Queen’s Speech — Debate (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:26 pm on 1st June 2015.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 5:26 pm, 1st June 2015

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I know the convention is that we should not repeat congratulations on maiden speeches but I would like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Dunlop on his appointment; on choosing to make this debate a maiden speech, which made it impossible for me to intervene on his speech; and for slipping out of the Chamber when I was about to have a second go. He has clearly learnt the ways of this House very quickly.

It is no exaggeration to say that there has been a revolution in Scotland. I am slightly surprised that it was quite late in the debate this afternoon—and I agree with everything that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, had to say—before we actually mentioned the fact that the Scottish nationalists, who wish to break up Britain, have won 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland. When I was in government, we used to say, “If the SNP wins a majority of seats in Scotland, it can have independence”. Thank God we had a referendum last year in which the majority of people made it clear that they did not want that to happen.

I believe that there is a real crisis in Scotland. In Scotland, where I live, we are now a one-party state. Not content with winning 56 seats, the nationalists are now trying to drive the last remaining Liberal—not even on the mainland—out of office. Their behaviour in the referendum campaign, in the election campaign and subsequently of intimidation and everything else means that those people—the majority—who wish to be part of the United Kingdom look to this Parliament to offer a way forward. Most people in Scotland now believe that the union hangs by a thread.

With its 56 MPs, the SNP has enormous resources. I am told they have all signed some undertaking not to criticise any member of their Front Bench or say anything in public that contradicts the policy of their Front Bench. I hope this does not give David Cameron any ideas; otherwise, I shall be silenced for life. It is an extraordinary thing. They came to this House on the day of the Queen’s Speech all wearing white roses. The white rose is certainly mentioned by MacDiarmid but the white rose is a symbol of the Jacobites, and the Tory party, Scotland’s oldest political party, was a Jacobite party. Not content with seizing my national flag, the SNP now wants to seize the emblem of the origins of the Conservative Party. It seems to me that this demands a response, and business as usual is not an appropriate response. Yes, I believe in one-nation Toryism, but we are not one nation—we are a United Kingdom made up of a number of nations and there is now a crisis.

Every unionist party in Scotland has suffered. The Labour Party has suffered the most and the most quickly. I have to say that I sympathise, as a unionist, but do not sympathise, because the Labour Party has been the architect of its own destruction in Scotland. For years, its members demonised the Conservatives using the language of nationalism. They said that we had no mandate because we did not have a majority of the MPs in Scotland. They claimed that, under a Conservative Government under Mrs Thatcher, we destroyed the industrial base and gave Scotland a lousy deal, even though the Barnett formula gave to Scotland 25% more per head in expenditure than in the rest of the United Kingdom. They talked about our education reforms as the Anglicisation of education in Scotland. When I left office as Secretary of State, among pupils of school-leaving age in Scotland, 10% more got five decent passes than in England. Today, the position is exactly reversed and England is 10% better off. That is because Scotland, under these Scottish nationalists and under Labour, refused to follow the reforming policies in education that were carried out here. The point is that those policies were not argued against on their merits but presented as the Anglicisation of education. Even quite recently, Labour MSPs referred to their colleagues down here as “Westminster Labour”. It seems to me that if you use that kind of language and tell the Scottish people that they are getting a bad deal from Westminster, you should not be surprised when, one day, having ridden that tiger, it turns round and devours you. That is what happened to the Labour Party in the most recent general election.

Alex Salmond and I were both against devolution and the Scottish Parliament. I was against it because I thought that it would lead to a platform for the SNP from which it would demand more and more powers and eventually break the United Kingdom. Alex Salmond was against it because he agreed with Tony Blair and George Robertson. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, is not in his place, but I do not need to remind the House that he said:

“Devolution will kill nationalism stone dead”.

Well, he was half right. He got the verb right, it was just the wrong party.

It is a fact that we now have a new situation in Scotland and I believe that that new dimension requires a new model. Simply to say that we will implement the proposals of the Smith commission will not work. All the unionist parties stood on a platform of bringing in the proposals of the Smith commission and we ended up with three seats out of 59. This is not a credible position; it has been rejected. In my view, the proposals were always half-baked, not properly thought through, conceived in haste and part of a deal negotiated by politicians from which the whole of Parliament was excluded and given no opportunity to take part in the formulation of these policies. Indeed, Alistair Darling, who did such a brilliant job in the referendum campaign and who I very much hope may well come to this House, was quoted as saying that Smith has been overtaken by events, is lopsided, unfair to England and threatening to the union when combined with English votes for English laws.

It is a matter for the House of Commons, but I am not very keen on English votes for English laws by amending the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Parliament spent a good 35 years arguing about the best way of dealing with the question of home rule in the context of the Irish question at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It concluded that reducing the number of MPs from Ireland was the correct solution so as not to have two classes of MP. I believe that that was the right approach.

How is this going to play in Scotland? If, as we are apparently committed, we keep the Barnett formula, the Scottish nationalist Members who represent Scotland will be able to say, “We are being disfranchised; we are not being allowed to vote on matters that affect Scotland”, because the Barnett formula translates policy decisions in education, health and other devolved matters into revenue for the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, to say that we want English votes for English laws, and at the same time retain Barnett, is to give the SNP a stick with which to beat the union and this Parliament. The answer is to have a funding formula that is based on need. That would mean, of course, that Scotland would lose out, so there needs to be some transitional arrangements for the funding that was recommended by the committee of the House on the Barnett formula, on which my noble friend and I served. That needs to be discussed.

Then, we have the extraordinary situation that Nicola Sturgeon—who, by the way, was not even a candidate in this election but seemed to dominate it—has said that she wants fiscal autonomy. Fiscal autonomy would be an absolute disaster for Scotland and result in a reduction in the budget. Even if it got all the North Sea oil revenues, it would result in a reduction in the budget equivalent to half the health spending in Scotland, and they know it. Suddenly, the party that told us that it could have independence in 18 months is now telling us that fiscal autonomy will take six years. Why would that be? It is hoping that something will turn up. It is hoping that the oil price will turn up. Alex Salmond is a gambler and he is gambling the future of every citizen in Scotland on something turning up and is presenting a dishonest portfolio, as the party did in the election.

In Alice in Wonderland, the queen said that she can believe six impossible things before breakfast. Nicola Sturgeon believes two impossible things: that she can end austerity and spend more money and, at the same time, have fiscal autonomy in a country where the tax base is lower than in England, where expenditure is 20% higher than in England, which means that there is a gap, and where borrowing would have to be controlled by the United Kingdom. My advice to our Front Bench is this: please publish a White Paper setting out what the consequences of fiscal autonomy would be for Scotland so people can see what it is that they voted for, because the SNP certainly did not tell them what they voted for.

Unless we can persuade people in Scotland that they add an enormous amount to this United Kingdom and that this United Kingdom provides support to people throughout Scotland on the principles of solidarity that have governed our union for more than 100 years, we may very well find that we see the union being broken. It would be a very sad day indeed if our United Kingdom should be broken by people whose primary purpose is to divide our nation, mislead the voters and try to substitute for the politics of class those of identity. That is what they are doing. In doing so, they are bringing on board a whole range of people with left-wing, extremist ideas, which, if implemented, would be disastrous for Scotland and disastrous for the United Kingdom.

I hope that in the passage of the Bill on Scotland we will have an opportunity to rethink our position and accept that we cannot have constitutional change implemented unilaterally. We need to have all-party agreement. I very much agree with the proposals that have been supported by the Labour Party and the Liberal party for a constitutional convention to sort these matters out so that these things can be looked at on an all-party basis and not on the basis of piecemeal, asymmetric, partisan, political advantage, which has brought us to this pretty place today and was predicted by our party when the Labour Party first embarked on devolution.