Strengthening the Union

Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at on 17 December 2020.

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Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

What steps the Government are taking to strengthen the Union.

Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation)

What assessment he has made of the effect of trends in the level of support for Scottish independence on his policies on strengthening the Union.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Mr Speaker, may I wish you and the whole House a safe and happy Christmas, on this, the last scheduled day of the Session?

The Government are committed to protecting and promoting the combined strengths of our Union, building on 300 years of partnership. It is vital that we continue to work across the UK on the challenges that we all face together, such as our recovery from covid-19, and to focus on issues such as protecting jobs and supporting the NHS.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Perhaps he will agree that there can be no better example of the strength of our Union and of all four nations—the awesome foursome—working together than the successful funding, deployment, roll-out and creation of covid-19 vaccines, keeping communities safe across all four nations.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My hon. Friend makes a vital point. Across all four nations of the United Kingdom people are being vaccinated thanks to the energetic efforts of the vaccine taskforce, my right hon. Friend the Secretary State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and, of course, our superb NHS. It is a source of particular pleasure to me that Scotland is enjoying that vaccine thanks to the efforts of the UK Government: proof that our NHS means that we are stronger together.

Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation)

Today, a poll revealed that 58% of Scots would vote for independence. This is the 17th consecutive poll to show a positive result and we are seeing a rise in support for independence across all age groups. The Cabinet Office can hoist as many Union flags as it wants, but what part of “We are leaving” does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster not understand?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Of course, surveys of opinion are always fascinating, but the figures that I am interested in are those which show that the UK Government are spending more per capita in Scotland than they are in other parts of the United Kingdom and that thousands of Scots are now being vaccinated thanks to the efforts of the UK Government. If we look at a map of the world to see which countries are having their citizens vaccinated, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England are ahead of the pack: stronger together.

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

You most certainly can, Mr Speaker, and thank you.

I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman’s answer, and yes, we are grateful for the vaccine, but I did not hear a response as to why he thinks that Scottish independence has now become the settled will of the Scottish people. This is not like him. He is usually quick to give his views about certain things, so why does he think that Scottish independence has sustained majority support, reaching a height of 58%, and is now the settled will of the Scottish people? Why is that the case?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

It is great to have the hon. Gentleman here, live and unplugged, rather than having to rely on a distant video screen, because his performance is always one that we savour. Sadly, however, I fear that his reliance on opinion polls is no substitute for his aversion to hard arguments. Why will he not engage with the facts? The facts show that, in Scotland, per capita spending including on our shared NHS is greater as a result of the broad shoulders of the UK Treasury. As I pointed out earlier, but as he declined to acknowledge, folk in Scotland are being vaccinated now, thanks to the efforts of the UK Government in a world-leading programme. I hope that, in the spirit of Christmas, he will acknowledge that this is a time for giving, and that he will, just once, give the benefit of the doubt to the UK Government.

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

I am likely to be the ghost of Christmas future, because it is not going the right hon. Gentleman’s way. Let me try to give him a few reasons. Let us see if he agrees with any of these: the disastrous Brexit that Scotland did not vote for; the attacks on our democracy; the undermining of our Parliament; and the Prime Minister—him. Maybe they are some of the reasons that we are now in the lead, but the main one is the arrogantly Trumpian way in which the right hon. Gentleman says no to a majority in a democracy. Does he think that constantly saying no to a majority in Scotland will drive support for independence down, or will it only further drive support for independence up?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The Scottish Parliament is enjoying more powers now as a result of our departure from the European Union. Those powers allow the devolved legislature to have its own agriculture and environment policy, to supplement the leadership that it has been showing in other areas. As we move towards the elections that are coming next year, many people will focus on the record of the Scottish Government. Of course there are admirable Ministers in the Scottish Government, but people will be asking why the UK Government are responsible for vaccinating people in Scotland and yet the Scottish Government are responsible for a decline in educational achievement in Scotland’s schools and a growing divide between the well-off and less well-off. Social justice matters, and that is why, in the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary elections, the Scottish Conservatives will be making gains at the hon. Gentleman’s expense.