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Independence Referendum

Volume 540: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2012

1. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Scotland on a referendum on independence for Scotland. (95262)

8. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on a referendum on independence for Scotland. (95269)

10. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Scotland on a referendum on independence for Scotland. (95271)

The First Minister and I met on Monday 13 February to discuss a referendum on independence. The Prime Minister, the First Minister and I had a further meeting on Thursday 16 February, when we discussed the need for any referendum to be legal, fair and decisive. It is in everyone’s interests that both of Scotland’s Governments work together and I look forward to meeting the First Minister again in due course.

The Scottish Government are the most resolute defenders of the Barnett formula, arguably against the interests of the other nations of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State therefore think that if the people of Scotland vote yes in a referendum on independence, the Barnett formula should apply to the nation’s debt?

I do not envisage that Scotland will become independent from the United Kingdom. I think we are stronger together and weaker apart. The hon. Gentleman touches on the fundamental issue of sorting out what the basis of that independence might look like, and the Scottish National party has so far singularly failed to answer questions on that.

Will the Secretary of State again confirm his and the Government’s commitment to a single, non-leading question in the referendum on Scottish separation, and will he further commit to a simple yes or no reply?

The fundamental issue is about independence, and that is what we must resolve. We must have a legal, fair and decisive independence referendum.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify whether he has had conversations about Antarctica and whether it is true that the previous Government simply forgot to deal with Antarctica and the British territory there? What is his position on making sure that we retain control of it?

The hon. Lady highlights an important part of the world in which it is important that the UK Government have a role to play. May I point out that through the Scotland Bill, which is passing through their lordships House, we are delivering the biggest transfer of powers to Edinburgh since the Act of Union and tidying up some of the inconsistencies of the devolution settlement?

When the Scottish Secretary and the Prime Minister met the First Minister, the Prime Minister offered a proposal for enhanced devolution but failed to spell out what that might be. What does the Scottish Secretary envisage a package of devolved financial powers might look like? Would it include corporation tax, all of income tax and the aggregates levy?

It is incredible that the SNP wants to ask a question about further devolution when it has not set out what the fundamentals of independence would be. One would think that after decades of having that as its main reason for existing, it might have some clear ideas on the issue.

That was a very instructive answer because it failed entirely to answer the question. There was no detail about what the Prime Minister proposes. Is that because there is no detail, is it because the announcement was made simply to capture one day’s news headlines, or is it meant to cover the embarrassment of this Government, who voted against the devolution of any further powers in the Commons debates on the Scotland Bill last year?

Honestly, the hon. Gentleman has a bit of a cheek talking about a lack of detail when his party cannot spell out what the currency situation would be in an independent Scotland, what the national debt might look like and how it might deal with pensions and financial regulation. It is absolutely clear that we must make the most fundamental decision on Scotland’s future in a clear-cut and decisive way. The debate about devolution will be ongoing and I very much look forward to being part of it.

My right hon. Friend has spelt out the absence of detail given by members of the Scottish National party in this House. Has he impressed on the First Minister, in the opportunities he has had to do so, the First Minister’s unequivocal obligation to explain to the people of Scotland not just the process of independence but the consequences and costs of it and the length of time it would take to implement?

My right hon. and learned Friend highlights some very important central issues in the debate about independence. I believe Scotland is stronger as part of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom is stronger because Scotland is part of it. On financial issues, our place in the world and the strength of our defences, there are huge numbers of unanswered questions for the SNP that it must now get on and address.