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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?