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Claim of Right for Scotland

– in the House of Commons at 10:00 pm on 27th January 2020.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(James Morris.)

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 10:02 pm, 27th January 2020

Tonight, I rise to remind the House that the claim of right for Scotland is a principle that recognises that the people of Scotland have the sovereign right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs. This right is well established; it was first set out in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 and was most recently endorsed by Parliament in the Commons in a debate in July 2018—a debate in which I was privileged and proud to speak.

In Scotland, this House is not recognised as sovereign. The people of Scotland are sovereign, and they are angry that this House, this Government, are over-reaching themselves by trampling all over Scotland’s devolution settlement, with repeated and concerted attempts by Tory Members to shout down Scottish National party Members when we dare to speak up on behalf of Scotland.

The debate tonight comes at a critical time for Scotland, with the UK on the cusp of withdrawing from the European Union—something which the people of Scotland rejected by a significant majority, but which is to be imposed upon them against their expressed democratic wish. However, if one accepts the European Union referendum result in England despite all the cheating and law breaking that we all know went on, because the democratic will of the people of Scotland is different from the democratic will of the people of England, then—too bad—Scotland is to be ignored, dismissed and dragged out of the European Union anyway.

With the Westminster power grab and the lack of consent given to this disastrous Brexit by the Scottish Parliament, the devolution settlement has been trampled underfoot by this Government—so much for a so-called union of equals; so much for Scotland leading the UK, not leaving the UK. How can this be a union of equals when the democratically devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all refused to consent to this Tory Government’s withdrawal agreement, which will damage our jobs, our prosperity and our relationships with our European partners? This Brexit, which may yet deliver a no-deal scenario, is to be forced on Scotland against her will, exposing for all to see the myth of the so-called union of equals.

In the general election a few weeks ago, the Tories in Scotland unequivocally urged voters in Scotland to vote Tory to stop indyref2. We in the SNP stood firmly and proudly on a platform of saying no to Brexit and saying yes to the people of Scotland’s right to choose their own future. Scotland, by and large, did not vote Tory, but voted SNP in huge numbers. The SNP won 80% of the seats in Scotland, yet this Government still refuse to accept that the people of Scotland have made their choice—that they want Scotland to have the right to choose its own future because no one is better placed to make decisions for Scotland than the people who live in Scotland.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

I hear what the hon. Lady is saying, but in my constituency and other constituencies in the week of the general election, SNP candidates told voters that the election was nothing to do with independence, but that they were to vote SNP if they were against Brexit or if they were against Boris. However, at 10 o’clock on 12 December, it was all to do with independence.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

This is the kind of wilful, fingers-in-ears attitude that we have come to expect. Not everybody in Scotland who voted SNP is yet persuaded of the argument for independence, but what they do want is the right to choose.

We know that the Minister will trot out well-worn phrases and lily-livered lines about the SNP not winning more than 50% of the popular vote in the election in 2019. However, he must consider that the first-past-the-post voting system that he supports is the one in which we are working. Further, the SNP in Scotland has won the council elections in 2016, the Holyrood election in 2016, the general election in 2017, the European elections in 2019 and the general election in 2019. Each of those five elections was contested on one proposition by the Tories: “Vote Tory to stop indyref2”. The Tories in Scotland never mentioned any policies or discussed any other issues. They simply said, “Vote Tory to stop indyref2”. And yet, still they could not get close to beating the SNP in these elections.

For anyone to deny the democratic right of Scotland to have a say over her own future path, or to try to shift the goalposts on what winning an election actually means or looks like, is deluded. Doing an impersonation of King Canute trying to hold back the tide simply shows the desperation and arrogance of this Government, who think that if they can just ignore the pesky Scots for long enough, they will just give up. We will not give up. We in Scotland have a right. We have a right which we claim in no uncertain terms, to choose our own future, and we will not be denied.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I commend the hon. Lady for her hard work on behalf of her constituents and recognise how much it means for her to come back to this House. Does she accept that while many people have voted for her because of who she is and her hard work, and for her party colleagues here as well, many of those who voted Scot Nats—or a certain proportion, anyway—do not accept the case for independence?

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

What I accept is that the people who voted for the Scottish National party want to have the debate and want to have the choice, and that matters. It is our job to persuade them over the line.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Jim Shannon, who comes into this debate with a degree of interest in it, may not be aware that there are now three Scottish Tory Members sitting in this House: the Minister, David Mundell, and John Lamont. Can my hon. Friend say whether their majority has gone up or down on the basis of their message saying no to indyref2?

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

I do not wish to intrude on private grief, but I cannot help noticing that each of the three Tory MPs from Scotland rushed as though their behinds were on fire to leave Holyrood—Scotland’s Parliament—to come to this House, and I have to question why that might be.

If not winning over 50% of the popular vote is the only tool in the Government’s arsenal to deny the people of Scotland the right to choose their own future, then where is the democratic mandate for this Government to press ahead with their version of a damaging Brexit—a Brexit born out of a very narrow referendum result, with the Electoral Commission itself saying that the referendum was characterised by law-breaking, cheating and dishonesty? In last year’s general election, the Tories won 43.6% of the vote. If we follow the UK Government’s logic on indyref2, this Tory Government most certainly do not have a mandate for their version of Brexit either. Therein is crystallised the unsustainability of the Tory Government’s position. This might be a surprise to some Conservative Members, but the Government’s position is so unsustainable that even some Front-Bench Tory MPs are admitting it secretly, off the record. If the Government continue to hold on to the unsustainable position that Scotland should be denied its claim of right to exercise its democratic will to determine its own future, this will, and can only, deepen the current constitutional crisis. There is no doubt that England’s and Scotland’s elected representatives have quite different and diverging constitutional mandates, but be in no doubt—each mandate is as valid as the other.

Let me turn to the tired and frankly insulting mantra trotted out too often by Conservative Members: that the people of Scotland voted no to independence in 2014. They did; there is no denying that. It appears that, according to the beleaguered and very absent Secretary of State for Scotland, it matters not how the people of Scotland voted in the past five elections or how they may vote in future elections, because he has decided that independence for Scotland can be put to the people of Scotland only once in a generation, regardless of any democratic choice they may choose to make—summarised as, “You’ll have had your democracy, then.” This is quite frankly absurd and silly talk, and insulting to the people of Scotland.

The Secretary of State for Scotland has revealed that he either knows nothing of, or does not subscribe to, the claim of right for Scotland, or has clearly not read the report from the Smith commission—which is odd for a Secretary of State for Scotland. I wish I could say I am surprised about that. I hope that the Minister standing in for the beleaguered Secretary of State for Scotland tonight does not, when he gets to his feet, insult the House or the intelligence of the people of Scotland by repeating this once-in-a-generation nonsense. I draw his attention—he really ought to listen to this because it is important—to the final report from the Smith commission, and more specifically to paragraph 18 of chapter 2, which clearly states:

“It is agreed that nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose.”

That seems pretty clear to me. No wonder the former Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, is blushing.

The unanimous verdict of the Smith commission was an implicit agreement that a second referendum vote was and is constitutionally valid. It is inconceivable that that would have been included in the final published report if the members of the Smith commission, a bare two months after the first vote, thought that the matter had been kicked into the long grass for a generation. Democracy is not an event. It is a growing, living, evolving, organic thing, and an expiration date cannot be put on it by this or any other Government.

Let us not forget that the appetite for a second independence referendum is easy to understand. The people of Scotland voted no to independence in 2014 because they were fed lies, mistruths and fear. They were told that, in order to remain in the EU, they would need to vote no. They were told that if they voted yes, they would lose their pensions. I do not have time to go through all the broken promises and lies. But this time, when the independence referendum comes—and come it will—Scotland will make a different choice. The people of Scotland will see through the snake oil salesmen and the spivs who perpetrated those lies the last time round. The people of Scotland will say to Conservative Members, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?”

I urge the Minister to remember the words of former Tory Prime Minister John Major:

“no nation could be held irrevocably in a Union against its will.”

The myth of a union of equals has been hopelessly exposed, and the people of Scotland realise that Scotland’s future must be as an independent nation. I urge this Government to do the right thing and respect democracy. Every day of denial only feeds the fire of independence and the case for a referendum on this issue, the momentum for which cannot be stayed.

I understand that this Government—whose Benches are empty—fear an independent Scotland building a more fair, more equal, more compassionate, more outward-looking country on their doorstep, but that is really a matter for them. No Westminster Government has the right to choose Scotland’s path, and how dare it even try! This Government must prepare themselves for what is coming, because their arrogance, intransigence and contempt for democracy show that the UK is fatally disunited and is about to lose Scotland. A sovereign people will not be silenced. We will not go quietly. The clock is ticking. This Union’s time is up, and well this Government know it.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland 10:17 pm, 27th January 2020

It is always a pleasure to debate issues of importance to Scotland, and it is a huge privilege for me to do so from the Dispatch Box. While I acknowledge the efforts of Patricia Gibson to secure the debate, the claim of right for Scotland did not come up much during the recent general election campaign that I fought in Moray. It was not the first issue out of people’s lips when they were seeking to elect their representatives to this place. They did not say that they wanted to have a debate on constitutional matters led yet again by the SNP.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I will allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene in a moment.

When I spoke to people in Moray on doorsteps, in hustings and at street stalls during the election campaign, they were interested in the fact that the Scottish economy is growing slower than the UK economy. They were interested in the fact that Scotland’s national health service has been underfunded and understaffed by the SNP Scottish Government—a Government who increased spending in the NHS in Scotland by 13.1% between 2012-13 and 2017-18, compared with increased spending of 17% in England by the UK Conservative Government. That shows the difference being made in Scotland when the SNP does not prioritise services that local people rely on. [Interruption.] The SNP has been clear just recently about how Parliament should respect all Members. Indeed, one of its MSPs said over the weekend that heckling and shouting was a form of discrimination. I hope that those on the SNP Benches consider those words when trying to shout down a Minister who is trying to respond to the debate.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way during his excellent response. I wonder whether he is aware of a quite shocking tweet over the weekend from Paul Wheelhouse, the SNP Scottish Government Minister, in response to my tweet about a Burns supper, in which he questioned my Scottishness because I do not share his nationalist agenda. Does the Minister agree that that type of bullying and intimidation, which we see all too often from SNP Members, is not acceptable in this society? Does he also agree that it is perfectly possible to be a proud Scot and also a very proud Brit?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I have to say that SNP Members’ mask is slipping at the moment. They do not like it when their comments and tweets are thrown back at them, but it was rather disgraceful, discourteous and, I believe, unbefitting a Scottish Government SNP Minister to tweet that a Scottish MP—someone who is as proud a Scot and as proud a Brit as I am—is any less Scottish because he does not support their plans for separation and the SNP’s plans for independence.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and he knows that he and I get on fairly well. I want to come back not on the back-fighting between the SNP and the Conservatives, but on his point about the claim of right for Scotland, which he said was not contentious during the course of the election in Moray, where of course his vote fell quite significantly. On the claim of right, he was not one of the Members in this House who opposed it—in fact, if I recall correctly, and I took part in the debate that night, no Member opposed that—so if it was not a contentious issue then, why is it a contentious issue for the Minister tonight?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I think if the hon. Gentleman reads the Official Report of this debate he will see that I did not say it was not contentious; I said it was not the pertinent issue. [Interruption.] Perhaps it was across Scotland, but certainly in Moray it was not the top issue that people were campaigning on and urging their politicians to raise if they were elected to this place. I think it is only right that we look at the key issues that people were discussing at the general election, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman would agree that, even in his own seat in Glasgow, the claim of right was not the issue that people were queueing up to discuss.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

May I just say to the Minister that, if Scotland’s right to choose is not something that people were exercised about when he was out campaigning, why were all the Tory party leaflets in Scotland about “Vote Tory to stop #indyref2”? May I also ask him this? He has spent a lot of time tonight—for reasons I am not quite clear about, because the debate is on the claim of right for Scotland—talking about devolved issues. May I say to the three Scottish Members of the Tory party that if they wanted to discuss devolved issues, perhaps they should have stayed in the Scottish Parliament?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I am sorry that the hon. Lady thinks that healthcare in Scotland is not important enough for her and I am sorry that she thinks that the education system in Scotland is not important enough for her. However, we are elected as representatives of our constituencies, and Scotland is blessed to have two Governments, so when one Government are failing and letting it down, I think it is incumbent on all politicians to raise issues that affect our constituents day in, day out.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

I think I am right in saying that I am the only Member of this place today whose name is actually on the claim of right. That is something I am very proud of indeed. The claim of right to which I put my name was about the Scots having control over their own destiny and over their own services, as it were. Surely, therefore, the standard of service delivery we see is what the Scottish Government will be judged against. Right now, we see—we all know: all of us and all of those in the Scottish National party know—that on the health front the Scottish Government are failing, and we know that on transport they are failing. [Hon. Members: “No!”] Oh, yes we do, and on that the Scottish Government will be judged. If indyref2 ever comes to it, they will be judged accordingly, and I say to the Scottish National party, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It has been quite telling, sitting on the Government Front Bench, to look at the face of the leader of the Scottish National party Members, who has been very considered in his reactions during this debate compared with some of the reactions of other SNP Members. Something that Ian Blackford is very accustomed to saying in this place is that the people of Scotland are watching. I think if people back in Scotland are watching tonight, they are seeing an SNP parliamentary group who are obsessed with the constitution and simply want to speak about separation, but do not want to discuss the relevant issues for constituencies across Scotland.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I have given way—[Interruption.] I am sorry that SNP Members continue to shout me down. I listened to the speech from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran with, I believe, consideration, and I have taken on board a number of her points. If I may, I will come on to the points made by the hon. Lady. [Interruption.] She is shouting across, “What about the leaflets?” That is one of the things I want to pick up on. Independence and separation never featured on an SNP leaflet; they did not want to tell people that the election was about that. Interestingly, a number of SNP MPs who were returned here—and I am looking particularly at Dave Doogan, because his letter was put out in the public domain—were writing to Labour supporters to say, “Vote for me this time; you may be a traditional Labour supporter and a strong Unionist, but vote for me on this occasion not to support separation and independence, but just to stop the Tories getting in.”

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman who wrote that letter to Labour supporters.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

I thank the Minister for giving way, particularly as he brings me into this debate. Yes indeed, we did write to non-SNP supporting members of the Angus electorate, and I am sure we did that elsewhere in Scotland. It was to invite them, notwithstanding their views on the constitution, to take a view on a more progressive way forward for the country of Scotland, and that is exactly the view that they took and I am pleased that we did that.

My hon. Friend Patricia Gibson, who secured the debate, said very clearly in her excellent speech that not everybody in Scotland is persuaded of the case for independence, and there is not a single SNP MP on these Benches who is not on that page. However, we will not be swayed from our priority to ensure that the case for independence is aired as clearly and manifestly as possible. My hon. Friend made the case that devolution is not an event, it is a process. What will the Minister and his Government do when they run out of concessions to make—because it will be independence?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman confirming in the House of Commons, so that it will be on the official record, that the SNP garnered votes at this most recent election on the pretence that it was nothing about independence—it was not supporting independence—but less than a month later we are here discussing constitutional issues, because it is all the SNP can bring forward.

I want to pick up on a number of points that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran made during her speech. She spoke about the absent Secretary of State for Scotland; I am just scanning around and I cannot see the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland anywhere in the Chamber either. The hon. Lady said that the people of Scotland have made their choice, and I agree; as the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said at Prime Minister’s questions last week, the people of Scotland said no—the people of Scotland said no in 2014.

The hon. Lady said that that 2014 referendum on independence was won on the back of lies and mistruths. I wonder whether the lies and mistruths she is speaking about were in the White Paper that the SNP put forward—the White Paper that promised us oil at $100 a barrel and said that oil was going to pay for absolutely everything in Scotland. [Interruption.] Well, we are really getting animated now, but I will just try to finish my remarks—[Interruption.] We were told that the Scottish economy would be based on oil at $100 a barrel, and we were told that the referendum was a once-in-a-generation event. That is not rhetorical flourish, as some in the SNP would now like to say; that is written in black and white in the White Paper they put forward for independence. That was their model for separation and therefore—

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman is shouting from a sedentary position to ask what page that was on, but I can do better than that; it was in the sixth paragraph of their document to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom. They said very clearly it was a once-in-a-generation event.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran also said that successive election results have proved that the SNP has support across the country, and she reeled off a number of elections in which the SNP has been successful. [Interruption.] Neil Gray says, “Every single one,” but not in recent council by-elections. The final council by-election of the decade in Scotland was in my Moray seat, and I am delighted that the Keith and Cullen ward returned a Conservative councillor. Indeed, only last week, in the first council by-election of the decade, a Scottish Conservative was elected, and do you know what the percentage of the vote was for the Scottish Conservatives in that by-election, Mr Speaker? That Scottish Conservative councillor was elected with 62% of the vote, so it is no surprise at all that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran refused even to comment on those successes of the Scottish Conservative party. [Interruption.] I think that winning 62% of the vote is the big picture.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, there are many things that we should be focusing on in this Parliament, and indeed at Holyrood, that the public in all our constituencies can relate to and be assured that their politicians are dealing with. We should be focusing on issues such as the fact that the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People remains unopened by the SNP, because it has failed in its hospital building. Nor should we be dismissing concerns about the state of our Scottish police stations, which have been shown to be flooding, with water coming through the roofs. These are the issues that the people of Scotland expect our politicians to be dealing with, not constitutional wrangling, which we always get from the SNP. I think SNP Members should focus on that.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.