Scottish Independence (Border Constituencies)

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 7th May 2014.

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Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Conservative, Penrith and The Border 11:30 am, 7th May 2014

What assessment he has made of the potential effects of Scottish independence on border parliamentary constituencies.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael The Secretary of State for Scotland

As a United Kingdom, we all have better job opportunities, employment and mobility. Every day, 30,000 people travel between Scotland and England for work. If Scotland were to leave the United Kingdom, our border constituencies would be the first to feel the effects of the creation of an international border.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Conservative, Penrith and The Border

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the challenges of separation would be that our focus would be lost and our energy dissipated by looking at the details of administration and borders, rather than all the opportunities in the world, from Brazil to Indonesia?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael The Secretary of State for Scotland

That is one of the many downsides a vote for independence would bring. It would be an unnecessary distraction that would indeed remove our focus from the opportunities which being part of the United Kingdom give us to develop Scottish business by looking overseas.

Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe Labour, Central Ayrshire

On the question of separation, surely it is understood that divorce can be messy and that in this case it certainly would be messy? What I have been told by businessmen in my area is that they will move out of Scotland if separation takes place.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael The Secretary of State for Scotland

I think we all know that what matters to business is the bottom line: the profit and loss account and the balance sheet. If businesses felt that independence was going to be good for them, they would be lining up to support it. Since the turn of the new year, we have heard a steady chorus from the business community, who have all been coming out to underline the risks and uncertainty that would come from independence. [Interruption.] These are voices that the hon. Members on the nationalist Benches may wish to drown out with their incessant chatter, but they will not do it.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Liberal Democrat, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

Anybody who pauses at the top of the hill on the Carter Bar on the A68 is able to reflect on one of the most beautiful views of Scotland and on one of the most beautiful views of England, and reflect on the fact that these two countries have so much in common and so much shared family experience. Does my right hon. Friend share my hope that that will always be the case, rather than it marking the border point between two separate states?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael The Secretary of State for Scotland

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. I always think of the United Kingdom as being a family of nations. Of course, like all families, we do have those moments where we have disagreements, and we do occasionally want to do things in a slightly different way, but as a family the ties that bind us are so much greater than the differences that divide us. That is why I believe that Scotland, come 18 September, will choose to remain part of that family of UK nations.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader

But the people of the borders and the rest of Scotland are being subjected to the self-styled “project fear” campaign, which its own supporters describe as negative, nasty, threatening, and who also say that the Prime Minister is toxic in Scotland. Why are even the Secretary of State’s own colleagues saying this?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael The Secretary of State for Scotland

I have to say that it is a bit rich to hear the right hon. Gentleman talking about “project fear” when the First Minister went to Carlisle on St George’s day to deliver a lecture that I can only describe as project ridiculous. The fact of the matter—there is no escaping this for the nationalists—is that for people living in the border constituencies on either side of the border, there are real benefits to being part of the United Kingdom. The nationalists want us to walk away from those benefits.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader

Leading members of the right hon. Gentleman’s own campaign have told people in the borders and the rest of Scotland that they will have to show a passport at the border; drive on the right-hand side of the road; worry about their pensions, when in this place people are being told that they are safe; and that they will not be able to use their own currency, when the media in London is being briefed that that will be safe. Why do his colleagues think that the people of the borders and the rest of Scotland will fall for this demeaning, insulting nonsense?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael The Secretary of State for Scotland

The question of the borders highlights perfectly how the Scottish nationalists want to have their cake and eat it. On the one hand, they tell us that we could have a common travel area, which works very well with the Republic of Ireland at present. At the same time, they tell us that we will have a widely divergent immigration policy, which the Republic of Ireland does not have. They can have one thing or the other: they cannot have both. That is why their prospectus is flawed.

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle

In places such as Carlisle, many businesses have branches and offices on both sides of the border. Does the Secretary of State agree that if Scotland votes yes there is a real danger that there will be such an additional burden on those businesses that it will have an effect on jobs and economic prosperity on both sides of the border?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael The Secretary of State for Scotland

Inevitably, an independent Scotland would have a different taxation system, different national insurance provisions and different economic regulations, and that would impose an extra cost on business. The financial services sector, which supports 200,000 jobs in Scotland, has already issued serious warnings about what would happen to its business and how it would organise itself if Scotland became independent.