to the parliament, potentially opening it up again… wouldn’t be a good option so I think we need to draw a line under it in the parliamentary sense.”

Kate Forbes and Ash Regan
The Finance Secretary said she would like to amend the gender reforms Bill, while Ms Regan said she would scrap it (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Ms Regan did say she was open to holding a citizens assembly on the issue if there was an “appetite” in the country.

While Kate Forbes said she would favour an approach that would see the Bill amended, but it was not clear what changes she would support.

Ms Forbes went on to say Scotland should act like an independent country in response to the Section 35 order, adding: “A grown-up, independent country, sorts out its problems itself, it doesn’t have to have recourse to another government and nor does it need to ask permission from another government.”

She added: “I think we can sort out the gender recognition reform act by ourselves.”

The NHS also looks to be headed for reform, given the comments of the candidates from the debate stage in Cumbernauld.

All three gave their backing to change in the NHS, with Ms Forbes and Ms Regan stressing the importance of involving staff in any reforms, while Health Secretary Mr Yousaf and Ms Forbes said the founding principles of the NHS were not up for discussion.

Party members will have 12 more events to help them choose the next leader, who is also likely to be elected as Scotland’s first minister.