Before I call Patrick Grady to move the motion, may I say that I have not yet had any written requests to speak in this debate? Mr Speaker has asked the Panel of Chairs to remind Members that it is the convention of the House that they should submit in writing to the Speaker’s Office if they want to speak in a debate.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the Claim of Right for Scotland.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I know that you are a great champion of grassroots democracy, so I hope that a lot of what I have to say will strike a chord with you. This has not been the most straightforward debate to bring to Westminster Hall. Members who pay close attention to the Order Paper will have noticed that before the recess, it originally appeared in the name of my hon. Friend Peter Grant. He has the same initials as me, but I clearly have considerably worse handwriting than him—bad enough for even the stellar cryptographers in the Table Office to be stumped.
After sorting that out, the Clerks and Library specialists wanted to know which Claim of Right for Scotland I wanted to debate: the ancient claim dating to 1689, which asserts the right of appeal against perceived judicial injustice; the more modern claim, signed in 1989 as the founding document of the Scottish Constitutional Convention; or the claim adopted by the Scottish Parliament in 2012, in the context of the independence referendum. The answer is not one of those, but all of them—or, more accurately, their central assertion, endorsed in 1989 and 2012, which acknowledges the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs and the obligation on elected representatives that in all our actions and deliberations, the interests of the people of Scotland shall be paramount.
My argument is that the Claim of Right is not, or is no longer, an historical document. It is a concept, and indeed a fundamental principle, that underpins the democracy and constitutional framework of Scotland. It is as relevant today as it has ever been. The economy on the brink of recession; the Government hopelessly divided on Europe; the Labour party in turmoil; a woman Prime Minister in Downing Street; and Scotland living under yet another Conservative Government it did not vote for, pushing through damaging social policies against the will of the vast majority of people and parliamentarians—yes, that was the situation in 1989, when parliamentarians, councillors and church and civil society leaders gathered on the Mound in Edinburgh to sign the claim of right and begin the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention.
It is an historical fact that Scottish National party members were not present for the signing and did not take part in the convention. The SNP took part in early discussions, but withdrew when it became clear that the convention would not countenance independence. We argued at the time, and might still argue today, that to rule out such an option was to deny a key principle of the claim: the right to choose the best form of government. However, the claim signed in 1989 represented something of a consensus in the country that the democratic deficit experienced throughout the Thatcher years was becoming intolerable, and the convention paved the way for the Parliament that now meets in Holyrood. Today, the First Minister is outlining her programme for government, implementing as best she can with the powers available to that Parliament our vision of a more progressive and socially just Scotland.
The excellent briefing produced by the House of Commons Library for this debate contains an appendix showing the 1989 claim and its list of signatories. Some of the names are familiar: Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, John McFall, David Steel, Jim Wallace, Archy Kirkwood. Some of those individuals can still be found at Westminster, although they go by slightly different styles and titles and work in another place with little in the way of a democratic mandate.
Another signatory is a constituent of mine, Elspeth Attwooll, a former Liberal Democrat MEP whom I credit for inspiring this debate. Before the European referendum, we both took part in a hustings where she reflected on what it meant to her to have been a signatory to the Claim of Right. It made me think about how far Scotland has come over the nearly 30 years since the claim was signed, and indeed over the years since the referendum on devolution, the 19th anniversary of which we will mark this coming Sunday. We have come far, but we still have much further to go.
The Brexit result is only the most glaring and recent example. Despite all the powers that have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, Westminster still holds the purse strings. After three Scotland Acts since 1997, 70% of taxes and 85% of welfare spending, two of the most crucial levers of social and economic policy, remain reserved to Westminster. The Scottish Parliament, 58 out of 59 of Scotland’s MPs and local authorities across the country have all voted against the renewal of Trident, but it will still go ahead, less than 40 miles from our biggest population centre. The bedroom tax, welfare cuts, the undermining of energy and climate change policy, the threatened withdrawal from the European convention on human rights and even the removal of a tugboat from the west coast of Scotland are all directly against the will of the people of Scotland, as expressed democratically at the ballot box, yet all of them have been foisted on us by Westminster Governments.
It will undoubtedly be argued that the people of Scotland exercised their sovereignty on
As we approach the second anniversary of the referendum, none of those promises have been kept. There might have been a new status quo on the morning of
That is why the Scottish Government have pledged to work as constructively as possible to protect and defend Scotland’s interests within the Brexit process. I hope that the UK Government will work constructively with the new Scottish Government Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe as they prepare for the article 50 process. The First Minister has appointed a standing council of expert advisers to help explore different options to maintain a relationship between Scotland and Europe that reflects the choice made by people in Scotland in the European referendum.
That is also why the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament must ultimately reserve the right to hold another referendum on independence for Scotland. If it becomes clear that the best or only way for Scotland to remain in the EU is to become an independent member of the EU, we must have the right to make that decision for ourselves.
On the advantages of the EU, the hon. Gentleman will know that my party agrees with his—we voted in the Scottish Parliament to support the First Minister in taking every possible avenue to keep the advantages of the EU—but is he honestly telling the House that the solution is for Scotland to turn away from its much bigger trading partner, the UK?
I am saying that all the different options must be explored. The Scottish Government have committed on a cross-party basis to explore all those options as constructively as possible, but we must retain the right to revisit the question of our independent membership of the European Union if that becomes the best or only way to protect the benefits that we get from that membership. That is the crux of the Claim of Right: it is for the people of Scotland to choose the form of governance best suited to their needs. If our democratically elected Parliament decides on a cross- party basis—it will have to be on a cross-party basis, as we have a minority Government—to call for another independence referendum, will the UK Government seriously stand in the way?
The Edinburgh agreement may have been signed to pave the way for the 2014 referendum, but it is a de facto acknowledgment of both the general principle of the Claim of Right and the more specific question of whether Scotland has the right to become an independent country in a referendum. So when the former Prime Minister said in the Chamber that his county of Oxfordshire had voted to remain but that no one was calling for it to have an exemption from the UK-wide vote, he demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the constitutional framework in Scotland. Indeed, it was the same kind of misunderstanding that led one of his predecessors to describe the Scots Parliament as a “parish council”. There has never been a claim of right for Oxfordshire, as far as I am aware, nor has there been an Edinburgh agreement recognising Oxfordshire’s right to become an independent country, but such principles are now firmly established in Scotland—indeed, they always have been.
Historically, the monarchs in Scotland were Kings and Queens of Scots. They ruled at the sufferance of the people, rather than ruling over the land or exercising a sovereignty vested in their own person or in the Crown in Parliament, as the tradition has it here in Westminster—although, as I said in this Chamber yesterday, I was interested to hear how many converts to the idea of participatory democracy there were on the Government Benches, and how keen some of them had become to cede some of their hallowed parliamentary sovereignty to popular opinion expressed in a referendum.
One reason why I bid for this debate was that I heard a number of colleagues both in the Government and in the official Opposition say informally that there would not be another independence referendum because the Prime Minister would not allow it. That reminds me of the famous words of the convenor of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, Canon Kenyon Wright, who said at the opening of the convention:
“What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying, ‘We say no, and we are the state’? Well, we say yes—and we are the people.”
So I ask the Government—I note that the Minister here today is the Deputy Leader of the House, not a Minister from the Scotland Office, because of course it has no junior Ministers—whether they accept the principle of the Claim of Right for Scotland. The Conservatives, uniquely among political parties in Scotland, refused both to sign the declaration in 1989 and to back it in the 2012 Scottish Parliament vote. Given the promises made during the independence referendum, the respect agenda and the partnership of nations we are supposed to belong to, will they reconsider?
If the Minister cannot bring himself to commit to something so momentous today, will he at least recognise that the differential result in the Brexit referendum means that there must be a differential response from the Government? Will they consider seriously any proposals that come forward from Scotland, whether they are about participation in Erasmus, the Horizon 2020 programme or, more fundamentally, efforts to build a coalition that protects the UK’s membership of the European single market? Will the Minister and the Government consider how effectively the voices of Scotland’s MPs of all parties are heard in this House? Surely it is time for a review of the English votes for English laws procedures, which are wasting parliamentary time and continue to undermine our supposedly equal status in this House.
There may be parallels with the prevailing political and economic situation in 1989, but this is 2016. Scotland’s voice is articulated not only by Members of Parliament here at Westminster, but in a modern, vibrant and diverse Parliament at Holyrood. Those of us who have been elected to the House of Commons come from a very different tradition from our predecessors. We have not come here to settle down, bide our time and hope for a seat in the House of Lords one day. When I leave this place, as I am well aware I will, it will be because I have decided not to put myself forward, because the voters have decided they want someone else, or because at last there will be no need for Scotland to send MPs to Westminster.
In the SNP, we make no secret of the fact that we think the form of government best suited to the needs of people in Scotland is an independent one. In the words of our party constitution, it is
“the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament, so that its authority is limited only by the sovereign power of the Scottish People to bind it with a written constitution and by such agreements as it may freely enter into with other nations or states or international organisations for the purpose of furthering international cooperation, world peace and the protection of the environment.”
“the furtherance of all Scottish interests.”
We make no special claim to the Claim of Right; it belongs, by definition, to everyone in Scotland, regardless of which political party they support or which constitutional option they prefer. But it encapsulates the right to decide and keep deciding the best form of government for their needs and for the time we live in.
When the Scottish Parliament debated and adopted the Claim of Right in 2012, it did not endorse the principle of independence, but it acknowledged the principle of deciding on independence, so the Claim of Right is not just an historical document or a scholarly debating point; it is a fundamental principle on which our democracy rests. If the UK Government are serious about maintaining the present Union as a partnership of equals, they need to understand that.
I hope that, 27 years since the declaration was signed, 19 years since the devolution referendum, 17 years since the Scottish Parliament was established, nine years since the first SNP Government were elected, two years since the independence referendum, 18 months since the UK general election, four months since the Scottish Parliament elections and three months since the European referendum, the Government might finally start to get the message.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Bone.
I congratulate Patrick Grady on the lucid, passionate and effective way in which he laid out the case for independence, and on using the constitutional history behind the Claim of Right as a legitimising factor for independence. However, as he was gracious enough to acknowledge, when the Claim of Right was re-established in 1989 by cross-party consensus, the Scottish National party stood aside from that consensus. That was because the SNP position towards our constitution has always been what Henry Ford’s was towards the Model T. Henry Ford said, “You can have your car in any colour you like, as long as it’s black,” and the SNP says, “The Scottish people can decide on any constitutional future they like, provided they choose independence.” So when at that time there was a consensus—I will admit that the Conservatives were outside it—in favour of devolution, the SNP said, “This assertion of popular sovereignty is wrong because it doesn’t agree with me.” In that sense, the SNP was a bit like the proud mother who notices her son marching out of step with everyone else in the regiment and says, “Everybody is out of step, apart from my Willie.”
What the SNP has in consistency, which is admirable, it lacks in honesty about where the true centre of Scottish public opinion lies, and that is in favour of devolution. From 1989 to the present day, there has been support for a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom, and when the arithmetic in the constitutional convention did not suit the SNP in 1989, it stood aside, proud in its solitary conventicle. And now, even though it has a majority of representation for Scotland in this House, it regards the fact that a majority of people in Scotland voted against independence in the referendum as a mere temporary interruption and inconvenience.
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify exactly what is being suggested? Is it being said that, because a political party—in this case, the SNP—has a desired and preferential constitutional outcome, somehow its adherence to that negates any genuine commitment to allowing people to choose between a number of options? If that is the case, would it not also apply to the Conservative party or any other political party that has a preferential outcome? Surely the whole point of having a choice is that different parties can put different perspectives before the people and allow them to choose.
I absolutely agree. It is to the credit of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that, as I said earlier, they put the case for independence with fluency, with authority, with passion, with commitment. I take nothing away from the power of the case that they make. But the Scottish people have rejected that case: in a referendum, the Scottish people clearly—by 55% to 45%—said no to independence.
But now the SNP is claiming in this debate that the long-held constitutional principle that the Scottish people are sovereign means that the Scottish people should be independent. But either the Scottish people decide their own constitutional fate, in which case we should respect the decision taken in that referendum, or they are perpetually wrong because they do not agree with the SNP. I also point out that since that referendum we have seen the SNP move from being a majority Government in Holyrood to a minority Government, and we have seen that support for Scotland’s position within the Union has remained resolutely at the same level as in the referendum. We have also seen Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, become the single most impressive and popular politician in Scotland. The latest statistics and opinion polling reinforce what everyone knows, which is that she is the single most formidable politician in Scotland. Those are the facts and, as Robert Burns once pointed out, we all know that,
“facts are chiels that winna ding”.
Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that that most formidable and respected politician in Scotland should categorically denounce the xenophobic comments made by one of her party spokespersons against Christian Allard, who has given massive service to the Scottish Parliament and to the Scottish people?
I am unaware of that eventuality. All I would say is that xenophobia has no place in political discourse and that, throughout her leadership of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth has been consistent in making it clear that Scotland should be a warm and welcoming home for people from every background and every community.
The right hon. Gentleman is one of the architects of Brexit, which has brought about this debate and is the reason behind some of the other debates in this House about Scottish independence. Will he reflect on the fact that the very person he just spoke about promised the Scottish people that if they voted Scottish Conservative they would protect the Union? How is that going?
The Union is in robust good health, as is shown by the support for the continuity of the United Kingdom, which is maintained at the same level as it was during the heat of the referendum campaign.
It is important to acknowledge something more. The hon. Member for Glasgow North pointed out that, in the run-up to the referendum campaign, my party, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats issued a commitment to increase the level of devolution given to the Scottish Parliament—the vow, published on the front page of the Daily Record. The keeper of the vow—the independent figure who was responsible for ensuring that that promise was kept—was Lord Smith of Kelvin, and he stated unambiguously that the vow had been maintained.
More than that, powers that existed before the vow and the passage of the Scotland Act 2016, and powers that are now conferred on Holyrood, have not been used by the Scottish Government. Why is it that there has been such timorousness about the exercise of the powers that the Scottish Government already have? Why is it that the tax-varying powers that have been conferred on Nicola Sturgeon and the Executive have not been exercised? Why is it that a party that claims that the answer to all Scotland’s problems is more power in Edinburgh has not even exercised the powers that it has? I can only conclude that the SNP want a perpetual state of irritation and grievance with our current constitutional arrangements, rather than a determination to make them work. That is one reason why the SNP, having achieved unprecedented electoral popularity under Alex Salmond, is on a slow, gentle but irreversible slide in public opinion.
There is more. It is not just that the powers that we, as a United Kingdom Parliament, conferred on Holyrood, and that the Scottish people voted for, have not been exercised; it is also the case that in those policy areas that have been devolved to Scotland since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the SNP-led Administration has signally failed to deliver for the Scottish people.
Let us look particularly at education. When I was growing up and a student in Scotland’s schools, Scotland boasted, to good effect, that its education system was superior to that of England and any other part of the United Kingdom. The principle of the democratic intellect; the character of the lad o’ pairts; the principle, established at the time of John Knox, that there should be a school for every child in every parish—all stand testament to the fact that the Scottish people have valued education, historically, more highly than anyone else within these islands.
However, if we look at the reality of Scottish education now, we can see that children from poor backgrounds in Scotland are less likely to go on to higher education than children from poor backgrounds in England. The gap between educational outcomes for rich and poor has grown under the SNP Government. As was pointed out by Brian Wilson, formerly a Member of this House and still a distinguished journalist, one has to look very hard to find a single effective redistributive measure that has been introduced by the SNP whereby power or resources have been taken from the rich to the poor in Scotland, or whereby the opportunities available to poor children in Scotland have increased. Once again, the question has to be asked: why is it that the SNP, having had a majority Government and now having a minority Government with the support of the Greens, has been able to do so little to improve educational outcomes for Scottish children? The answer to which I am again inevitably drawn is: because the SNP is more interested in manufacturing grievance than it is in governing Scotland well.
Another example is the aftermath of the vote for Britain to leave the European Union. I remind the House that yes, of course a majority in Scotland did not vote to leave the European Union, but a significant minority did, and they did so in the teeth of a political establishment united in opposition to that proposition. Many of the people who did vote to leave come from backgrounds that I know well, in farming and fisheries. They recognised that an independent United Kingdom, with Scotland exercising power through its own Parliament, would have new powers over fisheries and farming when Britain left the European Union. But so far we have seen no effort to deploy any imagination, energy or passion in pointing out the ways in which Scotland’s agriculture and fisheries economic backbone can be strengthened by our departure from the European Union. As we saw with the start of the national conversation, there has been an attempt to use the vote to manufacture grievance rather than to ask the question, what is in the best interests of all the Scottish people?
Just to clarify, after the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union yesterday outlined what Brexit would mean by not outlining anything, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that Scotland is going to get full control of its fisheries policy?
My point is that when we were making the case for Britain to leave the European Union, it was perfectly clear that fisheries and agricultural policy would come back. Had a Scottish Parliament existed prior to our entry into the European Union, those policies would have been administered by the Scottish Parliament. There is the potential for the Scottish Parliament, already supercharged by the vow, to become even stronger. But, instead of exploring those opportunities—rather than regarding the glass as half full or even looking optimistically at the situation and thinking, “Well, I may not have voted for it, but I am determined to make it work for the people of Scotland”—the vote is being used to fuel a narrative of grievance and separation.
My principal charge against the SNP is this: there is no shortage of talent on the SNP Benches in Westminster and there is no shortage of passion or brainpower in the Scottish Government. Some of the most impressive men and women in Scottish public life staff the Scottish Government. This is a golden opportunity for them to show what devolution can deliver, but that opportunity is not being taken because, as this debate shows, a focus on the constitution, the generation of grievance and the creation of division trumps the cause of good government.
There are so many ways in which the devolution settlement could help the Scottish people to flourish within the United Kingdom. It is only within the United Kingdom that Scotland can, in the short to medium and, I would argue, long term, be absolutely certain that its people will have all the opportunities they deserve. Over the past month, it was remarkable when we discovered the impact of a diminution in global oil prices on Scotland’s economic position. It was remarkable the extent to which the commodity that had been relied on throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s to underwrite independence had moved from being a well-stuffed piggybank into an arid emptiness. I speak as someone whose family live in Aberdeen and for whom that fall in the oil price is, of course, a source of sadness, because individuals have lost their jobs.
More important than that being a source of sadness for the people of Aberdeen, though, is the stark fact for the people of all of Scotland that, as the author of the Scottish Government’s own White Paper on independence has admitted, the economic case for independence has been blown out of the water. I ask the SNP: now that oil is no longer the well-stuffed piggy bank that it used to be, what is being done to ensure that Scotland thrives economically? Yes, the First Minister has set up a growth commission, but what about the devastation that has been wrought on the further education sector? What about the lack of investment in skills in Scotland? What about the long-term decisions that could have put Scotland on a stronger economic course, but have not been taken? They have not been taken in order to manufacture grievance, create irritation and reinforce division.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way once again and I am fascinated by this assumption that a set of figures that demonstrate how poorly the Scottish economy is performing under Conservative UK Government control is somehow an indication that Scotland cannot survive independently.
However, I go back to a comment the right hon. Gentleman made a minute ago about the impact of the fall in the price of oil, because any economic indicator that I have seen suggests that the economy of Norway is far more dependent on oil than the economy of Scotland ever has been or ever will be. Can he explain why the Norwegian economy has managed to ride out the storm? Are the Norwegians selling their oil to somebody paying a higher price? Have they got special gold-plated oil that is worth more than other oil? Or is it perhaps that they had the chance to put their oil aside when there was plenty of it because they had control of their own resources? How does he explain the continuing success of the Norwegian economy, which is more dependent on the falling oil price than we are?
I am tempted to remind the hon. Gentleman that of course Norway is outside the European Union and has been since it voted to stay outside the European Union, and as a result it has been able to invest not just its oil wealth but its fishing wealth, and indeed to capitalise on its other advantages, to create a sovereign wealth fund and to take the decisions to enable it to be a country that many of us envy.
Of course, there are some nationalists who follow through on the logic of that. The former Member for Govan, Jim Sillars, has been consistent throughout in saying that sovereignty, if properly interpreted, would mean that Scotland would not only be outside the United Kingdom but outside the European Union. Although I do not agree with Mr Sillars on everything, one thing I have to say is that it is remarkable that Scots would want to give up the pound—they would have to do so if they left the United Kingdom—in order to embrace the euro, which they would have to do if they entered the European Union.
Of course, there is another alternative to that, which was outlined by the First Minister’s economic adviser, Mr Joseph Stiglitz, the other day. It is that we should have a new independent Scottish currency—a Scottish pound. It will be interesting to see if that is SNP policy and if it is, all I can say is, “If you want to go into the next independence referendum saying, ‘We’re ditching sterling and it’s a choice between the euro and our new Scottish pound’, good luck with that!”
That is because Scots voters, who were given the chance to vote in the last referendum campaign, absolutely wanted to ensure that there were more powers for the Scottish Parliament but they also wanted—even more—to ensure that Scotland remained within the United Kingdom. It was a decisive vote, providing an unprecedented mandate for the United Kingdom. The timing of the vote, the nature of the vote and the extent of the franchise were all dictated or chosen by the Scottish Government. So the Scottish Government chose the pitch, chose the rules and chose the referee, but it was still victory for the United Kingdom.
Therefore, the question that arises and that was dodged in the admittedly eloquent and fluent opening speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow North is, “Given the powers that the Scottish Government currently have that they have not exercised, why haven’t they been exercised?” The question for all SNP MPs here in Westminster is, “Why haven’t you chosen to make a success of the current arrangements in order to argue that that is the case for more devolution, more power and perhaps ultimately independence? Why instead have you allowed those powers to remain unused, in order to be able to point the finger at current arrangements and say that they are unsatisfactory?” That is the paradox at the heart of the SNP position. The SNP is afraid to exercise the powers that it has, because it is determined that the current situation should never be seen to work.
My argument is that that position is a betrayal of what the Scottish people voted for; it undermines the principle of the Claim of Right; it is an attempt to weaken the United Kingdom; if there ever was another referendum on Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, people would see through the SNP’s manipulation of the politics of now for the politics of never-never; and on that basis the Scottish people would vote, as they always have done when they have been given the chance to do so, to remain in a strong, robust Union that works, which is the United Kingdom.
Thank you very much, Mr Bone, for calling me to speak; it is a great pleasure to serve with you in the Chair.
It is also a great pleasure to follow Michael Gove, whose great passion for Brexit—I re-emphasise—has brought us to this particular position. We would not be having debates again about rerunning the independence referendum if the former Prime Minister had not gambled the UK farm and lost. Indeed, there was no apology in the 17 minutes of the right hon. Gentleman’s oratory for the campaign bus or for getting us into this constitutional quagmire.
I emphasise that the leader of the Scottish Conservative party, who had no other policies whatever, made it her one policy at the Scottish elections back in May to say to the Scottish people, “Vote Conservative and we will protect the Union.” Everything that has happened since then has risked the very United Kingdom that I and many people in this Chamber have voted for and worked very hard to protect.
I congratulate Patrick Grady on securing this debate. There is one thing that I agree with the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath about: the fact that we never have debates in Westminster Hall on how to eradicate poverty in Scotland, on how to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to make sure we can provide finances for public services, on how to close the attainment gap or on how to ensure that Scotland is outward-looking to the world. Instead, it is all grievance, it is all constitution, and it is all taking the debate and the agenda away from the issues that really matter in Scotland about public services and how the Scottish Parliament, by using its powers—or in this case, not using them—would be a good place to lie.
I point out again to both Members who have followed me, Michael Gove and Ian Murray, that the First Minister is at this moment addressing the Chamber of the Scottish Parliament to announce, among other things, £750 million to help to close the educational attainment gap, a guarantee that the health budget of Scotland will increase by at least £500 million more than inflation every year, and a doubling of the amount of free care available to all three and four-year-olds, and the most disadvantaged two-year-olds, across Scotland. The idea that the Scottish Government are not using the powers of the Scottish Parliament and are not delivering for the people of Scotland is simply false.
I am delighted to hear that, because after 10 years it is about time that the Scottish Parliament started to invest in closing the educational attainment gap and in public services. That intervention by the hon. Gentleman highlights the fact that the Scottish Parliament has powers to make a difference in people’s lives, but in his speech to begin this debate he said that the Scottish Parliament has no powers whatever. Indeed, he even mentioned the tugboat that was taken away, as if the Scottish Parliament meets to discuss what it cannot do rather than trying to change the lives of people in the ways that it can.
Let us get back to this debate about the Claim of Right. It is worth just reading out the start of the declaration of the 1989 Claim of Right, which was indeed re-emphasised in the Scottish Parliament and voted on in 2012. It says:
“We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.”
We have heard much from the hon. Gentleman, who is the mover of the particular motion that we are debating today, about the importance of respecting Scottish sovereignty. Respecting the popular will is important, not only in Scotland but across the United Kingdom. Let us not forget that, as the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath mentioned, the Scottish National party, along with many Scottish Tories, did not participate in the constitutional convention; the SNP did not participate in that conversation with civic Scotland, politicians, groups, universities and business about what the future of devolution should look like. Moreover, the SNP did not accept the wording of the Claim of Right that that convention was founded upon. Indeed, it is only the Labour party and the Scottish Labour party that have been entirely consistent in upholding the words of the Claim of Right, because it pledged:
“To agree a scheme for an Assembly or Parliament for Scotland;
To mobilise Scottish opinion and ensure the approval of the Scottish people for that scheme”.
It went on to say that it also pledged:
“To assert the right of the Scottish people to secure implementation of that scheme.”
When the Labour party was elected to Government in 1997, one of its first Bills delivered the referendum on devolution, mobilised popular support for its approval, asserted the sovereign right of the Scottish people, delivered on the result of the referendum and created the Scottish Parliament that we have today. There was no mention of all that from the hon. Member for Glasgow North; there was no mention of how we said to the Scottish people that we would deliver something, got into power and then delivered it, on the basis of what the Scottish people were telling us they wanted to happen.
To be fair, when the SNP was elected in 2011 on a manifesto that pledged an independence referendum, we respected the mandate for that referendum, too, because the Scottish people had voted for it. Consequently, in 2014 we had that referendum and that time the Scottish people voted to stay in the UK. So, taking the word of the Claim of Right as our guide, if we can, we acknowledged
“the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs”.
The Scottish people voted for a powerful Scottish Parliament, but with Scotland being an integral part of the United Kingdom. The Claim of Right was put into practice: it was voted on in 2012 in the Scottish Parliament; the referendum happened in 2014; the Scottish people spoke; and
“the sovereign right of the Scottish people” is to stay within the United Kingdom, but with a much more powerful Scottish Parliament. That was the spirit and the substance of the Claim of Right that we are discussing today.
I want to go back to the intervention from the hon. Member for Glasgow North. The Scottish Parliament is one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world. It is about time that the politicians elected by the people looked back at that Claim of Right and said, “We were elected to deliver for the Scottish people with a powerful Scottish Parliament” and got on with the day job that they were elected to do. But every single day since the polls closed on
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that during the independence referendum campaign, it was made very clear that one of the major benefits of being in the UK was remaining part of the EU? That is now simply not the case.
The evidence shows that people did not vote on that particular basis. What the SNP is now telling us is that because the UK has turned away from a market worth £12 billion and 250,000 jobs to the Scottish economy—I was on the same side as the hon. Lady in wanting to stay in the European Union—the solution is for Scotland to turn away from another union that has 1 million jobs and £50 billion worth of trading. That is surely not in the best interests of the Scottish people.
We have supported the SNP and the First Minister to make sure that the UK and Scotland can get the best deal from Brexit, but if the solution to Brexit is to turn away from an even bigger partner, to mount on top of one disaster—this constitutional decision at UK level—another disastrous constitutional solution, we are surely in the wrong place. That goes to the hub of the argument.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that in the case of Scotland’s becoming independent, England would be so petty-minded as to turn away from its nearest neighbour and not continue to trade in any meaningful way?
We are back to rerunning the 2014 independence referendum. The key thing is—the hon. Lady and her party admit this—that the best solution in terms of currency is for Scotland and the UK to stay in the currency union. That was the SNP argument in 2014, so it has conceded that argument, unless it wants to go down the route of George Kerevan and go for a separate currency, which he says would involve many years of fiscal consolidation and require the selling of assets. Is the SNP talking about the euro? No, so it has already conceded that a currency union with the rest of the UK is the most important thing.
Let us consider the figures from the recent GERS report, with the £15 billion fiscal deficit, and how SNP Members fought for the fiscal framework to make sure the Barnett formula was maintained: that is an admission that the economic and fiscal framework is in Scotland’s best interest. Let us take as a starting point that it is in Scotland’s best interest to stay in the UK with a fiscal and economic union and a currency union. Is the SNP honestly saying that it will turn away from all that to be a part of the European Union when they do not know what the access requirements will be? The party does not know whether Scotland would get in. We had all these arguments in 2014. Indeed, it could be argued that entering the EU today would be much more difficult than in 2014, because there will be no grandfather rights when we leave as the UK. All of these issues have muddied the waters much more.
On the Claim of Right of the Scottish people in terms of this debate, they have voted clearly for Scotland to stay within the United Kingdom, but they also see the benefits and advantages of staying in the EU. It cannot be right to have two polarised camps in Scotland. We have the Scottish National party camp that says, “Independence at all costs” and a Scottish Conservative party that says it wants Scotland to be in the UK, but not in the EU, given the result of the EU referendum.
Both those polarised camps are completely wrong, because what Scotland wants, and what the UK and what I am sure the Prime Minister want, is for Scotland to stay within the United Kingdom, but for the United Kingdom to maintain the benefits of and its relationship with the European Union. That is what people voted for. That is what the Claim of Right would tell us they voted for.
The Claim of Right does not address the myriad problems in Scotland: the underfunded NHS, the growing attainment gap, the shambles that is Police Scotland and undervalued and overworked public servants. It does not deal with any of those issues. We know that the best way to deal with the eradication of poverty and the reduction in inequality—all the things we want to see in a much more socially just Scotland—is to maintain the fiscal, economic and currency union with the UK, but to ensure that Scotland’s position and advantages in the EU are maintained.
The right hon. Member for Surrey Heath is absolutely right. There is no discussion about agriculture, fisheries, regional policy or the environment. Those are all issues that should go straight back to the Scottish Parliament, which has responsibility, working in close partnership with the rest of the UK. But a fiscal transfer would have to happen. It is the same fiscal transfer that the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath had on the side of the bus. His fiscal transfer wants £350 million a week for the NHS. I want £750 million a year more for Scotland, along with these powers, so they can deal with the issues that would be repatriated to Scotland. Those are the big issues with regard to the Claim of Right.
If it is the case that every political party in Scotland now abides by the words, principles and substance of the Claim of Right, then the Scottish people have spoken. They have said they want to stay because they know it is in their economic, financial, political and cultural interests to be part of the UK, but they want to maintain the advantages of being in the EU. That is a challenge for the UK Government, the Scottish Government and the entire political, social, cultural and civil class in Scotland: to try to make sure we get the best possible deal for the people whom we seek to represent.
I am grateful that the hon. Member for Glasgow North secured this debate. I hope that, when he stands up in the Westminster Parliament, the SNP conference or in front of his constituency party in Glasgow North and talks about the Claim of Right, he will admit that Scotland voted to stay part of the United Kingdom and moves on to the great opportunities of using the powers of one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world. My two amendments to the Scotland Bill that transfer welfare powers to Scotland were accepted by the Government, but nobody is talking about that, because the obsession with the constitution is destabilising Scotland and making the uncertainty around Scottish business and Scottish civic society polarised in terms of what the Scottish people want.
Let us get rid of all the constitutional arguments. Let us repaint buses and take all the lies off the sides of buses. Let us concentrate on what people want: the eradication of poverty; a reduction in inequality; making sure public services are properly financed; opportunities for our young people; making sure the next generation does better than the current one; and making sure we have adequate housing. Those are all the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament. That is why we need to protect the fiscal, economic and cultural union with the UK and why we need to leave no stone unturned in making sure that Scotland’s position in the EU and the advantages that Scotland gets from the EU are protected. That is what the Scottish people have asked for. It would be a dereliction of duty if we did not try to deliver it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I should advise you that I did write to the Speaker’s Office and spoke to someone there today about giving a short speech. I promise to be brief, because we have already heard an eloquent speech from my right hon. Friend Michael Gove encapsulating all the points that I wished to make.
I am grateful to Patrick Grady for securing the debate here today at Westminster. The debate is not so much about a Claim of Right of the people of Scotland; it is more a claim by the SNP to have a right to determine the will of the Scottish people. There is nothing new in that position. I have heard it for almost 30 years. As has already been mentioned, we had a thorough, full debate during the Scottish referendum in the two years leading up to the September 2014 referendum.
All the issues were extensively discussed round the family kitchen tables, in schools, in businesses and at the highest political arena. Even during those debates the SNP repeatedly said through their senior politicians that the exercise of the sovereign will of the Scottish people would be a once in a lifetime, once in a generation matter. Implicit in that statement is that once in a lifetime, once in a generation must be about 40 or 50 years.
During that time, sovereign countries can enter and exit from international groupings, as, indeed, the United Kingdom is about to do by exiting from the international grouping of nations in the EU. At no point in the lead-up to the referendum did the SNP suggest that the exercise of the sovereign will of the Scottish people would be called into question, and that the SNP would have to assist the Scottish people once again—to help them think again and come to the answer that the SNP wants by having yet another referendum.
The SNP, rather shamelessly, has been doing nothing but grievance and gripe in the past two years, in this Chamber and in the House, and across the United Kingdom. All of us on the side of the United Kingdom are clear about why it is doing that; it is because it has one overriding objective, which is not to help the people of Scotland by furthering public services, reducing educational inequality and ensuring the quality of the Police Service of Scotland. Its objective is about none of those things: it is about ending the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
Thus the Scottish nationalists will never agree to any ambitious proposal for the United Kingdom, particularly with the challenges and opportunities that we now face with Brexit. They have no interest in agreeing on a path that will benefit the sovereign will of the Scottish people. The only path they want to adopt in the months and years to come is that of gripe and grievance. Today’s debate is an example of that.
I am hearing a lot of grievance, and I do not think it is coming from the SNP speakers. The hon. Gentleman has used that phrase several times. Do he and his colleague the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath accept in principle the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine their form of government? The Conservatives, uniquely in Scotland, have never endorsed that language, which is contained in the Claim of Right.
I am merely reiterating the claim made by the hon. Gentleman and saying that if he accepts the key principle of that claim, which is that sovereignty lies with the Scottish people, surely he agrees that two years ago that sovereignty was exercised when they said they wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
By the way, the Claim of Right does not define Scottish people. My right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath confirmed this afternoon that the SNP determined the rules for the 2014 referendum, which excluded thousands of Scots men and women—Scottish people like me—from determining the future of Scotland. I and many hundreds of people in my position had to accept those rules. The view proffered by the Scottish National party that it somehow represents the sovereign will of the Scottish people is entirely dishonest because of its refusal time and again to accept that sovereign will, which is to stay part of the United Kingdom.
We have heard about powers. The Scottish Parliament has had unique powers since its creation in the late 1990s. We have seen little exercise by the SNP majority Government—and now minority Government—of those real and tangible powers for the benefit of the Scottish people because they simply do not want to improve matters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath used the word “paradox”; I would say that it is clear that the exercise of powers that would benefit the people of Scotland might lead to their telling the SNP, “Everything is working fine under the United Kingdom.” That would go against the SNP argument, so the paradox might go both ways.
The truth is that the SNP exists for one reason alone—to end Great Britain. There is nothing that hon. Members on both sides of the House who believe in the United Kingdom can do that will satisfy that constitutional thirst for the destruction of our great and sovereign United Kingdom.
Today’s debate is yet more smoke and mirrors—another excuse to get a headline in the Scottish media, saying that SNP politicians are somehow the only ones who have the people of Scotland in mind. That is wrong. All of us who love the United Kingdom have the intentions and wishes of the Scottish, Northern Irish, Welsh and English people at heart, to work together for the betterment of all our peoples throughout the United Kingdom. If there is any Claim of Right to be had, it is the Claim of Right to live a peaceful, tolerant, successful, stable life in a stable and successful country—the United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.
I wanted to start with a sentence about respect, but I am sad to say that I have heard precious little respect today, from the Members who have spoken, towards Scotland or its elected representatives. I am very sorry about that. There has been a lot of mention of the independence referendum, and I have wondered about the promises made by the people who galloped up over the border in the closing weeks before the referendum. There has been a lot of talk about grievance and gripe, but I wonder what Members make of the many people in Scotland—not simply the SNP, although that makes up a considerable part of the population—who are annoyed and upset about the promises made to them in the run-up to the independence referendum. They included the protection of jobs at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs; staying in the EU, as I mentioned earlier; the protection of shipbuilding jobs; and a vow that falls far short of what is commonly meant by home rule. Those promises were sold to the people of Scotland, and I urge Members to bear that in mind when they are addressing SNP Members.
There were certainly members of the commission who were unhappy. None of the SNP amendments to the Scotland Bill were accepted for consideration until it went through to the unelected House of Lords, which is laughable.
To get back to the issue of respect, politicians, monarchs and bureaucrats need to understand and accept that powers lie with the people we serve, not with us. It is about knowing that the colossus that bestrides the world stage is people power and that those who lead are servants of the people, not masters. That is what the Claim of Right is. It is a declaration that the people are sovereign, as has been mentioned, and that it is in their gift to decide how that sovereignty should be used. Governments and Parliaments rule only with the consent of the people, and they exist only because the people allow them to. That is a reality that politicians forget at their peril.
It is important to note a clear difference between the attitudes struck towards Parliament in Scotland and in England. I understand that that point of difference is also noted in the legal concept of sovereignty in each nation. In England there is a belief in, tradition of, and historical precedent for the absolute sovereignty of Parliament, but there is no such belief in Scotland. The Scots’ attitude, and our constitutional law—which perhaps my learned friends will confirm—is that sovereignty rests with the people. That principle is embedded in the 1320 declaration of Arbroath, in which the King and future kings were warned that if they displeased the people, the people would elect another king—more like a president than a king, I suppose. That principle is embedded in the Claim of Right.
It is not quite right to say that no Conservative has ever acknowledged that principle, because it was acknowledged by the current Chair of the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs, Mr Jenkin, when he said in a debate in the House on
“The ultimate sovereignty of the Scottish and Welsh peoples is a fact. Whatever the niceties of international law, Scotland and Wales can claim the right of self-determination if that is what they want”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 294, c. 872.]
It took a bit of time from the publication of the Claim of Right to the interim solution—the creation of a devolved Administration—but 10 years is nothing in the great scheme of things, and in the march of nations it is but a blink of an eye. I have to say, though, that the Conservatives have a lot to thank the Claim of Right and Scottish devolution for—they saved their party. In fact, the current Scottish Secretary owes his political career to the Scottish Parliament. There had been few opportunities for Tory politicians in Scotland, even those who had previously been Social Democratic party councillors. The proportional representational element of the Scottish electoral system revived a party that was frankly dying, and which had ironically opposed its creation in the first place. Democracy, properly energised, gives some strange, interesting and unexpected results.
The Claim of Right was democracy in action. It emerged from civic Scotland, the Churches, the trade unions, small business and organisations the length and breadth of the country as a demand to address the democratic deficit that arose from being governed by a Government who could not command support in Scotland. It is interesting to note that John Major’s Government had 14% of the members representing Scottish seats while the current Government have a bit less than 2%, so there is work still to be done in removing that democratic deficit from Scotland and rendering those of us who are Scots MPs redundant.
Order. I do not want to rush the hon. Lady, because she has been waiting patiently and was kind enough to write in to request to speak, so we can extend her speech to 3.34 pm and bring the Front-Bench speeches down to eight minutes each.
You are very kind, Mr Bone.
Independence, in our view, is the logical end point for the journey that the Scottish Constitutional Convention set out on, and it is interesting that the original convention refused to countenance that possibility—there has been some mention of that. I am told that that is why the Scottish National party stepped away from the convention. It was some years before my time in the party, but I am told that the prospect of devolution caused great debate about whether it was good for Scotland, and that the refusal even to discuss independence in the convention was the final straw. My much older and more grizzled colleagues will be able to correct the record if I have misspoken in that respect—they have long and detailed memories.
The Claim of Right, resting on the principle that the people are sovereign and imbued with a notion of changing the form of government to address a democratic deficit, has an increased resonance now. In June, the UK voted to leave the EU. Scotland did not. Some 52% of UK voters voted leave, and 62% of Scottish voters voted remain—untimely ripped from the European Union were we. The democratic deficit remains stark, real and unrelenting. The conditions that necessitated the Claim of Right and the creation of the devolved Administration and Parliament in Edinburgh remain.
There is but one answer that will address that deficit and Scotland’s needs; one simple, elegant solution—the dissolution of the UK, Scottish independence and the creation of good neighbours as separate nations. No one has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No one can tell a country, “This far and no further”. The ultimate sovereignty of the Scottish and Welsh peoples is a fact. Scotland’s march goes on, and independence beckons.
Thank you, Mr Bone. I think that means we are quits for the time my hon. Friend Patrick Grady became me on the list when the debate was originally tabled.
I have perhaps misunderstood something from the reading I have done to refresh my mind about the various Claims of Right for Scotland and from listening to someone who presumably knows about the matter, because he led the debate. I thought that the Claim of Right for Scotland was about the people, but all we have heard from the Better Together Benches has been about political parties, Governments and political leaders. There has been precious little about the people. I still do not know whether either of the Conservative Members who spoke agree with the sacrosanct fact that sovereignty in Scotland resides with the people and that the people have the right to decide.
I agree 100% that the sovereignty of the Scottish people was exercised when 55% of them said “No thanks” to the SNP and yes to the United Kingdom in a once-in-a-generation referendum. Let us leave it at that. Let us leave it for 50 years.
Well, there we have it. Given an explicit opportunity, one of the few Conservatives who could be bothered to turn up to the debate has refused point blank to accept what has been established in our nation since 1320—that sovereignty resides with the people. I cannot help wondering how much less of a constitutional boorach England would be in right now if it had a fundamental acceptance of the sovereignty of the people.
We spent three hours in this room yesterday talking about a misguided, I think, but understandable demand from more than 4 million people to have some kind of rerun of the European Union referendum and set a threshold, because they were so bitterly disappointed with the result. A lot of the argument was constitutional nicety about whether Parliament has the right to ignore that result and hold referendums until it gets the right result, or just to say, “We’re staying in the European Union anyway.” Fundamentally, the answer is that no one really knows, because England does not have the benefit of a clear statement about where constitutional sovereignty ultimately lies. If sovereignty lies with Parliament, the European Union referendum was advisory only. Wisely, very few people have had the temerity to suggest that, either before the vote or since.
I want to go back to some of the documents that constitute the Claim of Right for Scotland. The Better Together parties, through their determination to carry on with the #snpbad hashtag, have turned the issue into an attack on the SNP despite the fact that the 1689 Act was a wee bit before the SNP had even been thought of. They have missed a chance to celebrate a collection of documents that show the way forward for democracies even to this day.
The hon. Gentleman keeps referring to the Better Together parties celebrating those documents, but his party did not agree or sign up to them, so we need to get on to the substance of the SNP’s position on the Claim of Right. I have made my position clear, which is that the Scottish people have voted to stay part of the United Kingdom—that is the substance and the spirit of the Claim of Right.
As I have just said, one of the documents I am talking about is the Claim of Right Act 1689. Guilty: the SNP did not sign up to that. We did not vote for it. We did not exist—neither did the Labour party for that matter.
In the preamble to the 1689 Act—I apologise, the language is kind of 1689, but I will not try to say it in an Edinburgh accent—the Scottish Parliament denounced its sovereign king, who did:
“Invade the fundamentall Constitution of this Kingdome And altered it from a legall limited monarchy to ane Arbitrary Despotick power and in a publick proclamation asserted ane absolute power”.
As long ago as 1689, the Scottish Parliament, which at that time was not the most democratic or egalitarian bunch of people, regarded that statement as a long-established fact—that the king had to be answerable to the Parliament and thereby to the people, and that the concept of an absolute monarchy was utterly alien.
The concept goes back even further, to 1320, to a document some parts of which many people will be familiar with to the detriment of others: the declaration of Arbroath. It is usually recognised as a declaration of Scottish independence, but it is also a declaration of the sovereignty of the people. In describing how Robert the Bruce came to be King of Scots—not King of Scotland—the Scots nobles at that time credited his accession to the throne to
“divine providence, his succession to his right according to our laws and customs…and the due consent and assent of us all”.
Even in 1320, someone who had contributed so greatly to the wellbeing of the nation as Robert the Bruce had no right to call himself King of Scots unless the Scots were prepared to accept him.
A lot of the 1689 Act’s anti-Catholic rhetoric would not go down too well today, just as the anti-Semitism of parts of Magna Carta is perhaps better left in the 13th century. Long before there was talk of any of the political parties in existence just now, and long before the grievance politics we are seeing just now, the documents I am talking about established a principle that can be held up as a beacon, as it has been for centuries in Scotland. It can be held up as an example of how to sort out the mess that the Government have got England, and to an extent Wales, into. It is being held up as a beacon elsewhere, because the declaration of 1320 became the framework on which the American declaration of independence and constitution were founded. I noticed that Ian Murray suggested that an independent Scotland would have no trade ties with England. I have not checked the recent figures for trade between Britain and its former colony across the Atlantic, but I do not think anyone would argue that there has been no trade between Britain and the United States of America since independence.
Talking about the Claim of Right for Scotland does not mean that we are arguing about whether Scotland should be independent, or about who should form the Government of Scotland and what promises they should be implementing. We are arguing about something much more important than that, and I am frankly appalled that there is any disagreement with it. We are talking about the fact that in the nation of Scotland, the people of Scotland are sovereign. There is no doubt in the hearts and minds of the people of Scotland as to who we mean by that. We mean those who have chosen to come and live among us. That is why I am enormously proud that my Polish constituents, my French constituents, my Slovakian constituents, my English constituents and my Scots-born constituents are regarded as democratically equal in every election and every electoral test that the Scottish Parliament has the right to legislate over. It was shocking that so many of them were not allowed to decide whether we would be taken out of the European Union.
While we are talking about the Claim of Right for Scotland, just for an hour or two could we not have forgotten about this ingrained hatred of the SNP and everything we stand for? People can disagree with what we want—that is a democratic right—but they should not use that as an excuse to usurp the absolute right of the people of Scotland to take decisions for ourselves. Incidentally, yesterday we were challenged by one of the Tories in the European debate to have faith in our country. We have faith in our country. As Hugh MacDiarmid said:
“For we have faith in Scotland’s hidden powers
The present’s theirs, but all the past and future’s ours”.
It is a privilege to be here before you today, Mr Bone. I congratulate Patrick Grady on securing this debate.
I am proud that the Labour party is the party of devolution. The Labour party pushed for devolution while in opposition and supported the constitutional convention in every way. We made sure it worked and saw it embraced by the Scottish people. We have consistently supported more powers for Scotland, even when we have not been in a position to implement those additional powers in the devolved Administration. We were supportive of the in/out referendum in 2014 and we were the ones who drove the vow that Michael Gove spoke about. The people of Scotland overwhelmingly supported that vow less than two years ago. That led to the Smith commission, which has delivered to Scotland the most complete and powerful devolved Administration on Earth.
On a personal note, I have been an ardent supporter of devolution for many years. I was the chair of the policy committee of Unison in the late 1990s. During that time, we committed funds, practical and political support and physical resources to London, Wales and Northern Ireland and in particular to Scotland, where we were an integral part of the civil society voice that drove forward the constitutional convention. Things have changed in recent days. We know that the British public’s decision to vote for Brexit, whether we agree or disagree with that outcome, has left the United Kingdom fractured. That is the nature of politics. We make decisions—in this case the electorate made the decision for us—knowing that there will be others who disagree with the outcome. While we are in such a fragile economic state, we have a duty to the people to ensure that we do not exacerbate the situation.
Everyone in the Chamber knows the end goal for the Scottish National party. The clue is in the name; it is written on the tin. The question we must ask ourselves, though, is whether now is the time to be pushing that agenda. I take on board what Deidre Brock said. I respect the Scottish people. Let me set the record straight: unlike some, I would never say that the Scottish people are unable to choose a Government who represent their best interests. Nor would I say that were Scotland to remove itself from the UK, the country would become destitute and cease to be. What I would say, however, is that there have been two referendums in two years. That is a matter of fact. There was one for the people of Scotland and one for the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. In both, the people of Scotland voted to remain as members of those Unions. Is it therefore right to remove them from those Unions against their democratic will?
In the EU referendum in June, 62% of the Scottish electorate exercised their right to vote. In the independence referendum in September 2014, 85% of the same electorate exercised that very same right. The Labour party is the party that is willing to explore the possibility of fulfilling the wishes of the Scottish people as expressed in both referendums to see whether we can give them what they have asked for.
The SNP claims there has been a real shift in public opinion since the independence question and the EU referendum. That is not borne out by what has come over very clearly in public opinion polls. The latest YouGov survey had 54% of those polled expressing their desire to remain within the UK, despite the EU referendum result. Only 37% said they would back another referendum. Are we really saying that that shift warrants a second referendum? Time and again, I have sat and listened to SNP Members expressing their discontent at the people of Scotland repeatedly being ignored by a Government not of their choice. This may come as a surprise to the SNP, but that problem is not experienced solely in Scotland. My constituents in Blaydon elected me as their MP. Only 16% of my constituents voted for the Tories, meaning that a party voted for by only 16% of my constituents is now governing them. As much as it may not be particularly palatable, that is democracy, no matter how much we might not like it.
What is contrary to the principles of democracy, however, is attempting to defy the wishes of the electorate by attempting to use their vote in one referendum to supersede the other. The purpose of devolution was to allow the devolved Administrations to govern themselves and deal with issues that are particularly prevalent in their areas. We are increasingly facing scenarios where those powers go unused, as my hon. Friend Ian Murray so eloquently said. I am referring to the refusal by the SNP Government at Holyrood to use their newly devolved additional income tax-raising powers to alleviate the cuts imposed on them by the Tory Government. The plans proposed by Scottish Labour to raise income tax by 1% would have generated an estimated £600 million a year for the Scottish Government. That would be enough to alleviate the cuts affecting the poor and most vulnerable in our society and to support vital public services.
To use one example, NHS Scotland is facing enormous cuts. In Glasgow alone, it is estimated that there will be cuts of £258 million by 2021. The refusal to raise income tax strikes me as odd. After all, we are dealing with a self-proclaimed left-wing party—a party that surely would wish to do its utmost to alleviate the cuts to the poorest in society and to protect their public services. If we had those powers in Blaydon, I would ensure that we used them to protect the poor, the vulnerable, the sick and the disabled so that they would not suffer any more than they already have at the hands of the Tory Government.
If increasing income tax is such a fantastic idea, how does the hon. Gentleman explain the fact that on the back of that promise, his party had the worst electoral disaster in Scotland for more than 100 years and is now even less popular in Scotland than the Conservatives?
The whole debate is about the will of the people. People chose not to go for that, and that is their choice. Scotland, despite the claims made by the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath about Ruth Davidson, still remains historically a socialist heartland. The majority of the electorate are inherently socialist. I therefore argue that to have a Government who would introduce and implement socialist policies, their only option now is to choose Labour.
I turn to the UK Government and express my utter dismay at a piece of correspondence I received recently. The correspondence came in the form of a letter from Citizens Advice Scotland that drew my attention to a report it produced on the poverty premium in Scotland. The report highlights the issues faced by those on the breadline—those who have to choose between electricity and food, as well as those who are forced to go to payday loan companies to make ends meet. The report looks at the impact that has on their mental and physical health and their personal relationships. Those are the daily problems that people face, and they are the issues we should be dealing with. It is what the Labour party would do, and it is what the SNP should be doing. I say to Members from Scotland: please stop talking about constitutional matters and get down to the business of actually helping the people of Scotland. If they did that, they would get more respect.
I am genuinely grateful to hon. Members for the history lesson that I have received today, but I am worried about the problems facing the people in the present and the huge uncertainties we face in the future. That is what we should be spending time talking about in this place and in Holyrood.
I start by saying what a pleasure it is to appear before you, Mr Bone, a fellow Member from Northamptonshire. I congratulate Patrick Grady on securing this debate, which is one in a series along similar lines, I think, that have been secured. It has been an important opportunity to discuss the democratic tradition in Scotland, of which both the 1689 and 1989 Claim of Right documents form an important part, and to highlight the significance of that tradition today. It is good to be reminded that the constitutional issues which we grapple with are not new. Of course, it is arguable that the Claim of Right was put into practice in 2014, as Ian Murray mentioned. The people had a say then—they voted to stay in the United Kingdom and that should be respected.
The United Kingdom shares a democratic tradition, exemplified by the Parliament in which we are gathered today, which works in harmony with and not against the particular traditions of Scotland. That was recognised in the devolution settlement, for which the 1989 Claim of Right, drawn up by the Scottish Constitutional Convention, helped make the case, and which was voted for in the 1997 referendum and reaffirmed in the 2014 referendum. That settlement respects the right of the Scottish people to have a say, in two Parliaments, on a range of important issues affecting their lives while remaining a strong and vital part of the United Kingdom.
Most recently, the Scotland Act 2016 ensures that the Scottish Parliament has a significantly greater say on matters including taxation and welfare support in Scotland, putting into practice the agreement of the Smith commission, to which my right hon. Friend Michael Gove alluded. That agreement was reached by all the major parties in Scotland. The heads of agreement in the commission’s report recognise the principles of the 1989 Claim of Right by citing
“the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.”
The Act now being implemented, with a number of its new powers having already come in force, provides the right balance to the devolution settlement and will create a more powerful and accountable Scottish Parliament within a strengthened UK. That is what the people of Scotland voted for. It balances the desire for more decisions to be taken in Scotland, closer to those they affect, with retaining the strength and security which come from membership of the larger United Kingdom and for which people voted in the crucial, once-in-a-lifetime referendum in 2014.
The Scottish Parliament at present has extensive powers. Today, it has a budget of around £30 billion, but with little responsibility for raising the funds it spends. The 2016 Act, when implemented, will provide the Scottish Parliament with much greater tax-raising powers. From responsibility for raising around 10% of what it spends today, Holyrood will in future be responsible for raising more than 50% of what it spends. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath mentioned, the Scottish National party is not currently using the powers that it has, and one can draw conclusions from that.
The Scottish Parliament will be given unprecedented flexibilities on income tax to set income tax rates and thresholds for earned income, including the ability to introduce new bands. These crucial powers represent around £12 billion of income tax revenues. In addition, there are extensive new powers over welfare and employment support, which allow the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government to support those who need it in a way that reflects Scottish circumstances.
What is important now is how those new powers will be used for the benefit of people in Scotland. We respect the importance of historical traditions and we have heard a great deal this afternoon about the 1689 Claim of Right. Traditions are very important, but the priority should be the future. We have delivered on our commitments in the Smith commission, and the United Kingdom Government will support the Scottish Government using those powers in the interests of the Scottish people.
On the outcome of the EU referendum, the Prime Minister has had constructive discussions with the First Minister and has made her position clear. Hon. Members may have heard that position enunciated frequently: Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a success of it. It was a high priority for the Prime Minister to visit Scotland and meet the First Minister to discuss that matter very soon after she became Prime Minister, but in 2014 the Scottish people decided in a legal, fair and decisive referendum to remain a strong part of the UK. That is a vivid example of the Claim of Right in force, and should be respected. That is how we will now approach our negotiations for leaving the EU—together as one United Kingdom. I say to the SNP that our focus should now be on working together to get the best deal for Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom in the negotiations with the European Union. The people of Scotland will expect the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments to work closely together, as part of team UK, to find a constructive way forward and therefore, as we prepare for a new negotiation with the European Union, we will fully involve the Scottish Government. I say in the strongest terms that our aim should be to unite to ensure the best deal for Scotland and the whole United Kingdom as we take forward the necessary work following the referendum result.
The 1689 Claim of Right and its more recent successor are important documents that reflect a venerable democratic tradition in Scotland, but they should not be invoked now in an attempt to justify another independence referendum. That is not what should happen. Respecting the will of the Scottish people means respecting the result of two referendums by ensuring that we negotiate an exit from the European Union that achieves the best deal for Scotland so that it remains stronger within the United Kingdom. The focus now should be on working together to achieve that aim and, at the same time, on ensuring that the significant new powers that the Scottish Parliament has are implemented and used in such a way that delivers practical benefits for the Scottish people.
I am very grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken time to participate in the debate in a very constructive and good-spirited manner. I was not trying to rerun the arguments of the independence referendum—my point is that the circumstances have changed significantly since then. What I wanted to understand—I am not entirely sure that it has become any clearer—is the Government’s position on the principle of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland. The Conservatives never endorsed the Claim of Right and, by the end of the day, still have not. That is going to be particularly important in the context of decisions that will come to this Parliament on the future of our membership of the European convention on human rights and on the possibility of a British Bill of Rights. It will be important for the decisions that the Scottish Parliament, founded on the back of the Claim of Right and a referendum, will have to make, on a cross-party basis, about the potential for any future independence referendum.
I have heard the accusations that we are navel-gazing and talking about constitutional matters. Well, the constitution is still reserved to Westminster. All the examples I gave of policies that are against the will of the people of Scotland are policies that are reserved to Westminster. While we have been debating this, the Scottish Government have been laying out their programme for government, for progressive reform, for a more socially just Scotland—an ambitious vision—using the powers that we have and that have been endorsed three times in Scottish general elections where the Scottish National party was elected to Government. I would say to Mr Anderson, who said that the clue to our purpose is in our name, that our name is the Scottish National party and not the Scottish nationalist party.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the Claim of Right for Scotland.