Brexit: Stability of the Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:48 pm on 17th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Thurlow Lord Thurlow Crossbench 1:48 pm, 17th January 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Hastings. His reference to the dogfight of refusals emanating from the Palace of Westminster to our friends around the world will ring with me for some time.

I add my voice to the echo in the Chamber by thanking my noble friend Lord Lisvane for securing this important debate—what immaculate timing. Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I am 50% Scottish and 50% English. I live two-thirds of the time in England. My family name is thoroughly Scottish but my title is English, and my heart is in the north. I feel quite well qualified to speak in this debate, but noble Lords will understand that my comments relate principally to Scotland.

The Scottish National Party is the largest party in the Scottish Government. It does not have an overall majority, but its declared objective is, without question, independence. It is in the name. It already frustrates the UK Government’s attempts and endeavours wherever it can. While it is the largest party at Holyrood, Scotland was bitterly divided in 2014 during the independence referendum. Particularly bitter was the division in the communities—particularly rural communities—and it was even more harmful among many families.

Rather than trying to trumpet the possible advantages of independence, there was far too much anti-union marketing in that campaign. It was aimed at the heart, not the head. Visions were displayed of a popular film actor, swathed in tartan and wielding a claymore, reminding those who read the posters of that magnificent victory at Bannockburn approximately 700 years ago. The nationalist party in Scotland feeds on all this for its popularity and support.

All that said, we must not forget that, like Northern Ireland, Scotland voted to remain in 2016, with 55% in favour of doing so. It is an unfortunately easy stick with which to drum the rhythm beat of Westminster-bashing, but Scotland did vote that way and we must respect it and try to understand why. It suits their agenda—a subject so divisive anyway. So, as the Brexit debate unfolds, or cascades, in front of us, we must expect a greater threat to union stability. It will continue to feed the beast of division north of the border.

To counter this threat to the union, we need to build a stronger relationship among all the member countries. In an era of devolving powers, we—the union as represented in Westminster—must decide what we want from the union and, much more importantly, what member countries want from Westminster. Only through appreciation of what the union has to offer each of its parts can we hope to build a positive relationship. Let us take the opportunity of this divided moment to lay bare the strengths and frustrations of our union before perhaps we attempt to rewrite—or, rather, to write—our constitution.