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Referendum on Scottish Independence — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:49 pm on 13th November 2017.

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Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Conservative, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine 6:49 pm, 13th November 2017

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 19 September 2014, taken from the speech he had prepared to give if Scotland had voted yes. What a pity he was not so keen to renew that commitment following the actual result.

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 15 October 2013, she appeared on the “Daily Politics” show and declared that the referendum was a

“once in a generation event, possibly once in a lifetime for Scotland”.

We fast forward to 13 March this year—it is hard to believe it was still this year—when the same Nicola Sturgeon, now First Minister of Scotland, announced her intention to hold a second referendum on independence. We all know the arguments surrounding that, we have heard them here today: that a second referendum was warranted because everything had changed, that the Brexit referendum result was dragging Scotland out of the European Union against its will, and that the Scottish people were told in 2014 that, in voting no, they were guaranteeing Scotland’s place in the European Union. The Scottish people went to the polls in 2014 in the full knowledge that a referendum on our membership of the EU was a real possibility—David Cameron had announced it in his Bloomberg speech of January 2013. I know the Scottish National party does not like to hear this, but despite that, despite a much more favourable economic outlook for Scotland in 2014 and despite an unpopular Conservative Government that had more pandas than MPs in Scotland—despite all that and more—the Scottish people voted to stay a part of our United Kingdom.

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 19 September, to respect the result of that fair and decisive vote.