Secretary of State for Scotland (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd April 2014.

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Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

2. I, too, convey my thoughts and prayers, and those of my party, to the family of Keane Wallis-Bennett, her friends, teachers and her fellow pupils following this week’s tragedy.

To ask the Deputy First Minister when she will next meet the Secretary of State for Scotland. (S4F-02008)

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

Scotland’s economy is starting to turn a corner, with growth rates among the highest in the western world, yet today we hear more warnings about the impact that a vote to break up Britain would have on that Scottish success story. Those warnings do not come from politicians but from job creators. Keith Cochrane, chief executive of the Weir Group says:

“the costs of independence are guaranteed but the benefits are uncertain. That has the potential to make Scotland less competitive, not more.”

Having seen the Scottish National Party’s plans, he is voting no.

This affects Scottish jobs. I see that the Deputy First Minister has upgraded the usual big blue folder of diversionary quotes and googled clippings, so I hope for a simple answer to a very simple question. How many Scottish jobs are held by businesses that have broken cover with concerns about independence in the past few weeks?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I start on a note of agreement with Ruth Davidson, although I am not promising that it will last very long. The Scottish economy is showing signs of recovery and we should all welcome that. I suggest that those signs of recovery are in spite of Westminster policy and not because of it.

I turn to the important point about Keith Cochrane’s comments and the Weir Group report. The Weir Group is an important company in Scotland. I welcome its contribution to the debate and I am looking forward early next month to meeting senior management and staff at the Weir Group to discuss those very issues. I hope to reassure them on some of the points that have been made this morning. It is worth pointing out—this is not a criticism of the Weir Group; rather it is to provide some context—that the Weir Group was against devolution before the 1979 and 1997 referendums. It warned then of consequences that simply did not materialise. It is also worth pointing out that the Weir Group, a successful Scottish company, operates in 70 countries around the world; an independent Scotland would form the 71st country in which it operates.

I echo many of the comments in the Weir Group’s report. Scotland “could succeed” as an independent country. “Independence would bring” control over policy making “closer to the people”. It would allow an expanded range of economic policy levers to be tailored to the needs and circumstances of our economy and to the distinctive views and values of our people, and the flexibility to tailor business tax rates would be a significant attraction of Scottish independence in principle.

Many of the not-so-positive Weir Group comments are predicated on an assumption that there would be a separate currency. That is not the Scottish Government’s position; as we now know, that is not the United Kingdom Government’s real position either. I say simply to Ruth Davidson:

“Of course there would be a currency union.”

Those are the words of a UK minister.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

The words of her Westminster colleague, Angus MacNeil, however, were that he has no idea how long that would last. Let us be absolutely clear about what the Deputy First Minister said. She misrepresents the Weir Group absolutely. It is clear that its views are nothing to do with the currency union. The group says:

“Under any currency scenario, it is likely an independent Scotland would face: increased borrowing costs; increased taxes and significant public spending cuts. All of which would have an impact on businesses and households.”

None of what the Deputy First Minister said answered the question that I asked about the number of jobs. Here is the answer that she was looking for: more than 50,000 people are employed in Scotland by firms that, in the past few weeks alone, have warned of the risks of separating us from our biggest market. That does not include umbrella organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry Scotland, Scottish Financial Enterprise or Scottish Engineering, which, among them, represent more than half a million workers in Scotland.

We know the SNP’s stock response to those voices: the First Minister dismisses them, the cybernats attack them—[Interruption.]—and SNP back benchers shout them down in the chamber and in committee hearings. Will the Deputy First Minister stand apart from all those negative, angry men? [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Order. [Interruption.] Order!

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

Can the Deputy First Minister stand apart from all those negative, angry men? [Interruption.]

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

What is her response to all the Scottish firms raising legitimate concerns and entering the debate?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I am always delighted to stand apart. I am always delighted to stand up and argue the case for Scotland to be an independent country and I will continue to do it.

I did not misrepresent the Weir Group. I read out some positive comments that it had made and accepted the less-than-positive comments. I also said—I hope that Ruth Davidson will take this in the spirit in which it is intended—that I look forward to engaging directly with the Weir Group on some of the points that it raised today and that I hope that I will be able to reassure it on some of them.

Ruth Davidson mentioned a number of things. For example, she mentioned borrowing costs. Perhaps not surprisingly, she did not mention the recent report from Standard & Poor’s that said that, even excluding North Sea revenues, an independent Scotland would qualify for its “highest economic assessment”. Let us not be too selective in the quotations.

I made a serious point about numbers of jobs. I am not criticising any company that speaks out. Companies absolutely have the right to do that. I am saying that many of the companies that expressed concerns about independence expressed precisely the same concerns about devolution. The point that I go on to make is that those concerns did not materialise. All those companies are still here. All of them are prospering and the reason why they are prospering is that Scotland is a business-friendly country. An independent Scotland will continue to be a business-friendly country and, with our hands on the full economic levers, we will be able to make it an even more business-friendly country.

My last point relates to angry, negative men. I do not know whether the better together source that I am about to quote is a man or a woman. I have to be honest and frank about that. However, commenting on The Guardian’s report of the UK Government minister who said,

“Of course there would be a currency union,” the better together source said:

“They’re completely off their rocker some of these people. It’s bound to be a Tory.”

I think that that is very unfair to the Tory party.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Before I move on, I remind the chamber of rule 7.3 of the standing orders, which requires all members to conduct themselves in a courteous, respectful and orderly manner. I expect us to proceed in that fashion hereafter.

I apologise to the members I have been unable to call for constituency questions; that is partly due to the Deputy First Minister’s statement but also due to the length of exchanges.