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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.