Claim the SNP changed Brexit stance four times is Mostly False 1

Claim the SNP changed Brexit stance four times is Mostly False

Questions persist about the correct approach to Brexit negotiations, but Scottish Labour’s leader has questioned the SNP’s EU position in a speech and series of tweets.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

Richard Leonard used a talk at the David Hume Institute to attack the SNP’s “moving position” over the issue, which he then reiterated on Twitter.

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it to be Mostly False.


The potential relationship between Scotland and the European Union has been affected by both the independence referendum and the 2016 Brexit vote.

The SNP has remained supportive of the EU since taking over government in Scotland in 2007.


Leonard claims the party in 2014 wanted “full membership of the EU as an independent country”. This was broadly accurate at the time of the referendum.

The 2013 report explaining the SNP’s vision of an independent Scotland, known as the independence white paper, set out explicitly the planned relationship with the EU.

It read: “The Scottish Government, supported by the overwhelming majority of members of the Scottish Parliament, believes that membership of the EU is in the best interests of Scotland. It is our policy, therefore, that an independent Scotland will continue as a member of the EU.”

However, the paper also stated that an independent Scotland would not seek “membership of the Schengen area”, which largely abolished internal EU borders, or the Eurozone.

May 2017

The party’s position in May 2017 was explained in its general election manifesto.

It stated that “there is no rational case for taking Scotland, or the UK, out of the single market. SNP MPs will seek to protect Scotland’s economy by working to protect Scotland’s place in the single market.”

At this point, the Brexit vote was confirmed, and the party set out plans to keep Scotland in the European single market, which removes trade barriers between EU countries.

Proposals for Scotland’s place in Europe were published by the Scottish Government in December 2016. However, the foreword to this document suggested the preferred option was full membership as an independent country.

October 2017

Another option for single market membership is the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a group of countries with membership of the single market but not the European Union. This has been suggested by senior SNP politicians, including the First Minister, as a possible option for Scotland, and features in the 2016 report.

FFS explains: how does EU trade work?

In an interview with Andrew Marr in May 2017, Sturgeon said Scotland might not seek immediate EU entry after a successful independence referendum, saying a “phased process” including EFTA might be necessary. In October, media reports suggested an updated version of Scotland’s Brexit proposal would include the EFTA option.

Current policy

The Scottish Labour leader’s tweet suggests that policy has again changed in the SNP to membership of the single market and membership of the customs union, which removes trade tariffs between countries and charges a standard external tariff for member countries.

Retaining access to the customs union has been part of the SNP’s policy on Brexit since their first major analysis was released in December 2016.

The Scotland’s Place in Europe report states: “We also believe that it is in the UK’s and Scotland’s interests to stay within the EU Customs Union.”

The new analysis released in January 2018 shares this view, saying: “We continue to believe that [staying in the EU] is the best option for Scotland and the UK as a whole. However, short of EU membership, the Scottish Government believes the UK and Scotland must stay inside the single market and customs union.”

Labour’s position on Brexit has similarly gone through a number of stages as the debate evolved.

The Scottish Labour manifesto in 2017 suggested a focus on “retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union”. The party rejects the ‘No deal’ option for Brexit and wants to replace the Great Repeal Bill with one which ensures there will be no rolling back of “workers’ rights, equality law, consumer rights or environmental protections”.

The UK party leader Jeremy Corbyn has falsely claimed that single market membership is reliant on being an EU member, and backed leaving both the single market and customs union. However, official party policy has been less definitive.

Single market membership is not dependent on being in EU

The Labour party website and 2017 manifesto stated the party would negotiate with a “strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union.”

Scottish Labour’s position under previous leader Kezia Dugdale supported “exploring all options to keep Scotland in the EU and the UK”.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly False

Richard Leonard has covered some of the changes in Brexit policy by the SNP. However, the Brexit referendum has significantly affected the debate around EU membership in Scotland, and all parties have had to consider a variety of different options for Scotland’s future relationship with Europe. The SNP has remained consistent in support for Scotland being a part of the EU and aiming to get a separate deal over access to the single market membership.

This claim is Mostly False

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Email us at or join our community forum.

Scottish Labour did not respond to an FFS request for evidence.

Photos thanks to bmlpictures

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