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Grandstanding politicians failing to address public fears on Brexit

by Rory Mair CBE, Chair of Citizens Advice Scotland

This article was published in the Times on 17 May 2018. The survey referenced in the article can be seen here

On Tuesday the Scottish Parliament batted the Brexit powers bill back over the net to Westminster, the latest move in the game of constitutional ping-pong which has characterised the debate for months.

So the figures we publish today will hopefully provide a much-needed wake-up call to our political class, making them aware of something they don’t currently seem to understand. Namely, that Scots are worried about Brexit.

Whether they voted remain or leave, and regardless of party loyalties, people across Scotland are very uneasy about the effects of leaving the EU. And our politicians are failing to address that.

Our survey found that over 70% of Scots are concerned about what Brexit may mean for them. This was a higher number than those who expressed concern about debt, housing or employment issues.

Two thirds of those who expressed concern said they feared Brexit would mean higher prices for food and other essentials. Almost half felt travel and holidays would be more expensive, and 44% feared for their rights. 

The reason we did this research in the first place is because our network of 60 CABs across Scotland have been reporting growing concern among their clients.

And our research is not alone. Last week a group of Scottish charities warned the Scottish Parliament that they feared Brexit could have a damaging impact on our health and care services. Businesses and Trade Unions too have been increasingly vocal about their concerns.

So the unease is there, and is not difficult to see or understand. But our politicians – in both parliaments and in all parties – are failing to conduct the debate in a way that really addresses peoples’ concerns.

While our politicians squabble over the constitutional nuances, families have budgets to manage, businesses have decisions to make, and workers want to know what rights they will have.

Of course politicians must debate all aspects of this issue, and naturally they will differ at times. My concern is that the substance is being lost in the usual tribalism.

What people want is clarity. They want our leaders to get beyond the predictable point-scoring and instead start making meaningful decisions. In short, they want some leadership and direction.

There is no more time for grandstanding on this issue. Scots are really concerned and they need reassurance. It is time for our politicians to step up and conduct this process in a way which finally addresses that fact.

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