I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Dean. I am sure that you have heard that these excursions into Scottish politics are usually cosy, consensual affairs, and I expect that we shall see some of that. I have been looking forward immensely to the debate and cannot wait to hear some of the contributions of Labour Members. They did not have an opportunity to discuss this issue and their commission at their Aviemore conference, so I thought that I would helpfully oblige by supplying the debate today.
Is it not great that we are where we are now? Who would have believed that, in one short year, we would be where we are? Everyone agreed that devolution is a process, not an event. Everyone in this Chamber agreed that more powers are required for the Scottish Parliament. Who would have believed that the Conservative, Liberal, Scottish National and Labour parties would now demand more powers for the Scottish Parliament? It is remarkable, and we should take a moment to appreciate its full significance and importance. Of course, it was all started by the Scottish Government’s national conversation. Now everyone is talking. We cannot shut them up any more.
In the past few days we have had significant contributions to that national debate. Sir Tom Hunter, Scotland’s top businessman and entrepreneur, said that a referendum is required immediately.
Did not Sir Tom Hunter say that the referendum should consist of only one question—yes or no to Scottish independence?
It took all of two minutes, so I am grateful for that intervention. Yes, of course it should be a one-option referendum—a yes or no. That is the Scottish National party’s favoured position. If the hon. Lady had been paying attention she would know that that is exactly what we want. I shall come back to the issue of referendums.
At what stage may we expect the SNP to take its national conversation to the Scottish Parliament?
The national conversation will go to the Scottish Parliament. Already we have had many significant and notable contributions: a succession of Labour former Ministers, Labour Members of the European Parliament and current Labour Members of Parliament have added to the national conversation in the past few days. The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Hamilton), who is in his place now, said:
“We should have a referendum sooner, rather than later.”
The hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) said:
“We should go for it now, get this out of the way and then focus on the issues that matter.”
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who wanted to attend the debate, but could not, said Labour
“should not be afraid of a referendum”
“the independence option should have been put to the people at the time of the devolution referendum”.
I could not agree more. Welcome to the club. The national conversation has got everybody speaking.
A conversation occurs when people talk about things, and they may even happen to agree. The most notable contribution was from the abominable no-man himself, former Scotland Office Minister Brian Wilson, who said in his usual robust way,
“I’d rather have a referendum rather than this incremental nonsense of fiddling about with powers as if that’s what politics depended on.”
It is incredible that we are where we are. Of course, Mr. Wilson was referring to the Scottish Constitutional Commission that has been put together by all the Opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament, independently chaired, we are led to presume, by Sir Kenneth Calman. It is an uneasy alliance of the three Opposition parties in the Holyrood Parliament, but an even more uneasy alliance between those parties in Holyrood and the parties here in Westminster.
The motion in the Scottish Parliament deals with increased fiscal powers, but it does not deal with returning powers from Holyrood to Westminster. I am looking forward to hearing the Liberals’ position on that in the debate: I am sure that we shall have it. [Interruption.]
I know that the hon. Gentleman cannot wait for his opportunity to have his say in the national conversation—and for his colleagues in the Scottish Parliament to do the same. It will come to the Scottish Parliament when it comes to the Scottish Parliament.
To deal with the constitution, I know that the Minister will say that the national commission is still in its early stages; it has still to report, and some of the membership is still outstanding. Nevertheless, we must hear from the House today, especially if the commission is not to have a democratic mandate from the Scottish people. The House has responsibility for the constitution and the hon. Members present will have the final say. We need to hear from Labour Members whether they have bought into the process. Are they enthusiastic champions of the commission? We must hear that from them.
The hon. Gentleman will take it under false pretences, then. I welcome the national conversation, but I should like it better if we could have it in Westminster. Will the hon. Gentleman explain why his former Westminster leader—perhaps his present Westminster leader will tell us—did a deal with the Government not to have Scottish Grand Committees, in which we could discuss Scottish issues a lot more than we can in this forum? If he wants a conversation, will he explain that?
I shall leave the hon. Gentleman to conduct his one-man crusade to resurrect the Scottish Grand Committee, but I welcome his contribution to the national debate. I look forward to the first intervention from a Labour Member wholeheartedly and enthusiastically backing the commission set up by the Scottish Parliament.
If the SNP did any such deal with the Government, I certainly never heard of it. If the hon. Gentleman wants to continue his campaign to resurrect the Scottish Grand Committee he is more than entitled, and is welcome, to do so. However, I am still waiting to hear one intervention in support of the commission and enthusiastically championing the idea.
I enthusiastically support the commission because it will develop the Scottish Parliament in a very positive manner. Is it not the hon. Gentleman’s intention to destroy the Scottish Parliament at the end of the day? That is his real agenda.
That is one of the most ridiculous interventions that I have heard so far, but I am sure that we shall get some more like it in the debate. We want to make our Parliament a normal Parliament, with the same powers as the Parliaments of every small nation in Europe. There is nothing wrong with that. I respect the hon. Lady’s position on independence, and I have my position. Those are the things that we agree on. We should be putting our positions to the Scottish people and then conducting the debate and the argument. The hon. Member for Midlothian thinks that that is the right thing to do. I do not know the hon. Lady’s position, but I suggest that she possibly does not think that.
I want to support the commission that is under way—for one good reason. It allows us to review the whole gamut of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows powers to be taken back from the irresponsible Administration that currently exists in the Scottish Parliament. The relevant powers, quite clearly, are on energy policy and energy security, which is vital to all of us. I do not want my country to have a gap in energy provision in the years ahead because of policies that have been adopted. Does the hon. Gentleman want that?
I was waiting for the first point about taking powers back. There is support for independence in the Scottish Parliament—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman accepts and appreciates that—and for more powers for the Scottish Parliament, but there is no support whatever for taking powers from the Scottish Parliament to the Westminster Parliament. If he pursues that agenda on the commission, he will have the same discussion with the Liberals. They have made it abundantly and absolutely clear, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) said, that there will be no clawback of powers. The Liberals must be clear that, if they do not get an assurance from the Minister that a clawback is a non-starter, they should walk from the commission today. If they are going to be sincere about their intention—
Before my hon. Friend moves on—[Hon. Members: “No!”] How many interventions from Labour Members has my hon. Friend taken? He has been very generous.
The right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram) spoke about an irresponsible Administration. The UK Government have a £581 billion cumulative deficit, £44 billion net debt, £87 billion deficit in trading goods and £189 billion liability on private finance initiative projects. The Government’s economic irresponsibility logically insists that economic powers should be immediately handed over to Holyrood.
As always, my hon. Friend makes a very powerful point and I can see blank faces on the Labour Benches in response to it.
How did we have arrive at this very satisfactory situation? Has there been a Damascus-like conversion from Labour Members? Did they wake up one morning and, all of a sudden, think that the Scottish Parliament needs fiscal powers and autonomy to do its job properly, better to represent the people of Scotland? Alternatively, maybe—just maybe—it was something to do with a certain day in May when an SNP Government were elected and the Labour party lost power for the first time in a generation. Perhaps it had something to do with that.
I have imagined the scene in the Scottish Parliament when the commission idea was first suggested and mooted. I can imagine the Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament sitting in their weekly meeting, despondent and depressed. They have been completely shattered by their Scottish leader getting involved and embroiled in the donations scandal; bruised by the continued popularity of an SNP Government riding high in opinion polls; and monstered on a weekly basis at First Minister’s questions. I can see the former, sacked, disgraced, over-refreshed adviser going to the meeting and saying, “I’ve got an idea to get one over on the Nats. Let’s take the whole issue of the constitution to the SNP.” One can imagine all the back-slapping following such a suggestion.
However, Labour MSPs did not account for hon. Members here in Westminster. I can imagine the steam coming out of the ears of the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood) and others when they heard the plan for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. I can imagine mutterings of “Over my dead body” from the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and the state of apoplexy induced in the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine). The call would have been met less than enthusiastically, and I understand why those people are less than enthusiastic about powers being transferred from Holyrood to Westminster—Labour Members are not intervening to support the idea, so I am looking forward to their speeches. They once ruled the roost and had powers absolute in Scotland.
Is it not a sign of the times? We want all powers transferred from Westminster to Holyrood, and Labour are coming along with us. They want some powers to be transferred—they do not yet know which ones—but they are on our territory.
I should like to make some progress if that is all right. I have a lot to get through. I shall give way to the hon. Lady later.
We are where we are and we are trying to move forward. After the Scottish group meeting, the hapless Minister was dispatched. His call was to inform the Scottish press. In his best Kelvin MacKenzie-speak, the Minister said that no one was interested in further constitutional change other than the “McChattering classes”—an odious and offensive term. Had it been used by the metropolitan press—
The hon. Lady says, “Hear hear!”, but had the phrase been used by the metropolitan press, it would have been subject to a number of complaints.
Unbeknown to the hapless, unfortunate Minister the McChattering classes were just about to recruit their most notable and significant member—his boss, the Prime Minister. I would not like to have been the Minister on the day when he found that his boss, the Prime Minister, was a member of the McChattering classes.
The hon. Gentleman said that increasing the powers of the Scottish Parliament is a priority. Never in one of my surgeries, or when I have walked around on the streets, or at community and public meetings, has one single constituent of mine come up to me and said: “The No. 1 priority is more powers for the Scottish Parliament”. It would be helpful if someone gave the hon. Gentleman some advice. Has he met such people?
It is the hon. Gentleman’s No. 1 priority. Labour have set up a commission to look at what powers should be moved. He is looking at the process of transferring powers from Holyrood to Westminster. If it is not an issue of interest to the Scottish people, why has a commission been set up? I find the hon. Gentleman’s remarks bizarre.
To placate hon. Members, the idea of two-way traffic—the prospect of some powers being taken from Holyrood and repatriated to Westminster—began to emerge. For about three weeks, they could not even bring themselves to call the body a commission. Only at the last possible moment, grudgingly, did they decide to call it a commission, which is remarkable. Two-way traffic has absolutely no support. It exists only in the fevered imagination of Labour Members. Nobody has mentioned the issue and there is no public support for it—if it were put to the people, it would be overwhelmingly defeated. I say to Labour Members: it will not happen.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about parties’ support for different positions, but he has not referred to the result of last May that overwhelmingly rejected the cause of independence. The independence parties could not get a majority in the Scottish Parliament.
I remember the SNP taking seats from the Liberals in practically every part of Scotland—[Interruption.] As comments from a sedentary position suggest, that has particularly been the case in Argyll and Gordon. I shall take no lessons from the Liberals about who did best in last year’s Scottish parliamentary elections.
Exactly what powers would Labour seek to return to Westminster? The right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow mentioned some. Powers in relation to terrorism, foot and mouth and, I believe, bird flu have been mentioned by one Minister or another. However, terrorism is already a reserved matter for Westminster. I am sure that Scottish farmers would not thank the Labour party for taking powers over the management of foot and mouth from the Holyrood Parliament to Westminster when the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is a Westminster Department, initiated the last foot and mouth outbreak and never properly compensated farmers.
In that case, I am desperately trying to understand what that point was about. In a debate yesterday on counter-terrorism, I made the point that the only terror power that the Scottish Parliament has available to it is the right to try terror suspects. I am beginning to believe that that has now been caught up in the talk about the transfer of powers from Holyrood to Westminster. I do not know what is being referred to—the Gentlemen has further confused the issue—in the talk about transferring powers over terrorism. Certainly, Scottish farmers will not thank Westminster for taking responsibility for foot and mouth and bird flu, for example. I have no idea what Ministers are talking about.
Perhaps I could help the hon. Gentleman by clarifying what the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) said. The counter-terrorism legislation says, in response to the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland, and the most senior counter-terrorism policeman in Scotland, that it is for the safety of the island—the British Isles—that suspects are tried, when appropriate, where specialist prosecutors and investigators are best suited to get a conviction to keep our island safe. If the SNP objects to that, it should say that it is prepared to put politics before the safety of this island.
I find the hon. Gentleman’s intervention curious. He and I were both at the debate yesterday and heard considered arguments being put forward. We have no problem with terrorist suspects being tried in the most appropriate places. Indeed, the Glasgow terrorist suspects were transferred to English jurisdiction last year. What we will not do is sacrifice the independence of the Scottish courts in order to achieve that. We will stand up to ensure that that is maintained.
I return to the transfer of powers. The Liberal party must make it abundantly clear to Labour Members that it is not prepared to go through with the process unless it gets a cast-iron commitment and guarantee that there will be no taking away of powers from the Scottish Parliament to Westminster. We all look forward to hearing that from the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), who will be speaking for the Liberal party. No one believes that there is any requirement for a return of powers to Westminster: it exists only in the fevered imagination.
The biggest problem with the commission—there are many—is what I would call the democratic deficit. The only thing that it will not consider is independence. If it is to consider Scotland’s constitutional options, it is absurd and inconceivable that independence should be left out of a review of further powers for the Scottish Parliament. What are Labour Members afraid of?
We do not know. The hon. Member for Midlothian would certainly like to test that proposition. We look forward to ensuring that there is a referendum. If Members believe that the chairman was right, why do they not want a referendum on independence—especially if they believe that they would win it?
In response to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna), our preference would be for a yes-no referendum. That is the position of Brian Wilson, as it is of MEPs, former Ministers and hon. Members. That is what we want—a yes-no referendum. If the commission can come forward with a constructive and viable proposal, why cannot it be tested? Why should the Scottish people not have a say? If Labour Members do not want a yes-no referendum on independence, why not have a referendum on all available constitutional options? We are democrats. I believe that Labour Members are democrats. Why will they not let the Scottish people decide?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman saw his party leader being interviewed by Andrew Marr on Sunday, but he unequivocally said that it should be done under the single transferable voting system—that voters should have three choices. Did the hon. Gentleman not hear that? Is there no significance in the fact that his party leader said that?
Absolutely. Our preference is for a yes-no referendum, but if it is to be a multi-option referendum, that is what we shall have. A multi-option referendum has previously been supported by the Labour party. An early-day motion from 1992, signed by 12 Labour Members, said that a multi-option referendum was necessary to secure Scotland’s constitutional future. The Prime Minister agrees that a multi-option referendum would be the most appropriate way to settle Scotland’s constitutional future for ever. Donald Dewar believed that a multi-option would be required to settle the matter. If it was good enough for them, it should be good enough for Labour Members—and it should be good enough for the House.
Does that not show the difference between the approach of the Scottish National party and that of the Labour party? We include all points of view, but the aim of the Labour party is to seek to exclude other points of view and other voices, not letting the people of Scotland tell us what they want. Labour is a self-selecting bunch of politicians who think that they know better than the people of Scotland. It is shameful.
I could not agree more. My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It is we who believe in letting the Scottish people choose. It is Labour Members who seek to exclude the Scottish public. They are not prepared to engage with them, and they are not prepared to consider all options.
On three occasions, the hon. Gentleman has said that I, the hon. Member for Midlothian, am involved in the conversation. Is that the national conversation that he and his party are promoting, saying that they take all views into consideration? However, the hon. Gentleman says that he will not consider moving powers from Scotland to Westminster. How can it be open dialogue if he is refusing that? He was better as an organ player than he is as a politician.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has all my albums, so I am grateful for that. Does he not realise that it has never been suggested that there should be a movement back to Holyrood? No one supports that position. No one has raised that as a serious proposition. It exists only in the fevered imaginations of Labour Members. That has never been raised before as an issue, and it is a deal-breaker with the Liberals.
I said that I would not give way again. I want to ensure that everyone else has time to contribute to the debate.
We believe that the Scottish people have the right to choose on this important question. It is unfortunate that Labour Members do not feel the same way. The Scottish people will have a choice. They will have their say. Neither time nor the Minister will stem that tide.
The tradition is to thank the hon. Member who initiates such debates. Indeed, I do thank the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) because he has given us the chance to explore some of the myths and falsehoods being perpetrated about what the Scottish people want.
If what the hon. Gentleman says is true—that everyone in Scotland wants this national conversation and that they all want the chance to vote in a referendum, multi-question or not—why does his party not put that position to the democratically elected body of the Scottish people, the Scottish Parliament? There is nothing to stop his party from doing that. He may say that it is legislated for here in Westminster, but surely the first step that anyone who wants a referendum should take is to get the principled agreement of the legislative body that will carry it through. I challenge him to say why his party not only does not put the national conversation to the Scottish Parliament but will not put forward the idea of a referendum to it.
Does the hon. Lady not agree, having endured so many lectures from the SNP over the years about the Government ignoring Parliament and concentrating on the powers of the Executive, that it is curious that the SNP is not prepared to put its own core principle and belief to the very Parliament that it always accused other parties of side-lining?
I am struck by the impatience of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties to get on with a referendum, which is welcome. They must know, of course, that the matter will come to the Scottish Parliament, in the terms of the Scottish Parliament, but I thank them for their impatience. Its importance to them is witnessed by the number of Labour Members who have come here today to join in the conversation.
Before anyone thinks that the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of what I said is correct, I have just said that it is for the SNP, if what it is saying is correct, to come to the Scottish Parliament with its idea. I did not say whether anyone would support it. It is the SNP’s contention, and no one else’s, that that is what the Scottish people desperately want—that it is their No. 1 priority. As with most politicians in the Chamber today, that is not what I hear on the doorstep, through the mail or in the constituency surgery.
In fact, I am overwhelmed by the incompetence of the SNP on Aberdeen city council. It has managed to find a black hole of £27 million, which it cut from the budget in one financial year. As a result, the council is shutting swimming pools, ice rinks and sheltered workshops for the blind, and taking away day centres and day care from vulnerable adults. All that is at the hands of the SNP administration in Aberdeen. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie) spoke of irresponsible administration. I can tell him where to find an irresponsible administration; it is to be found in Aberdeen and the SNP and Lib-Dem city council. It is a shower. If anyone thinks that the SNP can run a Government, they should consider what is happening in Aberdeen. The party is in power, and what it is doing is appalling.
I am sure that, for the sake of completeness, the hon. Lady will want to advise the House that in the past four years, under the previous administration in Aberdeen, the council reserves were raided to the tune of £7 million, £9 million, £11 million and £12 million. A total of £39 million was taken, leaving a closing balance in deficit last year for the first time since 1999. It is no wonder that there are difficulties, given the shambles of the Aberdeen administration and the £39 million raid on reserves over the past four years.
I am so happy to answer that, because when Labour left office five years ago in Aberdeen, we left a surplus of £23 million. We had a large amount in reserve as well, although I admit that that surplus has disappeared into a black hole. Since the SNP administration took over in May last year, its financial cuts have hit the most vulnerable. It has not done a disability impact study; it has merely taken lines through the budget without realising the consequences of its decisions. It has not necessarily had to deal with a difficult budget, but most of us object to how it has dealt with that budget.
I have no idea what that has to do with the renewal of the Scotland Act 1998 but, when it comes to Aberdeen council, where was the Labour budget this year? Why was one not produced? What would the hon. Lady cut? How much would she increase council tax to address the problem? Every opposition party has produced a budget—
I take what you say, Mrs. Dean. In Aberdeen and elsewhere, when my colleagues and I and the Liberals were discussing the Scotland Act before the 1997 election, we worked together as part of the constitutional convention and Civic Scotland. We brought together lots of people’s ideas. It was not just a matter of going it alone, as the national conversation is doing, and it was certainly not one-sided like the conversation happening now. The SNP has no history of any kind of compromise or of working with others. In fact, its members become defensive if anyone suggests that their view of Scotland is anything less than perfect. They believe that their view is shared by everyone. If that were true, perhaps they would not find themselves in a minority Administration in the Scottish Parliament. That is why they will not put their ideas to the Scottish Parliament: they know that they will lose.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire began his speech by saying that it is accepted everywhere that devolution is a process, not an event. Again, we can argue whether that is accepted everywhere, but it is his interpretation of the word “process” with which I have a problem. I have always understood a process to involve moving forward and perhaps changing something, not necessarily taking more powers. I do not think that any dictionary definition of “process” includes an assumption of more power. Sometimes it involves putting things together, as in the case of a process worker, but I do not know of any definition that necessarily involves adding, taking back or taking more powers.
Even if Donald Dewar said that devolution was a process and not an event—it is still open to doubt—that does not necessarily imply the interpretation made by the hon. Gentleman. What is clear—this is why we are having this debate and why the commission has been set up—is that after 10 years of devolution, it is perhaps time to take stock of how things are working, what is working well and what is not working so well. I do not think that anyone in this Chamber has a problem with that except SNP Members. They have one view and one view only, and if no one else shares that view, they are somehow unpatriotic or un-Scottish. The SNP does not hold the flag for everyone in Scotland, nor are its views shared by the majority of Scots.
Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I was involved in a lot of the discussion leading up to the Act. I campaigned on it for most of my political career; it is what brought me into politics. Ironically, the reason why I ended up joining the Labour party in 1983 was that I went along to SNP hustings meetings and discovered that I could not vote SNP even to get rid of the Tories—I apologise to the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace)—although I believed in Scottish self-determination. Why not? Because I did not agree with the SNP’s hard-line, single and one-dimensional view of Scotland.
That is when I joined the Labour party and became involved in the debate. Unlike some Members, I was there. The Labour party and I were part of it, and we think that we created something to be proud of. It is up for review. We have not even started the process yet, but that is where the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire wants the decision to be made— [Interruption.] He has his mind made up before we have started any conversation. That is what makes a conversation one-way.
Indeed. The reason for pride in Scotland and Scottish values is that we listen to and engage with others. We are part of a wider civic Scotland, and we do not have the single view held by the SNP. It is a no-compromise and go-it-alone organisation that does not want to engage with others. That is why its only response is to mock those of us who genuinely want a debate.
As the hon. Lady speaks about engaging with others, I am sure that she will welcome the fact that last Wednesday in Edinburgh, at the second part of the national conversation led by the First Minister, representatives of the Scottish Trades Union Congress were present.
On the issue of the STUC and the trade union movement in Scotland, is my hon. Friend aware that, when a modernisation fund was being promoted by this Government, the Scottish National party was not there for the trade union movement to vote or support it?
On the subject of engaging with various organisations, my hon. Friend may be aware that the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs visited Glasgow this week, and the shipbuilding yards in Govan and Scotstoun, as part of our inquiry into employment in the defence industry. The SNP is represented on the Scottish Affairs Committee, but unfortunately no one from the SNP was present on our visit. However, it was made crystal clear to us that the shipbuilding industry, particularly in Scotland, depends almost entirely on UK Ministry of Defence contracts. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is deplorable that the SNP seeks to put thousands of jobs in jeopardy by taking Scotland out of the UK?
One of the main reasons why Scotland is a stronger part of the United Kingdom has to do with those defence jobs. We are also stronger because we do well out of welfare spending. There would be an £800 million black hole if Scotland were to go independent with regard to welfare spending.
I would normally take an intervention from the hon. Gentleman, but I have used all my time.
To sum up, when the SNP does not know what to do with its power—this is absolutely clear from everything that it has done in the Scottish Parliament and in Aberdeen—it calls for more. Labour Members should have a sensible conversation, rather than being part of a trumped-up, one-sided conversation in which only the SNP Administration in Holyrood are interested in taking part.
John Smith referred to devolution as unfinished business, and he was right. As we have heard, my neighbour, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), supports devolution. However, we come at the issue of Scotland’s devolved settlement from different points of view. The position that I take is overwhelmingly supported by the Scottish people, by two thirds of the Members of the Scottish Parliament—indeed, it has been voted on and supported by the Scottish Parliament, which is funding it—and by the UK Government. The hon. Gentleman and the SNP approach the matter somewhat in isolation: they have minority support in the Scottish Parliament and from the Scottish people, and authoritative polls show that support for separation, at 23 per cent., is falling.
The point is not only that we approach this matter from two different points of view, but that the issue of Scotland’s governance is being discussed by two different entities. One—the Calman commission, to which I alluded—is approved by the Scottish Parliament; it is independent, it has cross-border support and its findings will be consulted on by the Scottish Parliament and the UK Government. Let us compare that with the alternative that we have heard about today—the nationalist conversation. The conversation document was produced with taxpayers’ money, but without the approval of taxpayers’ representatives. It was launched during the summer recess to avoid the headlines, and it approaches the governance of Scotland from the isolated position of separation.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has actually read the national conversation, but it would be nice if he had. It puts the case for more powers for the Scottish Parliament—we want to debate that. We did not think that the Labour party would actually get around to producing anything or doing anything significant, so my party had to do the job for it. We outlined the case for more powers, and that is set out in the national conversation, which includes all options. Why can the hon. Gentleman not include all options in his commission?
I will come to my involvement with the national conversation in a moment, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bide his time.
The national conversation on which the SNP has embarked has been carried out largely in cyberspace and in the early hours of the morning for some strange reason. Perhaps the nationalists are up pounding their computer keyboards because they are too worried about all the manifesto promises that they are breaking to sleep. Perhaps the consultation process will tell us the reason, but perhaps it is because some of the contributions to the national conversation do not deserve to see the light of day. There have been comments about burning the Union Jack and about Union liars, as well as comments that could incite hatred and divide people, such as those about Asians, Swedish, Danish, Belgian, Norwegian and English business men owning land in Scotland. I want the SNP as a party, and certainly Ministers in the Scottish Executive who represent me, to dissociate themselves from such aggressively confrontational comments. I hope that SNP Members will take the opportunity of this debate to do just that.
I will take this opportunity to dissociate myself—as I am sure that my party would—from anybody who behaves in that way. We do not know who is doing this. It could be agents provocateurs—we do not know. However, will the hon. Gentleman answer the question that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) failed to answer? Does he support more powers and further independence for the Scottish Parliament? That is one of a series of questions that we could ask Scottish Labour MPs.
My hon. Friend gave a very interesting list of the rhetoric that is used. I draw his attention to the fact that, not very long ago, an SNP MSP called the Union flag the butcher’s apron. That comment has never been repudiated. Will my hon. Friend give way to an intervention by an SNP Member to see whether they will repudiate it?
I am certainly willing to sit down if there are any takers for another intervention—no, I did not think so. Perhaps the SNP should look in greater depth at some of the tawdry comments on its website. Incidentally, it got one more hit from me last night, but I urge SNP Members not to read anything into that, because I did not engage in the conversation.
Perhaps SNP Members should look at some of the other comments on its website, such as that by Alistair from Stirling. In his posting, he said that few things made him want to get involved in politics, but that having
“my country—the United Kingdom—destroyed by a minority government is something that cannot be ignored”.
I am very impressed by the hon. Gentleman’s knowledge of the national conversation website—I have seen the hard copy, but I have not seen it in electronic form. I just wonder what Gordon from Ochil is saying about the issue of more powers for the Scottish Parliament.
I have already asked the hon. Gentleman to be patient. He will hear what Gordon from Ochil—and South Perthshire, I hasten to add—feels about more powers for the Scottish Parliament.
However, perhaps the hon. Gentleman should listen to John Stuart from Edinburgh, who considers the national conversation “a Nationalist rant” and who questions who is paying for it. Let me take this opportunity to tell John Stuart who is paying for this nationalist rant—it is Scottish taxpayers. The hon. Gentleman should also listen to Alan from Midlothian, who
“would much rather we didn’t change as I believe Scotland is better the way it is”.
The second round of the conversation, which we have heard a little about today, has met with equal derision, and no wonder. The First Minster has used the hastily convened opportunity for a relaunch to announce that a referendum on separatism—despite what the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire said—could be on the basis of multi-option preferential voting. That is an attempt to get separation at any cost. Perhaps the First Minister would be better spending his time listening to the advice given to him by CBI Scotland and getting on with the job that he is charged to do.
I invite the SNP to engage in the official review of how devolution is working. At the same time, the party could show a maturity that has been lacking to date and engage constructively with the UK Government on a range of issues. We must get away from the peddled myths that Scotland is being bullied by the UK Government, the BBC and the Treasury. At the same time, we must squash the myth, as one of my colleagues has said, that for someone to be patriotic to Scotland, they must be a nationalist—they do not. We must rise above the persecuted, Braveheart image of politics in Scotland or, indeed, its “alter image”, as described on the national conversation website—the politics of the White Heather club. Both are equally unfitting for Scotland in the 21st century.
In response to the question from the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil), let me say that I would not support that call. That is because I am still looking for answers to the question of where the £34 million for disabled children and their families has gone. I have had three replies on the issue from Executive Ministers, but they make no sense. If that money has not come to local authorities and health boards in Scotland when I get to the end of my investigation, the SNP Administration can hang their heads in shame.
My hon. Friend makes extremely good sense, and I think that the whole of Scotland wants to know what happened to that £34 million.
The Calman commission provides an opportunity to grasp all of the issues that I have paraded before the Chamber. It will explore the success of devolution and consider how the devolution settlement can be better developed to work for the people of Scotland within the UK. The chair of the commission stated clearly that he
“would not have accepted this if I felt this was something being driven from elsewhere”.
We have a real opportunity for Scottish progress, on a particularly Scottish matter, in a way that will include a wide range of expertise from Scottish business, law, public life and civic Scotland. Although it is fundamentally important not to prejudge the outcome of the commission—unlike what the SNP wants us to do—the flexibility that the Scotland Act gave us must be retained in any new agreement. Since 1999, the flexibility under the Act has delivered 164 orders with more to come later this year. That flexibility reflects good governance in the interests of the Scottish people.
Where there has been a clear case for devolving further powers, the UK Government have agreed to do so. For the sake of clarity, no matter has ever moved the other way—from devolved back to reserved control. That balance must be a matter for consideration by the commission and for it to make recommendations on. How can it be independent if we do not allow it to reach its own conclusions?
The Calman commission allows for a review of the devolution settlement, which has been in place for 10 years, for the position approved by the democratically-elected Scottish Parliament to be considered and for cross-border and non-partisan discussion. Will the SNP abandon its late-night cyberspace conversations, see the light and embrace it?
This has been a rather cathartic experience. Often it is only every five weeks that we get to debate such matters in the House. Unfortunately, however, this debate has been characterised by hyperbole and spin and has not given us the opportunity to discuss and consider matters of detail, which should form part of the discussion about the creation of new powers for the Scottish Parliament. The Liberal Democrats have set down a marker—we do not want more powers repatriated back to Westminster. That is an important issue for us. However, we want to discuss such matters with the other parties. We recognise that the Labour and Conservative parties have moved, and have come on to our agenda, as set out by the Steel commission, led by Lord Steel of Aikwood, who considered those matters in considerable detail. We welcome the opportunity to have this discussion today.
I was rather surprised that this debate was scheduled to take place in the Chamber, because, as has been mentioned, such a debate has not been held in the Scottish Parliament. I went to the Scottish Government’s website to see where this national conversation had taken place. It has been conducted in various places, including Estonia, Dublin, Harvard university, Stolt salmon farm on Harris and even the Moonlight Tandoori in Turriff, but it still has not taken place in the Scottish Parliament—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) will stand up again and give us his view on whether it should take place in the Scottish Parliament. Or does he recognise that, if it did go to the Scottish Parliament, the matter would be killed off and that there would be no mandate for the national conversation, either in the Scotland or in the tandoori in Turriff. He is frightened of exposing the question to the will of the Scottish Parliament, as expressed in last May’s elections.
No, because I only have two minutes.
It should be recognised that the pro-independence parties—Tommy Sheridan’s Scottish Socialist party, the Scottish Green party and the SNP—formed a minority in the last year’s elections and did not secure a majority of Scottish opinion in their favour. Last May’s election was the referendum. We do not need another one, because the single issue party—the SNP—put their manifesto to the electorate and it was soundly beaten. The pro-Unionist parties—we are now the pro-reform parties—were in favour of the Union and therefore secured a majority of opinion on our side. We must recognise that the will of the people has been expressed, and we must now have a serious look at the issues at the heart of the debate, such as fiscal federalism, the abolition of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, broadcasting and so on. Those are the issues of substance that should be considered.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing this debate. I shall make three very quick points. First, I surveyed 10,000 households in my constituency and asked various questions about issues that were important to them—issues of the day—and discovered nothing of great surprise. The things that are important to people—health, education, the economy, the environment and so on—are the same across the UK and Scotland. As the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie) said, those matters of substance are rarely mentioned by the SNP and were not mentioned by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. They are the issues that we should be debating, because they concern people the most.
No, because I only have two minutes.
Secondly, the way in which the nationalist conversation is being conducted seems to encourage the posting of bigoted, racist comments on the Government website, which is funded totally by the taxpayer. The Scottish Administration needs to consider very carefully what they are encouraging. My third point concerns the issue about which the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) has been jumping up and down and chuntering away. He wants all powers devolved to Scotland and full independence. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. McGovern) mentioned defence. I was perusing the Scotland on Sunday and noticed a letter from a chap called Jeff Duncan who runs a campaign to reinstate all six former Scottish regiments, which I understand is also the SNP’s policy—that demonstrates how little concern it has about defence. However, I also noticed that Mr. Duncan describes himself as the webmaster for the Black Watch. Among other things, he consistently criticises troops’ commitment to the course in Afghanistan, which does profound damage to morale in the Black Watch. I am deeply depressed that this man, who describes himself as webmaster for the Black Watch website—indeed, he appears to be so—also describes himself as being close to Alex Salmond, by whom he is supposedly extremely well supported. I hope that SNP Members will take this opportunity to dissociate themselves from Jeff Duncan’s disgraceful comments, if he is, as I believe he is, the Black Watch webmaster.
Need we say more? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will ask the leader of his party whether he will dissociate himself from Jeff Duncan’s comments because, until now, he has been a big fan of his. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, I am entirely relaxed about an intelligent discussion on the powers of the Scottish Parliament. That is the purpose of the Calman commission, and I look forward to seeing its proposals.
I understand that the Front-Bench spokespersons have kindly agreed to give up a couple of minutes, thus allowing me to speak.
I did not originally intend to contribute to this debate, but I was moved by the contribution of the House’s favourite rock star, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), whom I congratulate on securing this debate. He said one thing that really struck home: that the commission does not have a democratic mandate. That is a misrepresentation that cannot be allowed to remain on the record unchallenged.
That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman said, and he can check it tomorrow morning. The commission has a democratic mandate. It has been endorsed by the Scottish Parliament, which is impressive and stands in stark contrast with the website offered by the Scottish Government. That is very important. That democratic mandate emphasises and reinforces the fact that the work of the Calman commission is in accord with the mainstream view, which is where the centre of gravity lies in Scottish public opinion. We want a Scottish Parliament and we can see that, after 10 years, the time has come to consider giving it extra powers. To my mind, that is a very important position. After eight years of the Scottish Parliament, it is time to look at giving it the power to raise more of its own budget.
I am sorry, Mrs. Dean. I think that you were quite right to castigate the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) in the way that you did.
As usual, of course, the SNP chooses not to be part of this process. That is nothing new. In the early 1990s, we had the Scottish Constitutional Convention. Mainstream Scottish civic opinion was concerned with that convention and engaged in debate, but where was the SNP? Its members did not want to know. They took their ball away and did not want to play. All we are seeing today—and on their website—is a repeat of history. They have nothing to offer and for that reason they do not want to be part of our commission. [Interruption.]
I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing the debate. That is a heartfelt congratulation, not just a courtesy, because the debate is timely and interesting. It is certainly timely, coming the week after the appointment of Sir Kenneth Calman as chair of the constitutional commission, which is examining the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
There is widespread support throughout Scotland for the long-held position of Liberal Democrats that there should be more powers for the Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom. We are therefore pleased to be working with the Labour and Conservative parties within the constitutional commission, and we are disappointed that the SNP has opted out of the commission, just as it opted out of the constitutional convention in the 1990s.
The present state of affairs, in which the Scottish Parliament’s sole financial responsibility is to receive a block grant for £30 billion from Westminster and then decide how to spend it, is not sustainable. That situation has meant that, since 1999, the debate in the Scottish Parliament has been about how to spend that block grant and not about how to raise money. I do not believe that that situation is healthy for our politics, and it has to change.
We need to modernise the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom through a new federal settlement for the whole of the UK, which delivers new powers for the Scottish Parliament through a written constitution for the UK. In the matter of finance, the Scottish Government should raise as much of their own budget as is practical, and there should be absolutely no question of powers being returned from the Scottish Parliament to Westminster. In fact, there should be a new written constitution for the UK, which entrenches the rights of Scotland and other nations and regions of the UK within a constitutional framework, rather then the present situation, in which the Scottish Parliament’s powers are determined simply by an Act of Parliament, as those powers could be removed simply by another Act of Parliament.
I will be as quick as I can. The hon. Gentleman said that there should be no return of powers to Westminster, but I think that I am correct in saying that the Liberal Democrats have said that, whatever the Calman commission proposes, we should support it. As far as I can see, they have abdicated responsibility; I believe that that is the position in Scotland.
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is labouring under a misunderstanding. We have never given that commitment. We have our own views, and we will argue for them within the Calman commission. Furthermore, such is the strength of our views, we are confident that other parties within the commission will agree with them.
My understanding is that the hon. Gentleman supports the presence of Faslane in his constituency. Does he agree that, under the existing Act, it is possible that the powers resting with the minority Administration in Holyrood could frustrate or delay much-needed developments at Faslane? If that is the case, would it not be better if some of those powers came back to the centre, so that there could be better control of national security?
No, I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. I believe in democracy and the decentralisation of power, just as I support the presence of the Navy at Faslane in my constituency. However, we must persuade the people of Scotland that that situation should continue, and I am confident that the people of Scotland will support the presence of the Navy at Faslane.
This all seems to be quite a bit of a shambles; hon. Members cannot agree among themselves about these sorts of issues. What we need to hear from the hon. Gentleman is an answer to this question: if the Labour party persists with the idea of taking powers back from Holyrood, at what point will the Liberal Democrats leave the commission and have nothing whatsoever to do with that particular objective?
Does my hon. Friend recall that, at the start of the constitutional convention process in the 1990s, we found ourselves in very similar territory, as a lot of senior people in the Labour party said that under no circumstances would they ever countenance a Scottish Parliament elected by proportional representation? Does he also recall that we argued the case for that Parliament within the Scottish constitutional convention, and eventually Labour produced a blueprint that included proportional representation in elections? Finally, does he recall that we did that on our own, because the SNP could not stand the heat of constructive engagement?
Yes, my hon. Friend is quite correct. I remember the process that the constitutional convention underwent. Initially, there were to be 112 seats, which would have meant that the Scottish Parliament would not be proportional. It was through our arguments that we persuaded the Labour party to add another 17 seats, which allowed the Parliament to be proportional.
If it had not been for the Liberal Democrats insisting on proportional representation, the result of the Scottish Parliament elections would be very unfair, and we would have a Labour Government with an overall majority despite the fact that Labour won less than a third of the votes. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not arguing that we should go back to that situation.
The hon. Gentleman shows that he obviously does not believe in democracy. However, I must press on.
The Liberal Democrats set up the Steel commission three years ago to make recommendations on constitutional changes. Chaired by Lord Steel, it reported in March 2006, and I certainly suggest to all hon. Members that they read its recommendations, because it made excellent recommendations about how we should take the debate forward. The commission found that, compared with many Parliaments that operate in a federal system, the Scottish Parliament has considerable legislative power, but very limited control over taxation. That situation certainly has to change. We need a written constitution that sets out the limits of power of the various partners within the Union; sets out the powers that are the exclusive domain of the UK Parliament; introduces a new category of formal partnership working in specific areas; and confirms that all other areas are within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. In particular, tax-raising powers must be transferred to the Scottish Parliament, so that it raises the bulk of its own funds. I certainly look forward to the constitutional commission taking this debate forward and the Liberal Democrats, unlike the SNP, will enthusiastically participate in the coming debate on Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Dean, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing the debate. Having listened from the sidelines as a Member of Parliament who represents an English constituency, the debate has reminded me of what I have missed, having moved south. Now I know what the Conservatives missed while not on Renfrewshire council for all those years, in the days of Hugh Henry and the like.
The debate is a missed opportunity. It could have been about the opportunities and challenges facing Scotland, but instead it has pretty much followed the line of the SNP since it was elected in May 2007, which is all about gloating. The party’s justification for everything is, “We got more votes than you; we got rid of a few Liberal Democrat MSPs,” and that is about it. I went to the Scottish Parliament and saw First Minister’s questions last week, and that was the only answer that the First Minister, the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), gave to any of the questions asked by the Opposition. He was saying, “Well, it doesn’t matter, because we are more popular at the moment.” However, we all know that popularity lasts only so long in grown-up politics. Real decisions have to come home to roost, and we have to stand by them.
We could have taken this opportunity to address UK issues that affect Scotland, such as defence. However, I am not surprised that the SNP did not want to address such issues, because it has no coherent defence policy whatsoever. I have a long memory and, as an ex-member of the Scots Guards, I follow closely pledges to save regiments, as well as marches through Dundee. The Black Watch is going to be saved by the SNP, but for what purpose, as the party has no defence policy whatsoever? The Scottish nationalists rushed to save RAF Leuchars and the base in Moray, but what are they going to fly in an independent Scotland? Who could forget Lieutenant-Colonel Crawford, the Scottish nationalist military adviser who said in a policy pamphlet for the SNP, in 1999, that we could replace Scotland’s nuclear deterrent with chemical and biological weapon stocks? We cannot forget that. I am not sure what he is doing now, but no doubt he will make a surprise return to the SNP fold at some stage.
Unsurprisingly, this debate is about peddling the myth that the SNP speaks for Scotland and that it is building momentum. It is vital that the party has momentum, because without it people will realise that smart Alec is just that and nothing else. The SNP is absolutely determined that this referendum—it is trying sneakily to divide us on the commission—is all about building momentum. However, the facts speak for themselves, and show that that is a myth: 17 per cent. of people who were eligible to vote in May 2007 voted for the SNP. That is hardly a ringing democratic endorsement of proposed independence. In every one of the past few polls, less than 30 per cent. of respondents wanted independence. Interestingly, 12 per cent. wanted to abolish the Scottish Parliament—a mere 5 per cent. less than the percentage of eligible voters who wanted independence. Let us not get carried away with the myth.
We have failed to elicit a reasonable or understandable response from the Labour party on whether it wants the Scottish Parliament to have more powers. Does the hon. Gentleman favour giving greater powers to the Scottish Parliament and greater independent control to the Government in Edinburgh?
I am a Scot and a Unionist, and I will do anything that helps Scotland to become more prosperous and more economically successful and to enjoy the security that the United Kingdom gives it. We can argue about Committees and the commission, but that is what I favour. If the ideas that come from the commission, whether from the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives, make sense and help Scotland to do well, I will support them. However, my party and I will not support an outdated, destructive break-up of the United Kingdom for some pathetic doctrine that does nothing to help the country’s poorer people other than to give them a pipe dream.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the SNP consistently tries to pick fights with Westminster, and that fostering grievances is its speciality? Does he agree that today’s debate fulfils the predictions that an SNP Administration would mean years of constitutional wrangling instead of them getting on with ensuring that Scotland prospers?
I agree. The tragedy is that it is a two-part strategy. The first part is to upset the English and other members of the UK, and create a logjam so that people such as the entrepreneurs whom we saw in Scotland at the weekend say, “Let’s get this over with.” The second part is to say that the party will keep the momentum going because it speaks for Scotland. That is a wicked trick to play on the electorate and on the UK.
We could have had some answers on the referendum. We could have been told whom the Scottish nationalists define as Scottish citizens. Will Scots who live in England or abroad get a vote? What about the English who live in Edinburgh, and those in the financial sector—will they get a vote? We do not get any answers to those questions, because, as we know, even if they answer those questions and say that Scottish-born people or people who have Scottish parents will have a vote, more Scots are against independence.
There we are; there is the answer. The hundreds of thousands of Scots who live in England because their jobs have sent them there, and the soldiers who have been sent there, do not get a vote. That is exclusion, not inclusion—on the record. We know the game, and people will soon see that this is not about citizenship; it is about political manipulation.
My party and I are Unionist. I believe that we are stronger together than we would be if we were independent. I do not believe in every man for himself, and I believe that we share our security, our opportunities and our potential. However, the Scottish people might be given the alternative of destroying what we have built up over hundreds of years for some pipe dream that we could be better. I do not believe that many Scottish nationalist politicians go around trying to pretend that the Scots want to be independent because they dislike the English. Indeed, I do not think the Scots do so. However, my English and Welsh colleagues in the House could make that mistake if they thought that that was the case.
The SNP predominantly thinks that Scotland could be made better by destroying what we have, but I think that we could be better without destroying it. However, the Unionist parties in the House face some challenges from our colleagues. Our party has colleagues in all parts of the UK, because we are big enough to take differences of opinion, as opposed to the position of some former SNP members, who are now independents in Edinburgh. We accept dissension in our party. The real myth that we have to scotch is that the SNP speaks for Scotland, because it has never done so. Finally, none of the facts, including the SNP polls at the last election, opinion polls and the political make-up of the Scottish Parliament, shows that the SNP speaks for Scotland.
I trust that you have enjoyed the debate, Mrs. Dean. The nation that gave the world the enlightenment and the rebirth of intellectualism continues to pioneer the way in profound political thought.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing the debate, and congratulate all hon. Members who have taken part either by giving a speech or by way of intervention. However, there is a profound irony at the heart of the debate. The hon. Gentleman broke the land speed record to get a debate in the House on the work of the Calman commission before it has even started work. The commission so far consists of one member—the chairman, Sir Kenneth Calman—as the other members have not been appointed yet. The commission has not drawn up a work schedule or taken evidence from anyone yet, but the hon. Gentleman has rushed here to have a debate about it.
At the same time, his party’s nationalist conversation, which has only one aim—to break up the United Kingdom—has not been within a country mile of the Scottish Parliament. Not only has it not been there, but the SNP brought out the national conversation in August, when the Parliament was in recess. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will recall that, for the past eight years, every time a sparrow died in Scotland in the summer, Nicola Sturgeon demanded a recall of Parliament so that it could be debated. Yet, here we have the most profound change imaginable to the governance of Scotland and the United Kingdom being debated without any recourse to the Scottish Parliament.
Why is that? The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire was given five chances during his speech to tell us when the national conversation was to be brought before the Scottish Parliament, but he failed on every occasion. Is it not ironic that a party that purports to want to give more and more powers to the Scottish Parliament does not trust it with the powers that it already has, or trust it to debate the national conversation? It would bring a finance motion to the Scottish Parliament to help to fund the party’s version of an independence constitution. What absolute cowardice his party has demonstrated. It will not trust the elected representatives of the people of Scotland to debate the national conversation.
In the three years that I have been a Minister, I have delivered more powers for the Scottish Parliament, enhanced the powers of Ministers and MSPs, and overseen the transfer of powers from this place to the Scottish Parliament, so I have no fear of what Sir Kenneth Calman and his commission bring forward. Unlike other hon. Members, I will not make any judgments in advance of it.
I am proud to support my party and this Government. We created the Scottish Parliament and ensured that it has the powers that it needs to address the big issues that face the people of Scotland. When we were devising that Parliament, where was the SNP? It was nowhere to be seen.
My hon. Friend the Minister is making an excellent speech. I served on the Cabinet sub-committee that drew up the Bill which subsequently became the Scotland Act 1998. It is fair to say that that sub-committee would have been astonished if, after 10 years, we did not feel confident about supporting the kind of commission that the Minister is commending to the House.
May I briefly refer the Minister to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown)? I believe that the Cabinet sub-committee would also have been astounded if it had been told that the Treasury serving the United Kingdom Parliament had allocated £34 million for disabled children and their families, including vital national health services, with absolutely no idea where the money has gone.
My right hon. Friend is a great champion of the rights of disabled people and children, and he makes his point well. I would ally his point with the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks). When Donald Dewar was First Minister, he had £14 billion to spend. Alex Salmond has £30 billion to spend, and the fact that he will not allocate £34 million to help disabled children speaks volumes about his party’s priorities. [Interruption.] The priorities are to spend money on a national conversation, to support a website that is a forum for every swivel-eyed, bigoted, anti-English lunatic in Scotland and beyond to spew forth hate-mongering and obscenities and to cast aspersions on the United Kingdom and its flag. It is a matter of profound shame that those are his party’s spending priorities. This Government’s spending priority is to ensure that money goes to disabled children and those who care for them.
Actually, I had in mind the people who write opinion columns in the Sunday Herald and Scotland on Sunday. In fact, the newspapers could save money on those who write those columns. They could send an office boy around to St. Andrews house to collect press releases rather than have Ian McWhirter write them.
Those are the people who I had in mind. One individual wrote a column in which he said that antisocial behaviour did not really exist, that it was something that Labour politicians invented in order to stigmatise young people. I said to that gentleman, “Come to Inverclyde any day. Don’t tell me when you are coming, just come. We will open a map together, and you can pick any street you want. We will go to it together and ask the people of Inverclyde whether antisocial behaviour is something that Labour politicians invented.” Those who are endlessly obsessed with the constitution, with balances of power and with grudge and grievance going back 300 years are not prepared to address the real concerns of the people of Scotland. That is why I have nothing to fear from a commission that will look at how the Scotland Act has worked.
So we are to have a yes-or-no referendum. That is interesting back-tracking, as my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) said, on the position that applied this past weekend. I was looking forward to hearing about that position. One has to hand it to the Scottish National party: one thing it does really well is come up with slogans that rhyme. Who can forget “Scotland free by ‘93”, or “Scotland free by 2003”? Now we are to have “Scotland free by STV”—or single transferable vote.
To advance seriously a way of deciding the future of our nation that could result in its becoming independent through a first preference of 26 per cent. of voters is taking the Scottish people for granted. The arrogance that has been displayed by the present Administration for the past year was encapsulated magnificently in a half-hour speech by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. The arrogance that they have demonstrated shows that, in the end, they will be seen to be out of touch with the ordinary people of Scotland, whose concerns are different.
It has been 10 years since the Scotland Act was passed. We remember what things were like before the Act, when a handful of Ministers in Dover house took all the decisions that affected health, education and transport in Scotland. We remember that that was wrong, and we remember how hard we worked to change the situation, and to have democratic accountability so that decisions on the big day in, day out issues—health, transport, crime—could be taken by Scottish politicians in Scotland who are closer to the people who they represent.
That is why when Tony Blair came to office in 1997 the Labour Government put devolution at the heart of what they did: we now have a Parliament in Scotland, an Assembly in Wales, an Assembly in London with a directly elected Mayor, and an Assembly in Northern Ireland. We have put devolving power throughout the United Kingdom at the heart of what we do, because letting the people exercise power at a level that is closer to them is part of our core principles as a party.
Devolution was an enormous event. Those who say that it was not are missing the most astonishing change in more than 300 years in the way in which this country governs itself. Of course, it was an event, but it was an event that contained within it a process.
No, the hon. Gentleman can sit down. He made a hames of his one shot at intervening. He has just woken up to the fact that, since devolution, since 1999, there have been 165 Scotland Act orders, 14 of them transferring significant powers directly to Holyrood Ministers, and 34 of them changing UK laws as a result of Acts of the Scottish Parliament.
This Government created the Scottish Parliament and protected it. The SNP wants to destroy devolution because it is obsessed with a dogmatic proposition to break up the United Kingdom. We are proud Scots. We are proud of our country, our history, and what we have achieved. We are confident about the future. It is because we are proud Scots that we have confidence to stand with our friends and colleagues in England and Wales and remain part of a united kingdom. That is the will of the majority of the people in Scotland, and no amount of bluster from Alex Salmond or manufactured grievance and fights with Westminster will change that.