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Scotland and the Union

Volume 459: debated on Tuesday 1 May 2007

I am delighted to have secured this debate, particularly at a time when the future of the United Kingdom is at stake because of the forthcoming elections in Scotland. It might be appropriate to remind colleagues that this Labour Government’s policy on Scotland and the Union delivered the settled will of the Scottish people through the devolution of a range of important issues to the newly constructed Scottish Parliament. I shall return to that issue later. That Parliament has delivered on its promises and introduced progressive policies that have enhanced the quality of life for the vast majority of its people. So successful has it been that even those who wish to break up the UK are reluctant to debate the issues that are relevant to that Parliament.

Scotland is stronger because of the Union and the Union is stronger because of Scotland—not because of North sea oil, but because the Government believe that, by focusing on the future and not reliving old battles and prejudices, we can all make progress and, together, face up to the challenges of an ever competitive global economy.

Today’s UK is a democratic country that is the envy of the world. That hard-fought tradition should not be destroyed by short-term separatism. That is a probability that even the London leader of the Scottish National party has acknowledged. He suggests that Scotland should vote in the forthcoming elections in the knowledge that, if it does not work out, we will just regroup and move on. Such deceitful politics is dangerous and irresponsible. It takes for granted the views of the other countries that make up the UK, surmising that they will just wait around for the self-indulgent activities of the SNP.

The vast majority of the Scottish people—and the rest of the UK—do not want to break up Britain. I would liken such an act to a student sabbatical, but one where the student does not want to give up their room. The financial costs of breaking up the UK would soar into billions of pounds. Likewise, if we were to regroup—provided the rest of the UK wanted us—those billions of pounds could and should have been spent on improving the lives of all our constituents. Constitutional wrangling would sever the relationship between Holyrood and Westminster, which would generate a blame culture that would foster nothing but hostility and conflict. Exploiting people’s prejudices, especially anti-Englishness, lies at the heart of the SNP, despite its national leader’s attempt to downplay that. There are historic examples worldwide of similar nationalism that has led to unnecessary conflict and irreparable damage. Some would argue that that might be an exaggerated risk, but is it a risk worth taking?

I turn now to the defence of the UK and, in particular, the valuable jobs associated with the defence industry. As an island, we are heavily dependent on securing our shores, whether from those who wish to harm our people, to enter the country illegally, to exploit our shores or to carry out organised crime involving drug or human trafficking. Our service personnel work tirelessly to protect us, coupled with the other agencies that work together to collect and share information and surveillance. We owe them all a great deal of gratitude. That would be put at risk if we were to break up the partnership. Investment could be affected and jobs could be lost. Paradoxically, some areas in Scotland are heavily dependent on a UK defence presence yet choose to elect people who would, if they come to power, put that investment at risk.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Is it not the envy of the world that the British military is the best we can have? It is British. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Union were to break, we would have an English army, a Scottish army and whatever else, and that that would be a disaster for the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. If that were to happen, we would have no more than some sort of “Dad’s Army”, which would be absolutely no use in the modern world.

Equipping our service personnel with the tools and technology that they need to carry out their dangerous tasks is important to the British manufacturing base. Shipbuilding in the UK was on its knees before the Government came to power, but it has been turned around by a mixture of forward thinking by the defence companies and hard work by the employees. That would all be scuppered by the break-up of the UK.

My hon. Friend, like me, has many constituents who work in shipbuilding on the Clyde. Would he care to speculate about how many aircraft carriers an independent Scotland would need if the Union was broken up and about whether England, as a foreign country, would place its orders for aircraft carriers in an independent Scotland? How realistic does he think that either of those eventualities would be?

I doubt whether there would be any aircraft orders in an independent Scotland. Any aircraft that were ordered would probably be made using Airfix glue, and that would most likely be the only thing that we could produce in an independent Scotland.

The important thing about shipbuilding is the valuable skills that would be lost. Apprenticeships would be sacrificed, simply because some people in Scotland want to create superficial borders that are unnecessary and unwanted. As someone who has spent a significant period of my working life in the shipyards, I feel confident that I reflect the genuine concerns of workers in that industry.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that we are members of NATO gives us great defence security? Small countries in Europe, such as Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Norway, are all strong members of NATO. Does it not seem utter folly that we should consider leaving it?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It would be folly for us to even contemplate leaving NATO. We all need to remember that we are an island and that we need to be protected as such. It would be folly if the scenario that she painted were to come to light.

As I said at the beginning, there is a school of thought within the nationalist ranks that North sea oil will be a panacea to all their whinges. If we scrape away the rhetoric and take a serious look at the economics, the figures do not add up. Well-respected financial experts, such as those at the Financial Times, warn that North sea oil revenues will dry up within the next 10 years, thereby placing a potential tax increase on Scottish people if they vote for independence and still aspire to retain the public service that they have now. That will not only impact on the Scots but could influence inward investment from other countries in the UK and beyond.

This coming Thursday, there will be a choice. Scotland faces an historic decision: the choice between two very different futures. We must recognise that there is a lot to lose. The onus is on those who want to trade education for separation and economic stability for economic risk to choose between building up Scotland and breaking up Britain. The nationalist plans for independence come at a cost, and the people and businesses of Scotland will be asked to pay the hefty price.

With economic policies helped along by “fiscal fairy dust”—not my words, but those of the SNP enterprise spokesperson, Jim Mather—the SNP is asking Scots to trade in hard-won economic stability for a risky wager on declining oil revenues and a corporation tax cut that Europe could cut back.

My hon. Friend makes powerful points about the benefits for Scotland of being in the Union in terms of its economy and the defence and security of our nation and jobs, but does he agree that there is also a school of thought among the nationalists that says that, if people think that it is better for Scotland to be part of the Union, they somehow love their country less or are less patriotic? Does he agree that that is a complete fallacy, and that those of us who see the benefits of being in the UK love Scotland just as much as any other Scot?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some in the SNP claim to speak for Scotland, but today’s performance shows that only one member of the Scottish National party is present. Indeed, the London leader of the SNP, who claims to stand up for Scotland, could not even find the time to attend this debate.

On the cost of the SNP, the United Kingdom is a Union that has served Scotland and its other nations well. By pooling our resources, we achieve much more together than we would apart.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman heard the actor Robert Carlyle on this morning’s “Today” programme. He said that, as a lifelong Labour man, he was going to vote SNP, but that he did not favour an independent Scotland. He said that he was voting SNP only because it was his last chance to give the Prime Minister a kicking before he goes next week.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but I think that Mr. Carlyle, like a number of my colleagues, might be somewhat confused about what this Labour Government have done for Scotland in terms of jobs. If Mr. Carlyle wishes to give the Government a kicking, that is entirely up to him, but there are consequences—independence and the break-up of the UK. People need to understand that independence comes at a cost.

Scotland represents just over 8 per cent. of the UK population, one third of its land mass and one half of its coastline. Government officials, independent experts and informed commentators agree that the UK’s way of financing public services spending across Britain is based on equality of service provision. On that basis, Scotland benefits from a Union dividend that recognises the distinctive nature of service delivery to the Scottish people.

In each of the last eight years for which official figures are available, public expenditure in Scotland exceeded revenue. The SNP would give up the Union dividend, which benefits Scotland by more than £11 billion. Outside the UK, it would lose that dividend. Revenues from North sea oil and gas cannot fill the SNP’s financial gap. Even assuming the highest possible share of North sea revenues in Scotland when oil prices are high, those revenues cannot plug the SNP’s fiscal hole, and production is already in long-term decline.

The SNP’s plans to break up Britain, and its incoherent tax and spending plans, would leave the party with a net deficit of more than £12 billion, equivalent to well over £5,000 per household per year. Independence is not only a risky business, but an expensive one, too. I hope that the Mr. Carlyles of this world will understand that.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman saw the opinion poll this morning that showed that only 19 per cent. of the Scottish people believe that nonsensical £5,000 figure. Some 51 per cent. thought it was a load of rubbish. Is it not the case that nobody believes a word that the Government and the Prime Minister say anymore?

Just because the SNP activists do not believe the figure does not mean that the rest of Scotland does not.

If the SNP wishes to discuss the economics of its policy, it is free to do so, but it should come to the table with honesty and integrity.

The SNP proposes to raise income tax in Scotland initially by 3p in the pound. That would make Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK, place new cost burdens on businesses, fuel wage pressures and return Scotland to the bad old days of the brain drain. Despite what the nationalists claim, local income tax will not help the poorest pensioners, who currently qualify for council tax benefit. They will continue to have to pay sewerage and water rates. The SNP will tax only earned income, not shares, savings or property, so a very rich person in a £1 million home living off shares and savings will pay no local taxes to help fund local services.

On the SNP’s policy of introducing a local income tax, does not my hon. Friend think that it is yet another example of the fact that, although the SNP might claim to be progressive, when it comes to the crunch, it does not put the interests of ordinary families in Scotland and of Scotland’s poorest at the top of its agenda? Does he also agree that the SNP’s recent decision to drop policies on bringing the railways under public control and regulating bus services in Scotland might have something to do with the recent large donation that it received from Brian Souter?

My hon. Friend is correct. It is strange that nationalist policies on transport have changed since the donation from Mr. Souter, raising the question of cash for policies. On council tax, it is a rather strange, tooth-fairy world in nationalist politics. The idea that one can pay nothing and get the same public services is just untrue, as the figures confirm.

On the potential conflict, the SNP has made it clear that it will table a motion for an independence referendum in the first 100 days. By stating that a referendum on independence would happen in 2010, it is attempting to convince the Scottish people that they can defer the constitutional question for four years, but the SNP strategy for tax and turmoil would leave Scotland facing instability and uncertainty from day one.

From day one, the SNP intends actively to seek out and create conflict with Westminster. The SNP has made it clear that it seeks power in the Scottish Parliament for one purpose only—to take Scotland to the brink of independence and beyond. It will pick fights to use the Scottish Parliament as a battering ram to bring about dispute and discord.

Within 100 days, the SNP would introduce an independence Bill. It would tear up the Treasury rule and discipline that have brought economic stability to Scotland, re-create the battles of the 1970s for oil and gas and use every issue from gun laws to Olympic athletes to create tension between the north and the south. The SNP sees every fight within the UK Government as a way of building the case for independence. One SNP insider pointed out last month that the election will give the incoming Government a mandate to open talks with Downing street, saying, “If we don’t get what we want, what better case could there be for independence?”

Within 100 days, the SNP will begin squabbling with London over who owns the oil and gas in the North sea. Taking a step back in time, it wants to re-create the arguments of the 1970s. It is time that the SNP understood that Scotland has moved on.

On revenue from North sea oil, it is interesting to note that the SNP liked what the Financial Times said about the current price of oil and gas—that Scotland would have a surplus this year if it got 95 per cent. of the revenue. But in future years, when gas is a bigger part of the North sea flow and prices come down, there would be a clear deficit in the Scottish budget if Scotland relied upon even 95 per cent. of the revenue from oil and gas. Is it not a false economy to make such plans when it is quite clear that prices will come down, the flow will slow and the revenue will not be there?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To base a whole country’s economy on such a volatile product is irresponsible. There is a danger in it, and the people of Scotland must understand exactly what that danger is.

I could go on about the SNP’s policies on independence, but I am sure that some of my colleagues who have kindly come today are more than capable of doing so. As someone who is deeply proud of my Scottish roots, I am equally passionate about my Britishness. That is why I firmly believe that we are stronger together than apart. Unity is strength, as they say in the trade union movement, and that is equally relevant for the Union of the United Kingdom.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) on securing such an important debate on such an inauspicious day. I was almost detained in getting here today, trying as I was to get through the cheering, flag-waving crowds. Everybody is out celebrating the coming together of our two great nations.

More importantly, the hon. Gentleman secured this debate in what is likely to be one of the most dramatic and significant weeks in Scottish politics. You have probably not been to Scotland much in the past few weeks, Mr. Cummings, but one can sense the feeling there that change is coming. Scotland is about to move forward with hope, aspiration and ambition.

I will give way, but I would like to tell Labour Members that I will not be up and down like a jack-in-the-box, taking tedious, depressing and negative interventions. My contribution will be the only one that hon. Members will hear this morning from this side of the debate, and they will have plenty of time to catch your eye, Mr. Cummings. I will take the intervention, but could I plead with the hon. Lady to say something positive this time around? I challenge her to do so—go on.

The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the fact that I often make very positive contributions. He has already quoted opinion polls this morning, and I have no doubt that he will refer to other opinion polls in the rest of his contribution. However, the most recent opinion poll on independence for Scotland showed that only 22 per cent. of the Scottish people are in favour of it. Does he not agree that it would be completely inappropriate for the Scottish National party to proceed with their policy on a referendum if such a small minority of the people are in favour of independence?

I knew that it would be a task too far for the hon. Lady to say something positive, but I commend her for raising a point about opinion polls. The last opinion poll was issued by ICM on Sunday, and it showed that 41 per cent. of the Scottish people are in favour of independence. Curiously, it found that 56 per cent. of the English people are also in favour of it. It would seem that the English people are way ahead of the English political parties in this debate, and it seems curious that that is not reflected at all in the policies of many major parties in Westminster.

I am a Scotsman who represents an English seat in Somerset. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is not the case—the Scottish question does not raise its head at all. My constituents know my background; they know who I am. I am sorry to say that, as usual, he is talking through his hat.

I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman’s Scottish credentials, but the question was put to English people by ICM, and 56 per cent. said that Scotland should be independent. That is what the survey found, and it is consistent with several opinion polls that canvassed the people of England on the matter. It seems that the English people are way ahead of the hon. Gentleman and his party.

Getting back to the debate about Government policy on Scotland, which I am sure you are keen for us to do, Mr. Cummings, it is clear that the Scottish people have decided that it is time to move on. It is time to put an end to the mediocrity that has been a feature of the Scottish government since its inception. It is time to remove the dead hand of the Labour hegemony and Labour politics in Scotland. Fifty years of the dead hand of Labour is coming to an end—it will be part of history. Scotland will move on to a new chapter of its story that will be characterised by hope, optimism, ambition and aspiration.

I might give way later, but I will not give way just now. I want to try to make a bit of progress. [Interruption.] All right, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could tell us what will happen to the hand of the Liberal Democrats, who have also been in government in Scotland for the past eight years. Will their hand be cast aside, or will it be grasped?

I have nothing but respect for my Liberal colleagues. I have long been an admirer of their long-standing principles—a person knows what they will get with the Liberal Democrats. One could not hope to find a finer bunch of people in Scottish politics, and we are very much looking forward to coming to some arrangement with our Liberal colleagues in the next few days.

What we are saying in the debate about Government policy on Scotland is that it is time to move on. If the debate can be characterised by having been for and against anything in the past few years—[Interruption.] I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie).

The debate has been about hope and fear. On the one hand, there is a positive vision of Scotland. The SNP has an innate belief in the Scottish people and their abilities, talent and creativity. It takes the view that Scotland could be so much better than it is, that it could aspire to greater things and do so much more.

Compare and contrast our vision with the doom and gloom that we have heard from Labour Members. Their comments are negative: Scotland cannot do that, that is not possible, Armageddon will come if they do that, and the deficit will be bigger than that of the Gaza strip. They have tried to suggest that the Scottish people, almost uniquely among the European peoples, would make a failure of running their country on their own.

Call me old fashioned, but if a party wants to win an election, it should try its best to gear itself to the electorate, not disparage and insult them, which is exactly what Labour Members have been doing. That is why they will take such a hiding this week. Their campaign of negativity has been a disaster for them, and they are likely to realise that on Thursday.

Some of the things that I have heard have been truly outrageous and quite hysterical. Do you remember, Mr. Cummings, when Labour came to Oban a few months ago? There was a massed chorus of doom and gloom. The funniest comments that weekend came from the Home Secretary, who portrayed a Scotland infested by al-Qaeda members who happened to get over the barbed wire and evade the border guards that he believed would be installed.

The other hysterical incident was when the Prime Minister walked into the classic trap that we set. He came to Scotland one morning and managed to insult and disparage one of Scotland’s most successful businessmen. He described George Mathewson, who was responsible for the success of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Scotland’s most important financial institution, as self-indulgent and, I believe, egocentric because he dared to present an opposing political opinion.

I wish to correct the hon. Gentleman. That was the story reported by the press, but the full statement was nothing like that. In fact, the Prime Minister praised Mr. Mathewson for all that he did in business but said that his decision to support the SNP was egocentric and, in fact, out of character. The full statement was not about him as a person or his business ideals. Like many people, I believe that people are being self-indulgent and gambling with Scotland’s future by thinking that the SNP could lead the country better than the Labour-Liberal coalition has led it.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman cleared that up. The Prime Minister is in Scotland again today.

The hon. Gentleman prayed in aid the support of George Mathewson, as his party has done incessantly throughout the campaign. Mr. Mathewson did play a large, important and significant part in building up Scotland’s financial services sector. Would the hon. Gentleman reflect on and care to comment on what part George Mitchell, Sir Peter Burt and Jim Spowatt played? Did they play any role whatsoever in building up Scotland’s financial services industry, or were they just bit-part players? If they played any role at all, what is the hon. Gentleman’s view on their opinion that separating Scotland from the UK would be a disaster for financial services institutions in Scotland?

Of course those people are entitled to their opinions, and I hope that they make them clear. We want to hear the opinions of business people throughout the course of the debate. However, there is no way that members of my party would get into the game of insulting such people, unlike the Prime Minister, who spoke about George Mathewson. I shall not disparage and insult the people whom we saw this morning, for example. They are entitled to their views. We will leave such actions to the Prime Minister, if the Minister does not mind.

As I said, the Prime Minister is back in Scotland today. We know how bad it is for the Prime Minister because when he last came to Scotland, he pleaded with the Scottish people not to give him one more kicking. “I am going away,” he assured them, and for that they will be eternally grateful. “Do not give me one last kicking,” he said.

We Scots are a reasonable people, and, as far as possible, we would like to oblige and indulge the Prime Minister. However, we will give him one hell of a kicking on Thursday. The Scottish people will have their say about him, and it will not be a pretty sight. It will not be a pretty sight for the Prime Minister and it will not be a pretty sight for the Chancellor, who is probably now even more unpopular than the most unpopular Prime Minister since records began. The elections will be a disaster for the Chancellor in his own back yard because he will be defeated. What type of Prime Minister will he be then?

I make a plea to Labour Members: please keep the Prime Minister in Scotland until Thursday. We want to ensure that we get our vote out so that we have as large a majority as possible. Will they keep the Prime Minister in Scotland for as long as they can? His presence in Scotland has focused attention on the Government’s policy in Scotland. Why has the negativity failed this time? Labour Members thought that they simply needed to put the frighteners on the Scottish people one more time and they would all fall into line. That will not happen and there are two very good reasons why it will not. First and most important, the Scottish people do not believe a word that this Government and the Prime Minister say anymore. If this Prime Minister and the Government are prepared to tell untruths—I will not go into why—about why this country went to war, which is the most important fundamental decision that a Government can make, why should the Scottish people believe them about anything else? Why should they believe what the Government say about the details and features of our policy to replace the hated council tax when they tell such huge whoppers about going to war? Of course, people do not believe a word that the Government say anymore.

The hon. Gentleman’s comments are synonymous with exactly how the election campaign is going. Not once has he mentioned any of the issues that will be pertinent on Thursday—health, education, law. All he wants to talk about is what is happening at Westminster. The elections on Thursday are not about issues at Westminster.

I do not know whether I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I assure him that I will come to the issues that he has mentioned—he will have to be patient.

The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. He spoke about council tax and what he claimed was a misrepresentation of his policy. Will he answer a simple, clear question with a figure rather than windy rhetoric? How much would a two-income couple in a band D property—not a band F property—have to earn before they paid more in local income tax than in council tax?

It is strange that the debate about the future of local government finance has become the predominant parliamentary issue in the elections. In the debate about the future of council tax versus local income tax, the First Minister himself could not even come close to saying that the current council tax policy is fair. We believe that our policy is fair and the Scottish people believe that the policy is fair. The Scottish people will have a decision and a choice to make on Thursday: continue with the Labour party and its unfair council tax or move to a much fairer local income tax, as suggested by the Scottish National party. The second reason—

In addition to the Scottish people not believing one word that Labour Members say, the second reason why the Scottish people will not believe in the negativity this time is that they are much more confident and self-assured. The Scottish people have had eight years of running their own Government and Parliament, and they know what it is like to do that. Labour Members suggest to the Scottish people that they can confidently run issues such as health and education—as the Scottish people have done already—but that they cannot somehow run defence, foreign affairs or pensions. The Scottish people are saying that that does not chime with their experience and, in that respect, a negative policy does not work anymore.

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to put in an application to join my party, it will be considered in due course. That is how he can become my hon. Friend.

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why his party thinks that an independent Scotland would not be capable of having its own currency or setting its own interest rate?

We can have a debate about that if the hon. Gentleman wishes to, but the most important point is the suggestion that the Scottish people would not be capable of having their own currency. That issue also relates to those Labour Members who have said that the Scottish people are incapable of putting together their own armed forces. Those remarks are nonsense, ridiculous and disparaging. Once again, Labour Members are talking Scotland down. The Scottish people are, of course, capable of doing such things. I believe that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) thinks that the Scottish people would be able to do those things on their own.

I will not give way again as I want to try to make some progress.

When Labour Members move away from the negativity and try to be positive, it does not get much better for them because they insist on talking about what they call the Union dividend, which is the added value that the House is supposed to give the people of Scotland.

Let us consider the big reserved issues that the House is still responsible for in Scotland—foreign affairs, defence, pensions and the macro-economic management of Scotland. Let us start with foreign affairs. The defining issue for the House in Scotland in relation to foreign affairs is the Iraq war, which was overwhelmingly opposed in Scotland—not just by the vast majority of people, but probably by everyone. That is part of the Union dividend provided by the House.

No, I will not give way because, as I said, I am trying to make some progress.

Let us consider defence procurement. I know that hon. Members like to discuss defence procurement, but the defining decision that the House has taken about defence over the past few months and years is the renewal of Trident, which is £50 billion-worth of weapons of mass destruction placed just miles from the most populous city in Scotland. It was overwhelmingly opposed by the people of Scotland, campaigned against by all civic society and voted against by Scottish Members of the House. That is the Union dividend in relation to defence in Scotland.

No, I shall not give way as I have done so enough times already.

The Union dividend for pensions is the pensions fund raid, which has cost every Scottish family £3,700. That is the Union dividend on pensions. Let us consider the issue that Labour Members like to crow about most: macro-economic management from London. Right, okay, there is growth; but not in Scotland. We have underperformed compared with the rest of the UK since Labour came to power. We should not even bother considering the small European independent nations that would be Scotland’s normal comparators. Compared to Scotland, those nations are economically in another stratosphere because of the dead hand that this House has dealt with the macro-economic management of Scotland.

This debate is also called the Government’s policy on the Union. I did not know that they had a policy on the Union other than they were for it and we have heard more about that today. I will make our policy clear: we want to offer a referendum to the people of Scotland on the future of the Union. That is the fair and democratic way to proceed. Constitutional debate has been a feature of Scottish politics since Winnie Ewing’s magnificent triumph in 1967, and the question regarding the Union should be put to Scotland. As democrats, we should be in favour of something as fundamental as letting the Scottish people choose. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North asked “When?” from a sedentary position. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has made that clear. It will be in 2010. We will have the opportunity to prove what an SNP Government in power can do and then we will put the question on the Union to the Scottish people.

Some Labour Members have suggested that the election on Thursday is a referendum on the Union, but it is not. Every week and month, Labour Members say that the SNP talks only about the constitution, but Labour Members have discussed nothing but the constitution in this debate. The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North asked about health and education, but I have hardly heard a peep from the Labour party about those issues. All the First Minister talks about is the constitution, the constitution, the constitution. Scotland will have its choice on the constitution. Hon. Members from the Labour party are frightened of a referendum that will happen in three years time. People will have the choice at that point.

I have detained the Chamber for too long. On Thursday, the people of Scotland will have a choice between hope and fear, the positive and the negative, and the “can do” and the “cannot do”. That is the choice that will be put to the Scottish people on Thursday, and I have no doubt about the decision that they will make. One last thing to Labour Members here today: after 50 years, go back to your constituencies and prepare for defeat.

I shall try to keep a straight face after listening to that.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) for winning this important debate. Fifty-nine years ago—in a fortnight’s time—I was born in the Lanarkshire mining village of Lesmahagow. I was born and bred a Scot and have had the joy of spending 40 of those 59 years living in Scotland. For 19 years, I lived and worked in a Nottinghamshire coalfield as a miner—a coal face engineer.

In 1968, when Scottish miners were chasing jobs owing to the world dependency on cheap oil, I was one of those industrial gypsies forced to seek a better standard of living in England. With my family—my wife and baby son—I had to up and move to the Nottinghamshire coalfields. In 1987, I returned as Member of Parliament for Clydesdale. In my maiden speech, I likened that experience to that of the salmon returning from the sea to the fresh water. However, those 19 years spent living in England, where my daughter was born, and where I now have two grandchildren, provided an invaluable life experience.

I begin with that small tour of my personal history to make a point that is central to my fundamental beliefs: I am proud of my place of birth and of the mining stock from whence I came, and to have been born and bred in a country that taught me community, brotherhood and humanity. It did not instil in me negativity and insecurity, or the belief that I am a better person for having been born on a certain side of the street, river or border.

We live in a Europe that has seen the scourge of war fired by sectarian nationalism. Surely, if we have learned anything from that dark history it is this: that we achieve more together than we do apart, and that imposing divisions based on the road, the river or the map promotes not brotherhood or humanity, but a sectarian divide that says, “We on this side are better than you on that side.”

I reject the politics of envy and grievance that encompass the worst extremes of nationalism. I make no apology for my description and analysis of the politics of such elitist nationalism in Scotland today—the smarmy arrogance that all too often accompanies nationalism and its politics of grievance and untruths. It is truly unpalatable. I go further than that and have a message for those in the media who flirt with nationalism: “You, in the comfort zone of your cosy, chattering-class environment, purvey half-truths and myths to serve a nationalism that has little history of defending freedom.”

I now turn to the European Union. We are told that Scotland will become a member of the EU when it is divorced from the United Kingdom. I have almost 20 year’s experience of working on EU treaties and the European Scrutiny Committee, so I know that it is simply not true that Scotland would be welcomed by the EU as a member state. The SNP knows that. Before there can be further EU enlargement, there must be a treaty change and a unanimous vote by the 27 members of the European Council, which includes many states, such as Spain, Germany, Belgium and France, that would veto any such proposal. The SNP says, “It is not enlargement,” but that is not true. Scotland would need to change the relevant treaty to get a commissioner, a seat on the European Council, and representation on the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Auditors. EU membership is just another incredible SNP policy resulting from its huge gamut of presumptions and distortions.

My hon. Friend has far more knowledge of the EU than virtually any other Member, with the possible exception of our hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). As I understand it, a new treaty of enlargement would require a referendum in certain countries—France, in particular. Is the logical conclusion of the SNP’s policy, therefore, that Scotland’s future membership of the EU, and the jobs, prosperity and trade that go with it, would be placed in the hands of the French electorate, which could then decide whether Scotland re-enters the EU? Is that in Scotland’s best interests?

Not only the French electorate; half of the member states would need referendums. For example, let us take Spain, which has its own problems with separatism. Is Spain going to allow a member state to break into its constituent parts with each part keeping equal status as a member of the EU? Of course not.

I was not planning to intervene because I was hoping to make a speech if I could catch your eye, Mr. Cummings. However, what does my hon. Friend think is the likelihood of those European nations voting Scotland into the EU? They might think, “Well, what happens if its policy is to change its mind if things do not go exactly as it wants?” Would we vote such a country into the EU?

That is the whole point of my contribution. It would be impossible.

One of my biggest criticisms of the SNP is that it has not even started to discuss the problem. It always runs away from it. Has it explained how Scotland would become a member of the EU? Currency is a good example. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), when put in a corner and asked who would fix interest rates, says that the matter would stay with the Bank of England and then move into the single currency arrangements. No way, José! And the SNP knows that. The fact that it knows it and still allows people to assume otherwise poses a question in itself.

Speaking as a former deputy leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, I can say that as a prerequisite to successfully negotiating accession to the EU, Scotland would have to join the euro. Devolution would mean joining the euro and therefore devolution not from London to Edinburgh, but from Edinburgh to Frankfurt, where important economic decisions affecting Scotland would be made.

The prerequisite would be a unanimous vote in the European Council, which would be impossible.

A divorced Scotland would be the highest-taxed country in Europe. The Bank of England would set its interest rates and the value of its currency. Flows of investment would go one way—out, not in. Scotland’s thriving financial services industry, which can rival that of anywhere in the world, would take its money to London, Zurich or anywhere else. Certainly Scotland would not remain in its current excellent condition if it were separated from the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend makes a very serious point about the financial services market. Even worse, if Scotland were separate, the Bank of England would base its analysis and decisions on the market in the rest of the United Kingdom and ignore any significant economic factors affecting Scotland, such as the inflation rate or its rate of joblessness. The Scottish economy would accordingly face much greater risks, which would again have a serious effect on Scotland’s ability to attract the financial sector.

The point is that an independent Scotland would be leaving its monetary policy to be set by a foreign country. That is the reality.

I am mindful of the time and the fact that other hon. Members wish to speak, so I will conclude. On Thursday it will be deal or no deal for the people of Scotland, as those of us who watch the Channel 4 programme in the afternoon might say. Will they be fooled by the banker-bookie, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, or will they be true to their Scottish instinct for canniness and keep what they have, putting the education of our children before the separation of our country? Who will win on Thursday? Will the bankers and bookies of the SNP win on a deal for a separation or will Scotland say, “No deal”?

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) on securing this debate with precision timing. Today is also labour day, 1 May, which is a good day to have such a debate.

In less than 48 hours, polling stations all over Scotland will open their doors. Many of the polls predict a wind of change. The people of Scotland are willing and able to embrace change, but Scots will not be deluded into making changes that will cause the modern progress that the country has made in the past 10 years to be obliterated. I believe that the people of Scotland are confident in their national identity as part of the UK.

Just last week, 150 business leaders from throughout the country, men and women, put the case for Scotland’s economic and social progress as part of the Union. Like me, they believe that Scotland’s best opportunities for investment, jobs and prosperity lie in being part of Britain. From prosperity emanates a love of culture and sport. That is precisely why some of our most famous sporting heroes—all Scottish patriots—have put the case for Scotland as part of Britain.

During this election period, it is time to remind ourselves of the depth of the long-term ties that bind Scotland to the United Kingdom. The shared values that underpin the economic networks, financial connections and business alliances in the UK are fundamental to Scotland’s success. They make us stronger together, and we would be weaker apart. They make a multinational Britain a model for a new and interdependent world.

If the people of Scotland do not want independence on Friday morning, they cannot vote SNP on Thursday. Independence is the threat facing those people in Scotland who do not vote or who choose not to vote for a party that is committed to devolution. The SNP may want to give the impression that all the big questions will be postponed until a possible referendum years down the line, but its real strategy is for conflicts over powers from day one of an nationalist Administration. The leader of the Scottish nationalists has publicly threatened that the four-year war of attrition with Westminster will start on 3 May if his party is elected to rule.

The break-up of Britain would not only start to undermine shared family connections and economic relationships and the values that we all hold in common, but would, from day one, be a recipe for division and instability and put our prosperity at risk. East Lothian, the constituency that I represent, has like the rest of Scotland fared well within the Union in recent years. Last week’s employment figures showed more people in work in Scotland than ever before, with 50,000 more people in employment in one year alone. For the first time in half a century, Scotland can contemplate marching towards full employment if we make the right long-term decisions. Scotland not only has its highest share of working age people in employment since records began, but its employment rate, currently at 76.3 per cent., has been around or above the UK rate since 2003, among the highest in the EU 25 and better than that of every G7 country. That contrasts with the position in 1997, when the Scottish employment rate was 2.5 per cent. lower than the UK rate. Far from lagging behind, Scotland has experienced higher growth in gross weekly earnings than the UK in three of the past four years.

Devolution gives Scotland both stability and mutual support. Rising to the challenge of globalisation means nothing less than equipping each and every Scot to meet the competitive challenge. In the next 10 years, a transformation of our education and skills base is essential. That is what we must focus on, not unnecessary constitutional wrangling. Labour in Scotland will, for the first time ever, guarantee education to Scots from the ages of three to 18. That priority was identified under the devolved policy and can be delivered only by a devolved policy. However, we will succeed only if we also secure and entrench stability as the foundation of all that we do.

It is time for some brutal truths about the new global economy. Investment will flow to those countries that are stable. In the same way, it will move quickly and decisively from those that are unstable. Stability is our watchword—yesterday, today and tomorrow—so Scotland must build and cement the economic stability that is the foundation of any country’s success, not jeopardise or take risks with it. For those reasons—for the sake of the stability that we have enjoyed and need to continue to enjoy, and for the investment in innovation and education, which are the keys to the future, to flourish—we reject absolutely the policies of the nationalists.

To reject the nationalists and independence, we must look at their failure to be honest about their policies, and start with just one example of their inventions and falsehoods. The SNP’s whole financial policy is based on a series of errors and exaggerations. The nationalists have built their whole case on one volatile commodity—oil—but they have refused to face the facts about the real scale of revenues from the North sea. Almost every credible economist now confirms that the nationalists have got the oil price wrong, the oil production numbers wrong and Scotland’s potential share of North sea oil and gas wrong.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful case. The nationalists have told us that they will bring forward revised estimates of income from North sea oil in July. Can she think of any possible reason why the nationalists are waiting until July before doing that?

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his intervention. One word would characterise the nationalists’ approach: dishonesty. They have also invented an oil fund surplus that cannot exist. That is why they say that they will not update their figures until July, weeks after the election.

The figures are not small or incidental for a country such as ours. The £2 billion oil gap alone is the equivalent of the entire budget for universities and colleges. However, despite being billions of pounds out on oil and with less money to spend, the nationalists keep adding to their tax and spending commitments day by day, thereby creating a black hole for every year of a first-term Administration, and before we add the costs of independence. New SNP spending commitments would cost an average of at least £2 billion each year, equating to a massive £8 billion over the four years of a term of office. Those commitments include tax and spending promises on pre-school education, free school meals, micro renewable generators for homes, higher education, the first time buyers grant, housing debt, farming, international aid, the Edinburgh festival Expo fund, local income tax and freezing council tax.

As my hon. Friend will be aware, one of Scotland’s distinct features is our strong system of local government, which we have had for many years. As one of those of us who believe in local democracy, does she not consider the setting of a central rate for income tax strange, as it will make local authorities virtually powerless to provide the individual services that their local communities demand?

Absolutely. I could not have put that better myself. Not content with the unfunded commitments, the SNP has made unfunded tax and spending pledges in currently reserved areas.

Absolutely not. [Interruption.] I do not care; I have no intention of giving way.

The SNP has made pledges in areas that are currently reserved. That is the key. I am referring to a citizen’s pension at a cost of £1.2 billion and a change to corporation tax costing £600 million—a total cost of £1.8 billion. On top of that, we estimate the cost of the trappings of an independent state—new Ministries, new embassies and new commitments—at £1.5 billion. The SNP published tax plan would mean an immediate rise in income tax, yet there are pledges to lower taxes. I am totally confused; I just hope that the shrewd and astute people in Scotland will see through that nonsense.

The nationalists, as we have heard, say that they could join the euro, but they do not meet the criteria on either the exchange rate rules of the euro or the fiscal rules—the confusion mounts. To avoid doubt, I should, however, make one thing clear. Although the SNP says that it will make a claim for oil revenues in the first 100 days of power if it is elected, it also intends to retain the benefits of Barnett money. That is an absolute joke.

In a global economy in which stability is at a premium and investment can so easily come and go, businesses and individuals need to be certain of the monetary and currency arrangements, or they will question the wisdom of investing when an Administration who want all the trappings of a separate state cannot begin to articulate what they would do with the currency inflation interest rates and the management of the economy.

Quite simply, the reality of life in Scotland today is not some continuing obsession with a border between Scotland and England, but ever closer connections between the nations.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) on securing a debate that, if nothing else, has served to remind us all why we should be grateful that it is some years since the Scottish Grand Committee met.

I listened to the slightly misty-eyed and breathy rhetoric of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) about how it was time for us to be free and I thought I heard an echo of a distant campaign. I thought at first that perhaps it was that glorious campaign in 1992—no doubt hon. Members remember the slogan, “Scotland free in ’93”. But no, it was not that one. It was an echo of the glorious Scottish summer of 1978, when we were all on the march with Ally’s army—we were going to win the World cup. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman will know—he should remember this and be careful—in Scotland one can often go from spring to winter without enjoying a summer or an autumn. He should be a bit more cautious as he anticipates the wishes of the electorate as they will be expressed on Thursday.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen said a number of years ago that devolution would be the death of the Scottish National party. I think that he was right, and the justification for that view has been seen in the election campaign in the past few weeks. One has to consider where independence is in the Scottish National party campaign—it is something that we might at some stage over the next four years get a say on in a referendum. We are not being told that it is something that is so good for us that we have to have it now. We are being told that we will have a go with devolution for three and a half years, or perhaps four, and then we will think about it.

One can see the change in the position of the Scottish National party. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) famously told us in a “Newsnight” debate that an independent Scotland would keep sterling as its currency and that we would continue to have our interest rates set by the Bank of England. I just do not understand the logic of the position that we will keep those things but we will, by virtue of some sentimental desire and a drive for independence, remove ourselves from all influence on them. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) said, we will remove Scotland from the consideration of those matters. It is bad enough sometimes that Scotland’s economy can be affected by a greater set-up in which our needs and wishes are not at the forefront, but at least they are there and being considered. The SNP will give us a situation in which we will be subject to the diktats and decisions of others, but we will have no say and they will not have to consider our position at all.

To take up the thread of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, and referring to the comments of the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood), may we take it that when it comes to discussions between the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, it will indeed be no deal?

We will all sleep much better in our beds knowing that that is not my decision. I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have already said to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, that I will not prejudge the decision of the people on Thursday, and that is the point at which we start to speak about coalitions.

The real weakness of the independence position was best demonstrated this weekend, when again the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan told us that independence was not a one-way street. That is a very, very dangerous line to take. I cannot believe for one second that the hon. Gentleman said that without having first given it the most careful and closest consideration, but that statement is as close to being misleading as any hon. Member of this House could come because it fails to take account of the role of the rest of the United Kingdom in all this. We might well try independence for a few years with the Scottish National party, but if we then decide that things are not so nice on the outside and we want to come back in, other people—the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland—will want to have a say. Looking at recent history, I have to say that I do not see why on earth they would want to have us back.

Constitutional settlements are dynamic. Over the past 300 years we have seen the balance change between monarch and Parliament. Within Parliament in the past 100 years we have seen the balance change between the Commons and the Lords. I do not believe—this has been a weakness of the Government’s position in recent months—that we should think that constitutional development in Scotland stopped on 1 May 1999, when the first Scottish Parliament was elected. That must be an organic and evolving process.

One area that requires consideration is the way in which the budget of the Scottish Parliament is raised. A weakness of that institution is that it is, in effect, a one-sided equation, if there can be such a thing. Politics is a two-sided equation: it is about how we raise the money and how we spend it. The absence of one of those sides—the raising of the money—has distorted political debate in Scotland for the past eight years. That will need to be addressed. I repeat the leader of my party’s call today for a new constitutional convention to establish a consensus across the political parties and civic society in Scotland on how best we can evolve the constitutional settlement.

I will not prejudge the verdict of the voters on Thursday, but I will say that if we do end up with an SNP Administration or an SNP-led Administration, that will not be a reflection on SNP policies; nor will it reflect a thirst for independence. The Government will have to share some part of the blame if that happens. In recent times, they have here resisted progress in the constitutional debate. They have refused to speak about reform and they have insisted on continuing with the institution of the Scotland Office and with the Office of the Advocate-General—offices that, frankly, in their current form have long outlived their usefulness.

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire prayed in aid the Iraq war, but he did not take my intervention on the issue because he knew what I was going to say—that in fact the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of the Iraq war. With a few honourable exceptions, Labour and Conservative MSPs voted for it, just as Labour and Conservative MPs did, and they did so days before it started. The nationalists also talk about Trident, but when the Scottish Parliament debated Trident, it made no decision at all—all the options were knocked down.

That takes us to the problem with the Scottish National party. I believe that Scotland and the United Kingdom can be improved through the application of my political principles as a Liberal, and no doubt the Conservative and Labour parties believe the same about their political principles. However, the Scottish National party seems to believe that it can improve Scotland simply by drawing lines on the map, and that is a dangerous attitude, because if we draw that line on the map and still have problems, who will we blame then?

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Atkinson. As a Member whose constituency borders Scotland, you will be familiar with the world of Scottish politics.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) secured the debate, although I would have been more pleased had any Scottish Labour MP signed the early-day motion that I tabled in the House to celebrate the Act of Union, as some of their English colleagues felt able to do. I would have been happier still had the Government backed my party’s calls to celebrate the Act of Union throughout the United Kingdom, rather than marginalising it by simply holding an event to introduce the new £2 coin to which the Chancellor did not even bother to turn up and which the Secretary of State graced for only five minutes.

Is it the hon. Gentleman’s case that we would not have had this problem had MPs signed an early-day motion? Is that what he has just told us?

We would not have had this problem had the Labour and Liberal Democrat Administration in Edinburgh not failed so miserably over the past eight years—that is the point that has been missing from the debate so far.

I agreed with virtually everything that the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North said in opening the debate. Indeed, it reflected half the State of the Union address that my colleague Annabel Goldie gave last week, which set out the argument for the Union.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be criticising the Labour and Liberal Democrat partnership at Holyrood. Does he include the Conservatives numpties in that so-called failure?

I have never described colleagues in that way, but there is no doubt that the public perception in Scotland is that the Scottish Executive have failed to deliver over the past eight years, and it is interesting that none of the Labour Members who have spoken has acknowledged that failure.

Let us be quite clear that if the Scottish National party increases its numbers in Thursday’s elections, that will not be because there is a clarion call for independence—as others have said, the polls do not indicate support for independence—but because of dissatisfaction with the Labour Administration and, indeed, with the Liberal Democrats, who are now clearly willing to swap camps.

If there is dissatisfaction, why are people not clamouring to support the Conservative party in Scotland? The Conservative party in England is way ahead of the Labour party in opinion polls, so what is wrong with the Conservative party in Scotland?

As the Prime Minister once said, the Conservative party in Scotland offers people a third way in the election, and I shall make that case.

I have only a short time in which to speak, given how long others have spoken.

The Conservatives offer a third way because they offer an opportunity for change but without all the risks that a Scottish National party Administration would bring to the Scottish Parliament, as many hon. Members have eloquently said. Let us be quite clear, however, that there will be no Scottish nationalist Administration in Holyrood without the Liberal Democrats—it is they who will deliver the Scottish National party to the people of Scotland. I am sure that other hon. Members present know the arithmetic and that the Scottish National party cannot get a majority in the Scottish Parliament on its own. It will therefore require Liberal Democrat support to pursue any of the hare-brained ideas that it has suggested, which the hon. Member for East Lothian (Anne Moffat) eloquently described.

The hon. Gentleman again demonstrates very well the problem that he succinctly highlighted in his memo: the Conservative party in Scotland has no thinkers. However, he speaks absolute nonsense when he says that the Liberal Democrats would be required to put the SNP in power. Surely, the SNP can form a minority Administration if it chooses to do so; indeed, if the Conservative party’s policy is to have nothing to do with any coalition with any party, that will be the inevitable consequence.

Previously, the hon. Gentleman did not wish to predict the outcome of the election. However, it is very unlikely that the Scottish National party could achieve the necessary numbers, and past form suggests that the Liberal Democrats might do a volte-face on virtually every issue on which they stand in the election, as they have on issues ranging from tuition fees to genetically modified crops. Despite what the hon. Gentleman said in the debate, the possibility of an SNP-Liberal Democrat coalition in Holyrood is very much open, and that will be bad for Scotland because a Scottish nationalist-led Administration will bring about the instability that we have discussed.

However, this week’s vote will not destroy the Union because the election is not about the Union per se. I am happy to join Labour Members and Unionists across Scotland to fight the Union’s cause, but like my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), I want to make a positive case for the Union. My right hon. Friend does not want to take the clunking-fist approach of the Chancellor, who is trying to scare everybody into thinking that Scotland would somehow be totally diminished and impoverished if it were not part of the Union; he wants to make a positive case for staying in the Union, as he did yesterday in Buchanan street in Glasgow, where he was so well received. The Labour party has made a serious mistake in fighting such a negative campaign in the election. I am relatively objective in the debate between the Labour party and the SNP, but I have not heard Labour policies being set out. Indeed, when Mr. McConnell was pushed this weekend, he could not answer questions about Labour’s policies on local income tax and council tax.

People in Scotland will have a choice on Thursday and will be able to choose the change that they desperately want. I include the Liberal Democrats in those changes, because they have gone along with every policy of the Labour Administration, and it is incredible to see their leader, Nicol Stephen, trying to distance himself from decisions to which he was party. However, there is a chance for change and there is a party that offers delivery without divorce, which is why I urge people to vote for the Scottish Conservative party on Thursday.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson, in this debate on the Government’s policy towards the Union. It may have escaped your notice that there is an election going on in Scotland at the moment. It is not unnatural that in a debate on the Union at a time when a momentous decision on its future is to be taken in 48 hours we should focus on the choice faced by the people of Scotland. However, before I move on to that, I want to say one thing about Scotland’s position in the Union.

Scotland helped to make the United Kingdom what it is today. The United Kingdom has been and continues to be one of the most successful countries in the world—and in the history of the world. If it were not for the ingenuity, drive, inventiveness and scientific genius of Scots, the United Kingdom would not have become what it is today. Scotland has played an invaluable part in creating this country, and I look forward to the next 300 years of Scotland’s membership of the Union.

There is an important decision facing the people of Scotland, which has wide-ranging ramifications not just in Scotland and the United Kingdom but around the world. There could not be a more important decision. The debate this morning has been a microcosm of the entire election debate. When any difficult or detailed policy question is put to those who advance the idea of taking Scotland out of the UK, answer comes there none. Instead, those who advocate breaking up the United Kingdom wrap themselves in the Saltire, close their eyes, and say, “If you just love Scotland enough, everything will be fine.” Well, it will not. That simply will not do.

When there are important questions on fiscal policy to be answered, why is the Scottish National party not to update its anticipated revenue from North Sea oil until July? It is an insult to the people of Scotland to go to the polls without giving them any idea about how much the SNP thinks it will get in oil revenue. That is calculated deceit of the people of Scotland, and the SNP should be ashamed of itself.

As for monetary policy, when serious questions are put about who would set interest rates for an independent Scotland and what prevailing economic conditions would be taken into consideration in the setting of an interest rate, no answer comes from the SNP. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) set out the questions eloquently, but no answers have come from the SNP either in this debate or the four or five weeks of the election campaign.

No, but I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman so that he can explain this: why should an independent Scotland, with a separate Scottish economy and separate prevailing conditions for growth, gross domestic product and unemployment, have its interest rates and monetary policy decided by a foreign country?

Yesterday the Chancellor was in Scotland and he said in a radio interview that he would not be prepared to work with an SNP First Minister. What did he mean by that?

No answer. Not only is this hour-and-a-half debate a microcosm of the election campaign, but so is this one exchange. There are no answers on fiscal or monetary policy.

I asked the simplest question about council tax policy. I did not ask for the entire projection of all revenues across Scotland, or what the impact on services would be. I asked the simplest question: how much will a two-income couple in a band D household have to earn before they pay more in local income tax than they do in council tax? The hon. Gentleman completely failed to answer the question. I shall give him an answer: about £34,000. If he disputes that or thinks that my sums are wrong, and that a couple living together and each earning £17,000 will pay less under his policy, let him tell us. He cannot do it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan), whom I belatedly congratulate on securing the debate, set out detailed points about defence procurement. When 20,000 Scottish jobs rely on the defence industry in Scotland, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) did not even have the courtesy to give an approximation of the number of those jobs that would be retained in an independent Scotland. It is an insult to the people who work in those defence-related jobs and to the people of Govan, whose local industry is so dependent—

And, indeed, Scotstoun; perhaps my hon. Friend will forgive me if I focus on Govan for a second. Local industry there is so reliant on the massive number of jobs in the shipbuilding industry secured by the Government, that people there will want an answer to the questions my hon. Friend put. It is not good enough to be told that if they wrap themselves in the flag and say they love Scotland, everything will be fine. That is an insult to the people of Scotland.

I have been in Scotland taking part in the election campaign, and when I saw the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire here today I wondered why he has not been there doing the same. Now we know. They dare not let him. His speech was a gaffe-strewn disaster, a one-man Sheffield rally. The message has not got to him that he is not supposed to be gloating or cracking open champagne bottles before even one vote is cast. He is showing ugly arrogance taking the people of Scotland for granted, and the smirk will be wiped from his party’s face when the people of Scotland go to the polls in 48 hours.

The mask slipped from the Scottish National party during the hon. Gentleman’s speech. It has been sweetness and light during the campaign. Mr. Salmond, or rather the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)—he is standing in Gordon, he is standing in the list, and he wants to be an MP in Westminster, so I can be forgiven for forgetting what title to refer to him by from time to time—has been going around saying, “Gloat, me? Smarmy, moi?”—in no circumstances would such a thing cross his mind. However, today we see the true face of Scottish National party triumphalism—the utter contempt in its treatment of the people of Scotland, in presuming to know how they will cast their votes in two days’ time. I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman will repeat his performance in Scotland, so that more people can see the ugly arrogance of a party that thinks that it has the voters in its pocket.

In the few minutes that I have left I want to deal with key issues, and perhaps I can draw together some of the comments that have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood) set out in incontrovertible detail the point that if Scotland secedes from the United Kingdom, it leaves the EU. That is a fact. If it wants to get back into the EU it must reapply. It must join a queue, behind Turkey and other nations, and there would have to be an enlargement treaty. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire shakes his head, but if he has any facts to disprove that, let him state them.

However, Scotland would not only be out of the EU, with the disastrous ramifications that that would have for Scottish jobs, industry and inward investment. An independent Scotland that left the United Kingdom would also leave behind the G8, permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, and NATO. What other country is leaving NATO when others around Europe are lining up to join it? That is the vision of the SNP for Scotland: isolated, irrelevant and defenceless. It is not my vision for Scotland, and it is not Labour’s.

We have today seen the duplicitous way in which the SNP turns every criticism of it into criticism of Scotland. I am here not to criticise Scotland, but to criticise the SNP and its ruinous vision for Scotland, which would destroy jobs and put our monetary policy in the hands of a foreign country, and which has no credibility in fiscal policy. Our vision is of a Scotland that will, within a dozen years, have the best education system in the world, because in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century the investment that we put into people by way of education, skills, learning and training will bring us to pre-eminence. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire is now chuntering away from a sedentary position. We are now fourth best in the world; we are in striking distance of being the best-educated country in the world, and we have set ourselves the target of doing it in a dozen years.

We will achieve that under Labour, but if we spend the next three years in turmoil and instability, telling any potential investors, “Do not come to Scotland, because we do not know what our currency will be, whether we will be in the EU or what our monetary or fiscal framework will be,” how on earth will we attract the brightest and best to come and stay in Scotland? How can we continue to reverse the brain drain, as we are now doing? Just last week, we learned that the population of Scotland has increased for the fourth year in a row. That is a tribute to the success of the Labour-led Scottish Executive, and I am convinced that people will see that and vote for education and not separation on Thursday.