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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.