I beg to move,
That this House
has considered e-petitions 180642 and 168781 relating to a referendum on Scottish independence.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey, in what I am sure will be an interesting and lively debate. I thank the Petitions Committee for allowing me introduce the two petitions before us. The petitions are diametrically opposed, representing opposite views on essentially the same issue—Scottish independence and how that should be determined. One of the petitions is entitled, “Another Scottish independence referendum should not be allowed to happen”, and it reads as follows:
“We in Scotland are fed up of persecution by the SNP leader who is solely intent on getting independence at any cost. As a result, Scotland is suffering hugely.”
The other is entitled, “Agree to a second referendum on Scottish Independence”, and it reads as follows:
“The actions of the UK government after the Brexit vote do not align with the people of Scotland. We are not bigoted. We are not racist. We welcome everybody based on their contribution, not on where they come from. The UK government does not behave in this way and so we must LEAVE.”
Petitions by their nature express a grievance, as both petitions make clear. It is not possible simultaneously to support the premise of both petitions, as my electronic mailbag has demonstrated over the last few weeks in the number of emails I have received supporting or opposing either position. I have selected a few representative excerpts that sum up the debate among my constituents and to give a flavour of what has been said. One says:
“I ask you to argue that the sovereign will of the Scottish people must be respected.”
It is interesting that although that point was made by somebody who opposes an independence referendum, very similar points were made by those who support one. A constituent said:
“I would ask you to take a motion to investigate precisely whom effected a constituent coup, that precluded the majority from being respected.”
Again, I directly quote a no petitioner, but similar points were also made by those arguing in favour of an independence referendum. Another said:
“the people voted to remain part of the U.K.”.
That is a historically factual position. Another email said:
“I would like to remind you that NO means NO.”
I will come back to that point. One said:
“I strongly urge you to continue to investigate keeping Scotland in the EU.”
That was a very common feature, again from both sides. Another wanted to work
“to help attract skilled workers to create a better and diverse Scotland in the future.”
Other emails stated:
“There is a democratic deficit, seen by such things as EVEL;
there is a need for independence”, and
“Brexit has caused a material change and our views are being ignored.”
It is, however, possible simultaneously to oppose both positions, as several correspondents suggested. That is best expressed by the following quote:
“Scottish independence and Scottish sovereignty don’t require the permission of Westminster. They require ours”— a view that I have considerable sympathy with.
There is quite a range of varied opinions. It is quite clear from just that snapshot, which I hope flavours the arguments of both sides of the debate, that the underlying thought process clearly is whether someone supports self-determination, and how they think that would be best determined.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. Quite rightly, he makes a balanced argument for the positions of the two petitions, but before he moves on to the substantive part of his argument, will he tell us how many people signed each petition?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Library briefing as I cannot remember the exact figures, but significantly more signed the petition opposing independence than signed the one in favour. However, what is more important in the debate is democratic mandate, which I will come on to and which changes that dimension considerably.
Without any doubt, the strongest and most repeated argument of constituents opposed to another independence referendum is basically that the matter has been determined and that “NO means NO”, as I quoted earlier. However, circumstances change. People have the democratic right to revisit any decision or policy if they wish at any election.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful and balanced speech. Does he agree that, in many ways, running a country is like running a business: as circumstances change, people have to look at their options, re-evaluate and re-address, and nothing should be ever be ruled out?
I agree with my hon. Friend and I could not make that point better myself. We had universal suffrage for the first time in this country in 1928, but we did not stop the ball at the 1929 election; we continued to have democratic elections on a regular basis.
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene again, I will let him. It is up to the Scottish people at any election to decide what platform they wish to endorse, which is a point I will come to. The principle is that in 2016, at the Scottish Parliament election the Scottish National party was voted in with a mandate to potentially—
Would the hon. Gentleman like to intervene? No. I will continue. The SNP was elected in 2016 with a clear mandate from a vote in the Scottish Parliament that was re-endorsed by the Westminster election.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that losing 500,000 votes in the recent election is quite a clear indication that the people of Scotland did not want another independence referendum and wanted his party to take it off the table?
It is worth pointing out—I will speak slowly for diction purposes, lest I am misheard—that in my previous career I was a banker, and that it is a simple piece of arithmetic that 35 is a majority of the Scottish seats. It trumps 13 plus four plus seven.
Can the hon. Gentleman use his career in banking to tell me the percentage difference in the number of voters who backed pro-independence parties and those who backed anti-independence parties?
I will come back to the hon. Lady in one moment. If we believe in a parliamentary democracy using the system that Westminster uses—I have a lot of complaints about that and want a proportional system of representation at all elections—then we have to accept that a simple majority is a win under this democratic approach.
Does my hon. Friend see the irony that the Government party, whose Members have turned up in large numbers here—I wish they would do so in debates on universal credit, for example—argues for democracy, but its candidate for Perth and North Perthshire lost at the election so was stuffed into the House of Lords, and is of course the Secretary of State’s understudy in the Scotland Office?
I do indeed see the irony and I oppose the House of Lords as a whole on principle, not just on that point.
To continue with the substantive part of my speech— I am sure that I will provide many opportunities for everyone else to intervene—
I do not think I will deign to answer that—that is not part of a democratic process.
Circumstances change and people have the democratic right to revisit any decision or policy at any time they choose at an election. The 2014 referendum is simply a case in point. It is pretty clear to me that the United Kingdom that the people of Scotland voted to remain in in 2014 no longer exists. During the referendum campaign, Ruth Davidson and the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Carmichael, assured voters that a yes vote was a vote to leave the EU. He is sitting beside me, and I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong on that. But where are we now? The UK is clearly no longer a strong or stable member of the EU. It looks like we are pretty much on a shoogly nail on our way out.
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the content of the document “Scotland’s Future”, of which I have a screenshot, shows that the yes campaign in the 2014 referendum clearly knew and campaigned on the fact that Brexit was a possibility, and that, even armed with that knowledge, the Scottish public still voted to remain in the United Kingdom?
It is also a matter of record that I and many of my colleagues campaigned strongly on the view that the best way of staying in the European Union was to vote yes and leave the United Kingdom, which now shows remarkable premonition.
I thank my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. On the point by David Duguid about Scotland’s place in Europe, does he agree that it was excellent to see a Government actually put together a proposition and a document, unlike the Conservative Government, which did not write a single thing down in the run-up to the Brexit referendum and will not even publish their post-Brexit economic impact assessments?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that very strong point. A substantial White Paper was produced on the 2014 referendum.
Before the last round of interventions, I was talking about EU membership. The point that I want to make is that independence for Scotland does not depend on Brexit, but Brexit clearly shows us what can happen when we do not control our own future. I remember that during the referendum campaign, Cameron, the Prime Minister at the time, told us that a no vote was
“not for the status quo”, while Miliband told us:
“A No vote will mean faster, better change.”
Where are we now?
That brings me on to the vow by the three Westminster leaders, who promised us extensive new powers for the Scottish Parliament. Sadly, those promises have been broken and all but forgotten about.
We hear fear stories about oil at different times. In my political career, which spanned 16 years as a councillor before I was elected to Parliament, oil has been one of the Brigadoons of Scottish politics. It is always running out or a burden to us when there is an election, and there are always new finds and windfalls afterwards.
The point that I wanted to make is that choice must always be informed. I try to be fair and balanced, and I hope that everyone here agrees that I am trying to open the debate in an even-handed manner. If I have one criticism of the 2014 referendum campaign, it is that the yes side, in which I participated—I am as much to blame for this as anyone—often projected a message of “change but no change”, while the no side clearly did the opposite, projecting a message of “no change but change”. Far from settling the issue, that left us with what became an emphatic “not yet” holding position, which combined with the failure of the winning side to respect the terms of their own mandate leaves us where we are today.
We were assured that a no vote would result in a union of equals, the closest possible thing to federalism and a guarantee that we would stay in the EU. By contrast, I and people like me on the pro-independence side respected the decision, and we did not plan even to consider having another referendum on such a short timescale, but circumstances change. [Interruption.] Circumstances change. Perhaps if the Government had delivered on the promises made during the referendum this situation would not have emerged.
Perhaps both petitions have been overtaken by events. Both predate the 2017 snap election, which provided the public with a political opportunity to express their democratic views on this and other issues, the result in Scotland being yet another win for the SNP and the pro-independence movement. As I said earlier, with 35 seats, we have a majority in this House from the Scottish electorate. We were elected on a clear pledge— I will quote it to remove any confusion—that
“any continued Tory attempts to block the people of Scotland having a choice on their future—when the time is right and the options are clear—would be democratically unsustainable.”
I have seen nothing to change my mind about that as we head towards a Brexit cliff edge.
It will not have escaped anyone’s notice that we have had a number of referendums recently, including the 2014 Scottish independence one. Indeed, I have witnessed 12 referendums across the UK in my lifetime, half of which directly affected Scotland and four of which I was eligible to take part in—and I did so fully in each case. As hon. Members will no doubt be aware, all 12 referendums were of a constitutional nature of some sort, and there is a clear pattern that major UK and devolved nation constitutional issues are now determined in that way.
That leads me to the question of process: is a referendum the correct method to decide on Scottish independence? If we believe in democracy, there are logically only two routes by which we can make such a decision: the parliamentary route or by public plebiscite. The debate has moved on considerably in my lifetime from the days when we took the view that having a simple majority of SNP MPs at Westminster was the route to negotiate for independence. Even Thatcher accepted that route, and her successor Major made the point that no nation could be
“held irrevocably in a union against its will”.
How do we express that will?
Although we would all agree that no nation can be held in a union against its will, the expressed will of the Scottish people was that they would stay within the Union.
As I have said a few times, circumstances change. The 2016 election gave a mandate. That was reinforced by a vote in the Scottish Parliament—I hope that everybody respects parliamentary sovereignty—and further reinforced by the election of 35 SNP MPs to this House earlier this year.
On a point of order, Mr Bailey. I am sorry to interrupt proceedings when the hon. Gentleman is making such a powerful speech, but given that he is presenting the debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee, I wonder whether he will at any point get to the arguments for why we should not have a second independence referendum.
The last two Westminster elections have seen a clear majority of SNP MPs democratically returned by the people of Scotland, but under the UK’s first-past-the-post system, that is not democratic enough. For a truly democratic decision, we must secure the majority of the votes cast, not merely the majority of elected representatives. I say that as a democrat. That said, representative majority is the only democratically expressible way for a mandate to hold another referendum to be established. How else could we get to the plebiscite view? Of course, independence referendums are used frequently across the globe to determine such issues, and I am aware of at least 30 nations having gone on to become members of the United Nations after taking that route. I look forward to Scotland following them.
As I have said, the Scottish people can give their politicians an electoral mandate at any time they wish. In the last Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016, the SNP achieved the largest constituency vote in the history of devolution and was again returned to Government with a clear manifesto commitment. I will read the full commitment, because it is very important:
“We believe the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people—or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”
Those are two very clear conditions, one of which looks like it may be about to met.
If that is what the SNP genuinely believes, why did it hold a vote in the Scottish Parliament on a second independence referendum when opinion polls showed that less than 50% of people were in favour of having one? Of course, that was an Achilles heel for the SNP going into the last general election.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I hoped that I had clarified that point by reading out the full position in our manifesto. There are two conditions in it: a clear and sustained majority for independence, or a significant material change, and the example we gave is being played out in front of us just now. Indeed, it is very timeous that we are debating this issue as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill enters Committee stage, which might fulfil that democratic mandate of ours.
However, we are not out of Europe yet. I say this as someone who was strongly pro-remain, but I hope that the disaster of Brexit can be avoided and that the will of 62% of the Scottish people can—
It is very important that it is on the record for the 500,000 SNP “yes leavers”—the people who voted to leave the EU—that the position of the SNP is to block the UK leaving the EU. I think that is what the hon. Gentleman just said.
I would be quite happy to block the UK leaving—I say that unashamedly as a remainer. I hope that we can create a situation in which the 62% of the Scottish people can have their wishes respected. The Scottish Parliament put forward a sensible compromise position, which comes a long way from where I would start but allows us to stay in the single market.
Having heard what the hon. Gentleman just said and his earlier description of himself as a democrat, what is democratic about overturning a referendum of the people of the United Kingdom, when on the ballot it clearly stated that the issue was the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union? He just said that he will do what he can to block us leaving. What is democratic about that?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments; I will come on to that in my speech. We have a clear mandate: 62% of the Scottish people voted to remain. We have a different constitutional opinion from the UK: we believe in sovereignty of the people, not necessarily sovereignty of Parliament. Our people have expressed a democratic wish and I am striving to maintain that. However, if we do not manage to maintain that position, we clearly have the potential for another route and a second referendum.
As I was saying, unlike the UK view of parliamentary sovereignty, the Scottish view clearly states that sovereignty rests with the people, so it will be for the Scottish people to decide. That view is well entrenched from the claim of right and legal precedent, but I want to bring us to a more recent one, because this debate is about Scottish independence and the referendum we held. People may remember the Smith commission, which did not live up to many of our hopes, but paragraph 18 of its report states:
“It is agreed that nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose.”
That was signed off by all the political parties in Scotland —a very democratic position.
If we cast our minds back to the beginning of the year and the end of last year the First Minister of Scotland went out to consult the Scottish people, to see how they felt about a second independence referendum. We heard an awful lot about that, and we read about it in The National—[Interruption.] Well, two people bought The National and I was one of them. After that, we heard nothing at all. Will the hon. Gentleman share with us what the results of the First Minister’s survey were?
I think the hon. Gentleman has probably answered his own question. It was the First Minister’s survey, not my survey, and I do not have the answers. If I did, I am sure I could have found hundreds of quotes to support the argument I am making and kept the debate going for the rest of the sitting, but I want to make progress and allow other Members to get in.
I made the point that we have the right—or we should have the right—to make the decision, established by our principle of sovereignty of the people. How best can we achieve that when the time is right? I look back to the 2014 referendum, in which I played a large part for more than two and a half years. That referendum was praised by the Electoral Commission as setting the gold standard for civic engagement and participation. The commission went on to note that
“The Scottish independence referendum was well run, with high levels of voter satisfaction in the voting process.”
“The atmosphere in polling places was reported by police, staff and observers to be good natured throughout the day.”
That was certainly my experience in the north of West Lothian, where I was campaigning on the day. While people had differing opinions, there was a good-natured democratic outpouring, and we still benefit from that today, as it is still there in civic engagement across society.
The commentator Iain Macwhirter described the 2014 referendum
“like the velvet revolutions in eastern Europe, Scotland’s national movement was non-sectarian, peaceful and rigorously democratic.”
That sums up my experience in Linlithgow, in the north of West Lothian, working with many people from different political parties.
While I fully accept that that was the hon. Gentleman’s experience, it was not the experience of a whole lot of us, who found the referendum divisive and damaging. There are still families who do not speak to one another. Perhaps his experience is not universal.
There is clearly an attempt to rewrite history: the word “democratic” has been erased and replaced with “divisive”. It was democratic and it was empowering. That is the message that we have to take forward, and that is what any future referendum has to be as well.
I have no doubt that that was achieved as a result of the consensus that stemmed from the Edinburgh agreement and the securing of the section 30 order: a democratic and consensual approach to politics between Scotland’s two Governments. In that, a clear route map has been established for how a referendum can be best carried out in future.
The reasons for independence are important. Much of what I have spoken about has been on process, but I hope that, as the debate continues with other speakers, we will get on to “why?” Let me give my own tuppence-worth. It will be no surprise to people that I often wear a “yes” badge—I am proud about my involvement in that—but the reasons are more important than just about being in or out of Europe, although that is important at the moment. I hope that Scotland can become a fairer and more equal society. That requires us to have the full levers of power to make Scotland a more successful country. Now, 70% of tax and 85% of welfare powers remain in the control of Westminster; the Scottish Parliament has no say over immigration, and it is powerless to prevent the Trident weapons of mass destruction sitting a few miles from our largest city. We need an alternative to the economics of austerity, where our Scottish Government are not restricted to merely mitigating some of the worst aspects of Westminster.
Independence—this is worth saying again from a democratic point of view and as a lifelong SNP member—is about more than the SNP. Scotland now has a multiplicity of pro-independence groups, with a broad home-rule movement pushing the case for independence. No amount of huffing or puffing in Westminster will decide whether Scotland is to become independent or not. Indeed, it will not even be decided by who shouts the loudest back in Scotland. It will be decided by the Scottish people, and at a time of their choosing.
Order. If the hon. Gentleman remembers, I said that that was not a point of order. He cannot make a point of order about something that was not a point of order.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a point of debate.
Before I call the next speaker, may I first say how good it is to see such an enormous level of interest here, as reflected in the attendance on a Monday afternoon? This presents some difficulties in management, because effectively we have only two hours of general debate. I need to caution Members that they will have roughly five minutes each. If Members go on after five minutes, I might start to get very agitated and indeed see fit to impose a time limit. I ask all Members to respect the right of others to make their contributions in the debate and confine their remarks to five minutes. I call Douglas Ross.
Thank you very much, Mr Bailey. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I say not as a point of order but perhaps to put it on the record that I am extremely disappointed that in 26 minutes Martyn Day, speaking on behalf of the Petitions Committee and looking at two petitions, spent most of that time on the petition for a second independence referendum, which was supported by 38,000 people, and almost ignored the 221,000 people who supported the petition against a second independence referendum. I hope that after the debate the Petitions Committee will reflect on who it nominates to speak in such debates to ensure that petitions discussed together get equal merit.
In Moray in 2014, as in many parts of Scotland, people were engaged and encouraged to get involved in the independence referendum, but they did so in the clear knowledge that it was a one-in-a-generation event—a once-in-a-lifetime event. Indeed, as I said in my intervention, both the current leader and previous leader of the Scottish National party said there would be one opportunity—one opportunity for people to say whether they supported independence or opposed the separation plans of the SNP. In Moray, there was a 58% vote saying “No, thanks” to independence. I was proud to be part of the campaign, but I was immediately disappointed by the SNP’s continued campaigning, and its continuing with the separation narrative despite the conclusive result of the 2014 referendum.
Because of that, the party that apparently governed Scotland was so obsessed with separation and independence that it took its eye off the ball in doing the day job. The SNP has had a continued central belt bias in the Scottish Parliament, moving towards centralising a number of issues. For example, Police Scotland is currently without a chief constable. The Scottish Police Authority has been without a chairman since June, and now they want to integrate the British Transport Police into Police Scotland. Already the organisation of Police Scotland is under significant strain, yet the SNP wants to centralise further.
Could the hon. Gentleman expand on the idea of central belt bias? Argyll and Bute takes in everything from Campbeltown to Tiree, and we have an SNP MP, and an SNP MSP. If there is such central belt bias, why does rural Scotland vote SNP in the west?
The hon. Gentleman will agree with me that it is no surprise that, for that matter, electors do not vote SNP in one of the remotest and largest constituencies in rural Scotland—my own.
Absolutely—the hon. Gentleman makes a point that I hope to expand for Brendan O'Hara. Policing is an example of centralisation, and so are the health services. Jamie Stone and all other non-SNP politicians are campaigning against the centralisation of health services in their remote part of Scotland. The point that I am trying to put across is that the SNP Government are obsessed with separation at the expense of the local issues that we need to focus on and concentrate on. [Interruption.]
Order. I am trying to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to speak. If I feel that anyone is making unofficial contributions from the Back Benches while another Member is speaking, I may change my mind and decide that they have already had their five minutes.
Thank you, Mr Bailey. I could go on to mention the failures of the SNP Government over the common agricultural policy, and rural communities that have been let down because the SNP takes its eye off the ball and focuses on independence and separation rather than the issues it should deal with.
We must also consider why such a large number of petition signatories have continued to tell the SNP Government that they do not want a second independence referendum: they know the benefits of our Union. In that Union we trade four times as much with the rest of the United Kingdom as with the rest of the European Union. The Union also delivers with respect to the Defence estate, in constituencies such as mine. There are two major military bases in Moray—the Kinloss Army barracks and the RAF base at Lossiemouth. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but I will not listen to ridiculous comments. The RAF base has had record investment by the UK Government, and it will be one of the main bases for fast jets anywhere in the United Kingdom. That is possible only because Scotland voted in 2014 to remain in the UK, rather than separating from it.
Many hon. Members will contribute to the debate, and will want to say why our constituents voted no in 2014 and remain no-voting constituencies in 2017 and beyond. The SNP may say that it has a majority of seats, but at the most recent general election, SNP Members lost 21 colleagues. I hope that they will reflect—and surely they will—on going from 56 seats to 35. [Interruption.] We certainly did not lose 21 seats. The SNP must listen, instead of lecturing. I hope that it accepts that we said no in 2014 and we meant it.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I offer my congratulations to the Petitions Committee and, to some extent, to Martyn Day, on representing half the argument. Most of all, I thank all those who signed a petition, both those who seek a second referendum—38,515 people, of whom 612 came from my constituency—and, indeed, the 221,514 who oppose a second referendum, of whom 3,742 were from East Lothian, making it a pleasure for me to represent that half of the discussion this afternoon.
This summer marked 20 years since Scotland voted decisively for devolved governance. I am sure that hon. Members would welcome me highlighting the constitutional significance of that vote and its impact on Scotland’s politics. Devolution fundamentally changed Scottish democracy. The Scotland Act 1998 was one of the most significant pieces of 20th century legislation, and I am proud that the Labour party passed it, during its time in office. That settlement was only possible because of people like one of my predecessors, the great J. P. Mackintosh, who articulated a vision of Scottish devolution long before many others did so. As the late Donald Dewar said,
“His ideas had a lasting influence” and he was
“a powerful advocate for devolution...John was something of a prophet, a mighty champion of reform at a time when constitutional change was not an approved and certainly not a fashionable cause. At the core he always placed democratic control, the empowering of the people. He did not base his argument on nationalism. It was not the glorification of the Nation state. It was never Scotland right or wrong. His vision was good government, an equitable democracy, that borrowed, elevated, created opportunity for the citizen.”
Therein lies the truth of the petitions—a desire and a cry for opportunity for citizens.
In 1997 in East Lothian, nearly three quarters of people supported the historic transferral of powers. Devolution was not set in stone: it has rightly been extended and improved along the way. However, the First Minister of Scotland was wrong when she talked about independence as a natural extension of devolution. The people of East Lothian, who backed devolution with a 75% vote, overwhelmingly voted to reject independence; the 62% vote was one of the highest in Scotland. It is clear, therefore, that the people of East Lothian and the people of Scotland want devolved governance but not independence. The majority of people in East Lothian recognise that devolution was created to empower Scotland and the Union, not to pull them further apart.
During the recent general election, I ran on a promise of no second independence referendum. I know that some Members of this House do not agree, but the evidence from across East Lothian was that they did not and do not want a second independence referendum. Of those who cast a vote, 70% voted for a party that did not want a second independence referendum. Twenty years after the devolution settlement, the First Minister spoke of fostering the
“spirit of consensus…achieved in 1997” .
I believe that any future referendum would be in contempt of that consensual spirit, which is why the petitions and this debate are so important. I ask Members to cast their minds back to 2014, after the independence referendum, when the Right Rev. John Chalmers spoke at a hearing in church about reconciliation. He spoke of a “momentous time” that resulted in some being elated and relieved, and others being desperately disappointed. He said it was a
“time to unite, a time to walk together”— to act with responsibility, maturity and grace, and come together for a common good: the future of their country. Prior to the vote, Mr Salmond championed his “Team Scotland” of negotiators, who would comprise politicians from across the political divide, as well as key experts from outside politics. Its non-partisan membership would demonstrate
“the wish of those of us on the Yes side to move forward in a consensual way once the people have spoken.”
“politics of opponents. Not enemies.”
He went on to say it would be important to ensure that Scotland did not “divide more deeply” after the referendum.
Given the turmoil that lies ahead, what we all need is a united Scotland; not the glorification of the nation state, not “Scotland, right or wrong”, but a vision for good government and an equitable democracy—one that should borrow, elevate and create opportunity for its citizens.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. As we have already heard, this debate is about two conflicting petitions. One calls for a re-run of the vote we had in 2014 and was signed by around 38,000 people, while the other reflects the views of the vast majority of Scots, who say, “We’ve had one vote. Let’s move on,” and is signed by 221,000 people, including more than 3,000 of my constituents. That is a symbol of what is abundantly clear: most Scots do not want another independence referendum. Poll after poll shows that support for separation has fallen. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Scots, including many yes voters, do not want another divisive referendum.
This year, 500,000 voters deserted the Scottish National party because of its obsession with having another go. I would have thought by now that the SNP would have got the message. Hon. Members across the parties who are here today know one thing to be true: there is no demand from the Scottish people for another independence referendum. Since the First Minister made her bid for another referendum earlier this year, not a single opinion poll has shown demand for one. It is perhaps surprising, then, to see so many SNP Members here today to make their case for independence. Given the pressure that their Westminster party leader is under, many will ask whether it is just an audition for the SNP’s next Westminster leader.
I will make a bit more progress.
I do not dispute that the debate over our country’s future during the 2014 referendum was lively. It encouraged passions the likes of which had not been seen in our democratic process. It encouraged debate, and encouraged voter engagement and turnout the likes of which we will probably never see again, but it also divided. It divided streets, villages, cities, communities and towns. It divided friends and families.
That debate also caused uncertainty. People decided not to invest in our country, not to buy houses in our country or move there until the constitutional future of Scotland had been settled. Because of that and my belief in our United Kingdom, one of my key promises to voters in the borders in the general election was that I would oppose a second independence referendum. I therefore stand here today to urge the SNP Scottish Government to listen to borderers and to listen to Scotland. There was a time when the SNP listened to voters:
“To propose another referendum in the next parliament without strong evidence that a significant number of those who voted No have changed their minds would be wrong and we won’t do it.”
Those are not my words, but the words of the First Minister herself. Every day that the Scottish Government refuse to take another referendum off the table is another day on which the First Minister breaks that promise.
I do not shy away from making the case for Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom—a case that is stronger now than it was in 2014. I have no doubt that people in my constituency would back the United Kingdom in even greater numbers if there were another vote, but now is not the time to have that debate again. I believe that people are opposed to another referendum for two reasons. First, they had a long constitutional debate, which resulted in a fair and decisive referendum with a record turnout. Both sides agreed to respect the result. For many of us, that vote was not a pleasant experience; it was divisive and damaging. People do not want to go through that all over again. The other reason people are against another independence referendum is that even the threat of another vote is damaging our economy and distracting the Scottish Government.
The Scottish economy has grown by 0.5% in the last year, compared with 1.5% across the whole United Kingdom. Small businesses in Scotland are significantly less confident about the future than their UK counterparts. In an already uncertain time across the UK, companies north of the border face a whole extra layer of volatility. In the borders, the uncertainty is even more damaging because so many jobs and businesses are based just across the border in England. The threat of another referendum makes it more difficult for Scotland to secure a good Brexit deal, because Scotland’s two Governments are fighting internally and not together. Meanwhile, the things the Scottish Government has power over, such as Scotland’s schools, hospitals and police services, are falling behind.
The SNP needs to come to terms with losing the referendum. The SNP needs to accept that the people have had their say. The SNP needs to acknowledge that the threat of another vote is harming Scotland’s economy. The SNP needs to listen to the borderers. The SNP needs to listen to Scots, and the SNP needs to remove its threat of another referendum.
It will come as no surprise to the hon. Members gathered here today that I have no intention of supporting the notion of a second independence referendum for Scotland. I want to share an experience I had during the referendum period. It will be no surprise to the SNP Members here that I was involved in the Better Together campaign. I was at the top of a ladder, up a lamp-post in the town of Alness in Easter Ross, putting up a “No, thank you” poster. Around me there gathered a crowd of people who were not of my persuasion. I was called a traitor and told, “Get off that ladder and go back,” and all the rest of it. At that precise moment, while I was at the top of the ladder, my mobile rang. It was my wife. That was the point when Scotland’s future hung by a thread, and my wife said, “Darling, will you be sure to remember the milk and the cat food?” That brought me back to reality.
I want to talk about what other hon. Members have already referred to: the divisions. More than anything now, we have to put everything else behind us and heal those divisions. As other hon. Members have said, it got very, very bad indeed. I do not want ever to see that again in Scotland, because it did not reflect on us as a country in any good way whatsoever.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that, while the petition against a second independence referendum speaks in its preamble only of Scotland’s suffering because of the SNP leader’s obsession with independence, the petition in favour of a second independence referendum mentions that those who support one are “not bigoted” and “not racist”, thereby implying that those who do not potentially are bigots and racists?
We have to move away from that language. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments, and I also thank him for his comments about the problems we have experienced with the health service in my constituency. It is not for today, but there is a problem in that the SNP, or any governing party of whatever colour, must be seen to serve the outlying different areas of Scotland in ways that do not disadvantage them.
That is for another day. Let us think about the positive things around which I think all of us across this Chamber today can unite. Scotland, for many hundreds of years, has been an outward-looking nation. Why do we have these words in our Scottish dialect? Why do we talk about a hashet for the plate on which we carve a gigot of lamb? Why do we talk about a swarree? That is the French influence. Why do we have Dutch tiles in Fife? Why did Wick, in my constituency, export enormous amounts of herring to the Baltic? It was because Scotland was traditionally outward-looking and dealt with nations right across the world. That is something we should be proud of, and that is what we should concentrate on in the future. Whatever side we were on in Brexit, Scotland has a role in the world, and it is a positive one.
We can unite on that, but to do so we must put the divisions behind us. I am repeating myself, but they were bad, ugly, and they brought friend against friend and brother against brother. That is unfortunate, and I think we could agree on that. In closing, I must say well done to Martyn Day for taking so many interventions in such a cordial and well-mannered way.
I want to redress this imbalance. My constituents in Inverclyde voted almost 50:50; we lost by 86 votes in the referendum campaign. I do not recognise this position of “family against family” or “street against street”. We do not have that feeling. We have got on with our lives and moved on. I will not hear that the people of Scotland turned against each other.
The hon. Gentleman said himself that it was 50:50. I wish I had a TARDIS and could transport him back to the streets of Inverness in the last days of the referendum campaign so he could see how ugly it got. It was not pleasant, it did not reflect well on us as a nation and we should grow up, move away from it and never, ever do it again.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. In this year’s general election campaign, I stood on a platform of opposing a second referendum, as did all Conservative Members, so it will be no surprise that I will speak against another referendum today.
The fact that a petition opposing a second referendum was signed by nearly 200,000 more people than signed the petition supporting a second referendum makes clear the true voice of people in Scotland. Indeed, the petition in support did not even reach the 100,000 signatures that it needed to be considered for debate, and had to piggyback the 220,000 signatures opposing a second referendum. As hon. Members will appreciate, all polls indicate that a second referendum is not welcome. A poll taken only last month showed that only 39% of Scots support another referendum, compared with 52% who now oppose one—not just now, but next year or even in five years. That is two of Nicola Sturgeon’s generations.
Supporters of Scottish independence may ask why that is. First, there was the breaking of the promise that the referendum would be a once in a generation, once in a lifetime event. Secondly, there is the benefit of the Union to Scotland. The most recent Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland figures—the SNP Administration’s own figures, I might add—revealed a Union dividend worth £1,750 per head in extra spending for Scotland. Meanwhile, as we know, Scotland exports four times as much to the UK as to the EU, making the UK single market the most valuable barrier-free single market to Scotland. Thirdly, the threat of a second referendum is creating damaging uncertainty for the economy, and most people in Scotland do not want our country plunged into another divisive campaign. That is borne out in the statistics. Business investment is down 7.6% on the last year, and growth in quarter two of 2017 was just 0.1%, versus 0.3% for the UK as a whole.
I am an optimist, but unfortunately I do not expect the SNP to give up its quest to separate Scotland and end the UK. However, the SNP can surely see that the uncertainty and division is not helping our constituents while the key devolved areas of education and healthcare need serious attention to return us to No. 1 in the UK for education and to reverse the fact that Scotland has the lowest life expectancy of all the nations of the United Kingdom. To put it simply, people want us to move on. They want politicians to offer positive solutions to the problems we face in education, transport, agriculture and international trade, and to move our country forward, not continually question its very existence. The constitution stirs passions, but this divides our community and does not move forward our conversations.
We have heard talk of how fantastic the 2014 referendum was, and many of us were engaged in that campaign, but it was not entirely positive. I know of one story from a now Conservative party member in my constituency, who is now a councillor but who at the time of the referendum was not. He went down to the polling station with his wife, actually undecided; he did not know whether he would vote yes or no. He was asked in the polling station, “Which way will you vote, sir?” He said, “I haven’t decided yet; I intend to keep this private.” His wife was asked the same question, and she repeated his answer—she was not sure. But when she said that with her English accent, the campaigner at the door of the polling station said, “When we win, we will take you back to the border and kick you back to England.” That was a real comment—it comes direct from one of my constituents who is now a Conservative councillor in Clackmannanshire. He had to endure that. Although I am sure that SNP Members always encourage a positive tone of debate, they have to recognise that the referendum and the constant constitutional wrangling is divisive for our constituents and does not help unite us as a people. We already have a major constitutional change on the horizon, and at this moment we need to focus on getting the best possible deal for us all across the United Kingdom.
In 2014, the Scottish people decided on a legal, fair and decisive referendum to remain a strong part of the UK. The Edinburgh agreement in 2012 committed both the UK and Scottish Governments to respecting the outcome of the Scottish referendum, which is why people are clear that now is not the time for a second referendum. If SNP Members stuck to their words, they would agree that it should not be the time any time soon, either—perhaps not even for a real generation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I am slightly disappointed, as are many hon. Members, by the introduction we heard from the member of the Petitions Committee. I did not hear one argument for our not having a second independence referendum. Given the balanced way that Martyn Day could have made his case, I should have thought that he might have spent at least 55% of his opening speech on that argument.
Here is the bombshell: 2 million is larger than 1.6 million, and 55% of the Scottish people voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. I have no truck with the SNP as regards its continuing to agitate for a second referendum—that is why it exists—but I would hope it would realise the impact that has, not only on the Scottish economy but Scotland as a country. When people went to the polls and made their democratic choice to stay part of the United Kingdom, that should be respected, and for a number of reasons. First, it is democratic, but secondly, we were promised by the proponents of an independent Scotland that the referendum would be “once in a generation” or, indeed, “once in a lifetime”. When proponents said that and people went to the polls and put their cross in the box, whether yes or no, they should have been able to trust what people had said. I will not come on to what many Conservative Members did during the Brexit referendum, but people should be able to trust what people are saying during referendums and take that forward on their own basis.
I come at the debate from a slightly different perspective from people who have spoken already, and that is the perspective of jobs, livelihoods and prosperity in my constituency. Some 66% of my constituents voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, which is something I promised to respect—as did many other hon. Members here—not just at the 2015 general election but also the 2017 election; it was very much the question on the doorsteps in ’15 and ’17. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk says that the SNP won the 2017 election, but he should be marginally more humble about that result and not take the Scottish people for granted. If the SNP won the election, as he claims so emphatically, why is it not holding a second independence referendum if it feels it has that mandate?
There is a lesson in here for the Scottish people. Regardless of the First Minister, the entirety of the Yes campaign or the SNP—I appreciate that there are nuanced differences between those groups—if a second referendum is put on to the back burner, or even if the First Minister stands up and says we will have no talk of a second independence referendum, what will bring it back on to the front burner? People voting SNP in other elections. We have heard this afternoon that that is where the SNP sees the mandate as coming from, so a second referendum will never properly be on the back burner while the SNP continues to agitate for it.
Let us look at the economic case in terms of jobs and livelihoods. Scotland lags behind the rest of the United Kingdom in growth, jobs and the sustainability of the economy, and investment is not as high in Scotland as across the rest of the United Kingdom. That economic case for a second independence referendum is completely shot. Constituents come to me all the time and say, “We’re three years on from the independence referendum, and five to six years on from the start of this process, and we still don’t know the answers to the fundamental questions. What happens to our pensions? What currency will we use? What will our lender of last resort be?”—and, and this is a crucial one, because it is a key argument of the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk—“Will we or will we not be part of the European Union?”
I still do not know the Scottish Government’s position on the European Union. They know they have to play to a number of people who voted yes to independence and voted to leave the European Union. They know they have to play to that base, in terms of whether Scotland will go back into the European Union—[Interruption.] If somebody from the SNP wants to intervene and tell me whether it is the Scottish National party’s position to go back in as full members of the European Union, I am happy to give way.
One of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues who I was on the radio with said that if Scotland voted no in 2014, it was a vote to stay in the European Union. Where does that promise stand now?
There has been a democratic vote, and a democratic petition on how it went has been put to the Petitions Committee, and I wish we were analysing that.
I will finish, because I want to leave other hon. Members time to speak. It is quite clear in my own constituency that 3,622 people took the time and effort to sign a petition to say that they do not want a second independence referendum, because of all the issues around the economy, culture and taking Scotland forward. They have made that decision already. Only 500 people in my constituency voted for a second independence referendum. We must listen to the public and hear what they are saying. For the sake of the Scottish economy and for the future livelihoods and prosperity of my constituents, let us say no to a second referendum and take it off the table permanently.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I will be very brief.
The Edinburgh agreement was signed in October 2012 following discussions with representatives of five political parties. The Scottish Government were enabled to set the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” and to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds. There followed on
In my home town of Ayr, which I love passionately, in the 14 to 16 weeks prior to the referendum—I will choose my words carefully—I was accused by yes supporters of being an Anglophile, a traitor and born out of wedlock, or words to that effect. It was the most brutal period in politics of my life, but it was a fair and transparent referendum. It was held in Scotland for Scottish people. There was an 84.6% turnout; I do not think there has been a greater turnout before or since. The people of Scotland responded well.
I am an Anglophile. What is derogatory about being called an Anglophile?
Nothing, but it came with associated words that I will not use in this Chamber. The hon. Gentleman would have to ask that person what he thought I was. It was delivered to me, and I took from it that I was a supporter of the English and was not a patriotic Scot.
The hon. Gentleman should direct that to the person who said it. I was the recipient of it, so I cannot answer that one. I will use his colleague’s get-out-of-jail-free card.
The turnout was 84.6%. Scotland should be proud of the turnout and proud of the result, which was for no. More than 2 million people voted no and to remain in the United Kingdom.
The SNP has a love-in with Europe. There is a comparison to Catalonian independence, with closed polling stations, stolen ballot boxes and brutality in the streets. That is the Europe the SNP wishes to be part of. I do not want to be part of it. That is how a part of Spain looking for independence was dealt with, and we can be proud that the democratic outcome in the United Kingdom was honourable and wonderful.
It is there to be seen. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman cannot see the comparison I am making, but it is clear.
Given that we are going through the process of Brexit, we would do well to be a cohesive United Kingdom instead of sniping from the wings, which is constantly done by the SNP. One of the phrases coined during the referendum was, “Proud to be Scots. Delighted to be united”. It is as sound today as it was then. That sums up patriotism in Scotland, which is about the land of our birth or our adopted homeland and being a constituent part of a larger entity—namely, the United Kingdom. That is what we voted for, and that is what we have achieved. We have only just commemorated the tragic loss of lives in various wars where military personnel from all over the United Kingdom and beyond came together to fight for a common goal of peace, with the aspiration that we would live harmoniously together in the future. I will not let them down.
The SNP Government in Scotland are not the Government of yes; they are actually the Government of no. They say no to nuclear power and a nuclear deterrent, but they will hide behind the NATO shield. They say no to fracking, but they will import to the INEOS site in Grangemouth. They say no to child chastisement. They say no to parenting, because they will do it through the named person scheme. They say no to school progress—Scotland comes in at number 27 in the PISA league, behind Lithuania. They have no chief constable and no chair of the Scottish Police Authority. There is no success for Police Scotland or for my former occupation, the fire service, with fire stations closing. They say no to lower taxes.
No, the statement I made was nothing to do with that. I said that Scotland had no chief constable. Mr Gormley is on gardening leave. Is that correct? Yes, he is. There is no chair of the Police Authority. The SNP Government say no to lower taxes. Despite the First Minister’s parents buying their own home in Scotland, the Government say no to people buying their council houses. They have no economic case for separation. They say no to growing the economy. Finally, the only no they do not understand is no to a second referendum.
I value as least as much as everyone else in this room the right to petition Parliament and hold debates such as this as an important aspect of our democracy. Similarly, while I disagree vehemently with independence and the call for a second referendum, I respect the right of all those who make that argument. However, like the vast majority of people in Scotland, I am becoming somewhat frustrated with the SNP’s inability to listen to what they are being told.
We have heard that the petition opposing a second referendum has 221,000 signatures. In my constituency, the petition saying there should be a second referendum had 572 signatures. The number of signatures on the petition saying, “Please, no. We don’t want another one,” was 4,474. There is a clear mandate to all of us: the people of Scotland do not want another referendum. They are heartily sick of this continuous constitutional argument that is stultifying Scottish politics.
I thought the Liberal Democrats were for a second referendum. Is it not the case that the Liberal Democrats want another referendum on leaving the European Union? When the Scottish people observe that contradictory position, what do they think?
When they observed what the hon. Gentleman calls a contradictory position, they voted for us and voted his party’s MPs out at the election. If we look at the figures, we see that 37% of the electorate in Scotland voted for the Scottish National party and 62.5% voted for Unionist parties, including the Liberal Democrats. As has been mentioned, the SNP gave us a wonderful White Paper that set out exactly what the case was. That is very different from a big red bus with some numbers on it and people not knowing what they are voting for.
No, I am for a first referendum on the actual deal, which is a very different thing.
The constitutional debate in Scotland is all we have heard since 2011. We have heard about the division in families and the ended friendships. It has dominated a political period in which we would be far better off addressing the problems that beset Scottish education, health provision and general infrastructure. Do not take my word for it: there is clear evidence in the figures before us. We have heard about the plebiscites and the polls over the past few years, which consistently put no to a second referendum well ahead.
The hon. Lady has talked exclusively and quite widely about the mandate. Will she accept that the mandate that was given not only to the SNP in the 2016 election but within the Scottish Parliament is a mandate of real value for taking forward an independence referendum, or can we just drop the “Democrats” part from her party’s title?
If we look at what happened in 2016, we see that fewer people voted for the SNP, and fewer people voted for the SNP this year. The clear mandate is that people are getting bored listening to the SNP talking about a second referendum, so enough! We have heard all the figures. There is now no reason, no will and, many people would argue, no need for a second referendum.
Since the Smith commission and the latest tranche of powers—remarkably, that seems to slip the mind of the SNP at any given opportunity when it tells us about the rosy picture that it is creating in Scotland and ignores the shortage of teachers, the lack of GPs and the closing of GP practices—the Scottish Parliament now has both power and responsibility. The Scottish Government run the health and education systems, justice and social care, and have responsibility for agriculture, fisheries, environment and more. They can raise taxes and, since September of last year, can introduce their own welfare benefits or vary the UK system to the specific needs of Scotland. To those of us campaigning on state pension inequality, it is very frustrating to hear the SNP argue against it at Westminster but do nothing to help at Holyrood.
I can hear SNP colleagues saying, “Oh yes, but we are being dragged out of the EU.” Believe me: I regret that as much as any of them, but I regret it for all of the UK. I regret it for my neighbours in England as much as I do for my friends in Scotland, and I find it both frustrating and self-contradicting that although the SNP is happy to be part of the European single market, it rejects outright the idea of a single UK economic and political unit to maintain, as much as possible, our economic strength post Brexit.
What is the alternative? There is none. Every possibility has been either exhausted or rejected by the many people who did, in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous Brexit result, wonder whether there might possibly be some way for Scotland to stay in. I notice that even the Scottish Government’s initiative to find a way seems to have fallen off the radar.
In conclusion, I say: enough. Let us get back to trying to build a better country and focus on the problems that need solving and the people who need support. As a Liberal Democrat, I stand with the majority of the people in Scotland, who clearly voted for a Scotland that is at the heart of the UK, and a UK at the heart of Europe, and will continue to work for both of them, as my electorate made clear I should. It is time for a change. We want a country that is open, tolerant and united, and that is why more people are rejecting the petty griping of the SNP.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey.
Today’s debate is on two opposing petitions: one that argues in favour of another Scottish independence referendum and one that argues against. I am proud that the people of Dumfries and Galloway, whom I represent, voted by a factor of four to one in favour of the latter.
For those of us who live in Scotland, these petitions are characteristic of the ongoing political discourse since the result of the last referendum was declared on the morning of
I shall make some progress first.
That message resonated with Scots right across the country, quite simply because people are fed up with Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP putting their obsession with our constitution ahead of governing in the interests of Scotland. Today’s debate is not about whether Scottish independence would be a good thing; I argue strongly that it would not be. It is another debate about process, which, as Martyn Day made clear, is something that the SNP loves.
Constantly talking about this issue is like having Cicero’s sword of Damocles looming over the Scottish economy.
On process, does the hon. Gentleman agree with me? My constituents have written to me, saying that they do not want another referendum. Many of them were remain voters in the Brexit referendum, and for them the only thing worse than the chaos that we have at the moment from the UK Government would be the further chaos of another referendum and uncertainty.
Yes, I do agree—[Laughter]—as hon. Members will not be surprised to hear.
Before becoming a Member of Parliament, I spent 30 years working in business, and I can tell hon. Members from my own experience and from speaking to many businessmen and women across Scotland that the business community will not thank anyone if Scotland is dragged into another divisive referendum, creating uncertainty. That would be calamitous.
Much of my argument today is about uncertainty for businesses wanting to decide on their capital expenditure projects, on resourcing themselves and on their future investment. All that is very difficult when people are wondering all the time whether we are going to be doing the extraordinary thing of heading into another independence referendum that would lead to so-called independence within Europe. We cannot be independent within Europe. I would argue that this is not about Brexit. It is not in any way a route that Scottish business should go down, outside the United Kingdom, on the basis that we do four times more trade with our United Kingdom partners than we do with our EU partners.
I say to the SNP that the legal, fair and decisive referendum was held on
In the spirit of “Better Together”, which is very much in evidence this afternoon, does the hon. Gentleman agree with the former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow, Dr Michael Kelly, who just last week confirmed his belief that Scotland has to wait until every single person who voted in the 2014 referendum has died before it should get another referendum?
All I will say to that is that if I had my way, we would wait even longer. For that reason, I shall conclude by paraphrasing the former SNP Member for Hamilton: stop the grandstanding, Scotland wants to get on.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I will keep my remarks brief so that progress can be made in the debate. I just want to offer a few reflections on my experience of the last Scottish independence referendum and on the era in which I grew up.
As a relatively young Member of Parliament, I came of age politically in the era of devolution. I remember the great spirit of optimism when the Scottish Parliament was founded, just as I was moving from primary school into secondary school. In that referendum, 75% of Scots who participated had endorsed the creation of a Scottish Parliament with clear delineation of powers: what it would mean, what it would do, and what effects and opportunities it could have. That was a great moment. I felt it when I went to school—the celebration, the poetry and the civic engagement of that event stays with me to this day. That was a great moment in the history of our country. It could not have been in starker contrast to my personal experience—I think it is a valid comment—of the independence referendum campaign that culminated in 2014. I would like to say that my fundamental reflection on that—I think it is a sentiment we all share—is that a fervent, patriotic Scot was just as likely to favour the continuation of the United Kingdom as the creation of an independent Scotland.
We all ought to share the sentiment that, regardless of our views on the constitution, we share a burning ambition and desire for our communities, cities and country to realise their best interests; Regardless of what we think the optimum outcome is, we should all respect that ambition as a civic basis for the discourse. I feel that while that was upheld in the creation of the Scottish Parliament and the process of devolution that followed from that, the Scottish independence referendum somewhat lost that ecumenical spirit of civic engagement. It became rather hot-headed. One side sought to monopolise the idea of legitimate Scottish identity and I felt that was deeply unsatisfactory.
I was elected as a Member of Parliament in the most recent election having favoured the maintenance of the United Kingdom, but in a constituency—Glasgow North East—which voted 57% for independence. That led me to reflect on why that was case. Why did the people of Glasgow North East—indeed, the majority of Glaswegians—feel that independence was the way forward for them? My feeling is that it relates to the context in which the independence referendum took place. A feeling of alienation was the primary driver of why they felt that the only way out, the only way to improve their lives, was through independence.
I felt that the arguments made during the Scottish independence referendum on the no side were hamstrung by the fact that it had to bring Tory arguments into the agenda, which unfortunately meant that in many cases we could not make a positive socialist and social democratic case to stay in the United Kingdom. I feel that was a great handicap through that referendum campaign. On reflection, I feel that that is why many people, particularly in Glasgow North East, felt that the United Kingdom no longer served their interests and that the only way to improve their lives, having no real stake in improving the country, was to vote for independence. I think that was a great mistake and a wrong assessment.
The referendum happened in the context of a Tory Government bent on a programme of austerity that was materially destroying and depleting the lives of the poorest in society. In that context, people felt there was no way out—they were trapped in a Tory monopoly on power and Government. We were not strong enough as a Labour movement at that time to convince those people that there was still something to fight for in the United Kingdom. I believe that is where we have seen the great change—where I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to be a Member of Parliament. We finally realised that there was a credible future in a Labour movement that binds together the United Kingdom, that offers not simply an intractable, unreformable status quo, represented by the Tory party, or the simplistic idea that independence would be a panacea for those solutions as well.
I am really grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking my intervention. Let us be clear: during this independence referendum Jeremy Corbyn was absent because he was too busy in London to participate. After that referendum we all saw that front page of Kezia Dugdale in her astronaut outfit, because she was one small step away from backing independence. Labour is going through its annual leadership election and still, during that election campaign, which we know some hon. Members here believe is a stitch-up, there is still no commitment to the Union. Is it not clear that Labour has turned its back on the Union and only the Tories stand up for it?
I reject that assertion. The very thing that continues to rend the fabric of the Union is intractable and stupid Toryism, which refuses to do anything to reform the United Kingdom and move it towards the solution that the people of Scotland actually want—intractable towards nationalism, even though it was rejected in the referendum.
The binary nature of that referendum is what truly disrupted the civic discourse in Scotland. Having a yes or no position offered a simplistic answer to a very complex question. That was what was so unsatisfactory about it. I was one of those people who at the early stages of that referendum favoured a third option. That would have opened up the debate in Scotland to a more nuanced discussion about the process of devolution, which, as we recall, Donald Dewar called a process, not an event. The Parliament’s creation was the opportunity to achieve greater ends, but not an end in itself. Having that third question would have offered that opportunity.
Labour is approaching this discussion with a view to how we can improve and build the resilience of the United Kingdom for a better future for all citizens, including those in Scotland. That is not about, for example, where something happens to lie on the piece of rock that is the United Kingdom. It is actually about class identity.
On the point about a third option. I believe that third option was actually put by the First Minister at the time and rejected by the Unionist parties.
It was rejected by David Cameron, who, as I think we can all agree, will probably go down as the worst—[Interruption.]. No, no, it was rejected by David Cameron who was the principal driver in the negotiations, so the Labour party was not in the room at that time because it was not in Government. David Cameron will go down as the worst Prime Minister in the constitutional history of this country in terms of the calls he has made in the last few years.
To conclude my remarks, our focus should be on how we come together to drive forward the improvement of the United Kingdom and deliver hope for people such as those in my consistency of Glasgow North East, who can see a real future for improving their lives in the context of a unified country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I welcome the opportunity to speak in today’s debate. My constituency voted overwhelmingly to stay part of our United Kingdom, with 63% of people in East Renfrewshire voting against the break-up of the Union. Added to a further 2 million no voters across Scotland and over 200,000 on one of the petitions we are debating today, Scotland’s voice should be clear. However, one of the main reasons I am here today is because the SNP has refused to listen. We went from 12,000 votes behind and in third place just two years ago to a majority of just under 5,000. That was because there is no appetite for a second independence referendum, there is no need for a second independence referendum and, I am sorry, but there is no mandate for a second independence referendum either.
In the First Minister’s speech to the SNP conference before the last Holyrood elections, she left us in no doubt, saying:
“to propose another referendum in the next Parliament, without strong evidence that a significant number of those who voted no have changed their minds, would be wrong and we won’t do that.”
Yet only a matter of months after losing her majority in Edinburgh and increasing support for the Union, while on a special edition of BBC “Question Time,” the First Minister refused to rule out a third referendum if she lost the second. Where does this end? The SNP “should face political reality”—the words of veteran SNP MSP Alex Neil. Maybe losing 500,000 voters in 21 seats at this year’s general election has put the SNP a step closer to that reality. However, I do not hold out much hope.
Those of us against separation will always be proud of our shared history and optimistic about our shared future. Our pooled resources of capital, land and labour have given the world so much. However, we do not need to look at the past to see our positive contribution; just look at the difference that together we are making today. Today, through the great work done at the Department for International Development, from its base in East Kilbride, we are helping to rebuild homes and lives in areas hit by natural disasters. Today, we are leading the battle to eradicate polio. Today, our brave service personnel are liberating Syrians and Iraqis from the stranglehold of Daesh’s occupation. Our leadership of worldwide organisations has led to sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear programme and on Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea, and brought about the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord.
The historian Tom Devine remarked that all that the Union has going for it is sentiment, family and history. As if that is not enough! Those things are everything. That is the difference. I do not actually think Scottish independence is stupid. I get the arguments; I understand the rationale. In particular, I understand the emotional pull that drives people to that cause. However, I do not think those on the yes side are able to do that in return. They do not seem able to understand that the Union, for me and many in Scotland, is not and never will be about numbers on a spreadsheet. If I could, I would ban that awful phrase “Union dividend”. Britain is not some financial transaction that I endure; it is an identity that I am.
That is why it was those of us on the pro-Union side who had so much to lose on
I like that when I travel back from Westminster, and the plane touches down or the train pulls in to Glasgow, I smile because I am home, even though I have not really been away. The commentator Alex Massie put it better than I ever could in the days before the vote when he said that Britain is
“a place in which I’m always Scottish but also, when it suits, British too. A country where you travel to very different places and still always come home without having been abroad.”
Scotland is different from England, from Wales and from Northern Ireland, but it is not separate, and we are best served by continuing to face the challenges of this world together, as one United Kingdom.
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.
These two petitions are largely about democracy. One calls for another referendum to be held, and the other is against another Scottish referendum. That is fair enough; that is what democracy and opinions are all about. However, I take umbrage at the pejorative language in the no petition, which states:
“We in Scotland are fed up of persecution by the SNP leader”.
I noticed some Tory Members nodding in agreement when that was mentioned earlier, but to me that is frankly outrageous language. Persecution is what happened in world war two. Persecution is what happened to dissenters in the Soviet Union. Persecution is certainly not happening by a democratically elected Scottish Government—a Government that have the highest vote share of any in western Europe.
Did the hon. Gentleman also take issue with the pejorative language in the yes petition, which states:
“We are not bigoted. We are not racist”— so that, by inference, those who support not having a second referendum are?
The hon. Gentleman can make that inference. I would not make that argument. I probably would not have used that phrase myself.
The hon. Gentleman is making that inference; I am not.
We keep hearing today about divisive referendums, and to me that is one side seeking to delegitimise the whole process of another vote. If we are talking about division, I say to my neighbour, Bill Grant, that I thought it was truly shameful to bring in the memory of those who served in the armed forces as an argument for not holding another referendum. I have friends who serve in the armed forces, and they are pro-Scottish independence. That is not them disrespecting their colleagues that they serve beside, and the debate should not stoop to that level.
It is clear that many people do not want another referendum. Equally, many people did not want a referendum in 2014, yet it still resulted in the biggest vote ever held in Scotland. It engaged people who had never been interested in politics before, and it was a model of democracy—we cannot forget that. Sixteen and 17-year-olds were given the vote; EU citizens were allowed to vote. It was a vote based on residence, not nationality, and had the UK Government followed that example in the European referendum vote, we would not have the Brexit shambles that we have now.
There should be nothing to fear about undergoing another democratic exercise. We respected the 2014 vote; but, as my hon. Friend Martyn Day pointed out earlier, everyone is well aware that a key campaigning tactic of Better Together was saying that the only way to stay in the EU was to vote no. How significant that was in the final vote, we cannot say for certain.
It is a mythology that has been created. The issue at the core of the debate about the EU in the 2014 referendum was how an independent Scotland would become part of the EU. That was a question that those campaigning for a yes vote were unable to answer during that campaign, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman could answer it now. How would an independent Scotland become a member of the EU?
Quite simply, Better Together put out campaign literature that said, “How to secure membership of the EU: vote no”. That is what the campaign was.
There is the sheer, rank hypocrisy of those who campaigned using that as a tactic, and then actually campaigned to leave the EU. I am looking at quite a few of the Members on the Conservative side who did that—all except for Kirstene Hair, who found the EU referendum too difficult to vote in. She must be glad that the Tory Whips down here reckon that abstention is the best way forward on many Opposition votes.
I appreciate that Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its will has not yet caught the fire of the general populous as a reason to hold an immediate referendum; however, surveys have shown that people would like a referendum when the impact and effects of Brexit are fully understand. There is a will to have another referendum, not right now, but sometime in the future.
Surely that is more about the impact of leaving the EU than it is about the impact of leaving the UK. If people want a referendum when the impact of Brexit is known, that is not about leaving the UK, but about leaving Europe. That is a different issue.
I think the hon. Lady is conflating her confused position, where the Lib Dems are arguing no to a Scottish referendum but yes to another referendum on the EU. The people that engaged in those surveys actually understood what the question was: would they like to see a future Scottish referendum? They said that they would rather see that once they have understood the impact of the UK leaving the EU, as that will then give them an alternative option.
Since September 2014, there have been more than 70 polls taken across Scotland that have consistently said that the Scottish people do not want independence and do not want to have another referendum. After all these elections that the Scottish National party has suffered severely from, what is it going to take before it listens to the people of Scotland, who it supposedly represents?
In 2016 the SNP at Holyrood stood on a manifesto that reserved the right to hold a referendum. It won and got the highest vote share of any Government in western Europe.
The hon. Gentleman says that even though the SNP at Holyrood lost a majority, it has a mandate to implement its manifesto. Does he therefore also believe that the Conservative party, despite having lost our majority here, has the right to implement our manifesto to leave the EU, leaving the single market and the customs union? He cannot have it both ways.
There is the difference of opinion: 62% of the voters in Scotland voted to remain in the EU; 71% of the electorate in Scotland voted against the Scottish Conservative party.
The hon. Gentleman makes much of the 62%, but 62% of the electorate in the last general election voted for pro-UK parties. Only 36% voted for the nationalists. Does that not tell him that perhaps people favour the Union?
Is it not the case that those of us who oppose another referendum are in fact doing the hon. Gentleman’s party a very great kindness, because if there was another referendum, it would be thrashed and that would be the finish of the SNP?
We will see what happens in the future, but at least I am here and the hon. Gentleman is receptive to another referendum, despite what has just happened.
Quickly moving on, since 2014 there have been a number of broken promises. Thirteen Type 26 frigates were promised, and a frigate factory was promised, but neither has been delivered.
I point out that the independence White Paper only promised that two offshore patrol vessels would be built in Scotland in the event of independence, so anything more than two OPVs is a bonus for the Clyde. I ran the whole campaign on the basis of the shipbuilding industry in the Clyde, because it involved 30 years of guaranteed work and a world-class shipbuilding facility. Although there are challenges for which the Tories must answer, the current picture is none the less far preferable to what would have happened in the event of independence.
I would argue that more boats were promised for a future independent Scotland. The hon. Gentleman mentioned 30 years of work. Does he agree with his union colleagues who said that the way that the orders have been placed is a betrayal of the shipyards and of the promises made?
Another broken promise is guaranteed continued investment in the new renewables sector. The Conservative party pulled the feed-in tariffs one year early. Solar and onshore wind companies are no longer allowed to bid in contract for difference auctions, which has resulted in a 95% drop in investment in the renewables industry and put one in six jobs at risk.
Scotland’s budget has been cut by £3.5 billion. To date, Westminster has refused to introduce a VAT exemption for Scottish fire and police services. Scottish farmers have been ripped off by the UK Government, which is holding on to nearly £200 million in common agricultural policy convergence uplift. Those are illustrations of how Westminster looks after Westminster’s interests and does not consider Scotland’s needs.
I agree fully. Now we are hearing that it is not to buy the votes of the Democratic Unionist party; it is based on Northern Ireland’s needs. Yet there is no process for the Government to engage properly with the Scottish Parliament and consider Scotland’s needs. They do not ask the Scottish Finance Secretary. In fact, another £600 million has just been taken from the rail budget. If the Government are considering Northern Ireland’s needs, they should be able to do the same for other devolved Administrations.
Before I finish, I want to tackle the “once in a generation” issue. I have re-read that interview, and Alex Salmond qualified his remarks by continuing to repeat that it was his view. He then said:
“In my view this is a once in a generation—perhaps even a once in a lifetime—opportunity.”
That was his view. It is amazing how the Tories are now clinging to Alex Salmond’s views and saying that they must be held to. I challenge any of them to intervene and explain to me how that view of Alex Salmond can be binding on a future Scottish Government when it was a personal view. He might actually be proven right—
The person expressing what the hon. Gentleman says is a personal view was the First Minister of Scotland. It is reasonable for people in Scotland to put some store by what was said by the First Minister.
He said that it was his view. As we all know, in the democratic process, even elected Governments cannot bind the hands of a future Government. Certainly a personal statement by the former First Minister cannot possibly dictate the future.
The hon. Gentleman calls it Alex Salmond’s view, but those are the exact same words that Nicola Sturgeon used on
Perhaps what Alex Salmond was hinting at was that when the devolution referendums took place, it took from 1979 to 1997 to get a re-run. That assumption was made without the belief that circumstances would change as materially as they are now about to.
If the facts change, we have the right to change our minds in line with the facts, and we weigh that up going forward.
On a point of order, Sir Roger. At the start of this debate, it was indicated that those on the Back Benches would have five minutes, in order to allow everyone to speak. It seems that some people will now lose the opportunity.
That is a point of order for the Chair. My understanding from my predecessor in the Chair is that that was indicative and informative, but the hon. Gentleman is quite right that this five-minute speech has so far lasted for 13 minutes. I am sure that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun is drawing his remarks to a conclusion.
I am indeed, Sir Roger. I let the hon. Gentleman’s colleague, Mr Sweeney, intervene on me, which took time.
Westminster will always put its wider interests before Scotland’s, so the Scottish electorate must always be able to have their say in a democratic referendum and be able to choose to go down a different path if they want. I finish by asking what hon. Members are afraid of in another referendum that is part of a democratic process.
It is an honour to serve here under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to take part in this debate, which is inspired by two public petitions that we have received. It bears testimony to the public’s ability to influence agendas in this Parliament and to this Parliament’s openness that so many of us are here in Westminster Hall, engaged as we are.
Let no one doubt that the people remain concerned about the Scottish Government’s obsession with independence. We have just seen evidence of that. In my constituency, more than 3,000 people signed the petition against a second referendum, and people have indicated in vast numbers and with strong feeling that they are fed up with the uncertainty and want a second independence referendum taken off the table.
The uncertainty caused by the First Minister’s threat of an independence referendum is holding Scotland back. It is background noise, like the din of an overly loud sound system in a busy pub. It makes it harder for us to hear each other and make rational, informed decisions. It makes it hard for businesses in my constituency—I have had many representations from business owners in Stirling—to make decisions about investment. It makes it hard for families and communities divided by the first referendum to settle down and build the bridges needed to make better choices, and it makes it hard for Scotland to have a decent conversation about anything. That lack of a decent conversation and a functional debate affects all of us.
Societies are by nature diverse. Collections of individuals, families and free associations of people exist in a community where compromise is the only way that things can happen and betterment can take place. Without dialogue, there can be no compromise. Divisions can be a destructive influence on our country, and I am sad when people cannot work together due to positions taken during the 2014 referendum. That happens when nationalist ideology pervades our political culture and a “for us or against us” mentality grows. It also happens when Unionists cannot trust the intentions of nationalists.
We were promised that the referendum would be a once in a lifetime event, and many people tell me we need to heal the wounds caused by that referendum with a period of constitutional stability. Nationalists have a responsibility to respect the outcome of the 2014 referendum, as they committed to do in the Edinburgh agreement referred to earlier. We need a Government in Scotland—our Government in Scotland—to get on with the job of governing, but the SNP Government are crippled by inactivity. The only thing that holds them together is the combined effort for independence, which occupies their thinking and their effort. That nationalist ideology, which has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of Scots, is the only thing holding the Scottish Government together.
Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. We decided that in 2014. Nationalism has been firmly rejected. We are a part of a united kingdom, not a mere member of an association. Scotland is at the heart of the United Kingdom. The nationalists’ pursuit of a second referendum is not conducive to experiencing the full benefit of our place in the United Kingdom.
I say again that nationalism is holding us back as a country. Business growth in Scotland was the lowest of any region or nation of the United Kingdom. The number of businesses in Scotland grew by just 1.6%, less than a quarter of the growth in the east of England alone. Investment dropped by 3% after the SNP doubled the large business supplement—another nail in the coffin for business in Scotland as the Scottish Government relentlessly push on to making Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom.
It should concern us all that the UK’s growth is not enjoyed across all its parts—its nations and regions. I wonder whether the SNP lacks the ability or the will; is it somehow doing it on purpose? Nationalists wallow in that divergence: they react with grievance rather than action when faced with problems and prefer to blame other people than to get on with the job of governing. They obsess about the eradication of our sense of Britishness. The majority of Scots see themselves as British as well as Scottish—as do I—but the nationalist ideology at the Scottish Government’s heart seeks to eradicate all British elements. Whether in removing Union flags, sidelining Her Majesty the Queen at the opening of the Queensferry crossing, or going after the British Transport police for political reasons, their motives are obvious to us all.
Nationalism is an unpleasant and divisive ideology that we do our bit to challenge today. The strength of feeling from the petition is obvious to all.
In the context that the hon. Gentleman refers to British nationalism, I am not a British nationalist. I am a Scot and I am British. It is a question of identity and of patriotism.
From the people of Scotland to the politicians of Scotland, the petitions’ message is clear. They should put ideology to the side, get on with the job of building a better country and focus on the issues that matter to people, such as a strong economy, a well educated workforce, a healthy population, a working national infrastructure, streets that are safe to walk on, and dignity and respect for all. The SNP’s obsession about the debate on Scottish independence helps to secure those objectives not one jot.
It is time for our politics to become positive and to focus on the priorities that people expect us to focus on. Ending the background noise—[Interruption.]—thank you for providing it—of nationalist ideology in our national debate will create the dialogue and the stability needed for Scotland to get the full benefits of its place in the United Kingdom and the world.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to take part in the debate. It has been interesting to hear speeches from all sides; I found the contributions of the hon. Members for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) and for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) particularly thoughtful.
More than 4,500 people in my constituency signed one of these two petitions. Of those, 494 were in favour of having indyref2 but 4,050 were against—my constituency voted strongly against independence in 2014—so for many, this is a very divisive issue. All our constituencies have people who voted yes and people who voted no, and there will always be some of our constituents who are disappointed with the views that we espouse on these issues. I appreciate that my constituents who are in favour of independence will not necessarily welcome the points I make.
There were some positive aspects to the 2014 referendum. Alan Brown talked about the great engagement with democracy. That was certainly true in my constituency where I think 91% of people turned out—the highest ever turnout compared with UK elections in recent years. We also had 16 and 17-year-olds voting, which was a very welcome change in our politics. That has led to a change for voting in local government elections and I hope there will be a wider change in due course—it was frustrating that the private Member’s Bill promoted by Jim McMahon did not succeed.
To SNP Members who sigh and are dismissive when other hon. Members raise negative aspects of the 2014 referendum, I say that those aspects are genuine. Luke Graham referred to the anti-English comments made to the wife of a now councillor. In my constituency, a brick was thrown through an activist’s window where she had a “No Thanks” poster. I spoke to an elderly lady in Bearsden town centre who was wearing her “No Thanks” sticker on the inside of her wrist. She was afraid to wear it on her coat because of the visible animosity in the atmosphere at that time.
Some of the scenes in the run up to the vote, such as the huge protests outside the BBC where people were chanting for the political editor, Nick Robinson, to be sacked, did not make me proud of what was happening in my country and I did not welcome them. There was also a huge amount of online abuse, although I will not suggest that there was a monopoly on any one side. In fact, the evidence shows that SNP Members, particularly women, suffered a huge amount of misogynistic online abuse in the last election. None the less, that was part of the tenor of the campaign, which is regrettable. Debate should be robust, but it should be respectful.
Independence was overwhelmingly rejected by Scotland in 2014. It would be an even worse choice today. For example, figures in the White Paper estimated that oil would be at $100 per barrel, and we know what has happened to the oil price. The argument the SNP makes for having a referendum because of Brexit is actually an argument for why it would be even worse for Scotland to choose that path now: it would be piling chaos on top chaos. The single market we enjoy with the rest of the UK is four times as valuable to Scottish businesses as the single market with the rest of the EU. This is not an issue only of economics, however; as the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire so eloquently put it, this is an issue of identity and how we feel as a country. It is about being Scottish and British, which is certainly the identity I feel.
There is a wider issue. In this day and age, we should not be putting up new borders. We should recognise that we live in an interconnected world. It is much easier to tackle our shared problems—climate change, combating extremism, creating a more prosperous future and improving quality of life for all our constituents—in a strong United Kingdom, in a strong European Union, and in multinational organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, NATO and the United Nations.
There are downsides to a second referendum. Some people have asked, “What are you so scared of?” but I do not think it should be done lightly. A referendum creates economic uncertainty; we saw what happened to investment in the Scottish economy in the run-up to 2014. It also creates a distraction for Government. The huge constitutional upheaval meant that there was less focus on other issues in the Scottish Government and, bluntly, we see that now with the Government’s focus on Brexit. I do not say that in an overly negative way, but as a basic fact. I have been a Minister so I know what it is like to have a ministerial box and all the competing issues that a Minister must turn their attention to. I can only imagine the extra stuff that Ministers are having to wade through for the Brexit negotiations, as was no doubt the case for the Scottish Government in the run-up to the independence referendum—and would have been even more so if the referendum had had a different result. I do not think referendums should be embarked on lightly because of those issues.
Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, sometimes seems to have reflected on whether she has the mandate, as hon. Members have mentioned. Her words sometimes suggest that the referendum is on the back burner for now, but I am concerned by the way that SNP Members firmly stick to that mandate article. They fail to appreciate the anger on the doorsteps at this year’s election. Some of us were elected, or re-elected, in June because people in our constituencies in Scotland felt so strongly that indyref2 must be stopped. I have never experienced an election campaign like it where one issue has been so overwhelming and the determination has been so complete. The SNP lost 21 seats in that election, so a little more humility and a little more listening to the people of Scotland is in order from SNP Members. The people of Scotland deserve that, and the SNP should take heed for the sake of party preservation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. This debate is about a second independence referendum, but rather than go over the same territory as other hon. Members, I will consider the legitimacy of referendums.
Referendums have risen to prominence in the United Kingdom only recently. Constitutionally speaking, they are a relative innovation. The first nationwide referendum took place in 1975, and to date there have only been three. It is well established that the UK is without a fully codified constitution; our constitution has been described as the most flexible policy in existence. The fluid nature of our system means that the place for a referendum can be difficult to nail down.
From analysing past referendums, it can be said that they are inherently political by nature. The purpose of a referendum is to settle a political stalemate that needs to be taken to the general public for a final decision. Referendums are a creature of statute and flow from legislation passed by Parliament. As there is no generic referendum legislation, each is the subject of a separate Act. They are normally the result of a manifesto commitment of a majority Government; their legitimacy arises from the fact that the public have voted in a party on the basis that it will implement its manifesto.
Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that manifesto commitments have legitimacy only if a Government have a majority? I point out to him that his Government do not have one.
If the hon. Gentleman lets me carry on, I will get to the explanation.
As Ian Murray said, if the Scottish Government had won a majority, they would have called a referendum. That is how the first Scottish independence referendum was called in 2011. Referendums have huge political authority because they are direct expressions of public opinion. If we disagree with the outcome of a referendum, our immediate response should not be to call for another. We must respect a referendum’s democratic legitimacy, or we risk undermining the legitimacy of our tested system of careful consideration by elected Members with periodic elections by an emancipated electorate. To hold another referendum on Scottish independence so soon after the original would risk undermining the constitutional position of referendums in our society. It would also undermine the Scottish public, who clearly voted against independence.
In an uncodified system such as ours with no set precedent for a referendum, we must take care of the frequency with which we hold them. Holding multiple referendums on the same issue in a short space of time would bring into question their ability to settle issues decisively. It would also pose the question whether they are simply a precursor to further referendums, which we should avidly avoid.
Alan Brown suggests that we are afraid of referendums. He should realise that his party devalues referendums, and democracy, by calling for another referendum so soon after the 2014 result. We should leave the process not to polls, which are likely to fluctuate, but to the democratic will of the people. That will ensure the ultimate legitimacy of referendums.
Recently, in my constituency of Gordon, a council by-election had to be called because somebody got elected to this House. A Conservative councillor was returned with 48% of the votes, and 65% of voters voted for Unionist parties. The Scottish Government clearly do not have the same mandate as in 2011. Since then, they have seen a no vote in the first independence referendum and a drop in their share of MSPs elected to Holyrood. In fact, the most recent election saw the emergence of a strong opposition: my 11 colleagues— 12, including the Secretary of State—and me. The issue has been settled decisively, so I ask both Parliaments and the SNP to respect the will of both Houses and respect the referendum.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. As Member of Parliament for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, I speak for the place where I was born and bred, the home of good people I have been fortunate enough to learn from and live with, and—in my view—the best, most decent and welcoming place in the United Kingdom.
I often refer to the United Kingdom when I speak in this Chamber and on the Floor of the House. Each of our four nations—Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland—has its own identity, history and culture, but we share a collective bond that has seen us through tough times of war and through struggles for peace and tolerance. That was clear yesterday, when we all stood together as a nation to remember the people who fought for our country; I was reminded of it by Brooke Harrison, who told me about her great-uncle James Harrison, who died as a 21-year-old fighting for the United Kingdom in Normandy.
My view is clear: Scotland’s future is promising, bright and positive, but it is part of the United Kingdom—of that I have no doubt. I am a proud socialist, following in the tradition of the Lanarkshire man Keir Hardie, but I am an internationalist, too. I do not believe in a border at Carlisle, nor in a border at Calais, and I never will. I believe in socialism, not nationalism. I believe in the people. I believe in solidarity. I believe in sharing and fighting together for a better future for our children and grandchildren.
During the referendum, I asked a young person who is now my constituent for her view. She said that the one thing she did not understand was the increase in flag flying and the idea that not flying yes flags or Scottish flags meant not loving our country. Sadly, that was repeated recently when we saw an increase in the flying of Union Jacks before the general election. The only flag I want to see flying is the red flag; I hope that if my good friend Richard Leonard is elected as Scottish Labour party leader this weekend and becomes First Minister of Scotland in 2021, that is what we will see.
I have always fought and will always fight against a nationalist agenda that does more to divide our nation than anything else. I do not want a divisive repeat of a campaign that was focused not on Scotland’s future but on an argument that questioned our love for our country and said that we hated Scotland if we did not back independence. That was rubbish then and it is rubbish now. The Saltire belongs to every Scottish man and woman, no matter the colour of their skin, their ethnic background or their faith. Our land and riches belong to every Scottish man and woman in our country, and so does our devolved and democratically elected Parliament in Edinburgh. I mention our Parliament because many of the nationalists’ arguments are similar to those of the Brexiteers: “Taking back control”, “Doing things our way”, “We know best”. Holyrood has significant powers, but for some reason the SNP does not want to use them. I have a simple message for Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney: if they do not want to use those powers, they should call an election and let a Labour Government get on with governing in the interests of all the people of Scotland.
Where are we today? In Westminster we have a Conservative Government who are falling apart, with Cabinet Ministers falling like flies, policies being announced one day and scrapped the next, and the Tory Back Benchers in mutiny—you couldn’t write the script. But this is not just about a poor Government; it is about the millions of women, men and children across the United Kingdom who want to know their future. In Edinburgh, we have a Government who move from disaster to disaster: failure to properly fund our public services, failure of SNP Ministers to provide the solid leadership that Scotland deserves, failure to get things done. Monklands Hospital needs £30 million of repairs. Its hard-working staff are at breaking point and the patients are not getting the quality of care that they need. That is the fault not of the health professionals, but of our disaster of a Health Secretary in Holyrood, who is out of her depth.
I spend a great deal of time with my constituents, who often talk about the pressures on their children’s schools. Our police and firemen share stories of the pressures on them. Working conditions in the United Kingdom are at breaking point. These are public sector workers, and the First Minister did not want to give them a pay rise to until she was blocked into the corner by the Labour party. So it is clear to me and to my constituents that we have enough to be getting on with, and that there is no case to reopen a discussion that was comprehensively dealt with in 2014.
I am going to move on.
Our country is in crisis. The challenge of Brexit was another divisive and unnecessary campaign that I fought hard against, and it proves that turning our backs on others, looking inwards and sticking our fingers in our ears does not work. The romantic view of a land of milk and honey is just a dream. It will never work in reality and has been shown to have become a nightmare.
I should also say that although I campaigned strongly to stay in the United Kingdom and indeed to stay in the European Union, democracy is democracy and the people are always right. We are leaving the European Union, which I regret, and that regret is made more potent because of the shambles that the Government are making of our departure. It is criminal to see the Tories focus on internal battles rather than on building the future that we all need and deserve.
I know that things need to change not only in Scotland but right across the United Kingdom. We see a grave political crisis in Northern Ireland, a Welsh Government who are desperately in need of proper funding from Westminster and increasing political tensions in England. We can change these things with the election of a new Government in Westminster and that can still be done with our four nations working together as a family of four nations. We can change these things. Let us call an election; let us get a UK Labour Government back in place. I am up for the fight and I know that other Scottish Labour MPs are with me, because that is the way we do things and that is the way we will do things every day in Parliament.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. This has been a lively debate and I look forward to adding to the liveliness.
Just hours after the European Union referendum last year and as the result was coming in—in fact, before all the votes had even been counted and before anyone had time to contemplate and reflect on what was an extraordinary result—Scotland’s First Minister was immediately on our television screens, seizing her opportunity to crowbar Scottish independence back on to the political agenda after the people of Scotland overwhelmingly rejected it in 2014. However, that was no surprise, as the First Minister has made clear, in her own words, that her pursuit of independence “transcends” all else. It transcends Brexit; it transcends national wealth; it transcends the opportunity of the next generation to get a quality education; it transcends health; it transcends transport; it transcends the environment; and it transcends everything else.
Since that day, bathed in the media limelight in Bute House, it has become crystal clear that in fact the SNP has overplayed its hand on Brexit and a second independence referendum. The opinion polls show that the Scottish people are the biggest barrier to a second referendum, because they simply do not want one. Since 2014, support for independence has crumbled. The question of independence has been polled more than 70 times, as my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair mentioned earlier. Since 2014, and consistently, no to independence has been in the lead in the polls, with an average of more than eight points.
I will touch on something that has also been mentioned during this debate and that I hear quite often from those who support independence when they look back at the referendum, in some ways through rose-tinted glasses. I accept that the referendum heightened engagement; some of the best examples of engagement happened during it, particularly in our school halls, where the younger generation were so engaged that some of the best questions and the best challenge came from them. It was also good to see such a high turnout.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it was a mistake for the Scottish Conservatives to oppose 16 and 17-year-olds getting the vote in the referendum?
Scottish Conservatives actually advocate that those who are 16 or 17 should have the right to vote in elections and future referendums, and that is our party policy.
There was another element of that referendum campaign, which was how nasty and divisive it became. We have heard from other Members about some of their own experiences. As for me, my mother was chased down the road by an activist who was ripping down Better Together signs displayed in fields neighbouring our home; I saw war memorials in Aberdeen desecrated; I saw activists who were campaigning with us on our street stalls being intimidated and spat on; and let us not mention Twitter, which since the referendum has still been polarising, divisive and full of vile nastiness that we should all condemn and that should not be part of our discourse here in the UK. Unfortunately, a poison pervades our politics in Scotland following that referendum. It is still absolutely there and we all have a duty to try to stamp it out.
During the 2014 referendum, page 210 of the White Paper, which has been mentioned by other Members, stated that
“if we remain part of the UK, a referendum on future British membership of the EU could see Scotland taken out of the EU against the wishes of the people of Scotland”.
Despite that being in the White Paper, and despite all Scots knowing it, Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain in the UK and subsequently, in another referendum, the UK voted to leave the EU. Following the logic of Martyn Day, who articulated the benefits of a majority in referendums, we should respect the results of referendums whether we agree with them or not, and those results are that Scotland stays in the UK and the UK leaves the EU.
The First Minister seized on the votes of remain/no voters, hailing them as a justification for another referendum. In fact, that rush to divide the UK only served to alienate those remain/no voters. Furthermore, the SNP attempted simply to dismiss the votes of 1 million Scottish leave voters, including 400,000 of their own voters and MSPs such as Alex Neil, who is no longer a bashful Brexiteer; I wish some of his colleagues would join him, because we know they are there.
That left those voters voiceless and the anger among them is quite palpable, which we saw reflected in the general election result, because in the snap election that followed the EU referendum, and with the prospect of indyref2 hanging over the heads of Scottish voters, the SNP lost almost half a million of its votes and 21 of its seats, clinging on by the skin of its teeth in Perth and North Perthshire, and North East Fife. Notably, Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond are gone, both having lost their seats.
The Scottish people were repeatedly promised in 2014 that the referendum was “once in a generation”, and we have also heard the words, “once in a lifetime”. The people of Scotland seized on the snap general election to send Nicola Sturgeon a clear message—take a second independence referendum off the table for good. I have pondered what exactly Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond meant by that “once in a generation” phrase— that “once in a generation” billboard and media opportunity—but we all now know that it amounts to a mere 907 days. That is the 907 days between
The SNP attempt to use Brexit to increase support for independence, but that strategy is clearly flawed, because at the end of the day none of the challenges raised by Brexit and none of the questions posed by Brexit are ever answered by tearing Scotland out of the UK, its most important single market.
Thank you, Sir Roger, for calling me to speak despite the fact that I have not stood up since you walked into the room. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
When I was preparing for the debate, I looked for some inspiration and I stumbled on these words, penned by one Alex Salmond:
“we renewed our joint commitment under the Edinburgh Agreement to work constructively and positively to implement the will of the people”.
Those are the words Alex Salmond did not say on the morning of
It might be useful for us to remind ourselves of the exact wording of the Edinburgh agreement. It is referenced a lot, and has been referenced this evening:
“The governments are agreed that the referendum should…deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect”.
The agreement was signed by David Cameron, Alex Salmond, Michael Moore and Nicola Sturgeon, and I would argue that it was a pretty unambiguous statement. But the then Deputy First Minister, whose signature graced the document, obviously felt it did not go far enough, which is presumably why, on
“once in a generation event, possibly once in a lifetime for Scotland”.
We fast forward to
No poll, before or after the referendum on our membership of the European Union, has shown support for independence to be at more than 50%. No has consistently been in the lead. Indeed, the average lead for no in the last 30 polls has been by more than eight points. So it is no surprise that in the wake of the First Minister’s announcement, 221,000 individuals signed a petition opposing a second independence referendum. Now I know that is but a fraction of the half a million votes lost by the SNP in the general election, but it is still a sizeable amount and compares very favourably with the 38,000 who signed the petition in favour of another referendum.
I could go on about the economic case for staying in the UK. I could point to research showing that most remain voters, me included, are angry that their votes are being used by the SNP as the basis for a second referendum, as proxy votes for separation, but I will not, because the people of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Gordon, Aberdeen South, Banff and Buchan, Angus, Moray, East Renfrewshire, Ochil and South Perthshire, Stirling, Dumfries and Galloway, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale and Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock and the people of the 11 other seats taken by Labour and the Liberal Democrats have spoken loud and clear. Indeed, 62.5% of votes cast in Scotland in the recent general election were for the Unionist parties, with only 36.9% voting for separatism. The people of Scotland are abundantly clear; they do not want a second referendum.
I thought, perhaps naively, that the message had got through, for the mood music has indeed changed of late. There was little mention of independence at the Scottish National party conference, there was not a word in the Scottish Government’s programme for government, and last week, for the first time in probably about six years, we got through an entire First Minister’s questions without the constitution being mentioned once—and it was not just because we did not mentioned it. It was all going so well. The rebrand was almost complete, the wool almost down across our eyes, but we can always rely, like a bad rouble, on Comrade Salmond. This morning, he let the cat well and truly out of the bag. This morning the mask slipped. This morning, in an interview with Business Insider, Alex Salmond said that the First Minister is prepared to call a second referendum and that it could take place within a very short timescale after Brexit.
So there we have it. It never really went away, and it never will go away. Independence is the SNP’s raison d’être. I respect that position; it is a perfectly laudable and respectable position to hold. But we have had a referendum, we had what was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime referendum, and the Scottish people voted to remain equal partners in our family of nations. It is up to every single one of us to represent the settled will of the Scottish people and, as Alex Salmond did not say on the morning of
Sir Roger, you had the misfortune not to witness, although you will have heard about it, Ian Murray complain at the start of our debate that the mover of the debate from the Petitions Committee, my hon. Friend Martyn Day, was subject to bias and seemed to favour one of the petitions over the other. Since then, two and a half hours have elapsed and, by my count, we have had two speeches in favour of one of the petitions, assuming we put the mover of the debate in that camp, and 15 in favour of the other. It is good to see such a balanced debate.
Sir Roger, I none the less rest my case. Anyone looking at the transcript of the debate will see that it is far from open and is, indeed, one-sided. For the avoidance of doubt, I have a very short amount of time and a lot has been said so I will not take any interventions—Conservative Members should, therefore, be comfortable in their seats.
Before going on to talk about the referendum, I want to make two points about the nature of the campaign for Scottish independence. The first point is for the benefit of Stephen Kerr and some others who have spoken. They would be doing a great disservice to themselves, and indeed to the movement for national autonomy in Scotland, if they were to reduce the campaign to the aspirations of the Scottish National party. Many people involved in the campaign for Scottish independence would not even describe themselves as nationalists—they view themselves as internationalists, as republicans, as social democrats, as liberals, as Greens. They see themselves pretty much as anyone who wants to see change in their country and has become frustrated and impatient with the ability and capacity of the British state to reform itself and achieve that change. It is a very diverse and multifaceted movement, and it would be wrong to dismiss it in the way Members have done today.
Secondly, I want to say to Mr Sweeney, who otherwise made a very reasoned contribution, that this is not a question of identity. I speak as someone who was born and brought up in Northern Ireland and carries a British and an Irish passport. It is not a question of identity—far from it. If there was any nation that had a surfeit of icons for its identity it would be Scotland. We have the flags and emblems; what we lack is the ability to control our own lives, use our own natural resources and chart the destiny of our country. It is about empowerment and power, and people would do well to understand that that is the nature of the debate that is happening in Scotland.
The campaign against a second independence referendum is predicated pretty much on accusing people like me of disrespecting the result of the 2014 referendum. I want to say, as many people from my party have said so many times since then, that that is not true. We respect the result of the 2014 referendum. We acknowledge that a clear majority of our neighbours and citizens voted to remain in a political union of the United Kingdom. But we say that if circumstances were to change in a way that would invalidate the options presented in 2014 that should call for a rethink, in the same way as when someone gets back from the shop, opens the box and finds that what is inside is not as described on the cover, they have a right to get their money back. People would, in my view, have the right to get their vote back if what happened was not what they had voted for, turned out not to be what came about. That is why the question of a change in circumstances is so important.
This is obviously an abstract theory. We were asked to identify what we would mean by a change in circumstances so dramatic that it would occasion an early second referendum. We said, “For example, one thing might be Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will”. That was stated as an example, by the way, before the Brexit vote and before we knew how Scotland would vote or, indeed, how people in the rest of the United Kingdom would vote. That change of circumstance came to pass.
We did not just outline those circumstances as some theoretical point of discussion. My view is that if circumstances changed in that way, there would be justification for a second independence referendum. I accept that people here will disagree with that, but it is a legitimate point of view. In order to test that point of view and see whether people agreed with it, we did what a normal political party would do: we wrote it into our manifesto for the 2016 Scottish general election—an election that we won. [Interruption.] It is on page 26, if Members want to go and check. We said clearly that circumstances such as Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will would create an argument for a second independence referendum.
The hon. Gentleman must have difficulty hearing; I said I was not taking any interventions. Please be seated. [Interruption.]
We put that commitment in the manifesto, and we won that election. A majority of the Members of the elected Scottish Parliament believe that if Scotland is taken out of the EU against its will, that would be justification for consulting people again on the question of Scottish independence.
That was the situation as it was then, but what happened after Britain voted to leave the European Union? Did Nicola Sturgeon suddenly run in and say, “That is it. We are going to execute this. We want a second referendum now”? No, far from it. [Interruption.] If the Tories stop braying for a moment, I will tell them what happened. A Scottish Government who believed in Scottish independence and the European Union produced a document that argued for neither. It argued for a compromise solution in Brexit that would allow differential arrangements in Scotland to respect Scottish public opinion and protect Scottish interests. That is what we put to the British Government in December 2016, and in the new year it was thrown back in our faces. By Easter this year, it was perfectly clear that whatever option came out of Brexit, it was not going to afford for any differential solution in Scotland. What changed things was the election on
People have talked about reflection and modesty. I accept that 480,000 people who voted for the SNP in 2015 declined to do so in 2017. Most of them—the vast majority—stayed at home and did not vote for anyone else. I accept that the confusion around the second referendum was a large part of many of those people’s thinking. That uncertainty is clearly there in the minds of many people, and that gives us cause for reflection, but the main thing that changed on
There are only two ways that things can go from here. One is that the United Kingdom Government come to an agreement with the Scottish Government and the Brexit process goes through with the consent of the Scottish Parliament. That is one possible outcome. The other option is that the United Kingdom Government ignore the representations of Scotland, overrule them and proceed regardless. In those latter circumstances, the mandate from 2016 is still there and will be executed, because we will give the people of Scotland the right to decide whether they want the isolationist economic chaos that Brexit represents or whether they want to revisit the decision taken in 2014 and this time decide they would be better off taking matters into their own hands, and taking back control to Scotland.
It is a pleasure to respond to this debate and to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I campaigned in this year’s council elections and the general election, and the mood was clear on Scottish doorsteps: people were fed up with the words “independence” and “referendum”. Who can blame them? We heard all that in the debate.
The discussion has been going on for at least 10 years, and the answer is always the same: Scotland wants to be part of the United Kingdom. Yet the SNP just does not seem to get it. The SNP did not get it when it lost its once-in-a-generation referendum in 2014. Nor did the SNP get it when it lost its overall majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2016. Nor did the SNP get it when it lost 21 MPs in this year’s general election, including Russia’s new friend, the party’s former leader Alex Salmond. I emphasise that point, because Hannah Bardell and Tommy Sheppard made a number of interventions on packaging and seeing things as a business. They talked about the promise of what a business delivers, where there is a right to take things back if they are not quite right, but one of the things about being a business is that you need to listen to your customers, because the first law of business is that the customer is always right. In each of the three elections, the customer has clearly said, “We do not want independence.”
For most people in Scotland, the endless debates on independence are a bit like the Christmas party guest who overstays their welcome, no matter how many hints they are given that the party is over. What the majority of the Scottish public thinks of independence has been made clear time and again. Their collective heart sinks at the thought of another referendum. It is also clear that the First Minister and the SNP blindly refuse to accept that reality. They ignore what Scottish people really want: a Government who concentrate on galvanising the economy, improving the NHS, and reducing poverty and inequality.
Sadly, rather than coming clean and admitting that the misplaced dream of independence is dead in the water, Nicola Sturgeon continues to rattle her sabre every now and then in an effort to keep her membership happy. She did that immediately after the Brexit vote. What did it achieve, beyond annoying the people of Scotland and boosting the Tories? The Tories undoubtedly benefited in Scotland by playing the Union card in the general election, but let us not forget that the only reason Nicola Sturgeon was even able to suggest another referendum was because of Tory cowardice, infighting and inherent selfishness.
Indeed, the real threat to the Union since 2014 has been the right wing of the Tory party. They pulled David Cameron’s strings, and now they are pulling those of Theresa May. Their utter disdain and disrespect for Scotland’s views on Britain’s place in Europe are writ large. They just do not care, and their carelessness is jeopardising the Union, which they claim to support. That lack of care is all too apparent in the way they are trampling over the lives of those patronisingly dubbed the “just about managing”—those people who Theresa May laughably says her party is trying to protect.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady. I understand that many Members present come from a different discipline. The Scottish Parliament exercises different rules from those of the Westminster Parliament, but in this Parliament we do not refer to hon. or right hon. Members by their names; we refer to them by their constituency or their title, and we address the Chair. When a Member says “you”, they mean me, and not any other Member present. I am using the hon. Lady to make a point, but I would be grateful if all Members from north of the border in particular—I understand they come from a different discipline—took that on board.
I thank you, Sir Roger, for your intervention and advice.
The irony of all of these issues is that the SNP wants Scotland in Europe but not in Britain, while the Conservatives want Scotland in Britain but not in Europe. They are two sides of the same tarnished coin, and people are fast waking up to that. They can see the gap between political rhetoric and the reality of politician’ actions. They feel that democracy is too far removed to make a difference to their lives, whether it is Westminster or Holyrood. They are fed up with constantly being defined as either for or against independence, or for or against Brexit. The people of Scotland want politicians to move past binary divisions and to focus on our common problems. They want solutions for the declining educational standards and teacher shortages that we have seen under the SNP in the past decade. Mr Jack spoke earlier about process, which has not necessarily been put to good effect when we consider the state of the processes of the health service and of education, economics and planning. Of course, there is the situation in which we find ourselves with the police and the fire service. I hope the Minister will ensure that that issue is on the Budget agenda next week.
People want to see poverty levels decrease, not increase. The numbers of children living in poverty in Scotland have risen, up by 40,000 in the past year alone. People want austerity to end and the economy to grow, and with it their wages. Those are the problems that we need urgently to address. Only a Labour Government are equipped to address them. Do not just take my word for it; look at the record of past Labour Governments. It was a Labour Government that created the NHS and the welfare state; a Labour Government that invested record amounts in the NHS and introduced tax credits for families struggling on low incomes; a Labour Government that introduced the minimum wage and raised millions out of poverty; and it was a Labour Government that delivered the Scottish Parliament. The next Labour Government will build on that proud record. A Labour Government in Westminster would pay major dividends for the Scottish Government, whoever they might be.
Our investment in public services and the economy would mean that Scotland benefited to the tune of an additional £3.1 billion by 2021-22. Our pledge to protect the triple lock on state pensions would protect the incomes of more than 1 million Scottish pensioners. Our pledge to ban zero-hours contracts would alleviate the stress and uncertainty felt by tens of thousands of Scottish workers.
On a point of order, Sir Roger. I am not sure this is a point of order, but there is only one way to find out. I do not know whether we have moved on to the territory of a party political broadcast, rather than dealing with the matter at hand: the two petitions we are supposed to be debating this afternoon.
I will continue, following that non-point of order.
Our pledge to introduce a real living wage would provide a boost to the incomes of almost half a million Scots who are currently earning less than the living wage. Such pledges epitomise why Scotland should remain a part of the United Kingdom. They show the difference that a Labour Government in Westminster could make to people’s lives in Scotland.
Not yet. I wish to make some progress.
However, we also accept the need to revisit the distribution of power and wealth across the United Kingdom. Although independence is not the answer, it is clear that the current constitutional settlement is not working. My hon. Friend Martin Whitfield said that what we want is devolved Government, which is so important to the people. That is the issue that continually arises when we meet people on the doorstep. Too much power is concentrated in Westminster and Holyrood. As a result, many communities in Scotland and across the UK feel disenfranchised and alienated from the political process, so now is the time to broaden the debate and open up a wider conversation about our constitution and democracy across the UK.
Devolution is an iterative process. Great strides have been made, but we have yet to reach the optimal balance of power and responsibility, and much more work is needed. That is why Labour has proposed a different option: a people’s constitutional convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. Labour is and always has been the party of devolution. Only by continuing that journey, and by empowering our nations, regions and communities, can we address the social and economic inequalities that divide us. Only then will we have a democratic system that works for the many, not the few. That should not be about wrapping ourselves in the Saltire or the Union flag and claiming to be more patriotic than anyone else. There are people living on our streets and parents who cannot afford to feed their kids. There are poor and vulnerable people being exploited every single day. Helping them to improve their lives, putting an end to austerity, and alleviating poverty and inequality should be our ultimate aim. That should galvanise all that we do, not another independence referendum.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and I commend Mr Bailey for his earlier efforts in chairing this debate, which opens for many people outwith Scotland a window on Scottish politics. When I considered replying to this debate, I was, like Jamie Stone, mindful of the words of The National, which indicated this debate was very important. It is therefore surprising that less than half of the SNP Members of Parliament sought to even attend the debate, never mind take part. Let us make that absolutely clear, so that it is on the record, before we hear about the next Unionist conspiracy to make sure that only two or three SNP MPs got to speak, while Unionists crowded them out. It was a choice not to take part in this debate, which I think readers of The National will be most disappointed to hear.
We have added in some ways to the collection of human knowledge. It is disappointing that the Westminster leader of the party, Ian Blackford, has left. I am sure Alan Brown said one thing that he would have agreed with: anything Alex Salmond says cannot be relied on. It is good to get that on the record before that well-known Bolshevik begins his new career.
One point that will be of interest to many yes voters and SNP voters is that the position of the SNP is to block the UK leaving the EU. That will not go down well with the 500,000 yes voters and the 400,000 SNP voters. I do not think it will go down well with Jim Sillars; I look forward to hearing his response. It will not go down well with Alex Neil and the SNP MSPs who voted to leave the EU, but at least the position is clear: the SNP is for blocking the UK leaving the EU.
Another point flushed out, which was clear from several Members and certainly clear in the speech made by Tommy Sheppard, is that another independence referendum, in the view of the SNP, is simply paused. It is not over, not stopped, but paused. That is why there is a very important message to everyone listening to this debate. Every vote ever cast for the SNP will be taken as a vote in support of another independence referendum and in support of independence. That is the case. We have heard it justified as to why the SNP is entitled to take this position, because every single person who voted for them wanted another independence referendum and wants independence. So Scotland beware: vote SNP, get another independence referendum. We have to be very clear on that.
From a Unionist point of view, we could take some solace in the complacency of the SNP—something Jo Swinson referred to. The fact that the SNP came within 600 votes of losing another six seats does not seem to have been taken on board. Earlier, Brendan O'Hara was promoting the support for the SNP in his constituency, but forgot to tell us that his vote came down by nearly 10% and the Conservative vote went up by 18%. That was a clear message from his voters that they did not want to hear about independence.
I thought that Martyn Day sought to offer a balanced view of the two petitions; he mentioned both, and that probably fulfilled his obligation. What he did not say, of course, was that the petition asking for an independence referendum only got heard on the back of the 220,000 people who did not want an independence referendum, because a petition that attracted fewer than 40,000 votes would not in itself get a debate in Parliament.
We have had an independence referendum—that was the theme of much of what has been said. It was a legal and fair referendum. Many aspects of the engagement were welcome. In particular, I found the school debates in which I took part encouraging, in terms of how our young people applied themselves. Nobody, however, can deny that there were many aspects of that referendum that were seriously unpleasant and that we would not want to hold up as a model. It is important for us in the political class to recognise that although we might go on about how great it was that 84.7% of people voted and all the meetings that were held, ordinary members of the public did not enjoy the referendum process. Other than those who are diehards on both sides of the debate, I do not find people on the doorstep who say, “That 2014 referendum was great—the best time of my life.” What they say—even those who voted yes—is: “I don’t want to go through that again.”
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we were to accept demands for a second independence referendum from the Scottish National party and it was successful in that referendum, it would set a precedent to revisit that decision in a third referendum for Scotland to go back into the United Kingdom? What precedent would that set for the future constitution of the UK?
The hon. Gentleman is correct. We were told in the Edinburgh agreement that the result would be respected on both sides. Martin Whitfield referred to the reconciliation service, at which I was present. I was hopeful, at that point, that it would lead to a way forward. That did not happen.
There was a point at which the SNP, and those people who had argued for yes, came out and said that to make their case they needed to make a bigger tent, bring more people in, and convince people. Today, however, we have heard what has become the core of their message: the people of Scotland were duped and we need to do it all over again. That is essentially what we have heard from SNP Members. In the tirade of negativity from the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, nothing positive was said about what an independent Scotland would be like or would do. In particular, nothing was said about Andrew Wilson’s report on how the £14 billion deficit would be managed. That is a piece of information that I would want, as a Scottish voter, before there was any prospect of opening up another independence referendum.
A lot of the arguments have been well rehearsed. I will not respond to the essentially political points made by the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Lesley Laird. We see in Scotland how the Scottish Labour party talks about the Labour party, and that is what she has replicated here today. All of us who support the United Kingdom should follow the example of her colleague, Hugh Gaffney, who made the case, albeit from a socialist perspective, for the United Kingdom, as my hon. Friend Paul Masterton did very eloquently too.
The message from this debate, this petition and everything we have heard from the SNP is that we cannot be complacent. We must make the case for the United Kingdom all the time, and ensure that in elections the SNP does not get itself into a position where it can take forward another independence referendum.
I apologise to the hon. Members for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Lesley Laird) for leaving during their speeches. I have had too much water to fight the cold that I am suffering from; there was no disrespect intended.
I always thought that my constituency was the friendliest place in the country; I have learned today that it obviously is, given the number of references to division that we have heard—hon. Members know where to come on their holidays this year. I would like to make the point that we all need to be careful about the language that we use, and ensure that the word “division” does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is incumbent on people on both sides to make sure that if their supporters are not behaving reasonably, they take action and show proper leadership.
That brings me on to the final points that I wish to make. No one has addressed the democratic deficit. I am a great supporter of the work of the Petition Committee, which allows things to be debated that otherwise would not be, but we have had suggestions that a number of people submitting an e-petition to the Committee is somehow worth more than a democratic vote in the Scottish Parliament—an elected chamber that has a mandate. Clearly, that is not the case, and this debate has a long way to run. I look forward to taking part in it over the coming years.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered e-petitions 180642 and 168781 relating to a referendum on Scottish independence.