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Independence Referendum

Volume 538: debated on Wednesday 11 January 2012

7. What representations he has received from the Scottish Government on the holding of a referendum in Scotland on independence from the UK. (88258)

8. What representations he has received from the Scottish Government on the holding of a referendum in Scotland on independence from the UK. (88259)

10. What representations he has received from the Scottish Government on the holding of a referendum in Scotland on independence from the UK. (88261)

11. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister for Scotland on the referendum proposed by the Scottish Government on Scotland’s independence from the UK. (88262)

Yesterday, I made a statement announcing a consultation to seek views on how any referendum can be made legal, fair and decisive. I discussed this yesterday with the First Minister, and I hope to have further discussions with the Scottish Government, along with other politicians and people from across Scottish civic society, during the consultation.

The House of Commons Library has given me strong evidence to show that the economies of Quebec and Canada as a whole suffered in the 1990s due to constitutional uncertainty. For the sake of jobs in Scotland and England, does my right hon. Friend agree that the last thing we need is a prolonged period of constitutional uncertainty, and that the First Minister should stop playing politics and get on with it?

My hon. Friend is correct to point to that independent analysis and the experience of Quebec and the rest of Canada. It is vital that the economic uncertainty we now face because of the referendum is resolved, which is why we have brought forward proposals to make the referendum legal, fair and decisive. I want it to happen as soon as possible.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that if the UK Government do not facilitate an independence referendum, one cannot take place?

The central issue arising from the consultation that I launched yesterday is that, as things stand, the Scottish Parliament does not have the legal power to hold a referendum, regardless of how that is described, and we need to provide that power by working with it. I am committed to working with the Scottish Government, and with people from across the country, so that we can get the power devolved to Scotland, the Scottish Government can then develop the question and we can get on with the referendum, which will be made in Scotland, for the people of Scotland.

Has my right hon. Friend had any conversations to establish what impact an independent Scotland would have on our relationship with the European Union and the euro?

My hon. Friend is focusing on some of the central issues that we need to be able to get on to debate in the decision about whether Scotland should go its own way or continue to be part of the most successful multi-nation state in the history of the world, as I think it is vital it does. So let us get on and devolve the power to make it a legal referendum. Let us have a fair referendum and let us make sure it is decisive.

The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs has already embarked on an inquiry to identify those issues, such as defence, which need to be resolved before a referendum is held. Does the Secretary of State plan to contribute to that debate with the Select Committee?

I certainly do. What is really important is not just our debate now about the future of Scotland, but ensuring that everybody in the country gets the opportunity to participate in the consultation on the shape of the referendum, and I hope that people will respond to that. I hope that everybody across the country—not just politicians—will get involved in debating defence, welfare and the state of our economy, all of which, I believe, are much safer within the United Kingdom. [Interruption.]

Order. We are discussing extremely important matters and we should do so in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

We now know that there will be an independence referendum in the autumn of 1914—[Laughter.] That, of course, was the year that the great war started. There will be an independence referendum in 2014, designed and decided by the people of Scotland. If the Secretary of State is so concerned about the legal powers for the referendum, why does he not just devolve the powers, through section 30, without condition? I see that the Prime Minister has walked into this debate. I really hope that the Secretary of State can encourage the Prime Minister to come to Scotland as much as possible in the next two weeks, because the Prime Minister is the best recruiting sergeant for a “yes” to independence vote that we have.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be a full participant in the debate, as will all people across the United Kingdom. For us, it is important that we have a referendum that is made in Scotland for the people of Scotland about our future in Scotland. The First Minister and now the hon. Gentleman —who gave a slightly different date—have put forward their preference for when that referendum should be, but before we can get anywhere near it we must ensure that it is legal. I hope that the Scottish Government will work with us to ensure that that is the case.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that following this week’s important developments, the referendum campaign on Scotland’s future is now effectively under way and it is time to get on to the substance of the issue? What is more, given that the Scottish Government have said that they have been involved for some time in considering the details of the prospects for Scotland, will the Secretary of State tell the House whether any UK Government officials have been involved in any discussions on the future of the Scottish economy and, in particular, on whether a separate Scotland will keep the pound, join the euro or have a separate currency?

The hon. Lady is right to focus on those key issues about the future of Scotland. I believe that Scotland is best served by continuing to be part of the United Kingdom, where our economy is stronger and our defence more secure, where we have much greater clout internationally and where our welfare system will be more generous and better. I hope that the Scottish Government will publish their plans about what they think should happen in an independent Scotland and in the meantime, as the hon. Lady says, let the debate commence.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he agree that one of Britain’s greatest achievements was the creation of the welfare state? Have any discussions taken place about the implications of separation for welfare spend in Scotland, particularly as recent figures reveal that it was three times greater than oil revenues in 2010?

The hon. Lady makes an important point about the contrast between the level of spending to support some of the most vulnerable in our society in Scotland and, indeed, the rest of the country and the volatility of oil revenues. I believe that we can have a more secure and generous welfare system by sharing the risks and resources across the whole of the United Kingdom, which has helped Scotland through difficult times in the past and at present.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that all Scots should be entitled to vote in any referendum on independence, whether or not they live in Scotland, including my dad, who is a proud Scotsman who happens to live in England and thinks of himself first and foremost as British?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s dad’s sense of patriotism and I am sure that he, like many other Scots around the country and around the world, will wish to contribute to our consultation. Like me, they will want to see this referendum on the most historic decision we will ever take in Scotland carried out legally and fairly, on a straightforward and decisive basis. Let us get that sorted and let us get on with the debate.