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House of Commons Hansard
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Independence Referendum
21 November 2012
Volume 553
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4. What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the referendum on Scottish independence. [128891]

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5. When he last met the First Minister to discuss the planned referendum on Scottish independence. [128892]

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I have discussed the referendum with the Scottish Government on a number of occasions, most recently on 15 October, when Scotland’s two Governments reached agreement on the process to ensure that there is a legal, fair and decisive referendum.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the arguments for separation is based on the false premise that it would be good for the Scottish economy? Does he agree that separation would be good for the English economy but not for the Scottish economy?

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I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that Scotland is stronger as part of the United Kingdom economy. We would be weaker if we were outside it, primarily because it gives us access to this huge single market which takes twice as many of our exports—if we can call them that—as anywhere else in the world; it has the resilience to absorb huge financial catastrophes, such as the bank collapse; and it gives us the clout internationally to be at the top table, where all the key economic decisions are made. That is far better for Scotland.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that last week we saw an example of what happens when people do not listen to the Electoral Commission—the debacle of the police commissioner elections, with a turnout of less than 10% in some places and empty boxes? Will he talk to the Scottish Government to ensure that a similar debacle does not happen in Scotland?

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Funnily enough, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on the example he uses, but I am in complete agreement with him on the principle that we should listen to the Electoral Commission and follow its advice.

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I was not particularly going to ask about this issue, but I am happy to ask the Secretary of State—

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Order. The hon. Lady might let Mr Wishart have a go then. Come on, let’s hear him.

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Thank you for clearing up that confusion, Mr Speaker.

Can the Minister confirm that following the Edinburgh agreement, which all parties agreed to, the referendum on independence is now exclusively a matter for the Scottish Parliament and that this House has no further role in it?

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I know that the hon. Gentleman always wants to denigrate the Parliament of which he is a part, and I wish he would stop doing that, but I point out to him that a rather important part of that agreement is that we will pass the section 30 order, which will transfer the powers to the Scottish Parliament. Importantly, that will involve debates in this place and in the other place, as well as in the Scottish Parliament. We are all part of this debate, and all Scots will be part of that political process.

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When the Secretary of State next meets the First Minister will he share with him the powerful call of President Clinton and Secretary Albright when they visited these shores reminding us that what binds us together is far more powerful than any distinctions in identity?

On economic co-operation, was the Institute for Fiscal Studies not right to point out that if we want to diversify the Scottish economy away from our dependence on oil and gas revenues, we need not only a shared currency and interest rate, but a powerful and strong fiscal union which benefits Scotland? That is the likely result in terms of our shared prosperity in the future.

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The hon. Gentleman makes two important points. One is that when senior international figures look at the issue confronting Scots—the most important political decision in 300 years—time and again they say that they think Scotland would be better off as part of the United Kingdom. Secondly, the report he highlights is significant as it shows the strength of Scotland’s economy as part of the UK, both in terms of its opportunity and in reducing the risks attached to it. [Interruption.]

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Order. Far too many noisy private conversations are taking place—mainly on the Opposition Benches at the moment. Let us hear from Mark Pritchard.