Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:14 pm on 13th May 2021.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee 2:14 pm, 13th May 2021

My Lords, I was going to praise the Liberals for their part in the Scottish election, but the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has made it slightly more difficult for me.

I have a Shakespearean question: after last Thursday,

“Stands Scotland where it did?”

The answer must be, yes, it does. Nicola Sturgeon described the result as a landslide, a historic outcome, when in fact she gained one seat—more a hysterical overreaction on her part than a historic outcome. The Conservatives have remained with the same number of seats. Labour lost two seats, partly because their excellent leader spent most of his time attacking the Tories instead of attacking the nationalists, who are in power in Scotland.

Therefore, we remain exactly where we were, with a minority Government led by Nicola Sturgeon, who are unable to govern except with the support of other parties. It is true that she got more than a million votes, and we should respect that, just as she should respect that more than 2 million people voted to remain part of the United Kingdom in the referendum on independence, and the Edinburgh agreement, which was solemnly signed by the then leader of the SNP—who actually did achieve a majority in the Scottish Parliament —gave a commitment to respect that result for at least a generation.

Nicola Sturgeon got those million votes by extending the franchise. The franchise has been extended to include refugees, prisoners, 16 year-olds—almost everyone except Scots who live outside Scotland in the United Kingdom. All foreign nationals can vote and, in the event of an independent Scotland, those people who would be eligible for a Scottish passport are to be excluded from voting in her referendum, which would destroy the United Kingdom.

I would like to share a secret. I find that saying things in this House is a good way of keeping them secret, especially from the Scottish media. Nicola does not want a referendum. It is the last thing that she wants. She wants one only when she is sure that she can win it. The SNP itself said that it would need at least 60% of the electorate supporting it, and support is on the decline. However, she does want to talk about having a referendum because it is a diversion from her record, which is abysmal, and the excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, outlined some of the issues. Her Government are responsible for a health record where an Albanian man has a longer life expectancy than a Scotsman, even though more money is being spent on the health service in Scotland. The difference in life expectancy between men in the most deprived areas of Scotland and the most prosperous is 13 years. Scotland is the drugs capital of Europe, with 24 such funerals every week, yet she thinks that she should concentrate on talking about the need for a referendum. She said that she should be judged on her performance on education and has been in power for a very long time, yet the annual surveys of numeracy and literacy show continuing decline. What is the response to that? To abandon the annual surveys because they have become too embarrassing, and to remove Scotland from international league tables as we plummet down the list. In her own city of Glasgow, men’s life expectancy is less than the life expectancy of men in Libya.

Douglas Ross won 31 seats, and more votes than were won by Ruth Davidson of blessed memory, whom I am delighted to say will be joining us in this House. In Shakespeare, Macduff’s question was answered by Ross:

“Alas, poor country!

Almost afraid to know itself.”

Large numbers of young people believe that independence would be a good idea but, when asked in the opinion polls, they changed their minds if independence was going to cost them more than £1,000 in lost income or lost benefits.

I ask the Front Benches: where was the Prime Minister in our campaign? Where was the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Where was the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions? Where was the Defence Secretary? Michael Gove came to Scotland the day after the votes had been counted. We need Ministers to go north of the border and explain to people how they benefit from having the strength of the United Kingdom around them, because they do not know it, and to lose it would put us in desperate times, faced with Nicola Sturgeon’s Brigadoon vision of an economy.

Alex Salmond is very keen on quoting Rabbie Burns. Well, let us take Rabbie Burns’s advice, in the address to the Dumfries Volunteers:

“O, let us not, like snarling tykes,

In wrangling be divided…

Be Britain still to Britain true,

Amang oursels united;

For never but by British hands

Maun British wrangs be righted!”