Strengthening the Union

Scotland – in the House of Commons at 11:02 am on 11th November 2020.

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Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North 11:02 am, 11th November 2020

What steps his Department is taking to strengthen the Union.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

What steps his Department is taking to strengthen the Union.

Photo of Simon Jupp Simon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

What steps his Department is taking to strengthen the Union.

Photo of James Grundy James Grundy Conservative, Leigh

What steps his Department is taking to strengthen the Union.

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

The good news is I did bring this answer with me. This Government have always stressed the importance of the Union. The UK is a family of nations that shares social, cultural and economic ties that together make us far safer, more secure and more prosperous. As we have seen throughout the covid crisis, it is the economic strength of the Union and our commitment to the sharing and pooling of resources that has supported jobs and businesses throughout Scotland. It is the strength of our Union that will enable us to rebuild our economy following the crisis.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

I am delighted to hear the Secretary of State supports the Union. The Prime Minister’s review into boosting transport links across the country is very welcome. Does the Secretary of State agree that this review into quality transport links will go a long way to levelling up economic opportunity wherever we are in the UK?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

There are no flies on my hon. Friend—he spotted that I am a Unionist and he has been able to highlight the importance of improving transport links. That is why I am so disappointed that the Scottish Government are not engaging in Sir Peter Hendy’s review of connectivity across our United Kingdom. That attitude is letting down the people of Scotland, who would benefit from those improvements.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

My great grandfather served in the infantry regiment of the Argyll and Sutherland. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commemorating all those Scottish servicemen who fought in the British Army for the freedom of the United Kingdom and the world, and in thanking servicemen and women today in Scotland who are engaged in our fight against the virus?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

I am more than happy to join my hon. Friend in thanking today’s servicemen and women, and I am sure the whole House will join me in remembering all those who laid down their lives in defence of our country and the freedoms that we enjoy today.

Photo of Simon Jupp Simon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

I represent a constituency that is geographically distant from Scotland, but I know people from Scotland who have made East Devon their home. They, like me, believe we are stronger together and cherish our precious Union. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK Government’s efforts during the pandemic—not least the furlough scheme and the £8.2 billion to Scottish public services—show that we have a common drive to defeat the virus, whether in Edinburgh or Exeter, and the SNP needs to focus on delivery, not division?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

In the interests of brevity, as it was a very full question, I will say: absolutely, yes.

Photo of James Grundy James Grundy Conservative, Leigh

What measures is the Department taking to strengthen economic ties and promote business opportunities between Scottish communities and English communities such as those in my constituency of Leigh?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

The Union connectivity review that I referred to earlier and the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will both promote the economic ties that my hon. Friend refers to. They will protect vital trading links and improve transport links.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The Secretary of State is doing such a fantastic job of strengthening the Union that support for independence is at a historic high and has been at a sustained majority all year. Saying no to a majority in Scotland is only going to drive support for independence even higher. Apparently, he was only joking when he said that there would be no indyref for 40 years, just after John Major said that there would be two referendums in the next few years. The Secretary of State is renowned for his legendary wit and humour, but the Scottish people are not finding this democracy denial funny anymore. What is the difference between denying a majority in the Trump White House and denying a majority in the Scotland Office?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

That is quite a tenuous link, but I will answer the question. To be quite simple, my belief is that we should stick to the referendum from 2014 and respect it. It was very clear—the SNP said it at the time —that it was a once-in-a-generation referendum. I do not believe that we should go into a process of neverendums, which are divisive, unsettling and bad for jobs in Scotland. We should respect democracy, and that is what I am doing—democracy that was handed out by the Scottish people in 2014.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

The Prime Minister described last December’s general election as “once-in-a-generation”, but I hope the Secretary of State is not suggesting that there will not be another one for 40 years. He seems to think that the way to strengthen the Union is by forcing a hard Brexit on Scotland against our will, taking an axe to devolution with the internal market Bill and denying any democratic choice on Scotland’s future until adults like me are dead. On that basis, does he think that the best recipe for a happy marriage is to lock up the wife, take away her chequebook and just keep refusing a divorce?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

No, I think that it is quite straightforward. I think that people should respect democracy, as I said in my previous answer to Pete Wishart. We are respecting democracy. We are acknowledging this is once in a generation; we do not believe Scotland should be thrown on to the uncertainty of neverendums. It is very straight- forward: a generation, by any calculation, is 25 years and, frankly, SNP Members just have to accept that and focus on what matters, which is recovering from this pandemic and us all pulling together.