Scottish Constitution (Referendum)

– in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 8th March 1988.

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Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray 3:33 pm, 8th March 1988

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the holding of a referendum in Scotland to establish the level of demand for constitutional change. In seeking the leave of the House to introduce the Bill, my key aim is to enable the people of Scotland to express freely and democratically what changes, if any, they seek in the way that they are governed. At the 1987 general election[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. It is unseemly to carry on private conversations.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In the 1987 general election, 76 per cent. of the voting public in Scotland supported and campaigned for parties with policies that argued for the return of decision making to the Parliament that was closed in 1707. Yet from the Treasury Benches we are continually told that there is no demand within Scotland for constitutional change. One would have thought that 76 per cent. of support for decentralising would have been seen as a demand for change, yet the Government refuse to recognise this as evidence of Scotland's aspirations. Additionally, in every opinion poll conducted on the subject of Scotland's constitutional future, more than 70 per cent. of those asked have indicated their desire to see democratic accountability and decision making returned to Scotland, yet the Government refuse to recognise this as evidence of Scotland's aspirations.

In the debates on Scotland's constitution that have been held in the House since the general election, the vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies have consistently voted for the decentralisation of power, yet the Government refuse to accept this as evidence of Scotland's aspirations. We therefore see our efforts to respond to democratic demands for change thwarted by a Government who turn their back on the evidence.

What, then, can those of us who seek to establish through democratic means the rights and responsibilities of self-determination do to persuade the Government and the House of the legitimacy of our demands? It is my contention that one way forward is to take the issue back to where it belongs, to the people of Scotland. The Bill, through enabling an objective referendum to be held, will most surely present the Government with irrefutable evidence of the people's views, unfettered by the many issues on which we campaigned at the general election. The arguments could be presented clearly for the various options that are open to us.

For that reason, I propose that the referendum should contain four options. First, there is the status quo, which is favoured by most Conservative Members. Secondly, there is devolution, which is proposed by the Labour party. Thirdly, there is federalism, as proposed by the Liberal party. Fourthly, there is independence, as proposed by the Scottish National party. Each political party therefore could campaign for its particular standpoint. As the referendum is advisory, its major impact would be to present the Government with clear evidence of the Scottish viewpoint.

I hope that no right hon. or hon. Member will oppose the motion. Very basic democratic rights underpin the Bill. Enshrined in international law is a right of all nations for self-determination. No one can deny that Scotland is a nation; indeed, she is one of the oldest European nations, and until 1707 she governed herself. She still maintains many of the trappings of statehood, such as a separate legal system and a different education system. What she lacks is statehood, and that can only be achieved only through self-determination.

Over the weekend we heard the Prime Minister talking about self-determination as it affected the people of the Malvinas. Why, then, should the people of Scotland be denied the same basic principle?

The Bill affords the opportunity to the people of Scotland to exercise the principle of one man, one vote. Surely that very foundation of democracy cannot be denied by the House? We have a responsibility to ensure that genuine political opinions are not stultified, but are afforded a means of expression through the ballot box, in fair and free elections.

The Bill allows for all the options currently proposed in Scotland to be presented to the people. There can be no ideological reason for opposing it. Therefore, the only logical explanation that one could have for opposing my modest proposal is that people would fear the result of the referendum. Surely, as we say in Scotland, being feart is not a good enough reason.

I commend the Bill to the House, and I trust that it will have full support.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Margaret Ewing, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Eric Heffer, Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. Seamus Mallon, Mrs. Ray Michie, Mr. James Molyneaux, Mr. Alex Salmond, Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas, Mr. Andrew Welsh and Mr. Dafydd Wigley.