Before I call the Member to move the motion, given the subject of this afternoon’s debate I wish to make a short statement about the sub judice resolution and the Supreme Court’s consideration of whether provisions in the draft Scottish Independence Referendum Bill relate to reserved matters under the Scotland Act 1998. As a judgment is anticipated in the coming months, I have exercised discretion to allow reference to the issues concerned in that case, given their national importance, but Members are encouraged not to discuss the detail of the legal proceedings.
I beg to move,
That this House
regrets the economic damage the Government has caused since the mini-budget on
calls on the Government immediately to reinstate the bankers’ bonus cap, increase benefits in line with inflation and protect the pensions triple lock;
considers that Scotland cannot afford to be part of the failing state of the UK and must be independent for economic stability;
and welcomes the publication of the Scottish Government’s independence papers series, Building a New Scotland and The Economic Opportunity for Scotland from Renewable and Green Technology by David Skilling.
From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman says, “Too long,” and of course he is right—Scotland has been stuck in this Union for too long. I look forward to the opportunity for my colleagues to leave this House for the last time when Scotland becomes an independent country—it has indeed been too long.
It is fair to say that Westminster has been no stranger to chaos and crisis over the last number of years, but even with that in mind, it has still been hard to take in fully the mayhem and madness in this place in the last few weeks. Another Tory Prime Minister gone. Another Tory Prime Minister imposed in Scotland. The only thing that stays the same is the constant crisis in this place. Even the kangaroo genitalia-eating junket to Australia of Matt Hancock passes for a normal affair around here these days.
The core of today’s motion is designed to demonstrate that the permanent political pantomime that Westminster has become is not somehow victimless or benign; it comes with a massive, massive cost. Each and every one of these Westminster crises comes with a consequence, and it is always those who can least afford it who end up paying the price of the failure of Westminster control.
Let us take the example of the last few months. The UK Government have been so consumed by their own political crisis that they have ignored the economic crisis they caused with their mini-Budget on
I get extremely anxious about my homeland splitting from my now home country, particularly as Scotland has no credible fiscal plan. As I see child poverty increase, the once leading education system trashed and the NHS left to deteriorate, I wonder who is at fault. Does the right hon. Member accept that while the Tory Government have let Scotland down—
Order. This is meant to be an intervention, not a speech about all your issues. I am more than happy to put you on the speaking list.
Mr Speaker, if anybody is letting themselves down, it is the hon. Gentleman, because the Scottish Parliament has done its best to mitigate the effects of Tory austerity, thank goodness. We can applaud what the Scottish Government have done with child payments—introduced at £10, increased to £20 and now up at £25—but we cannot stop the damaging effect of austerity on our country, because the bulk of economic power lies in Westminster. The hon. Gentleman and his Labour colleagues may indeed support the Scottish Parliament—our Parliament—which does its best to protect the people from what happens in this place in Westminster and, of course, from the damaging effects of Brexit that mean our businesses cannot fulfil their potential. The hon. Gentleman ought to look in the mirror.
The reality is that the split in terms of values is between the red Tories and the blue Tories here. Alex Cunningham should be aware that in Ireland, which became independent, the poorest 5% are 63% richer than the poorest 5% in the UK. If ever there was a lesson about being independent, that is it.
My hon. Friend is quite correct. When we look around the world, we see small countries thriving. Small countries tend to do better than larger ones. There are no economies of scale for large countries, and it is Westminster, the UK, that is holding Scotland back.
Let me return to the economic situation we face today: the pound is still down against the dollar and euro, mortgage rates are at their highest since the financial crash, and inflation is still at a 40-year high. History shows that those in the Tory party always act fast to rid themselves of their own political problems, but they always fail to take responsibility for the crises they create. They are failing to take responsibility for the cost of living crisis they created and the failing UK state they have presided over for the past 12 years.
It would be wrong to believe that the events causing deep damage over the last few weeks are somewhat isolated incidents. It does not take a genius to know that the timeline for every bit of turmoil in this place over the last few years stems from one place and one place only: the utter disaster of Brexit. Six years on, it has been a disaster by every significant measure. Brexit broke Britain.
Only yesterday, Scotland’s The Herald newspaper revealed that the value of Scottish exports has dropped by more than 13% in two years, costing £2.2 billion, with Brexit entirely to blame. That is what Brexit has done to the Scottish economy and Scottish trade. That has been the impact of what the Tories have brought to us. However, faced with these Brexit facts, it is a disgrace that Westminster’s only response is to say one of two things: “Suck it up,” or, “Shut up.” I assure the Brexit fanatics that we intend to do neither.
The reality of Brexit is biting everywhere. Last week I visited the Nevis Bakery in my constituency. The owner, Archie Paterson, explained to me that they currently employ 30 people, and that they could easily double that tomorrow, expanding their production line, expanding their premises and growing the local economy. But just one thing is stopping them, and it is Brexit. Brexit means they have no access to labour. The balance of workers used to be 80% EU skilled bakers, and that has declined to only 20%. They cannot get the staff, so they cannot expand. It is the same story for businesses across the highlands and right across Scotland: denied economic opportunity; denied the opportunity to grow our economy; denied the opportunity to prosper and deliver the taxation receipts. All that has been delivered by the Brexit Scotland never voted for.
I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about the incompetence of the Conservative Government. On Brexit, however, an important fact is being missed. During the referendum, when many of us fought very hard to make sure the UK stayed within the EU, the Scottish National party spent just £91,000 on its campaign—13% of what it could have spent. It spent less on that campaign than on a Shetland by-election. It spent less than 7% of what it spent on trying to take Scotland out of the UK. Will he take this opportunity to apologise to everyone who voted remain for the fact that the SNP went missing from the pitch during that campaign?
My goodness, Mr Speaker, I hate to point out to the hon. Gentleman that 62% of those who voted in Scotland voted to stay in the European Union. I am proud to say that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I were up and down Scotland during the Brexit campaign, leading the people of Scotland and making the case for Scotland to stay in Europe.
On that point, will the leader of the SNP please explain to us why his party spent less on the EU referendum than on a Scottish parliamentary by-election on Shetland?
This would be funny if it was not so tragic. It used to be the case—[Interruption.] We have many hours of debate, and if Labour and Liberal Democrat Members calm down, I am sure that they will get the opportunity to speak. Maybe I should point out to the hon. Lady that the Liberal Democrats used to proclaim staying in Europe—
No, you don’t. If the Liberal Democrats wanted to stay in Europe, as the hon. Lady suggests, they would have that in their manifesto. The Labour party and the Liberal Democrats have run away from Europe, just as they have run away from their responsibilities to the people of Scotland.
My hon. Friend is quite correct that every local authority area in Scotland voted to remain. Not only did people across Scotland vote to remain, but that demand to stay in Europe has increased over the past few years. In fact, recent polling shows as many as 72% of Scots wish to remain in Europe. I say to those watching in our own country that there is a clear way to achieve this. If Scotland has its right to determine its own future, and if our Parliament, which has an independence majority, can enact the referendum that our people voted for, then Scotland’s journey to independence and back into the European union will be complete.
I did not hear what was said—
Do you want to go out early for a cup of tea? Because you are on my speaking list. Let me deal with it. Mr Bonnar, I need no help, thank you. If somebody said that, I expect them to withdraw it, because we do not use that term in this Chamber.
I call Ian Blackford. We are moving on. We have dealt with it.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he not think that people at home will be looking askance at Labour Members? First, they were apologists for the chaos that the Conservatives have inflicted on Scotland’s economy. Now, they are some kind of supporters of Brexit, which has caused so much harm to Scotland. It is inexplicable how any Opposition Member could take such a position, as we all heard them do.
My hon. Friend is correct. It is 1.10 pm; we have until 7 o’clock to debate the issue. To hon. Members in other parties on both sides of the House, I promise that we will respect the importance of the subject, because this is about Scotland’s future. To friends and colleagues—Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem Members—I say, let us have that debate about Scotland’s future and let us respectfully disagree on what we see the future as. We will put the case for Scotland to be an independent country; they should come and engage with us, and put the case for Scotland to stay in the Union. I have to say that when we have these debates, I do not hear that case for Scotland to stay in the Union.
The evidence of the damage done by Brexit is mounting by the day. From those who forced it on Scotland, however, not one word of contrition or apology has ever been offered for that massive act of economic self-harm. I am tempted to say that when it comes to Brexit and Westminster, there are really none so blind as those who will not see—my goodness, that has been shown today. In many respects, however, the truth is even worse.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman saying that he wants a serious debate about the status of Scotland in the Union and the benefits of Scotland being in it. In his arguments so far, however, he has blamed everything from rising energy costs to global supply chain challenges on Brexit. Does he not recognise that we have been facing a tumultuous global situation? If he acknowledged that, we could at least start to have a sensible debate.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I think he is genuinely trying to be helpful, so I will respond in kind. We are suffering from an enormous increase in energy costs. I applaud the fact that we have the energy cap, but let us remember the harsh reality that for people up and down these islands, energy costs have doubled in the last year. People will face genuine hardship. [Interruption.] I can see him shaking his head, but the harsh reality is that our energy market is determined by the wholesale gas price. For those of us in Scotland, 14% of our electricity consumption comes from gas and we actually produce six times as much gas as we consume. We are being affected largely by the failures of UK energy policy and, yes, by global issues as well, but the fact that energy costs are so high in energy rich Scotland is an absolute disgrace.
On the intervention of Alun Cairns, of course the last few years have shown how unpredictable the world can be and how many unexpected challenges we can face, but does that not just hammer home how important it is for Scotland in particular to get the Governments it votes for? Given that Scotland has not voted for a Conservative Government since 1955, does my right hon. Friend not agree that by far and away the best way to protect ourselves against the unpredictable is to be independent and in control of our resources?
My hon. Friend is correct. Not since 1955 has Scotland voted for a Conservative Government, yet we face Conservative Government after Conservative Government. The difference between me and Ian Murray on the Labour Front Bench is that I would rather have an independent Labour Government in Scotland than a Tory Government in London who demonstrate their contempt for the people of Scotland through their policies. That is the reality. Unfortunately, he would rather have a Tory Government in London than an independent Scottish Government over whom he may have influence.
Again on the intervention of Alun Cairns, is it not the case that, although there are high global oil and gas prices, Norway has a sovereign wealth fund of $1 trillion—the biggest in the world—that can be used to support its citizens, whereas Westminster has squandered our oil and gas revenues all these years? Even then, the McCrone report from the ’70s, which was buried for 30 years, showed the wealth that would have accumulated to Scotland had it been independent. Both Labour and the Conservatives held that information from the Scottish population.
My hon. Friend is correct. I think the taxation receipts for North sea oil over the period that he is talking about have been north of £350 billion. What a missed opportunity to ensure that we could invest for future generations, eradicate the poverty that has been talked about and deliver hope for future generations. I will come on to the opportunities from green energy. My message to him and other hon. Members on both sides of the House is that a green industrial revolution could come to Scotland, so we need to create the jobs that will drive up productivity and investment and give people hope—but we are not going to do that while we are part of Westminster.
There are plenty of intelligent people in this place—I am especially looking at Labour Members—and we can see the damage that Brexit has done. They see it, but they will not say it. The reason they will not say it is that they are frightened that they will lose votes in the north of England, and to hell with the consequences in Scotland and everywhere else. I am sorry to say that that is one of the most shameful examples of politics replacing principles that this place has ever witnessed—that is really saying something in Westminster.
One of the reasons that the UK voted for Brexit was that the EU stands for ever-closer union, which means joining the euro. The right hon. Gentleman has talked about independence, so will he be joining the euro? Will he not then accede some of the control over the fiscal situation that he wants to deal with?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but let me return to 2014. At the time of the Scottish referendum, we were told that, if we stayed in the United Kingdom, two things would happen: first, we would stay in Europe and secondly, we would lead the UK in a voluntary Union of equals. None of that has happened, however, because of his example of being taken out of the European Union against our will. The key difference is that Europe is a partnership of equals.
Since the hon. Gentleman asked about currency, I will answer head on. When Scotland becomes independent, as it will, we will retain the pound. [Laughter.] It is funny, is it? We are talking about people’s futures and we are trying to deal with a serious matter. We will keep the pound until such time that a number of economic tests are met that will allow us to have a Scottish pound. That is what will happen.
I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman has been clear and direct in saying that Scotland will have the pound. If he joins the EU, however, is the plan not to join the euro? He will have to concede, therefore, that Scotland will have to do that. By what mechanism would he therefore keep the pound, or the Scottish pound, or refute having the euro?
I respectfully say to the hon. Gentleman that he should go away and read the treaties, because they are very clear; we are all aware of what is contained in them. Crucially, to join the euro, countries have to join the exchange rate mechanism for two years, which is voluntary. Countries cannot be forced into the euro. Our position is clear: we will deliver a fiscal programme that will deliver jobs for Scotland, create the circumstances for investment and drive up living standards—that is what we want with independence. We will make sure that we have the answer to the currency situation that delivers for our people.
Perhaps Dr Evans is misled by headlines in The Times newspaper and should apprise himself better of what is actually happening in Europe. On
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene because this is a crucial point that people need to understand. The current position of the Scottish National party is to stick with the pound for an undefined period, then to set up her own currency. As Nicola Sturgeon said herself when she launched the economic paper, she will not commit to joining the euro. That does one of two things: it either denies EU membership, or it means an independent Scotland would have a separate currency from both the EU and its bigger trading partner, the rest of the UK. Is that not correct?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I have pointed out that in order to join the euro—[Interruption.] I have already laid out that we will retain the pound sterling immediately on attaining independence, and when the time is right and a number of economic tests are met, we will have the Scottish pound. There are six tests, and I will be—
I have already given way twice to the hon. Member, and I think I have been very gracious with my time.
As I said at the start, all the Westminster-imposed chaos comes with real consequences because the cost of the last six weeks, and the consequences of the last six years of constant crisis mean that the Tories are right back where they originally started—implementing austerity. This week, we have been deliberately bombarded by Treasury briefing about the “difficult decisions” that need to be made in order to fill the economic hole that the Tories dug themselves, but the return of austerity, if it ever truly went away, is not a so-called difficult decision. It is instead what it has always been—a Tory political choice to hit the poorest hardest.
No one should be fooled into thinking that there are not other choices. In the week that BP announced a quarterly profit of £7.1 billion, why not take the easy decision to bring in a proper windfall tax on excess profits? Why not take the easy decision to end non-dom tax avoidance? Why not take the easy decision to reinstate the cap on bankers’ bonuses? With all that new revenue, why not take the easiest decision of all, and protect those most at risk by uprating benefits and pensions in line with inflation? That, after all, was the promise the Prime Minister made when he was Chancellor back in May.
Until each and every one of those easy and essential decisions are taken, the Tories should not dare talk about the difficult decisions they are having to take. I fear, though, that the Tories and their new Prime Minister have already made their choice: they are gearing up to take a wrecking ball to public services and double down on austerity. That is exactly why we are now at such a critical juncture. It is clearer by the day that austerity 2.0 is the future awaiting the Scottish people unless we escape Westminster control for good. That is why independence is not just desirable; it is essential.
There is no better example of that necessity than the energy issue. The motion refers to the detailed and evidenced-based report by David Skilling, who has laid out the facts on the sheer scale of the energy opportunity awaiting an independent Scotland. I encourage hon. Members across the House to read that report. We have the potential to generate around 10% of Europe’s wave power and possess 25% of the potential European offshore wind and tidal resource. Let us not forget that it is Westminster that is holding back our tidal potential with its refusal to fund it to the rate that will be necessary to generate up to 11.5 GW of tidal energy by 2050.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman raises that because it takes us back to the discussions we had last year. The Royal Society report published just before COP26—a peer-reviewed report—indicated the potential to get to 11.5 GW of electricity from tidal. Incidentally, that would be 15% of the UK’s electricity production, which is the amount that nuclear contributes today, and by 2030 tidal would be cheaper than nuclear. We do not need nuclear to provide our baseload electricity because tidal does it. The fact remains that that £20 million, welcome as it is, does not go far enough for that industry to develop its potential. When we look at the programmes that are already live around these shores, about 70% of the value added from tidal comes from Scotland and about 80% comes from the UK. It is a domestically grown industry.
We heard earlier from my hon. Friend Alan Brown about the contrast with the oil industry in Norway, but one of the key lessons from that is to make sure not just that we have the energy production, but that we control the supply chain. This is exactly an industry where we do control the supply chain. I say to David Duguid that he should join me in pressing the Treasury to make sure we get the £50 million-a-year ringfenced pot—that is what would allow us to fulfil our potential—and at the same time to make sure that we get carbon capture and storage for Peterhead. Those two clear examples are direct demonstrations of how Scotland has been held back—held back on its ability to deliver green energy and on its desire to get to net zero in 2045. That is the cost of Westminster control for Scotland.
I may be corrected, but I fancy I am the only person in this place who has worked in an oil fabrication yard; it was at Nigg. When I worked there, 5,000 people were employed—vital jobs in the highlands. We have the skills still, but they are ageing skills and the skills are going. If we miss the opportunity to build offshore floating wind structures in Scotland, we will be failing the Scottish people. What is the difference between us and Norway? Norway does build; we do not, and we should do something about it.
I thank the hon. Member for that remark. He is right to talk about what happened in Nigg back in the day. But it was not just in Nigg, as he will recall; it also happened in the west of the highlands—in Kishorn in my own constituency and Ardersier. If you would allow, Mr Deputy Speaker, we could sing the song of the Kishorn Commandos, but maybe we will save that for another day.
And there is many a tale to be told about what happened in Kishorn back in the day, but this is a serious point about the opportunity to industrialise the highlands and the opportunity to create jobs for generations, create wealth and create prosperity. I congratulate the hon. Member because we have worked together on making sure that we are pushing for the opportunities in Cromarty, but these are decisions that we should be taking in Scotland to make sure that we deliver on that promise.
We cannot mention often enough the potential we have in green energy. Scotland is energy rich, and we simply should not be facing an energy emergency. We should not have cold homes and soaring bills. Even before this crisis—as the hon. Member would acknowledge, we already had the situation before this crisis—40% of pensioners in the highlands lived in fuel poverty. What a disgrace that we allow that happen.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree with me, and do his constituents share my concerns, that people look out at these wind installations—such as Seagreen off the Angus coast, two revolutions of which can power a home for an entire year—yet at the same time they cannot pay their electricity bill, thanks to the UK’s energy market? Is that not in itself a reason to decouple ourselves from this broken Union?
Indeed, because I think it fair to say that we are being ripped off. We are being ripped off by transmission charges. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn, because he took me to see an offshore wind farm in Kincardine a few weeks ago—what a demonstration of the opportunity we have from the North sea. The fundamental point is that we should not have cold homes and soaring bills. We produce six times more gas than we consume, and nearly 100% of the equivalent of our electricity consumption already comes from renewables—[Interruption.] I have said equivalent on many occasions.
I did ask for respect and honesty in this debate, and I think that if the hon. Gentleman checks Hansard, he will find that I have said that on a number of occasions.
This is Scotland’s energy and it should serve Scotland’s people. The Skilling report shows that Scotland has the potential to boost our output by more than five times, increasing from 12 GW of installed renewable capacity to over 80 GW by 2050. Just think about that—80 GW of electricity by 2050. That is as much as four times the energy Scotland needs. It will provide the cheap, green energy that will allow us to have a new industrial revolution, and to see jobs come to the eastern highlands, the western highlands, the lowlands and the south of Scotland as a consequence of the economic opportunity that will be created. By expanding Scotland’s renewable capacity and becoming a green hydrogen exporter, we have the chance to pump as much as £34 billion into Scotland’s economy every year—an investment that would sustain up to 385,000 jobs, dwarfing the jobs that we have in oil in gas today. That is a real energy transition.
This is a plan for growth—green, sustainable growth for the long term, not the fantasy growth that we had from the Truss Government and the absence of any plan from the existing Government. Driving better productivity, driving an industrial green society, and driving our economy into the future—that is the plan on which an independent Scotland can and will be built. Apparently, the only UK Government response to that energy plan is the bizarre argument that we should ignore the vast renewable energy potential and instead turn to nuclear. Well, let us be very clear: we do not need nuclear in Scotland, we do not want nuclear power, and we will not be having nuclear power. We want the powers of independence so that Scotland’s energy can finally serve the needs of the Scottish people.
In the latest Scottish Government paper on independence, our First Minister set out all the economic opportunities that independence will unleash. Instead of Westminster anti-trade union laws, we could ensure fairer work with European-style labour market policies. Instead of an economic race to the bottom, we could build an economy based on human wellbeing, lifting people up so that they can contribute fully, not waiting for wealth to trickle down while the inequality gap grows. Instead of Brexit, we would be an EU member state in our own right and we would, for the first time, be in a position not just to benefit from EU trade deals, but to help shape them. Instead of a hostile environment and the disgrace of a Home Secretary who talks about “invasions”, we would have a humane immigration policy tailored to our needs.
I genuinely thank the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene on the point he was making about an independent Scotland being in the EU—a point he made previously. Does he agree with his leader in Holyrood, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, when she admitted that there could be hard borders and passport controls between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom?
Here we go: “Project Fear” all over again. Let me give the hon. Gentleman and the House the example of Ireland. Way back in the 1940s, close to 90% of Ireland’s exports were to the rest of the United Kingdom. Today that figure is less than 10%, but the value of Irish exports to the UK actually increased every single year, irrespective of the economic cycle. An independent Ireland was able to pursue policies that delivered growth and resulted in investment and trade opportunities. That is the opportunity for an independent Scotland.
I would not want us to move too far beyond the point about humane treatment. Is it the case that Ukrainian refugees in Scotland currently have to be housed in temporary accommodation on ships, in which the space they must occupy is less than is legally required for prisoners in Scottish prisons?
I should not be surprised by some of the things we get from the Tories in this House, but has the hon. Gentleman any sense of listening to what has been happening this week in Kent, when he comes and accuses the Scottish Government regarding those seeking refuge on our soil? We can be proud of what the Scottish Government have delivered, led by our former colleague Neil Gray. Around 20% of Ukrainian migrants who have come are in Scotland living in our country. We have opened our doors and welcomed them, and by goodness that is something we should be proud of.
I will make some progress as I am conscious of the time.
Instead of Westminster control, we would always have the stability of knowing that the Governments who shape our economy have been elected by us—a simple democratic principle.
The great American writer Maya Angelou once said:
“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Well, people in Scotland have had more than enough of Westminster control. We know who the Tories are, we know what this place is, and we know the deep damage it has done. We believed them the first time. That is why Scotland has not voted for the Tories since 1955. Westminster has made its choice and chosen its future. It is a present and a future of constant crisis—a Brexit-backing, failing UK state. It is time that Scotland left those choices and that future behind us for good. We do not have to believe in Westminster control anymore; we have only to believe in ourselves. It is now time for Scotland to build its own future—an independent future in Europe.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I would, by convention, congratulate Ian Blackford on securing the debate, but forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I break with custom on this occasion, for the simple reason that a debate on Scotland leaving the United Kingdom is not a priority for the Scottish people, it is not a priority for Scotland, and it should not be a priority for this House. It is no surprise to me—but it is a great pity none the less—that the SNP has retreated into the only issue it ever cares about. It is a great pity because I and Conservative Members would warmly welcome a serious debate about the Scottish economy.
I believe that this House should be discussing ways to improve Scotland’s economic growth, because our economic growth has lagged behind that of the United Kingdom during the time the SNP has been in power at Holyrood. Why is that, I wonder? How much better might things have been if the SNP had respected the democratic result of the 2014 referendum, and ceased its constant, unwanted demands to re-run that referendum?
I fear that the SNP’s constant campaign—its neverendum campaign to leave the United Kingdom—acts like a millstone around the neck of the Scottish economy.
I appreciate the Secretary of State giving way. We often hear that we do not respect the result of the referendum. I joined the SNP one week after the referendum. I was sent here to protect Scotland from Brexit and to fight for Scottish independence. Is that not taking part in the democracy of our country? I was not a member of the SNP then; I joined one week after the referendum, and I was elected to this place to help deliver Scotland’s path to independence. That is democracy.
That simply is not democracy, because the hon. Member is not respecting the result of the referendum in 2014. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, there was confusion and, in that referendum, the Scottish National party was proposing that Scotland leave the EU. We have just heard a whole speech on how desperate the SNP is to get back into the EU, yet in 2014 the proposal made was that Scotland would leave—
I say to Angus Brendan MacNeil: take the splinter out of your own eye. I am explaining how ballot boxes work. There was a very good, legal referendum in 2014, and it was won by those who wanted to remain in the United Kingdom. It is as simple as that.
I return to the point about the neverendum campaign being a millstone around the neck of the Scottish economy. The last thing that people need is greater uncertainty. The last thing that Scotland needs is the SNP’s continual push for a divisive referendum on leaving the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Government are working tirelessly to strengthen the Scottish economy.
During the covid pandemic, it was the UK Government who had the ability to support our economy through furlough and business grants, keeping businesses in business and protecting people’s livelihoods. We are now supporting households and businesses facing increased energy costs. The UK Government are also providing the Scottish Government with a record block grant settlement of £41 billion a year over the next three years. In real terms, that is the highest settlement since 1998.
Seeing as I live in England, I may well have scuppered any chances I had of getting my Scottish passport, but the leader of the SNP did not mention education in his speech. Does the Secretary of State believe that may be because we have seen Scotland tumble down the PISA rankings for maths and science as the SNP has neglected the education of the future population of our home country?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is not just education standards that are falling—there are many problems throughout public services in Scotland, and drug deaths are three times higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is clear that those failings in public services in Scotland happen because the Scottish Government get up every day and go to work with the one objective of breaking up the United Kingdom, not realising that they are a devolved Administration who should be focusing on health, education and crime, doing the proper day job that people voted for them to do. I absolutely agree with him.
It is a well-known fact that the Scottish National party loves me to bits. However, I received my second covid vaccination from a British solider in Raigmore Hospital, where the British Army stepped in during the pandemic. The independence argument falls apart when it comes to the defence of the United Kingdom, because there is nothing that Vladimir Putin would like to see more than Scotland breaking away and our defences split in two.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. During the pandemic, in my role as Secretary of State for Scotland I signed many MACA—military aid to civil authorities—requests for Scotland, and our armed services stepped up and did an incredible job of helping us through the process.
In addition to the UK Government support that I mentioned, we are directly investing £2 billion that will be delivered through the city region and growth deals programme, the levelling-up fund and the United Kingdom shared prosperity fund. Those projects are starting to transform communities and create tens of thousands of high-quality new jobs.
The Secretary of State goes on about levelling up and how grateful we in Scotland should be for money that is disbursed from the UK centre at Westminster. Does he actually believe that? Does he not understand that people in Scotland pay taxes here as well as in Scotland and that we are entitled to a share of all those funds?
All the SNP councils in Scotland are applying for these funds, and they have been welcomed. I remember the leader of Glasgow City Council—an SNP council—saying how pleased she was that the UK Government were delivering those funds directly to local authorities in Scotland. And—guess what?—they are taking that money in its full amount and delivering it to local projects. That is exactly how it should be.
I have signed applications for levelling-up funds because my community is as entitled to them as communities in the rest of the UK. We pay our taxes as well, and we do not need to be lectured about taking hand-outs, which is what the Secretary of State is implying.
That could not be further from the truth. I am not implying that for a minute. It absolutely is fair shares for everyone; we have never disputed that. All I am explaining is that the method of delivery is through local authorities to get project funds directly to local communities.
We are close to announcing two new UK freeports in Scotland, backed by £52 million of investment from the United Kingdom Government. That is a great example of how much more we can achieve when Scotland’s two Governments work together. We know that we can achieve much more by working together. So I repeat my offer to the Scottish Government to come and work with us on transport by improving cross-border links such as the A75 and on agriculture by giving farmers the gene editing technology that they desperately want. Gene editing will make crops more disease and drought-resistant and thereby drive down food prices. They should also work with us on energy, bringing small modular nuclear reactors—yes, you heard it here—to back up our tremendous renewable energy.
In talking about the city region and growth deals, the freeports and all the other shared investments, is not the key point that that is real devolution and not central Government—whether here or in Edinburgh—dictating to local areas what they want? It is them deciding their priorities and working with both Governments to deliver on them.
If I can continue, the North sea transition deal is another thing that shows the UK Government working together with the offshore oil and gas industry to achieve a managed energy transition that leaves no one behind. The deal has the potential to support up to 40,000 jobs and generate up to £16 billion of investment by 2030. We are also supporting 1,700 Scottish jobs through the £3.7 billion Ministry of Defence shipbuilding programme on the Clyde. Those are just a few examples.
Apart from the record settlement of £41 billion over three years, there is additional money—the £37 billion —from the support schemes the Chancellor introduced. That has Barnett money, which goes to the Scottish Government. The wonderful thing about devolution is that the Scottish Government can then decide how they spend that money.
Is the Minister able to tell us what percentage of the £8 billion of oil and gas revenue that has gone to the Treasury in the last nine months is being directed to the Scottish Government to prioritise for their own spending? What percentage of that revenue goes to Scotland? The answer is none, isn’t it?
The answer is that Scotland gets her share of Government spending. Everything goes into one big pot, but we know that spending in Scotland is 26% higher per head than it is per head in England. That is the Union dividend, which I will come on to, of £2,000 per man, woman and child. We have one Treasury and one pot, and Scotland takes a very fair share out of that.
I am going to make some progress.
I have given some examples of how the UK Government are investing in Scotland. As I said earlier, I would welcome a proper debate about the Scottish economy any day, but this is not a serious debate. It is, I am afraid, just another opportunity, as we have heard from SNP Members, to dust off some of their tired old grievances.
Let me turn to the premise of the motion and let us all consider reality. As the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber will be well aware, the pound has recovered. The Bank of England interventions have been effective and our energy interventions will help to bring down inflation.
I did not intervene on the right hon. Gentleman and I do not expect him to intervene on me. He spoke for a very long time.
This is a challenging economic period internationally and we should not pretend that the UK—
To clarify the record, I was referring to the recent turmoil in the market. [Interruption.] Let me proceed.
This is a challenging economic period internationally and we should not pretend that the UK is the only nation which faces difficult times. The overall economic stability that the UK offers is the best long-term guarantee we have, so the right hon. Member is simply wrong in the motion about the state of the UK economy. He compounds his mistake, because his motion speaks of a land that exists only in his overactive and deeply aggrieved imagination: the so-called failing state of the UK. That will be the United Kingdom which has the sixth-biggest economy in the world, the UK which is a leading partner in NATO, the UK which is at the heart of the G7, and the UK with a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. [Interruption.] They do not like hearing it.
Order. Please resume your seats. Come on. Stop it, please. Stop it. We did not have that noise when the leader of the SNP was speaking, so in deference, and in good behaviour, please stop the shouting.
SNP Members do not like hearing it. Instead of insulting Scots’ intelligence, the SNP might explain what it is doing with Holyrood’s extensive powers in economic development, education and skills, planning and transport to grow the Scottish economy.
I hope that as the debate progresses we will hear something constructive from SNP Members, but I fear ferries will float before we do. Rather than deal with what actually matters to the vast majority of Scots—growing the economy and creating jobs—SNP Members want to talk about the Scottish Government’s “independence papers”.
I will make some progress.
Those papers have provoked scorn from respected economic experts, and even from high-profile independence campaigners. One prominent nationalist—Mr Deputy Speaker, I apologise in advance for the unparliamentary language—referred to the recent economy paper as “utter pish”. The kindest thing I could do is move on without further mention of those publications, so I will.
I am very clear that we will tackle the challenges we face more effectively as one United Kingdom. Much to the frustration of the SNP, the Scottish Government’s own Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland figures demonstrate the benefit to people in Scotland of being part of the United Kingdom. As I mentioned earlier, people in Scotland benefit from a Union dividend worth more than £2,000 a year for each man, woman and child.
I agree with Ian Blackford that in 2014 the pound was at 1.64 against the dollar and that now, because of this Government, it has crashed. However, what does it say to the Secretary of State that even with that, the Scottish independence campaign seeks to reassure the markets by saying it will not go for the Scottish pound, but stick with this crashing economy? What does that say about its confidence in the Scottish pound?
I would add to the hon. Gentleman’s remarks by saying that as a country shadowing the pound it will not be the lender of last resort—it will have no lender of last resort. It is utterly irresponsible.
As one United Kingdom, we are able to draw on our great shared institutions such as the NHS. We are better able to respond to the nationwide challenges on the cost of living, just as we did in overcoming the pandemic when we offered the covid vaccine to everyone in the UK. The energy price guarantee will save a typical household in Great Britain around £700 this winter. I believe that our collective strength as a family of nations means we are much better able to tackle the big problems.
I thank the Secretary for State for giving way. In the aftermath of his former Prime Minister’s and former Chancellor’s budget, he called on the Scottish Government to implement those tax cuts. Beyond that, the following day he said that he was going to “hold firm” on those tax cuts. Does he regret those comments, and indeed the damage that his Government caused to households in Scotland?
I make no apology for the fact that I have always been pro low taxes. That remains my position today.
For all that the motion for today’s debate purports to focus on the economy, we should be clear that it is, in reality, about allowing the SNP to talk about the one issue that matters to it: separation and seeking to break up the UK. This is simply not the time to be talking about another independence referendum. We share these islands, and we share a rich, shared history.
It is up to whoever is on their feet who they allow in. For whatever reason, you are not the flavour of the month, Mr MacNeil, and I have to say you are rapidly going down my list as to when you will actually come in.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I admire the tenacity of the hon. Gentleman. He is obviously very good a playing musical chairs, but I am going to finish.
We share these islands. We share a rich history. Together, we have been able to develop the great institutions we are so proud of, such as the NHS and our armed forces. People in Scotland want their two Governments to be focused on the issues that matter to them: growing our economy, ensuring our energy security, tackling the cost of living and supporting our friends in Ukraine against Russian aggression. Those are the issues that matter to the people of Scotland, not the motion before us today.
I congratulate Ian Blackford and the SNP on bringing this debate to the Chamber. I also pass on my thoughts and best wishes to Peter Grant, who signed the motion. He is not with us today because he has lost his father, so our best wishes go to him. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
When I learned of and read the motion, I got quite excited, because I thought that I might finally agree with one of my SNP colleagues’ motions. It starts off, rightly, by highlighting the disastrous impacts of this Tory-created economic crisis, but I am sorry to say that it ends in a rather familiar way, with their one-size-fits-all and only answer to any question: independence. I will come to that later, but let me go through the first part of the motion.
To start with the Secretary of State’s contribution, I did not hear an apology for what the Government have just done to the UK economy. The Conservatives once claimed to be the party of economic competence, but they have now created absolute chaos. Let there be no doubt that the Conservatives have crashed the British economy. Their now junked mini-Budget—well, partially junked, because they have kept the scrapping of bankers’ bonuses—which was mini only in its connection with reality, has exacerbated an already burgeoning crisis. That crisis was born from catastrophic decisions made over the past 12 years, including when the current PM was Chancellor.
As the motion outlines, the pound is at a record low, mortgage rates are through the roof and inflation continues to spiral out of control. I know that for many on the Conservative Benches, those are just indicators—numbers on a screen—but they show an economy tanking as a result of their incompetence. This is not just about numbers; it is about the quality of life of millions of people up and down the country. It is about the unimaginable stress caused to families, who were already stumped by how they would make ends meet. They find their mortgage rates shooting up and energy prices rocketing, and they are staring at their supermarket receipts, wondering at how few items they got for such a high cost.
I prefer Scotland in the UK with a Labour Government. What an absolutely ridiculous and pointless intervention from a ridiculous and pointless Member of Parliament. [Interruption.] Is that unparliamentary, Mr Deputy Speaker? Okay, I apologise. [Interruption.] I just said I apologise.
A family came to my surgery last week to say that their fixed-rate mortgage of 1.79% was expiring. Given the increases in interest rates, they were expecting to pay and had budgeted for 3.5%, but they were quoted more than 6.5% and they simply cannot afford it. What was it all for? To give unfunded tax cuts to the richest. Make no mistake: the Tories crashed the economy from Downing Street and it will be paid for by ordinary people, either through their pay packets or through austerity.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. When we ask a question of a colleague in Parliament who finds it difficult to understand, is it in order that he responds with insults?
I am glad that the hon. Member has accepted it, from whichever seat he is now sitting in.
As I was saying, what has happened will be paid for by ordinary people either through their pay packets or through austerity, because the Government U-turns and change of Prime Minister cannot undo what has been done to Britain’s reputation. Our institutions have been undermined, our standing on the world stage has been diminished, and our credibility as a place to invest has been damaged. The devastation will last for years, maybe decades. As the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said in his opening speech—I will quote him as accurately as I can—that comes with “massive, massive costs”. But one of the other massive costs would be the break-up of the United Kingdom, because there is no doubt that this Conservative Government are as big a threat to the Union as any nationalist sitting by my side here.
Who have the Conservative party turned to to put out the fire? The arsonist himself. Let us not forget that even before this abject disaster, the now Prime Minister, as Chancellor, delivered the highest tax burden on working people in 70 years, the highest inflation in 40 years and the highest of any G7 country, the largest fall in living standards since records began in the 1970s, continued low growth and stagnant wages.
We have a Prime Minister who increased the tax for everyone else while he did not think his family should pay it; a Prime Minister who, while every single person in this country suffered under lockdown, was fined for partying in Downing Street; a Prime Minister who left a loophole in the windfall tax so that billions of pounds that could have been put into public services to help people with their energy bills were left on the table; a Prime Minister who lost tens of billions of pounds to covid fraud and shrugged his shoulders; a Prime Minister who was so weak in dealing with the cost of living crisis that he thought that the best and only response was to increase everyone’s national insurance; a Prime Minister who was, as a Member of Parliament, more of a US resident than a UK citizen; a Prime Minister who always puts his party first and the country second; and a Prime Minister without a mandate to govern. As the Leader of the Opposition so aptly put it, in the only competitive election in which the Prime Minister has stood, he was trounced by someone who was in turn beaten by a lettuce.
The hon. Member is making our case for us, given the shambles of a Government that he is talking about. Does that mean that he will go back on his vow to do better together again and that Labour will not stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories? Will he also call out Labour councils for working in coalition with the Tories, including in Edinburgh?
Let me put it firmly on the record that there is not a coalition in Scotland between Labour and the Conservatives. In the Edinburgh example that the hon. Member talks about, which I know very well because it is my city, the Conservatives are an official opposition party. What SNP Members do not like is that they could not get their leader in as leader of the council.
Let me say to the hon. Member and to SNP voters that the best way to resolve the crisis at the UK level and to stop Scotland being ripped out of the United Kingdom against the will of the Scottish people is to vote Labour in Scottish constituencies at the next general election and have us replace the Government, rather than just shouting at them from the Opposition Benches.
I will make some progress because I am attacking the Conservative party and I think the hon. Member might like that.
If the Government had any shred of decency left, they would call this ridiculous circus to an end and give the British people a choice at a general election. The choice is between the people who caused it in the first place, and a credible Labour party, led by my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, ready to give this country a fresh start. The reason that SNP Members do not want a UK Labour Government is that they know it shoots their independence goose. The UK Government’s reticence to offer such a choice at a general election shows what they think the outcome would be. They are an out-of-touch Government with no plan, no mandate and absolutely no idea of what misery they have inflicted on working people in Scotland and all over the UK.
The hon. Member made an interesting point about the SNP not wanting a Labour Government. I joined the SNP a week after the referendum. One reason that tipped me over was that I remember, back in 2014, Labour joining hand in hand with the Tories to vote for air strikes while SNP MPs voted against them. I urge caution, because the fact is that the Labour party does not stand up for the people of Scotland.
My recollection may be incorrect, but I am not sure we did in that instance.
This entire motion is predicated on the fact that we have a rotten, out-of-touch Conservative Government—and we do—and my contention is that the best way to resolve that is for Scottish voters to deliver Scottish Labour MPs so that we can become the UK Government in place of the Conservatives. The alternative is Members sitting on these Opposition Benches moaning about the situation rather than trying to change it.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for giving way; he is very kind. He has given an excellent list of reasons why Scotland should not endure a UK Administration, but let me try to get him to focus on a particular point. We have heard a lot from Mr Perkins in this debate. The shadow Secretary of State’s bairns in Edinburgh South are much better looked after by an SNP Scottish Government in Scotland than the bairns of the hon. Member for Chesterfield are looked after here. What does the shadow Secretary of State think about that? What does the Union mean to bairns in poverty in Chesterfield compared with those in Edinburgh South?
The hon. Gentleman gets the phrasing of his question wrong. He says that we do not want to endure a UK Administration in Scotland. No: we do not want to endure a Tory UK Administration in Scotland. Perhaps SNP Members do, because it suits their cause.
The hon. Gentleman talks about child poverty. When Labour was in power from 1997 to 2010, we lifted millions of children out of poverty. All of that has been reversed in the past 12 or 13 years because of decisions made by the UK Government and the Scottish Government. And do not dare talk about children in my constituency when educational standards are going down the pan, nobody can get a GP appointment and inequalities are rising. Rising inequalities are the responsibility of both Governments in Scotland: the Scottish Government and the UK Government.
The shadow Secretary of State talks about the turgid record of the Conservative party. As we approach a general election, people will want to see the big difference that Scottish Labour MPs would make. What would be the biggest difference in immigration policy and Brexit policy, for example?
The big difference will be having a stable economy. The big difference will be growth. The big difference will be a laser-like focus on child poverty. The big difference will be trade. The big difference will be making this country work. The big difference will be repairing our relationship internationally, including with our EU partners. Those are the big differences. We will have a constitutional settlement fit for the 2020s, instead of ripping Scotland out of the United Kingdom with all the problems that that may cause.
If my attack on the Conservative party has upset SNP Members, wait until they hear the next few pages of my speech. While I am speaking of having no plan, let me turn to the second part of the SNP’s motion, which I certainly disagree with: the prospectus for independence. The much-anticipated paper appeared a few Mondays ago, after years or even decades of no credible economic answers from the yes movement. Unfortunately, even with all these papers, the wait continues.
Let me turn to a few of the big themes. They may seem a little like déjà vu in this House, but we still have no answers. The first, and probably the most obvious and important, is currency. SNP Members have had more views on the currency of an independent Scotland than I have had fish suppers—and I can tell you I have had a few, Mr Deputy Speaker. Their latest wheeze was revealed last week. Immediately after having voted to leave the United Kingdom—in their hypothetical scenario—an independent Scotland would take back control with a radically different economic approach and keep the pound. So the Bank of England and the UK Treasury would still set the fiscal rules; all that would change is that we would have no say whatever over them.
The economic levers that SNP Members continually bleat about would be left in Westminster. Would that just be temporary, though? They say yes, because they would introduce a separate Scottish currency, the Scottish pound. We might ask how long that would take, but they do not tell us. At first, people would pay their mortgage in the same currency in which they borrowed it, but at some point during the lifetime of their mortgage, the currency would probably switch to one that does not currently exist. One thing I know from discussions with my own mortgage provider is that if people borrow in pounds, they will pay back in pounds, regardless of the value of any new currency.
“The risk would be that the currency would come into being and then quickly devalue…That would have an effect on people’s income”.
Just listen to that sentence. After the mini-Budget, we know all too well what happens when a currency devalues so quickly. According to the eminent economist Professor MacDonald of Glasgow University, that devaluation could be as much as 30% on day one. That is a 30% reduction in income overnight, but everyone’s borrowing would stay in pounds.
If SNP Members will not listen to economists or experts, perhaps they will listen to someone they know better: the First Minister herself, who said that using the pound is in the long-term interests of Scotland. She said that for years. It has now been junked.
A new country and a new currency would also mean a central bank, but not one like any other central bank that exists in the economies of the world. At first, for an indeterminate period, it would be a central bank operating with another country’s currency. The First Minister claimed at the launch and the press conference that the central bank would be a lender of last resort and would stand by things like the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which guarantees up to £85,000 in someone’s bank account if a bank goes into liquidation or disappears. So we would have a central bank as a lender of last resort, standing by things like the Financial Services Compensation Scheme in someone else’s currency, but with absolutely no control over monetary policy.
The Scottish Government paper says that a greater emphasis would be placed on fiscal policy to ensure the strength of the economy. Surely that is shorthand for greater austerity. I will come back to that issue later.
Let me just finish this point, because it is really important and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to answer it. According to the paper, when the new currency is established after an indeterminate period, the planned reserves will total just $14 billion—a fraction of what similar small nations require. In the Scottish Government’s first paper, they drew comparisons with lots of other small European countries, so let us compare some currency reserves. Denmark’s currency reserve is equivalent to $82 billion, Norway’s to $84 billion and Sweden’s to $62 billion, and those are all established currencies with a track record and a borrowing record. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us how that makes the case for borrowing to create massive reserves.
The hon. Gentleman has just pointed out the reserves of independent countries, so he can obviously tell us the reserves of Scotland, if it is doing so well in the Union. If Scotland becomes independent, will Labour Members come forward with policies, or will they pretend they are like the Tories and refuse to play? Will he try to get into the House of Lords, or will he want to be a politician in Scotland after independence? What is his position? Under devolution, five parties come forward and present their views to the public. I imagine that that will be the same after independence—or are Labour and the Tories saying, “We’re taking our ball home—we can’t play any more”?
Mr Deputy Speaker, honestly! We want a sensible debate, but according to the hon. Gentleman I am taking my ball home and going to the House of Lords. I suspect that the reason he is so animated is that his seat might become a Labour seat at the next general election. Let me tell him my prospectus for Scotland: my prospectus is that Scotland stays in the United Kingdom with a UK Labour Government. That is my policy. He seems to forget that this is his motion, not mine: I am replying to an SNP Opposition day debate on a motion tabled by SNP Members in their own terms.
I was talking about the reserves of other countries. The SNP’s approach to creating Scotland’s reserves, which would be a fraction of those of other countries, is to borrow. The SNP’s proposition for independence is to continue to use the pound while setting up its own central bank, being a Scottish lender of last resort and borrowing tens of billions of pounds to create reserves for a new currency. The very foundation of the new state would be built on unfunded, unforecasted borrowing. It is like someone trying to build up their savings by using a credit card. We know it is bonkers, because the UK Government have just demonstrated how bonkers it is, and SNP Members know it.
The shadow Secretary of State is talking about the economic disaster that would come after independence. Does he accept that as part of the United Kingdom, even with the largesse that comes from Westminster, the Scottish Government have still failed to raise education standards, to have effective policing or to deal with the drugs crisis in Scotland? Indeed, they already have the lowest rate of economic growth.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman up to a point, but I wish he would not refer to the UK Government’s largesse or Westminster’s largesse. It is this Conservative Government’s largesse, and if we want to turn the UK around and keep the UK together, we have to replace this rotten lot with a UK Labour Government.
The right hon. Gentleman is right, however: the list of failures of Scottish Government policy is the length of your arm, and I would be here until 7 o’clock this evening if I went through them all. That includes the failures in my own constituency, where it is impossible to get a GP appointment. The Health Secretary tells me there is no problem, although NHS Lothian has said that health services and GP services in my constituency are failing—and I quote that directly from one of its reports.
Let me now turn to the subject of the European Union, because we have heard a lot about that. I remind the House—including my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, who made some great points about the EU—that when the Division bell rang on our efforts to find a way through a deal with the European Union, we would have won on the customs union had the SNP not abstained. And let us not forget that when the Division bell rang on
Much like the experience of some Conservative Members in recent years, the response from Brussels has not fitted the preconceived fantasy. At the aforementioned press conference, the First Minister rejected the idea that Scotland would join the euro, saying it was
“not the right option for Scotland”.
Nonetheless, she added, Scotland would have no problem with joining the European Union. That is awkward, is it not, because the EU does not seem to agree. The law does not seem to agree. Officials have insisted, and the treaties state, that any country wishing to join the EU would legally have to commit to the euro. I wonder whether any SNP Members can shed any light on the Scottish Government’s position—but let me answer my own question, because I am more likely to get the answer than I would be if the SNP answered it.
The paper says that an independent Scotland would use the pound for an undetermined period, then borrow tens of billions—which may be an inadequate amount—to support a new currency, only to have to legally commit to joining the euro at some point in the future. The SNP has more currency positions in this paper than we have had Prime Ministers since the summer. If the mini-Budget has demonstrated anything, it is that the markets take a dim view of fantasy economics. What an economic catastrophe for Scottish people’s mortgages, borrowing, pensions and wages!
Before SNP Members start jumping up and down, as they have already, saying that some EU countries do not use the euro, let me repeat that every new member of the European Union must legally commit to joining the euro. That is written in an international treaty, which is international law. But here comes the conundrum for the SNP. The paper that has been presented by the First Minister does several things; are she and the SNP saying (a) that they are not willing to abide by the EU rules on the euro? They have already said that they would not join the exchange rate mechanism. They would play their games: they would say they would do it, and would not. Is that the policy, or is it (b)? If it is not joining the euro, they are essentially saying that a separate Scotland would sit outside the rest of the UK and the EU with a different currency.
That position is surely not in the best interests of Scotland—but I hear someone shout, from a sedentary position, “Got it in one.” So SNP Members want to create a border with our biggest trading partner, and to create a currency border with what they say will become their biggest trading partner, and Scotland will be sitting with a separate currency, a different currency, outwith both. What they are doing—and this is key to the whole argument—is cherry-picking EU rules, which sounds more like Farage “cakeism” than a credible proposition for any country. They want to take all the good things but none of the bad, and they have no way of squaring that circle.
My hon. Friend is making a magnificent case. [Laughter.] SNP Members may well laugh. They appear to be so much more in touch with the view of the Scottish people, or so they tell us. Perhaps they can explain why only one of the last 19 opinion polls on Scottish independence showed the people of Scotland to be in favour of independence. The points that my hon. Friend is making demonstrate the reason: the inoperable difficulties of Scottish independence. That is why the people of Scotland not only voted against independence in 2014, but continue, in response to opinion polls, to say that they want to remain a part of the UK.
My hon. Friend is right. SNP Members always cite opinion polls when they are in their favour, but they never cite them when they are not in their favour.
What I would say, in all sincerity, to those who support independence in Scotland is “Look at the proposition that is in front of you.” The best way to resolve this is not to take Scotland out of the UK and do Brexit on stilts—Scexit, if you like—but to vote Labour, deliver a UK Labour Government, and allow us to prove that Britain is a place that Scotland would want to be a part of.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his speech. May I introduce a constitutional element? The hon. Gentleman’s own party, when in government, fully supported the constitutional position of the people of Northern Ireland on whether to remain in the Union—as I know some of our friends and colleagues here wish to do—or to become once again a part of the Irish Republic. They believe that that position should be allowed if a unification referendum happens every seven years, I think; Members will need to correct me if I am wrong. The hon. Gentleman’s party therefore believes in the inalienable right of the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own governance and destiny. Does he believe that Scotland has the same right?
I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman—I genuinely have, and I say that with all sincerity—but I believe that comparisons between Scotland and Northern Ireland are not only unhelpful but, to some, offensive. The purpose of the Good Friday agreement is to create peace on the island of Ireland, and I think that trying to superimpose the Good Friday agreement on the issue of Scottish independence will be seen as it should be seen, as unhelpful and historically inaccurate. [Interruption.] All the SNP Members are shouting, but one of the Labour party’s proudest achievements in office was peace in Northern Ireland. If they think that the Labour party’s position is inconsistent with a position of wanting to keep the UK together, they are simply incorrect. We on the Labour Benches will do nothing—absolutely nothing—to undermine the Good Friday agreement.
As an adjunct and a footnote to that, what SNP Members are proposing in their proposition for an independent Scotland will create the same problems at the border at Berwick as we have in Northern Ireland with the Northern Ireland protocol, and they know that to be the case.
The shadow Secretary of State is making the case, as a Labour politician would, for why Labour should be in charge. For two thirds of my lifetime we have had a Conservative Government for which Scotland has not voted. How does the hon. Gentleman expect the next 36 years to be any different from the past 36?
I will come back to hon. Members—I promise I will come back—but let me just make some progress.
All this brings us to deficit and debt, which is the great elephant in the room when it comes to independence. Let us talk about what independence would cost, and the scale of public service cuts that would be required. Very helpfully, These Islands—an organisation that believes that Scotland should stay in the UK—made the following comment, which I thought was quite interesting:
“We are waiting with trepidation about how the Chancellor will fill a £50 billion black hole”, which, it said, equates to about 2% of UK GDP. An independent Scotland would have to fill a hole equivalent to more than 10% of Scottish GDP, so there would be five times the problem that has been created by the Tories at Westminster. As the First Minister acknowledged, the Scottish economy would be cut off from its biggest trading partner by a hard border. But before we even take account of the devastating impact of this, we just have to look at the Scottish Government’s own accounts.
Let me just finish this point. I promise that I will give way in a moment.
We are not helped by the Scottish Government’s paper itself, which simply chooses to ignore the figures from Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland and pretend that they do not exist. The paper says:
“No estimate of the fiscal starting point for an independent Scotland’s finances is included in this document.”
That is rather surprising, because the SNP has—along with Labour and other Opposition parties—rightly been demanding that the UK Government produce the figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility on the forecast for the UK economy on the basis of their botched mini-Budget. The SNP does not even mention its much-lauded growth commission, which it has now junked. That does not seem very reassuring.
Let me just finish this point. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.
The starting point was always the Scottish Government’s own accounts—the GERS figures that the First Minister used to use as the starting point and bible have now been disowned. Every previous key document on their independence case had referenced those figures, and I have them here. Their independence referendum White Paper states:
“GERS is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances.”
“Scotland’s Future: What independence means for you” cites its source as Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland—that is, GERS. “The Economic Case for Independence” states:
“This report uses data published in the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue for Scotland (GERS) report.”
“Pensions in an Independent Scotland” also states:
“This report uses data published in the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report.”
“Your Scotland, Your Voice” states:
“The most recent GERS demonstrates that Scottish public finances ran current budget surpluses in each of the three years”.
I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but he need not worry about my knees. He is coming very close to saying that somehow the Scottish people, with all our resources and our history of invention and creativity, are unique in the world in that we would not be able to make a success of independence. What does he think is so lacking in the Scottish people that we, among all the peoples of the world, would not be able to make a success of being an independent nation?
By the hon. Gentleman’s proposition, I could go into Barclays bank on Monday morning when my mortgage is due and say, “I’m not going to pay it” while waving the saltire. I wonder if the bank manager would accept that as payment.
This debate is not about the Scottish people; it is about the bust proposition that is being put to the Scottish people on independence. There is no doubt that the Scottish Government are now GERS deniers. These are their own figures; this is the crux of the issue. The Scottish Government’s own accounts show a deficit in Scotland of £23.7 billion, which is equivalent to 12% of Scottish GDP or 1.5 times the entire budget of the Scottish NHS. How do they plan to resolve that deficit? Where will the spending cuts land? If they are going to borrow tens of billions to support a new currency, what happens to the day-to-day spending deficit? Do they borrow that as well? At what cost, and in what currency? I am afraid that this paper makes the Conservatives’ mini-Budget look like an economic masterstroke.
Let me finish by talking about borders. For the first time, the Scottish Government and the nationalists have admitted that there would be a hard border between Scotland and England. Families and businesses who for three centuries have bonded and traded freely would be split up by a hard border, a different currency and a different country—[Interruption.] Members keep braying from a sedentary position, but they have no answers to these questions. In fact, the answers they are giving us make their position worse, not better. Let us be clear: Scotland trades more with the rest of the United Kingdom than it does with the rest of the world combined. The SNP’s response to the Conservatives’ damaging Brexit is to commit an act of economic folly that would be several orders of magnitude worse.
The SNP has no credible answers on pensions either. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber claimed that the UK Government would continue to pay Scottish pensions after independence, having seemingly not read his party’s own policy from 2014. So who will pay? Will somebody clarify whose position on pensions is right? Is it the right hon. Gentleman, the First Minister or the papers that they have put into the public domain?
Let me finish with words from themselves—
She has given up; she has no answers to these questions either.
It is little wonder that the Institute for Fiscal Studies—much quoted by the First Minister in the last few weeks, and rightly, because of the mess this Government have made of the UK economy—has also slammed the SNP’s position. The IFS said:
“It is highly likely an independent Scotland would need to make bigger cuts to public spending or bigger increases to tax in the first decade following independence ”.
The IFS was right about the mini-Budget—indeed, everyone quotes it, including the First Minister—and it is right about this proposition as well. If SNP Members will not listen to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, why will they not listen to their own people on their own side? Robin McAlpine of the Common Weal foundation has been quoted already today, and he is somebody the SNP used to quote vociferously in here. He campaigned for independence alongside the First Minister—and alongside many Members who are now sitting here—in 2014.
I think it is important to point out to the shadow Minister that there is no single blueprint or proposal for Scotland. Those are decisions that the people of Scotland will take after independence, and there are other propositions on the table. That is what a democracy is. I want to pick him up on one point from some time ago, when he made the suggestion that democracy is allowed to prevail in Ireland and he supports it because it keeps the peace. Is he therefore suggesting— I hope he is not—that there needs to be violence—[Interruption.] No, this is important. I fled Northern Ireland when I was a seven-year-old boy because of sectarianism. Is that really the point that he is making about how democracy will prevail?
I am going to treat that intervention with the contempt it deserves and utterly ignore it, if that is the kind of argument we are getting from the Alba party. The hon. Gentleman was elected as an SNP Member of Parliament, and the people of his constituency of Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath should reflect seriously on what they do at the next general election.
Ah, yes, the hon. Gentleman did correct the record. I forgot that he was suspended for antisemitism. I am surprised he wants to put on the public record why he was thrown out of the Scottish National party, but I think that his second contribution probably sums up my disdain and the reason why I would not accept his first one about violence in Northern Ireland.
“It could be because you think the government should have a lender of last resort. It could be because you realise they have no economic plan for Scotland. It could be because they failed to come up with answers on trade or borders. It could be because the whole thing is utter pish. Pick your reason, but for God’s sake get off this mad, mad bus”.
The Tories have lost all economic credibility by crashing the UK economy, and on the same day that they reversed their catastrophic mini-Budget, the SNP produced a paper that should have been entitled “Hold my beer”. It is a mad, mad bus indeed, and ordinary working people across the country will pay the price. It is time for a UK Labour Government.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I know it may feel politically expedient for the shadow Minister to slur me in the way that he did, but he should be aware that I was reinstated into the SNP because the accusations of antisemitism did not stand. I have worked tirelessly with Danny Stone from the Antisemitism Policy Trust and other Members in this House to ensure that that scourge is not furthered. I am not an antisemite.
That is now on the record. I think we should move on. As “Erskine May” states, there should be good behaviour, but to be honest I am not seeing a lot of it in this debate. Let us try and change the tone.
I rise reluctantly to speak in this debate because, as will come as little surprise to Members of this House and to people watching, I do not believe Scotland should be separated from the rest of the United Kingdom, nor do I think there should be a referendum on the matter. I do not even believe we should be having this debate today.
Of course there are those who disagree with my position, not least SNP Members and the party they represent, and I respect their right to hold that view. However, I do not believe their view is shared by anywhere near a majority of people in Scotland, particularly in these challenging times. And they are challenging times, as we have heard today.
I do not deny that many of our constituents in Scotland and across the rest of the United Kingdom are facing real pressures. Contrary to the implication of the SNP’s motion, these pressures are not only faced in the United Kingdom. The whole world faced inflationary pressures as a result of the covid-19 pandemic and the strain on global supply chains as lockdowns were lifted at different rates in different places, and then there was the impact of Vladimir Putin’s aggression and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which has had an impact on energy prices.
I have previously debated this issue with SNP Members. Every Member is elected to this House by a plurality of their constituents, but the majority of voters across the whole of Scotland did not vote for the SNP. [Interruption.] SNP Members are indignant in their incredulity. They may have more Members in this House, but that is not how referendums work. The referendum they dearly want would be based on a majority of voters across the whole of Scotland. I will not debate that point, as it is not the subject of this debate.
In response to the challenges faced by the whole country, this UK Government have taken action to support domestic and business customers, particularly the most vulnerable and the hardest hit. The energy price guarantee is expected to save a typical household in Great Britain at least £700 a year. The energy bill relief scheme will protect businesses and other non-domestic energy users, including charities and public sector organisations, by providing a discount on wholesale gas and electricity prices of roughly a third of what they would have paid without the intervention. That is on top of the energy bill support scheme announced earlier this year, which provides at least £400 to every household with a domestic electricity supply. There is also a further £9 billion of targeted support to the most vulnerable households, including pensioners.
There is a £650 cost of living payment to every household on means-tested benefits, paid out to more than 8 million households in two instalments—one in July and one in the autumn—which works out at roughly a third of all households in Great Britain. There is a £300 cost of living payment to the approximately 8 million pensioner households in receipt of the winter fuel payment, and a £150 cost of living payment to the nearly 6 million people in receipt of disability payments.
The hon. Gentleman talks of the pressures and challenges. He will be aware that mortgages are, on average, two percentage points cheaper in Ireland, that Irish pensions are higher and that the poorest 5% of people in Ireland are 63% better off than the poorest 5% in the UK. Does he think Ireland would want to rejoin the UK, or does he think Ireland is happy with its independence?
I am not here to speak on behalf of the people of the Republic of Ireland or, indeed, the people of Scotland, unlike the hon. Gentleman. I am here to speak on behalf of my constituents in Banff and Buchan, who I continue to argue have benefited greatly from being part of the United Kingdom.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will continue listing the many benefits of being in this United Kingdom for the people of Scotland and everyone else.
The household support fund, which was launched at the 2021 autumn Budget, provided £500 million from October 2021 to March 2022. It was extended by the 2022 spring statement for the period from April to October this year, and the latest extension will cover the period from October 2022 to March 2023, bringing the total amount provided to £1.5 billion since October 2021. This is a devolved area of policy, but it has generated Barnett consequentials for the Scottish Government of £41 million in the last financial year and a further £82 million in the current financial year. As hon. Members have described, it is for the Scottish Government to decide how to fund mechanisms in Scotland as they see fit.
That £1.5 billion package is in addition to the more than £22 billion of UK Government support announced previously, including the £9.1 billion energy support package announced in February 2022, which had £296 million in Barnett consequentials for the Scottish Government as a result of the council tax rebate payment and the discretionary funding for local authorities in England.
The reduction in the universal credit taper rate and the increase in the work allowance announced in the 2021 autumn Budget meant an extra £1,000 to those on the lowest incomes. An increase in the national insurance primary threshold to £12,570, making it the same as the threshold for income tax from July 2022, and a lowering of the earnings limit were also announced in the 2022 spring statement. A fuel duty freeze was announced in the 2021 autumn Budget, and a 5p cut to fuel duty was announced at this year’s spring statement.
Do the national insurance changes not show how the Westminster Government make decisions for Scotland without consulting Scotland? After it was announced, we argued that a rise in national insurance was a regressive measure, and then the Westminster Government decided that they would reverse the rise. Scotland had no say on that. All the other measures that the hon. Gentleman mentions are not free money coming from Westminster. We pay our share in taxes, and we are paying billions in additional oil and gas revenues. Borrowing funds most UK Government spending, and Scotland is allocated a share of that debt, so it is not free money or a dividend. His lot decide what we get, and then they say, “By the way, here is what you are going to have to pay for it.”
I was going to talk about the reversal of the health and social care levy, which will save 2.3 million people in Scotland an average of £285 in 2023-24. I will return to the question of tax coming in, payments going out and the terms of the Union dividend.
I will continue with the list, which is not exhaustive. I am listing just some of the highlights of what this UK Government have provided to everyone in this United Kingdom. The national living wage has been increased by the largest-ever cash amount, meaning that 2 million full-time workers will be £1,000 a year better off. Another benefit of Scotland being in the UK is that the rest of the UK accounts for £52 billion-worth of Scotland’s exports, which is three times larger than the amount going to the EU. Half a million Scottish jobs are supported by trade with the rest of the UK.
The Union dividend, for those who are not aware, is the combined value of higher public spending and lower tax revenues in Scotland. In 2021-22, the Union dividend reached a record high of £12 billion, which works out, as the Secretary of State said, at £2,184 per person, up from £1,925 per person the previous year. This includes Scotland’s geographical share of North sea revenues, and it is comprised of £1,963 of higher expenditure per person plus £221 in lower revenues generated per person in Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about identifiable spending, which is a bit like the two of us going for a pizza, throwing away a third of it and then saying, “You got slightly more of the two thirds.” There is loads of non-identifiable spending in London—there is Crossrail, there are MPs’ expenses here in the evening, and whatever else—and we are not seeing Barnett consequentials for that. When we talk about this expenditure, he is telling only part of the story, and it is a misleading part of the story. If he wants to tell the real story, he must talk about the whole lot, and those figures are hidden.
I would be happy to take the hon. Gentleman up on that, where we can discuss this further. [Hon. Members: “You’ll be left with the bill!”] Quite possibly. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that it is a complex issue but, as has been highlighted by the shadow Secretary of State, the Scottish Government’s own figures point out the Union dividend. They recently published a paper on the economy for an independent Scotland. I am not going to get into the detail but, as has been mentioned, it contains vague claims about how a new Scottish pound would be created, despite the central bank being in a different country. More recently, we have had confirmation from the EU that not only would rejoining the EU not be as straightforward as the SNP would have us believe, but it certainly would not be able to rejoin without committing to join the euro.
Finally, on the subject of that paper, let me read out the following quote from the Institute for Fiscal Studies:
“it skirts around what achieving sustainability would likely require in the first decade of an independent Scotland: bigger tax rises or spending cuts than the UK government will have to pursue…Scotland’s public finances are therefore expected to weaken relative to the rest of the UK… Experience from recent weeks suggests the markets may not look favourably on fiscal plans built on the uncertain hope of a substantial future boost to growth.”
These are challenging times, but the breaking up of our 300-year-old Union of nations is not the answer to those challenges. The Scottish people want both of their Governments—both of our Governments—to work together on delivering economic stability and quality public services, rather than pursuing a cynical, divisive second independence referendum. But rather than working collaboratively with the UK Government, the SNP continues to waste taxpayers’ money—the £250 million on ferries is just one well-known issue, and I could go on, but I am not going to take up any more of Members’ time—undermining the quality of vital public services and holding Scotland back, while constantly using the calls for an independence referendum as a distraction.
I know that happened during my time as a Minister, and I am sure that the new Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend John Lamont, who will be responding to the debate, will continue, along with the Secretary of State, to seek to work productively and collaboratively with the Scottish Government as we work to deliver economic stability and improve vital public services for the Scottish people. That collaboration in the national interest is what the people of Scotland desperately want, not a damaging, divisive and distracting independence referendum.
I am delighted to be called so early, Mr Deputy Speaker; I was not expecting it. I want to see whether we can do something different in this debate. These debates are always characterised by real polarisation, with people who are passionately Unionist on one side and wanting to put that case, and with us on the SNP Benches wanting to put the case for an independent Scotland. I am going to see whether there is any place where we can get agreement, perhaps even on a set of principles on which we can engage, based on something approaching a consensus around the language. I might not be successful, but I will give this my best shot and see how far we get.
I am going to propose a few assertions, just to see whether the House will agree to them. The first is that Scotland would be a successful independent country. Surely all of us could agree on that. I am not sure about those on the Labour Front Bench, because I put that to Ian Murray and he was not so sure. But even the most rabid, passionate Tory Unionists surely would not try to assert that the Scottish people, with all their history of invention, creativity, innovation and imagination, would somehow uniquely fail, among all the peoples in the world who have secured independence, in making a success of our independence. So can we call agree that Scotland would be a successful independent country?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am delighted that he has given way so early. This debate is not about that; it is about the broken proposition that he is putting as a prospectus for that independent Scotland. That is what we have demonstrated has holes in it. It is up to him to make that proposition, not us.
I will respond to that challenge and I thank the hon. Gentleman, because I think I heard him say that Scotland would be a successful independent country. I think that is what he was saying.
If the hon. Gentleman is looking just for that quote, to edit it for the purposes of having a video clip, I am happy to oblige. But just as an independent or separate Scotland could possibly succeed, would he also argue that an independent England, an independent Wales or an independent Northern Ireland would succeed as well, but not nearly as much as a United Kingdom?
This is progress. I feel that I am on the right track with this, because what we are getting across the House is agreement to the assertion that Scotland would be a successful independent country. I have no doubts whatsoever that England, without Scotland’s contribution through its resources, would be equally successful as an independent nation; I believe that somehow it would just about muddle through without our support—
I hope I am going to get a clean sweep here and get the Liberals to agree to this. I am counting on the hon. Gentleman to do that.
I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but if he took a straw poll of the pregnant mothers in Caithness who now have to travel more than 100 miles to give birth in Inverness—this has happened on the SNP’s watch—he would get a pretty dusty answer.
It was going so well. I had the Conservatives agree to this and I think I had the Labour party agree to it, but the Liberals just could not bring themselves to agree with the proposition that an independent Scotland would be a successful, independent nation.
I think we have heard from the Liberals. I will come back to the hon. Lady, because I have other assertions to make. I think we have now all agreed, other than the Liberal Democrats, to that one, so let us try another.
I am going to speak about all our resources. Let us include a good proportion of nearly all of Europe’s oil and gas reserves; the greatest potential for renewable energy that exists in Europe; vast fisheries; and a water supply that is the envy of the world. With all of that, Scotland has what it takes to be an independent country. Can we all agree to that?
Let us see whether the hon. Lady will agree that Scotland has what it takes to be an independent country.
May I point out that the hon. Gentleman misinterprets what all of us think? None of us has ever said that Scotland could not be independent, but the people of Scotland, when given the choice, voted no, because they feel that their future is better within the United Kingdom.
That is a little more encouraging, because I think we are moving towards the assertion that Scotland would be a successful country and it has more than what it takes to be one. Throwing this theme a wee bit further on, we could even suggest that Scotland is perhaps the best resourced country that has ever considered becoming independent. I think that is pretty incontrovertible. No country is better endowed to be an independent nation. When we look around Scotland, whether at our oil and gas reserves, our fisheries or our potential renewable energy, we see that no country is better prepared for this than Scotland. Can we agree to that?
I could not agree more with Christine Jardine, who said that nobody would disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s assertion other than for the fact that the people of Scotland have repeatedly—or have when it counted—voted to stay in our United Kingdom. Being in the UK is better. [Interruption.] Let us all agree that Scotland is great. Scotland is fantastic. Scotland within the United Kingdom is even better. But will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the SNP’s proposals for an independent Scotland would mean rejoining the EU and therefore rejoining the common fisheries policy?
I am so grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the EU because of what I am going to say now. I suspect I will not get the same range of agreement around the House with this particular assertion: the only way for Scotland to be a member of the European Union is for it to become an independent nation. Do we all agree with that? [Interruption.] I am hearing a couple of noes, mainly again from the Liberal Democrats; I have to say that I am very disappointed with them. I thought I would have had a more encouraging response from them.
I do not know whether at some point the hon. Gentleman is going to touch on the motion that we are actually debating. His theories about interesting questions, which I would be happy to discuss with him in the Strangers bar, are not relevant to the debate we are having.
In the motion, his party describes Britain as a “failing state”. Without defining “failing” or “successful”, he now asks us all to say whether an independent Scotland would be successful. If Britain is failing and Scotland is going to be successful, why is it his proposition that Scotland should keep the pound, given that he claims it is failing?
I will say a couple of things gently to the hon. Gentleman, who, for all his noise and bluster in the Chamber, I actually respect. Look—this debate is about Scottish independence; I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman missed that.
I will come to the hon. Gentleman’s other points, which are important, but I am keen to say this: I wanted to find agreement across the House. I thought I was making a bit of progress, but it is disappearing a little. I will try once again, to see whether I can do it.
All I want is for everybody to agree that the only way for Scotland to be a member of the European Union is by becoming independent. We know that because all the other parties are parties of Brexit now—they all want to make Brexit work. I do not know how they will do that. I do not even know whether it is possible to make Brexit work; it is almost designed not to work. It is not any sort of economic strategy but an ideological mission. But they want to make it work, so we are left in a situation where the only way—I do not see how this can be uncontroversial—to make Scotland a member of the European Union is for it to be an independent nation. We know that the Scottish people want that because that is what they voted for. We are talking about democracy: the overwhelming majority of Scottish people voted to remain in the European Union, and every single poll since then has shown that they want to rejoin the European Union.
No; I have given way to the hon. Lady before.
Let us all agree that the only way for Scotland to rejoin the EU is by becoming independent. I will try another one; this one is probably not going to get there, but let us see. The only way for Scotland to get the Governments that it always votes for is as an independent nation.
The hon. Gentleman says that that does not make sense, but when I was elected in 2001 Scotland voted for Labour; it got the Government that it wanted. But since 2010, Scotland has never had the Government it voted for. What I am saying is uncontroversial: the only way for Scotland always to get the Government it votes for is as an independent nation. I thought we might have a little difficulty with that one, but the reaction does not seem too bad. I am a bit more encouraged, so I will see how much further I can get.
My hon. Friend Angus Brendan MacNeil always refers to Ireland, and he is right to; it is a great example. If we look at other European nations such as Ireland, Iceland, Finland, Norway or Denmark—they are all roughly the same size as Scotland, at 5 million to 8 million people—we see that they are all much more successful than Scotland. They are all powering ahead, with economic growth and GDP figures that we could envy. Can we all agree that there is something about the constitutional arrangements of Scotland that does not let us prosper as our neighbours do?
My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point. He just listed nations in the top 10 of the UN human development index. Here we are as Scots MPs in the UK, and the UK is at No. 18—and we are told that we are a poor part of that No. 18. Those who have left, such as Ireland, are 10 places higher. Of the countries he has mentioned, Iceland and Norway are at Nos. 2 and 3. He makes the case brilliantly.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who takes these issues seriously.
I have been a bit encouraged. Here is one that I am pretty certain Members from other parties will definitely agree to. I think we have to be honest about certain things and acknowledge that there will also, obviously, be difficulties. However, I think independence will be positive for Scotland; like our near-neighbours, we could be an incredible nation if we were in charge of our own affairs.
Let us see whether other Members agree—I am almost certain they will—that there would be issues at the starting point of Scottish independence because of the deficit we have as part of the United Kingdom. We can all agree with that: no objection from the Conservative Benches to that. Can we also agree that the way to resolve the deficit, as has been demonstrated by colleagues, is to remove the conditions that create it? Can we agree to that?
What we want is to have the full range of economic powers that will allow us to properly address the issue and to remove ourselves from the very institutions that give us the deficit as a result of being part of the United Kingdom. Can we agree to that? Other hon. Members are silent; I do not think they are agreeing—they are just humouring me now.
I seek clarification about what the hon. Gentleman is actually asking. Is he saying that by removing Scotland from the United Kingdom, Scotland’s deficit will no longer exist?
I will put it the other way round; it might be easier for the hon. Gentleman to comprehend. We have this notional deficit as part of the United Kingdom. We all agree that these other nations are powering ahead of us. According to Ian Murray, we have a deficit that apparently means that we cannot be independent, but we have the deficit because we are part of the United Kingdom. What strikes me as the logical course of action is to extricate ourselves from the conditions that have given us the deficit. That means leaving the United Kingdom and ensuring that we get the full suite of economic powers to deal with the situation.
I think we all agreed that we as a people are resourceful enough to make a success of our independence and that, with its abundant natural resources, Scotland has what it takes to be an independent country. What is happening to make us have this deficit, according to the hon. Members for Edinburgh South and for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid)? We have the skills, the history of inventions, the creativity, the universities in the top 100, the oil and gas, the fisheries and the best potential for renewables in Europe. Why do we have a deficit? Maybe I am just not getting it, but I sense that it is to do with the constitutional arrangements that we find ourselves in.
I do not think I did too badly with all that; we got rough agreement on a lot. Let us park all this. Please—I never want to hear anybody suggest ever again that our nation, the people of Scotland, are somehow too wee, poor and stupid to make a success of independence. Never again! [Interruption.] I am hearing the hon. Member for Edinburgh South clearly. What I say to him is that I will make sure that no one in the Scottish National party utters that. Can he do the same in his party and can the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan do it in his? Let us never hear that suggestion again.
That was a useful kickaround. We have agreed all these things. What do we do now? How do we have the debate about going forward? We have to have the debate. People have knocked about opinion poll figures, but we are at 50-50 in the polls and the issue has to be resolved. It is intolerable that it should not be—we cannot continue into the future like this. Everybody says that we had a referendum in 2014, and yes we did, but Scotland in 2022 is almost entirely different from how it was in 2014. The United Kingdom today is unrecognisable from how it was in 2014. We have consistently and continually elected Governments with a commitment to holding a referendum and moving towards independence. SNP Members are here as representatives of that very mission. We have to resolve this.
My last plea is this: let us all demonstrate to the Scottish people that we are not some sort of hostage within the United Kingdom; that we are the equal partner that everybody talks about and that was described so eloquently during the last independence referendum—during our campaign to lead Scotland. Let us test this. Let us have the debate. Let us take all the pillars of the Better Together campaign—the things that sustained this tent that accommodated both Labour and the Tories, which was so catastrophic for the Labour party. The hon. Member for Edinburgh South is one of only a few Labour Members in his place. It was a terrible experience for Labour. All those central pillars are now gone. The case for staying in the Union has gone, particularly given the crisis and the chaos of the past few weeks. Scotland cannot put up with this anymore—we cannot be governed by incompetents who drove us to the very abyss of a pension crisis. We cannot go on like this. The last thing on which we can all agree is that we must have a referendum to settle this.
It is a pleasure to rise to speak in this debate. I have listened with interest over the past couple of hours and welcomed the tone and the plea of Ian Blackford for a serious debate. However, I share the Secretary of State’s sentiments that there is no desire for a referendum. There is no desire from these Conservative Benches to see Scotland break away from the United Kingdom.
Please, let me make a little progress.
It is important to enter into that serious debate.
I find myself standing here asking myself questions about identity when the matter of independence is raised. Identity is a complicated business. As a proud Welshman and supporter of this Union, I find myself at the heart of a web of family, communal, economic and national bonds and histories. These bonds link me to those across these islands whose past and whose future are interwoven with my own. I cannot hold it against SNP Members that they find themselves pulled in a different direction. Our disagreements on identity are those perhaps of the heart, not just of the head.
The foundation of the state is a serious matter, deserving serious scrutiny and question. Millions of people across these isles, and, indeed, the world, would find their lives dramatically shaken by the break-up of the United Kingdom. Those who seek to found their arguments on promises of prosperity have also the utmost responsibility to set out plans that are honest, transparent and detailed.
Let me commend the hon. Gentleman for the way that he is going about this. May I say to him respectfully that this is not to do with identity. There is the phrase, “It is not a question of where you are from, it is where you are going.” It is about that shared identity that we have for the country. On the question of the demand for independence, will he not acknowledge that there is an independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, and the SNP won that election to the Scottish Parliament last year on a manifesto commitment to delivering that referendum to the people of Scotland?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. They are good questions and I shall try to do them justice in my answer. First, on the matter of identity, I have a sense of where I am going, but I also have an acute sense of who I am, and pity the person who does not.
On whether there is a democratic mandate for independence within the Scottish Parliament, I do not see that there is. That body does not have the power in law to call a referendum, so I could, with confidence, look at the SNP manifesto and say, “Do you know what? I love what it is planning to do with services and with help for the homeless, the poor and refugees, but I do not care for independence. However, I can give the SNP my vote because the Scottish Parliament would not have the power to call a referendum.” I do not see a democratic argument for independence in a majority in Holyrood.
I think Robin Millar—Aberconwy is a beautiful part of Cymru—said on the Floor of the House of Commons that the Scottish Parliament does not have the ability to call a referendum under its set-up. Perhaps that is why the Scottish Government are going to the Supreme Court. I take it that his premise is that the only place that has the sovereign capability either to grant a referendum or to recognise the result of a general election is the House of Commons. If so, it is up to his party to recognise that all the pro-independence MPs on these Benches represent the majority of Scottish constituencies, in the UK’s constitutional situation, and to accept that result.
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, but he plays with the difference between a referendum and electoral representation in a House that runs a first-past-the-post scheme. I am happy for those arguments to be played out in a place where greater minds than mine can exercise themselves on that.
I wish to make a little progress.
Having said that serious plans deserve serious question and scrutiny, I was disappointed to discover that the SNP Administration’s recent economic plan for separation fell short of what I would consider serious consideration. The paper contains no modelling, no projections and no hard analysis of the implications of independence—criticisms that were laid by many against this Government in recent weeks.
Two key arguments in that document for separation put forward by the SNP are a reversal of so-called austerity and EU membership. I will consider both points briefly. On austerity and state spending, an independent Scotland would have, as we have heard, a high public sector deficit. In fact, it would be among the highest in Europe, with state spending exceeding tax receipts by 12%, and yet the SNP contends that spending is not high enough. Indeed, the Scottish Government announced real-term cuts of 8% to local government, the police, prisons, universities and rural affairs after the Institute of Fiscal Studies warned that they faced a £3.5 billion overspend. That is crucial in understanding what the implications would be for an independent Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman seems to say that if a country, a state or a Union has a 12% deficit, it cannot be independent—that should be news to the UK. I have a couple of questions for him. Does he accept that this is a political Union, and is there a democratic way out? When we left the trading bloc of the European Union, we had a right to choose. Surely that right exists in relation to this Union, too.
The hon. Gentleman says that Westminster can block a referendum, but if the Scottish Parliament were to hold an election—he mentioned elections earlier—on the sole question of independence, would he, as a democrat, recognise that, or would he seek to find a way to worm his way out of the straightforward recognition of the will of the Scottish people?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. I missed his earlier invitation for pizza. I would gladly discuss those points over a pizza, but I will not get drawn into that tangle now—it is an important tangle and these are important questions. However, I offer this observation. For me, this is not a transactional, contractual relationship between two parties. The relationship that the United Kingdom had with the EU was of that sort. The relationship that we enjoy as part of this Union is a covenant, an intertwining of a relationship over centuries. It goes beyond a simple piece of paper. In fact, one of the great deceits of the past couple of decades has been the mistranslation of, and confusion over, Union and devolution. A deep and complex relationship has been misinterpreted as a contractual relationship, which is the basis of devolution.
I will not take an intervention on pizza, thank you.
How is such spending to be managed? Where is the central bank to buy Government bonds? Where is the support of the UK taxpayer? How is Scotland to simultaneously build up the estimated £64 billion in reserves that it would need to join the EU? The welfare of millions rests on the answers to such questions, but the document is silent.
Moving on to the EU, the document notes that the single market accounts for a minority of Scottish exports, or about 18%, compared with the 60%—fully three times as much—exported to the rest of the UK. How then can trade with the EU compensate for cutting off Scotland’s biggest trading partner?
What would be the effect of customs checks on the border? How would those who travel across the border daily to buy groceries interact with stringent EU agrifood checks? How would farmers whose land is split by the border contend with the EU’s sanitary and phytosanitary checks—the same checks that have stopped tractors because of mud on their tyres and that have refused permission for loads to be taken to Ireland because blue ink has been used instead of black ink on the forms?
My hon. Friend gives a good example of why we need to stay together as a Union. On this Back British Farming Day, does NFU Cymru agree with the National Farmers Union of Scotland that keeping the integrity of the internal market of the United Kingdom is far more important than any other external market?
Indeed it does. The internal market we enjoy by virtue of being a United Kingdom is of huge importance to every farmer in every part of this United Kingdom. There is more I could say on that, but I will keep to the thrust of this debate.
I must agree with Ian Murray: there is no plan. The SNP’s plan is no plan at all. It falls short on how key public services will continue to be funded and to operate. Further, it does not address the two biggest shocks to our economy in the past two years—a covid pandemic and a war in eastern Europe. The UK Government have responded to both by virtue of the strength of the United Kingdom economy, for the benefit of all parts of the United Kingdom. There is no provision, however, in the plans of the SNP and the Scottish Government for a response to such emergencies and no demonstration of the resilience necessary to cope with the global storms we must weather.
The plan fails to give those whose livelihoods depend on the UK an idea of how they would be able to provide for their families. It fails to offer anything to communities that would be split by a new border. In short, more than matters of the heart or even of the head, and more than the hard-nosed transactions of an economy, the plan fails in its moral duty to the people of Scotland.
That moral duty is real. The fate of Ukrainian refugees is a concern to us all, and we know that the people of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament extended a warm welcome to many of them. However, that warm welcome has been poorly served. We know that those people are being housed in temporary accommodation on ships, and that the space they are allocated on them is less than the amount a prisoner in a Scottish prison can expect by law to enjoy.
May I gently ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the treatment that his Government are meting out to those who are fleeing to the United Kingdom, in contrast with the welcome and the open door that the Scottish Government have given to Ukrainian refugees? Will he reflect very carefully on the set lines that he is talking about, which do not reflect the reality on the ground?
I take the hon. Lady’s point in the spirit in which it was intended, but perhaps she or another Member could answer whether it is true that Ukrainian refugees have had to be housed on ships in Scotland because there has not been the accommodation they were promised. They have received a warm welcome across the UK—I have no doubt that, or about the ambition behind it—but my point is the reality of public services in meeting that ambition. That is the thrust of this debate. It is a debate about independence and the economy, and about how we meet the reality of providing for those on who depend on us.
I will make one more point on the question of moral duty. Ireland has been mentioned a number of times as an example. Ireland secured its independence in 1922, but as one of his first actions the Irish Minister for Finance, Ernest Blythe, cut the pay of civil servants and reduced Government spending from £42 million in 1923 to £28 million by 1926. That is a one-third cut in Government spending in the years immediately following independence. These are real questions about the consequences of a transition to an independent nation but, again, on these practical points of a plan for independence, the document presented is silent.
I will finish on this point—
I think it is clear to us all that this Government have made life harder for everyone—well, maybe not bankers, but everyone else. Many face real hardship and the all-too-real choice between heating and eating, and many, for the very first time, face having to go to food banks to feed their families.
That is the Brexit dividend unleashed on our country. It was a Brexit we did not vote for in a referendum invented by a Prime Minister we did not vote for, leading a party that last won an election in Scotland back when we used pounds, shilling and pence and had one TV channel to watch, in black and white. That is the kind of democracy we are used to in Scotland—the kind of democracy that sees the votes of Scotland shoved in the Brexit bin while Government after Government are elected on a minority of votes in a single part of these islands.
That is democracy Union-style: a democracy where the electoral system dates from the 14th century, the political parties from the 17th and the constitution from whenever it needs to be changed to suit the current incumbents and keep the nats at bay. Whatever positives the Union once held for Scotland—and there were always negatives, too—have been jettisoned and are just folk memories now. The UK is a failing state, with the passage of time marked by the realisation here and abroad that the gilt and glitter favoured by the British establishment masks the state’s sinking further into a morass of its own making.
We have had to sit back and witness the explosive financialisation of the economy at the expense of productive industry and commerce, leading to real economic output that lags behind virtually every other European country, and then the desperate attempts by the governing class to blame that on Johnny Foreigner and his sleekit ways. The reality is that the Union has delivered flatlining wages for the last decade and a half, with households facing rapidly rising prices and housing costs while incomes stay stagnant.
We have an entire country afraid to turn the heating on because they do not know whether they can afford the bills; whole communities left to stew in long-term poverty and deprivation; and people forced into the gig economy with no protections or employment rights, forced to pay the costs of their boss’s delivery van out of their own pockets because we have had decades of workers’ rights being systematically stripped at the altar of economic extremism. As we speak, we await the date for the Second Reading of yet another Tory Bill stripping back workers’ already meagre rights.
The reality is that the Union has delivered a social security system that Kafka would have torn up at first draft, where the terminally ill are told they are not sick enough for benefit and then sanctioned when they die, and people living with debilitating diseases that can only get worse are told they will be fit for work. It is a system where women are forced to prove to the Government that they were a victim of rape before their children receive benefits.
The reality is that the Union has seen insularism turned into a badge of honour rather than something to escape from. Both main UK parties have embraced Brexit regardless of the utterly catastrophic damage it has wreaked on our economy and society.
The leader of the UK Labour party proclaims:
“We do not want to go back in. We want to make Brexit work.”
That goes against every shred of evidence showing what an unmitigated disaster Brexit has been. Scotland voted for no part in this carnage. We are—to the tune of 72% in the latest opinion poll—proudly European and supporters of EU membership. Despite the best efforts of the Labour and Tory parties to keep us out of the EU, that democratic mandate will be respected when we regain our independence.
No one on the SNP Benches pretends that independence is a magic panacea for the immense challenges facing our country. We will not look out of the window on the morning of our independence and see rainbows shining on the sunlit uplands, with the problems of our generation magicked away. However, independence will give us the power and resources to begin the change to a better society—a society that looks to allies and neighbours across the Irish and North seas for the kind of attitude to its citizens that should be the norm here but that has been denied by the UK.
An independent Scotland should choose to have a more sustainable and more humane social security system. An independent Scotland should choose to invest in sustainable connectivity within itself and to link itself directly with the rest of the world. An independent Scotland should choose a future that does not rely on weapons of mass destruction parked in the Clyde and instead invest in its people.
It is only independence that gives Scotland the opportunity to unleash our full potential in the world and to harness that potential for the betterment of all who make our country home. It is only independence that gives our country the chance to end once and for all the despicable attitudes displayed by the Home Secretary on Monday. Our country is not being invaded. Migrants are not prisoners to be released. For thousands of years, our country has been home to an extraordinary diversity of humans—from Celts and Picts to Indians and Poles. That history is embedded in our present, and independence will allow us to continue that history into the future—rather than the repugnant Alf Garnett garbage that passes for UK immigration policy.
I encourage Members from the north of England to start thinking and preparing now for how they might change their part of the continuing Union after Scottish independence. It is shameful that the cradle of the industrial revolution has been left to beg for scraps from the table. One major infrastructure project after another has been shelved or mothballed, while a single station on a single railway under London is allowed to go £500 million over budget. That is not the cost of the station—it is £500 million over budget. The line itself has seen an extra £5 billion thrown at it. An independent Scotland will want to work with all parts of these islands constructively to support all our citizens. It is in our interests to see a strong economy along our border—not somewhere that is an afterthought for Whitehall.
The Union has failed those areas too, but it is Scotland that is taking the opportunity to make the change and undo decades, if not centuries, of stupor, neglect and misgovernment. Whatever discussions happen in the meeting rooms of the Supreme Court, democracy will inevitably have its way. Scotland has voted for the democratic right to choose its own future—that is incontestable. Those in this place who seek to stand in the way of that right are doing their cause no favour whatever. They should have the confidence and the courage to make the case for the Union they say they support. We on the SNP Benches are taking our case to the people, and I am confident that Scotland’s people will support that case and drive our country forward to normality and independence.
I was actually glad to the hear David Duguid speak up on behalf of the Union. We might not agree, but at least a Conservative and Unionist party Back Bencher from Scotland is here to do the job they are paid to do by their constituents. I know that the Secretary of State was here earlier and that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, John Lamont, is here now, but it is commendable to see the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan here doing his job. That is what we are all here for: to speak up on behalf of our constituents. I just thought it was important to say that.
On the constitutional debate that we are having—there is an element relating to the constitutional position—Robin Millar talked about a covenant. The treaty of Union is not a covenant; it is a piece of international law, into which two independent—
Well, the hon. Gentleman can shake his head, but he perhaps needs to read up on English, Welsh and, separately, Scottish history and about the pre-treaty parliamentary positions.
Let us go back to the debate at hand. In 2017, in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, the now Prime Minister was clear—
No, I have just started, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will let me go on for a wee bit.
In 2017, the Prime Minister said that
“it seems hard to block” a second independence referendum for Scotland. Let me also repeat the words of another Tory Prime Minister, whom I repeat time and time again for the historical record. The former right hon. Member for Finchley said that if the Tory party
“sometimes seems English to some Scots that is because the Union is inevitably dominated by England by reason of its greater population.”
Now, that is just a simple fact, and the former right hon. Member for Finchley was correct.
They then went on to say:
“The Scots, being a historic nation”—
I am sure that you and I agree at least on that, Madam Deputy Speaker, although I will not ask your opinion from the Chair—
“with a proud past, will inevitably resent some expressions of this fact from time to time. As a nation, they have an undoubted right to national self-determination.”
We are a nation. We are not a region. We are not some subsection of some great state in the Soviet Union. We are a nation of historic lineage going back into time immemorial that people all over the world call home. They continued by saying that
“thus far, they have exercised that right by joining and remaining in the Union.”
They go on to say, and this is worth repeating time and again:
“Should they determine on independence, no English party or politician would stand in their way, however much we might regret their departure.”
That, I think, is a clear constitutional position.
Members will be relieved that I do not intend to go over many of the excellent points already made by my colleagues—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend Angus Brendan MacNeil is welcome to interject at some point if he wishes. Let us go to the economic case for independence, because that is the crux of the matter. This may go back to some of the questions raised by Government Members, because I cannot help but feel that things are often framed very much in the wrong way. If things were perfect for the Scottish economy, or for the UK economy—I mean the United Kingdom of Great Britain and also Northern Ireland, which does not get much mention from some on the Government Benches—there would not be so many SNP MPs here making the case for independence today. Our aim is not to tweak the economy here or there or hope for some marginal improvements for Scotland; Scottish independence is a political project—a political choice for the people of Scotland, should they make it—that seeks to change the underlying economic conditions in order to improve the lives of everyone not only in my constituency but across the length and breadth of Scotland.
While at one time that idea may have seemed utopian, the events of the last few weeks and months—actually, the last few years—have turned the chronic problems of the UK economy into an acute polycrisis of stagnant wages and productivity and plummeting competitiveness precipitated by the disastrous consequences of a Brexit that Scotland did not vote for.
My hon. Friend is right: this is not about utopia; it is based in reality, because we have an example in front of us. One hundred years ago, the poorest part of the United Kingdom was Ireland. It became independent and shed the six counties that had the majority of the industry. One hundred years later, Ireland’s GDP per capita is well ahead of the UK’s. Such a thing can happen only when a country can make its own political choices, rather than them being abdicated to people for whom that country does not vote and who do not care about that country.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. That is the premise for independence. An independent country would seek trade deals and agreements with those countries with which it seeks to boost trade. It would seek to boost productivity, improve competitiveness, and get rid of the idea of stagnant wages, because that is the basis of the UK economy.
Turning again to Brexit, in the past year alone—not since 2016, but in the past year—my constituents in West Dunbartonshire, which is one local authority area, have lost £32.5 million in exports because of Brexit. On top of the cost of living crisis, that comes to £869.97 per household. In my part of the world, that is a lot of money when people are trying to pay their electricity or gas bill, even though Scotland produces more gas than we need. It is an absolutely failed economic model.
Our current economic model is quite simple: we get a fiscal transfer every year from the Treasury, and in exchange we accept—and have accepted—that macro-economic policy will continue to be made with London and the south-east of England in mind. My constituents receive—this may go back to some of the questions from Government Members—slightly higher per capita public spending in return for what is essentially a guarantee that their wages and the Scottish economy will grow at a slower rate than they do here in London and the south-east of England.
In the past, that felt like a fair exchange. We were told that the engine of the UK economy would power up more quickly after recessions and recover more quickly from blows than the peripheral areas. That meant that the fiscal transfer could continue. No one seemed to notice the divergence over time, which led to the situation that was memorably compared by the economist Duncan Weldon: the UK economy basically consisted of the Republic of Singapore surrounded by a series of Portugals —no disrespect; I love Portugal—with a high-wage, high-productivity engine that could support the sluggish economies of its hinterland.
That divergence has led to the incredible reality of northern English regions and constituencies now being poorer than the former communist parts of east Germany, with other states that did not have an open economy until 30 years ago, such as Poland, Slovenia and Estonia, not far behind. The change of the economic crisis from chronic to acute can be put down to Brexit and 12 years of Tory misrule, but I have to say to my friends on the Labour Benches that the seeds for two decades of stagnant productivity and wage growth were sown during their period in office with their total inability to challenge the UK’s macroeconomic orthodoxy.
I am mindful of the comments of my former colleague, Andrew Wilson, who was a Member of the Scottish Parliament and has written a lot on these issues. He calls the UK an “aeroplane with one engine”. In good times, we are unlikely to notice any turbulence, but that cannot be guaranteed forever. When the engine begins to run more slowly than its competitors, as we are seeing now, there is a knock-on effect for everyone, including those in Scotland.
Simply, people across these islands are getting poorer, while those across the Sheuch in Ireland are getting wealthier all the time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar said. Let us not forget that Ireland, as an independent sovereign state, used the pound from 1922 to 1928 and was then pegged to the pound for 50 years. People should not just say that the fiscal position cannot happen; we need to be conscious about history and the reality on the ground. The people of Scotland recognise that.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting and important point. Ireland was pegged to the pound for all those years, which probably held it back and was a mistake. It was unpegged when the UK went cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout in the 1970s, and Ireland then—combined with joining the European Union, incidentally on the same day that Scotland joined—took off.
Indeed. The underlying economic case for this Union, the British Union—not the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—that we get slightly higher public spending in exchange for worse wages and growth begins to fall apart when average incomes in the UK decline relative to those of its neighbours.
As it is appropriate to ask Scottish National party Members to lay out the economic case for independence, it is also appropriate to ask questions of the Conservative Government and of the Labour Opposition, who seem unwilling to diverge from the Government on matters of macroeconomics. I would love to hear from the Front-Bench teams what they would say to people from West Dunbartonshire when they ask what the cost is to them over a working life of having lower wages than their peers in similar parts of northern Europe. Similarly, they ask about the economic value attributed to combining those lower wages with fewer years of healthy working life lived.
I commend my hon. Friend on his excellent speech. In essence, there are three components of growth: population, productivity and participation. One thing that has been ascribed to the Union since 1850 is the relative decline of the Scottish population, because there has been a lack of economic opportunity to drive up wages and productivity. We are being held back by the migration policies of this Government, which are, sadly, supported by the Labour party. That is why we need independence, because we will need migration to drive up the opportunities in Scotland and to deliver economic growth.
I am grateful for that intervention from my right hon. Friend, and I fundamentally agree. As the grandchild of migrants, I hope they brought something at least to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as I hope many future migrants will bring to an independent Scotland.
Ultimately—and, again, I come back to the Government —we can put a price on the fact that people in Clydebank, Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven die younger than comparable cohorts in Denmark, Ireland and even the south-east of England. In 2014, my constituents were among the four council areas in Scotland that voted to change the dismal economic calculus of Britain, because it never has worked for them and it never will work for them. I cannot help but feel that unless both the main Unionist parties in this Parliament—the Conservative party and the Labour party—find answers to these simple questions, there are going to be a lot more of my constituents voting for independence next time.
When I joined the SNP more than 20 years ago, I did so because I wanted Scotland to become an independent country. I believe that the people of Scotland should be able to make the important decisions on the issues that matter to us. It was not all that long after the reopening of the Scottish Parliament, and devolution was still finding its feet. It was also not that long after we had managed to extricate ourselves from 18 years of Tory rule—18 years of Tory Governments, who Scotland had not voted for since 1955.
In the time since I joined the party, we have had another 12 years of Conservative government Scotland has not voted for. I honestly thought that it could not get more damaging, and that we could not have a more damaging Government and a more damaging Prime Minister, than what we experienced during the Margaret Thatcher era. Then David Cameron said “Hold my beer”, and had the Brexit referendum. Then Mrs May said “Hold my beer”, demonised immigrants and put in motion the hardest possible Brexit. Then Boris Johnson said “Hold my beer”, and destroyed what little faith the public had left in politicians being honest. Then Elizabeth Truss said “Hold my beer”, and crashed the economy. If the current Prime Minister asks someone to hold his drink, I recommend running a mile. Scotland has not voted for any of this chaos. We did not vote for a Brexit referendum, we did not vote for Brexit, we welcome immigrants—and we do not vote Tory.
Our Scottish Government are consistently having to mitigate Tory-inflicted hardships in order to offer some measure of protection for our constituents, and I will make no apology for making the wellbeing of the people of Scotland my ideological mission. Because of the decisions of the UK Government we did not vote for, four out of 10 on those on universal credit skipped meals this summer. Mortgage rates have soared £6,700 a year on average. Since last year, energy costs have gone up £1,200, while pasta costs 60% more and bread costs 40% more. The UK Government have capped benefits and reneged on the pensions triple lock—and we did not vote for this. The people of Scotland and the country of Scotland cannot afford to be part of this Union.
As my hon. Friend will be aware, during the last referendum campaign we were continually told that we were in a Union of equal partnership. As she has touched on, even if every single seat in Scotland—all 59 seats—was SNP, the city of London, for instance, has 73 MPs. Is that not ridiculous, and how can this ever be a Union of equals if the second largest nation of that Union can be outvoted by one city?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and she lays out very clearly the democratic deficit facing Scotland.
We cannot afford to continue having our resources squandered by Westminster. We cannot afford to go without energy market reform. We cannot afford trickle-down economics. We cannot afford the UK’s xenophobic immigration policy. We cannot afford to keep people having no recourse to public funds, which is making some of the poorest people in the UK even poorer still. We cannot afford a UK Government who refuse to increase the minimum wage. We cannot afford to keep having our workers’ rights stripped. We cannot afford locally—David Duguid, who has just stepped out, mentioned this—to have a UK Government who refuse to match Scotland’s funding for our £500 million just transition fund.
This UK Government are failing to tackle the issues that are facing our constituents. It is a joke that they keep mentioning the £37 billion support package. It is a joke that they keep mentioning people being £1,000 better off. For some unknown reason, the UK Government have included a freeze on alcohol duty in their £37 billion calculation. On what planet does that help people to pay their fuel bills or feed their children? People are not £1,000 better off as a result of the energy support provided. The average household is still paying double what it was paying last year. Where does the Prime Minister expect people to find the extra money?
A quarter of people across these islands have got no savings. With borrowing costs rocketing, people are spiralling quickly into unmanageable levels of debt, and that is only set to get worse as the cold weather kicks in. We have consistently voted against that, yet the larger size of England means that we are consistently burdened with Westminster Governments who do not care. Owen Jones published a video that he made during the Tory party conference. He pointed out that mortgage rates are going to go up as a result of the mini-Budget. The Tory party member he was interviewing replied, “I don’t have a mortgage.” That is the attitude we are faced with in the Conservative party. Many Tory party members and donors are doing all right, Jack, so why bother taking action? Our constituents are scared, and the UK Government are refusing to provide adequate help or certainty. The Prime Minister will not even commit to the triple lock or to uprating benefits in line with inflation.
My colleagues have spoken about Scotland’s potential. We have so many resources. We can lead the world in the deployment of renewables, and we can reach our economic potential. We have the best educated population in Europe. We have the talent and the potential, and we are not, as my hon. Friend Pete Wishart said earlier, singularly unable to flourish as an independent country. An independent Scotland would use its potential to ensure minimum living standards. How is it that in 2022 we are having to say that? Why are we being approached by constituents who have nothing, and who are experiencing poverty that has not happened in this widespread way during my lifetime? Before this cost of living crisis, some people were living below the destitution line, despite being in receipt of social security. Other European countries have stepped up and provided far higher levels of support to ensure that people can live through this crisis.
What are the people of Scotland doing about this? We are consistently exercising the democratic rights that we have to vote for the SNP. We have a majority of independence-supporting MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, and we had our best ever council elections this year. We have been the third largest party in Westminster for seven years, despite standing in less than one tenth of the seats. Yet the Westminster Government suggest that we have no mandate. I will say who has no mandate—the Tories. They have no mandate to inflict Tory economic policies on our population. They have no mandate for xenophobic immigration policies, and no mandate for cutting social security. If this is a voluntary Union of nations, why are the UK Government not respecting the mandate given by the people of Scotland to the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum? Why have we had to go to the Supreme Court to assert our right to hold the referendum, and how can the UK Government justify arguing against that? This is not about identity; this is about democracy. Scotland has voted for the right to choose our own future, and we will do everything possible to ensure that happens.
While we hold this debate, a cost of living crisis continues to hit people the length and breadth of these four nations. Scotland has a chance to shelter our people from facing the brunt of Tory mismanagement of fiscal responsibility, and from the Tories’ disregard for people. I say that with confidence, because Scotland does not and will not vote Tory.
I need not lay bare the many merits of independence for our nation in this speech. Successive Governments in this place have been covering that for us more than adequately, and my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford covered a number of those merits in his usual fashion—at great length. I will, however, outline a vision—my vision for an independent Scotland. I see our role in this as being to win over the hearts and minds of those who are still undecided, but that happens on doorsteps and in our communities, not through a speech from these Benches.
Like, I am sure, many of my colleagues, I am often asked why an independent Scotland will be better, fairer, and why it will make us happier. A straightforward answer is: we will get what we vote for—so, not the Tories. We have not chosen market upheaval; to close our borders; to ask women whether they have been raped before they can access welfare; to cut energy support; to crash the pound with unexpected borrowing; or to ship people—our people—off to Rwanda without considering the ramifications. It was mere days ago that the Home Secretary referred to groups of refugees who have come to our coast in search of a better life as an “invasion”.
I do not whether my hon. Friend, like me, has been contacted by many constituents about that. If she has, she will know that it is not just us, and that the people of Scotland are utterly horrified and ashamed about words such as “invasion” and “scourge” being used to describe vulnerable human beings who are fleeing conflict in other parts of the world. Does she agree that independence would give us a massive benefit as we would no longer have to be even partly responsible for shameful policies that treat human beings like they were worse than the dirt on the bottom of our shoe and that, once we are free of the UK, we can treat them like the human beings that they are?
Every single one of those wounds has been inflicted on us by Tory leadership—leadership that the people of Scotland did not choose. We have a chance to be a much bigger player on the world stage. We have a chance yet again to stand shoulder to shoulder with a multitude of our closest allies at a time when the world has rarely seemed so unstable. But as usual, it is ordinary people who pay the price for decisions made by a Tory Government we did not vote for.
The cost of living crisis continues to spiral out of control. The Trussell Trust handed out 2.1 million food parcels across the UK in 2021-22, yet the SNP must continue to call on the UK Government to develop comprehensive child poverty targets. The Government would clearly rather spend their efforts on protecting bankers’ bonuses than on investing in people.
We can think about austerity no longer being imposed, poverty being no longer a political choice forced on our communities and Scotland having a Government—its only Government—elected by its people, for its people. Every child in an independent Scotland should go to school with food in their tummy because their family could afford that from a true living wage, not at the expense of their parent or guardian not eating—and definitely not from accessing a food bank. There should be no need for food banks in an independent Scotland. We are endlessly grateful for the service that they provide in our communities, but they are a by-product of the first round of austerity, not a long-term, sustainable solution to ending poverty. I dread to think what is coming with the Prime Minister’s and Chancellor’s austerity 2.0. That is why our vision for a better, different Scotland is so crucial at this time.
We need only take one look at the legislation coming out of this place—the single market Bill, the Public Order Bill and the Nationality and Borders Act 2022—to see why people across the political spectrum are talking about another independence referendum. The majority of Scotland’s MPs are outvoted at every turn while the Government make up legislation as casually as if it were a shopping list. With an independent Scotland, we will get the Governments that we vote for and we will be rid of the economically irresponsible Tories for good. We have a bright future. We have the opportunity to gain powers that will allow us to rescue many Scottish children from a life of poverty. Very soon, I know that Scotland will grasp that opportunity.
I am pleased that the Scottish National party has decided to bring this debate to the Chamber. It is important that the case for an independent Scotland is re-examined. The points made by my hon. Friend Ian Murray will have been heard loudly both in Scotland and across the United Kingdom.
This is a matter of great interest to my constituents in Chesterfield. It is a fact that people across England feel very passionately and strongly that the United Kingdom is better together, and that the success of Scotland and the success of England is assured by our being together in the United Kingdom. We gratefully remember the many contributions made by Scots to the United Kingdom in a whole variety of different ways. The successful Union we have had over hundreds of years has led to Britain being the successful country that it is.
It was precisely because it matters to me and my constituents that, during 2014, I went up to Scotland and spent a considerable amount of time campaigning in the independence referendum, speaking to people in an array of constituencies.
I hear the hon. Gentleman’s confession that he went up to Scotland for the 2014 referendum. Did he, on any doorsteps in Scotland, say to the people that voting to stay in the UK would guarantee their place in the European Union, or was he a Brexiteer by that point?
Clearly, I went up there to make the case for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom. I absolutely recognised that that was a choice for the people of Scotland, but it was a choice that was going to affect England. The fact that we were to have a referendum on our relationship with the EU was already known in 2014, because the Conservative party had already committed to that and the people of Scotland voted to remain on that basis. Clearly, I was hopeful that the people of Britain would vote to stay in the European Union. In fact, I only wish that the hon. Gentleman’s party had put the same effort into that referendum as the Labour party. If it had, we might have seen a different outcome.
A number of people want to intervene. I will accept interventions, but I will not accept one from Kirsten Oswald, because she misrepresented me previously. She said that I had said that I had apologised for the Government’s record. I have not; I have done the opposite. [Interruption.] I will check the record very carefully. She misrepresented me and if she wants to correct the record I will let her, but if she does not want to correct the record I will hear from Stewart Hosie.
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to make the case he is making, but given that in Scotland we voted to stay in the European Union and given that in his constituency 34,000 voted to leave and only 22,900 voted to remain, would it not have been better, instead of wasting his time in Scotland, if he had done his job in Chesterfield, instead of having that act of economic self-harm that is Brexit?
May I respond to the point that has just been made? I worked very hard during the Brexit referendum to make a case, but I accept that people across the coalfield voted in a different way. I return to the statistic that I put to the right hon. Gentleman’s leader, Ian Blackford. The Scottish National party spent a paltry £91,000 on the EU referendum. During the Scottish independence referendum, it spent £1,344,000. The truth is that the people committed to Scottish independence believed that the outcome they got was exactly the one they wanted. They wanted the rest of the UK to vote out while Scotland voted to stay in and that is why they did not lift a finger to get a result. Because of the limp effort it put in, the turnout in the Brexit referendum was lower in Scotland than in any other region or nation of the United Kingdom. That is the reality. The Scottish National party made it very clear to its voters that it was happy with that outcome. It knew there was a likelihood that that outcome would strengthen its case for Scottish independence.
I am grateful to the hon. Member. I am somewhat perplexed. I pointed out that his colleagues had made comments that clearly apologised for the UK Government’s economic mismanagement. I do not know why the UK Labour party would support that, but that is its problem, not mine. I absolutely stand by my concerns about the Labour party’s position on Brexit. It is unclear to me why Labour Members are so supportive of Brexit, considering the damage that it has done to Scotland, or why the hon. Gentleman continues to suggest that people such as me, with a 73% remain vote in my constituency, somehow were not marching the streets, as all my colleagues were. Scotland did not want to leave the EU and we want to be back in it. The hon. Gentleman might not like that, but he does not get to misrepresent it.
I hear what the hon. Lady says, and I repeat what I said: if the SNP was desperate to stay in the European Union, it had a funny way of showing it. Why is it—[Interruption.] I will respond to the points that have been made. Why is it—let SNP Members answer this—that the SNP spent just 7% of the amount of money on the Brexit referendum that it spent on the Scottish independence referendum? The only conclusion that I can come to is that the SNP did not care nearly as much about that.
I accept that the people of Scotland—the majority of people who voted in that referendum—voted to remain in the EU. However, the turnout in Scotland was also very low and I believe that the SNP’s lack of effort was a major factor.
Order. I have to protect the hon. Gentleman. He has as much of a right to speak as anyone else. Let us give him a chance.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. During that Scottish referendum, I was in Edinburgh, Cumbernauld, West Dunbartonshire, Airdrie and Falkirk, and I spoke to people about the issues and about how much I hoped that they would choose to stay in the United Kingdom. The people I spoke to on the doorsteps were pleased to debate the subject. Lots of them voted to stay in the UK and lots voted otherwise. Virtually all those constituencies ended up voting overall to stay in the UK, but they recognised that not only was this a matter on which the people of Scotland would decide, but that the matter was of interest to people across the United Kingdom.
The basic assertion that the Scottish National party made—that an independent Scotland would be part of the EU but that it would take the pound and, at some point in future, have a Scottish pound—has been absolutely blown to pieces by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South. That was clear for everyone to see, and the momentary quiet that descended among those on the SNP Benches when he was making his case spoke volumes.
We have heard from SNP Members—
I am very pleased that the hon. Member has given way. Is he aware that if all the 1 million people in Scotland who voted to leave the EU had voted to remain in the EU—if we had had a remain vote of 100%—we would still have lost the referendum?
That is an important point. I could make the same point about the response in Chesterfield. Of course, this was a vote for the entire United Kingdom. However, I want to respond to something else that the hon. Lady said; although I disagree with her conclusions, I thought that she made an excellent speech. On her point about the independence referendum, when I was up in Scotland for that, it was said very clearly by Alex Salmond, and it was very clearly understood by the people of Scotland, that that was a once-in-a-generation referendum. That was said strongly.
The hon. Lady has spoken powerfully about the mandate that the SNP has won by getting Members of Parliament elected to this place. Is she making the case that we should have had another referendum after the 2015 election, another after the 2017 election and yet another after the 2019 election? Every time the SNP has a majority of MPs in Scotland, should we have another referendum? If not, how often should we have these referendums?
We all know that if the 2014 referendum had had a different result and people had voted for independence, there would have been no second referendum. There might have been a 0.1% majority, but it would not have mattered: that would have been enough to say, “We have heard the voice of the people.” But the referendum was lost by more than 10%, and there was an immediate demand for a second one. How often do we have to have these referendums? If the independence campaign wins the next one, does the hon. Lady want the best of three?
I was talking about the different ways in which Scotland has given us a mandate for an independence referendum. When SNP candidates stood for the Scottish Parliament in 2021, the SNP committed explicitly in our manifesto to a referendum on independence. The Scottish people have chosen to have that referendum by voting for independence-supporting parties. If that is not the route for the Scottish people to have an independence referendum, what does the hon. Gentleman think their route to choosing a referendum should be?
I notice that the hon. Lady has answered my question with a question. My question was a very specific one: how often will we have this referendum? It is not for me to set the terms of a referendum, but I do think that things would be very different if opinion polls showed that the view of the Scottish people had massively changed since 2014. I could not ignore that, because this is a question for the Scottish people.
When the opinion polls turned in 2020, showing more Scottish people in favour of independence, we heard about them all the time. Everyone was always saying, “Oh, the latest polls say this.” Then I thought to myself, “Everyone seems to have gone a bit quiet about the polls. Why aren’t they mentioning them?” I had a little look on my phone. Of the last 19 opinion polls, including the most recent one paid for by the Alba party, only one showed majority support for independence. Of the last 44 opinion polls, only four have shown a majority for independence. If there had clearly been an overwhelming shift in opinion that had not been reflected, things would be different, but there has not. The truth is that opinion polls suggest that we are broadly in a similar place.
It is a shame that the hon. Lady did not respond to my question. If 2014 was not once in a generation, as the people of Scotland were clearly told at the time, when will be? When will enough be enough?
I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the hon. Gentleman. Will he accept the words of Ciaran Martin, the former constitution director at the Cabinet Office, who prepared the legal documents for the Edinburgh agreement? He said:
“‘Once in a generation’ was not a legal commitment, believe me…It’s just a slogan.”
I accept that it was not a legal commitment. I am not suggesting that it was; I am not saying that there is not a legal right for the UK Government to decide that it is time for another referendum. However, we are talking not about the legal right, but about whether there is an electoral argument for another referendum. The question that I have asked three times now, but that no one has been willing to answer, is when the question will be settled. If losing the referendum in 2014 was not enough, let us say that we have another referendum next year: if SNP Members lose that, when will the next be?
I have some breaking news for the hon. Gentleman: democracy is not a one-time event. As we are talking about timescales, I would be interested to know something. If his party were to win the next general election on a manifesto commitment to have a referendum on taking the UK back into the European Union, would it not be within its rights to hold that referendum?
That is a great “gotcha”, but my point is that there is a question here: for people in Scotland, when is enough enough? No one has been able to answer that. Let me return to the point that I made a minute ago. If the referendum in 2014 had had a different result, there would not have been a second referendum; that would have been it. The SNP cannot consistently say, “Every time we lose, that is not the end of it, but the one time we win, that is the end of it”, but those are the rules that they want to play to.