[Relevant documents: second report from the Scottish Affairs Committee, The Referendum on Separation for Scotland-The Need for Truth, HC 828]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Scotland’s place in the UK.
Let me begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and other hon. Members who serve on the Backbench Business Committee for granting the House the opportunity to debate a proposition that will dominate much of this referendum year across our islands: Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. As we shall no doubt hear in the debate, this is a question of identity and economics. Above all, it is a battle of visions for the future of Scotland—one with huge implications for the future of other multinational states across the world.
I reject the binary and false choice that some seek to make in this debate that people have to choose between Scottishness or Britishness and cast their vote accordingly on 18 September. I am a proud Scot, but see no contradiction between that patriotism and my strong sense of Britishness—or, indeed, my additional citizenship of the European Union. In an increasingly interconnected world characterised by ever-evolving apps and networks, the concept of mutually exclusive identities does not reflect the real lived experience of billions of people.
Before I was elected to this House, I worked in universities in both Glasgow and London. I saw the challenges they faced in common. I never looked on the young people from east London, whom I taught in this great city, as strangers or foreigners; in fact, they were often fascinated by the study of devolution in my constitutional law classes. I knew them as people with whom I share an identity, and want to continue sharing a state with, for the benefit of all of us.
My hon. Friend makes an important point and I am pleased that we have Members from all parts of the United Kingdom in the Chamber for this debate.
As a student, I campaigned for a devolved Scottish Parliament and marched to The Mound in Edinburgh; never with a flag in my hand, but with hope in my heart that powers should be exercised at the most appropriate level for the purpose of improving the lot of ordinary people in Scotland. I did so because I believed, and still believe, that decision making in many public services and on many economic policies is best exercised at a more localised level. However, I strongly believe in retaining the advantages of a collective macro-economic framework, of a collective social security system and of cross-UK business, borders and diplomatic policies used to promote greater justice at home and across the world.
We ought to recognise the great force for good the Scottish Parliament has been in Scottish politics, whether on housing policy, land reform or other policy areas, and never has it been greater than this week, when it passed a Bill, in its own way, to secure equality before the law for LGBT people living in Scotland. This was an expression of Scotland’s values being complementary to, not divergent from, those in other parts of the United Kingdom.
The devolution settlement has evolved before, it will change again in 2015 and 2016, with the introduction of significant new financial responsibilities over borrowing and income tax, and it can accommodate further reforms in the future. In the 1997 referendum, the late John Smith was proved correct—strong devolution within the United Kingdom was the settled will of the Scottish people—and I believe we will express that loudly and clearly again in this upcoming referendum.
As I understand the position of the Labour party in Scotland, it favours the full devolution of income tax powers to the Scottish Parliament. Yesterday, we heard a speech from the 1970s from the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), in the Welsh Grand Committee, in which he said that fiscal devolution was tantamount to destroying the fabric of the British state. Will the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) explain to the House and the people of Scotland what exactly is Labour’s position on fiscal devolution?
It might help Mr Edwards to know that he was on the list to speak, and I do not want to keep banging people down the list because they intervene. I do not want to stop debate—I do not mind interventions—but please ensure they are brief and not continual.
I want to keep the focus on positivity in this debate, and I would simply point out to the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) that the one party that was inconsistent in its approach to tax powers being devolved in the Scotland Act 2012 was the party he sits alongside on those Benches.
As a result of the Edinburgh agreement, Scotland faces a choice between two futures in the 18 September referendum: an optimistic path that builds on the strength of the devolution settlement and our common institutions, such as the Bank of England, to make our economy more productive and where ordinary people share more in the benefits of growth; and a pessimistic path implying that erecting borders is more important than bringing down barriers in terms of inequality and lack of opportunity across these islands.
The hon. Gentleman says he wants to make a positive case. In a debate about significant constitutional change, to take such a tone is a good thing, but if he is making a positive case and if the Labour party knows what further powers it wants to give to the Scottish Parliament, will he say whether it is true that some of his colleagues are going to boycott his own party conference?
That is an odd intervention, because I am looking forward to my party conference in Perth—I have already booked my rail ticket—and I will enjoy campaigning in the city of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) when I am there.
No silver bullet comes from statehood and no instant answer to declining living standards will come from redrawing lines on a map. It will take politicians at every level of governance, together with civic society and engaged citizens across these islands, to work together so that ordinary people share more fairly in the wealth they produce, to reform our banking system, to work towards a more universal child care system and to reverse the crises of long-term youth unemployment, low business investment and weak productivity before they cause long-term damage to the fabric of our country. We must reshape lives, not reorder our geography.
I am optimistic about Scotland’s future. It is the home of groundbreaking initiatives on science and research, supporting high-level manufacturing and enhancing the huge international reputation of our universities and colleges. Scotland’s economy can have a great future as a beacon for investment in renewable energy, if we combine our natural resources with the strength of UK investment networks and markets. I see a Scotland where, through UK Trade & Investment, we increase our share of global trade, creating thousands of jobs in manufacturing, including in our largest manufacturing sector, our burgeoning food and drink export industries.
We can remove the barriers to work for tens of thousands of women in Scotland by creating a more universal child care system, which is one of the biggest drivers of increased prosperity in working households with children; we can support sectors of the economy that create high-skilled, higher-paying jobs; and we can deliver a revolution in workplace skills to make progression within a job and a career a reality for millions. Our ambition must be to create a society that has better health and educational outcomes and that uses the strengths of every level of government to eliminate the in-work and out-of-work poverty in Scotland described so starkly this week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Such a vision can be delivered only on foundations that are secure, not built on sand. If Scotland is to prosper, rather than merely survive, we need sterling as our strong and guaranteed currency, backed by a monetary, fiscal, banking and political union and anchored by the Bank of England as our central bank. If Scotland is to thrive rather than languish, we need a single market in goods, capital, labour and products across the United Kingdom, with no internal barriers to ambition or trade. If Scotland is to walk tall in the world and tackle global poverty, hunger and disease, as well as climate change, we need the strongest representation through the United Kingdom in a range of international bodies, stretching from the G8, to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Commonwealth, the UN Security Council, the Council of Europe and—yes—the European Union.
The only way we can bolster these foundations is by rejecting separation and endorsing devolution and full partnership within the United Kingdom. I look forward to hearing the contributions in this debate, but I reflect on the fact that the nature of politics has to change in Scotland too. The spirit of unity in 1999 has sadly turned into an air of rancour and bitterness. If, as I hope, we achieve a strong and decisive vote in favour of devolution and against separation, people in Scotland will need to move forward not as divided tribes of devolutionists and nationalists consumed by enmity, but filled with a shared political destiny.
I hope we can reach out the hand of friendship to those on the other side of the debate and begin the conversation that my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) mentioned in order to move from the low divisiveness of these times to the uplands of a Scotland that can thrive within a strong United Kingdom. I look forward to hearing the rest of this debate, but my wish is that by the end of this year we can proceed in one direction, as one people, one Scotland, as part of one United Kingdom whose best days are ahead of us.
Unusually, I agree with just about every word I have just heard from the Opposition Benches.
In the short time available, I want to say a few words about the consequences of independence for currency arrangements in the rest of the UK and Scotland, but I ought first to make it clear that the Scots are not without options: they could create their own currency, whether pegged or free floating, they could create a currency board or they could join the euro. All these options are available. But the frontrunner in some quarters seems to be the creation of a formal single currency with the rest of the UK. In the current economic and political circumstances, this should not be attempted, and in the four minutes now available to me, I will try to explain why.
The primary reason is that a British monetary union would need something dramatically tougher than the eurozone rules—so tough that, on both sides of the border, if it was fully explained, I am confident our respective electorates would not want it. And they would be right. It would amount to a common fiscal policy between independent countries, which would be a massive undertaking to design and sustain.
Was my hon. Friend struck, as I was, by the Treasury output graphs that we saw at the end of Governor Carney’s speech? They showed that banking in Scotland would represent 12.7 times the economy—five points greater than the seven times for Iceland—and that it would be unsustainable without the currency union provisions my hon. Friend is describing.
I think it crucial for us to understand that a banking union could well trigger the migration of banks to London, where they would be able to benefit from the “lender of last resort” facilities provided by the Bank of England.
Let me say something about what a common fiscal policy would entail. It would mean, for instance, pre-approval of budget proposals, which would be accompanied by intensive and very intrusive oversight of budgetary outcomes. It would require rigorous powers to insist on overshoots being corrected quickly and reversed, backed up by credible sanctions for non-compliance.
In order to carry credibility, such powers would probably need to be directly applicable in law on both sides of the border. What that means in practice is that the Bank of England and the Treasury would have the power to direct a large part of Scottish economic and financial policy. For example, the Scots would probably be required to seek their approval before they could borrow in order to build schools and hospitals.
Is it realistic to imagine that all those in Scotland who had just voted for independence would readily accept such intensive supervision and direction from the rest of the United Kingdom? I doubt it.
The Chair of the Treasury Committee is making an interesting assessment, but what he is saying is not necessarily the case. If the stability arrangements were made at the aggregate deficit or debt level, and if both countries were required to adhere to them, the line-by-line scrutiny of spending plans he describes would not be necessary, would it?
Countries in the eurozone were required to abide by the stability and growth pact, and look where that took us. We need something much more robust than that to make a currency union work, and I am pretty confident that it would not be any more acceptable in Scotland than it will be in England.
Let me now say something about the effects of a currency union on the rest of the United Kingdom. It would, after all, have to be a two-way street. Is it realistic to expect the rest of the UK—much the bigger partner, both economically and in terms of population—to accept Scottish oversight of fiscal policy here? Is it realistic to expect the rest of the UK to risk the need for what most durable currency unions have eventually required, namely fiscal transfers? Is it realistic to expect the rest of the UK to sign up to a currency union that could carry the risk that all those rules, albeit tough rules, would fail, and whose failure would trigger the need for bail-outs? I do not think that such arrangements would be acceptable to the electorate. What is more, I doubt that a majority could be mustered for them in the House of Commons.
Of course, the leaders of both countries might try to get a currency union past their respective Parliaments without fully explaining the consequences, but I am on my feet now because I want to try to prevent that from happening. There would be shades of the eurozone in such an attempt, but it would be a fool’s errand.
A currency union created in such circumstances would, sooner or later, be tested by the markets. Either the rules would be tough enough to bite, or, if they were not tight enough, there might be a bail-out. Alternatively, we might experience both the pain and the bail-out, as happened in the eurozone: we might experience the pain of the bail-out south of the border, and the pain caused by the biting of the rules north of the border.
Not enough attention has been paid to the political consequences of botching these currency arrangements. Whatever the economics of trying to create a currency union, I think that it is bad politics for these islands at this point. The eurozone has provided a reminder not just of the economic difficulties of creating durable currency unions, but of the political damage and fall-out that come with flawed arrangements. We need, above all, to put what Lord Lang, in the other place, described as “the politics of grievance” behind us as we make our efforts to renew the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK. But it seems to me that a currency union would risk the opposite. As its full implications became clear, it would create the conditions for lasting resentment on both sides of the border, and it is just such resentment that we must do everything possible to avoid in the search for a stable economic and political relationship between those on the two sides of the border.
I urge the Governments on both sides of the border to explain how all the difficulties that I have outlined could be addressed, well before the Scottish referendum. Not to do so would be to deceive our respective electorates into believing that there is some third way, some relatively painless option, enabling the Scots to imagine that they could be fully in control of their own affairs and that the rest of the UK could avoid large contingent obligations. If, as I have concluded, those difficulties cannot be adequately addressed in the current circumstances, the two Governments should rule out a currency union now.
The next few months will be big ones for Scotland. The decision that Scots will make on 18 September will shape our country, our families, and generations to come. I am proud of the fact that, during the campaign, I will argue loudly for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. I am proud of the part that Scots have played in the success that is the United Kingdom, and proud of the role that the Labour movement has played in that success. I am proud of our achievements over the past 100 years, when we worked together to meet the common challenges that people faced in towns and villages throughout the UK.
When, 70 years ago, people were faced with inadequate health care and opposition from vested interests, it was the Labour movement that thought of, fought for, and created a system of health care for everyone—based on need, not nationality—right across the UK. We did that together. When there was no safety net for people who were out of work, no support for families and children, it was the Labour movement that thought of, fought for, and created the UK-wide welfare state. We did that together. When some workers were paid just £1 or £2 an hour, it was the Labour party that thought of, fought for, and delivered the national minimum wage for everyone, right across the UK. Such has been the impact of the living wage that it is now seen as the expectation, not the exception.
No one in the Labour movement said that we could not do any of that because we were part of the UK. We all did it because we were part of one family in the UK, not because we were competing with each other within the UK. The NHS, the welfare state and the national minimum wage are examples of the real transformative effect that working together across the UK can have.
Those are big examples, because we are a big movement with big ideas: ideas that are bigger than independence will ever be. We have never been a movement that turned its back on others. We have never said “You are on your own.” We have never said “You fight your own fights.” We have always said that we will pool and share our resources for the benefit of all.
That is an interesting point. The hon. Gentleman, like everyone else, will have to wait for our full devolution commission report, which will be published during our conference in March.
When the Governor of the Bank of England was busy sinking the SNP’s plans for a currency union last week, he was keen to point out that a key ingredient of a successful union was meeting the need to
“mutualise risks and pool fiscal resources.”
That is exactly what we have now: we have a redistributive union, a wealth-sharing union, in which a contribution from all to the common pot enables those most in need to benefit from the common weal.
I certainly agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend’s comments so far. I was alarmed when I read a tweet allegedly from a leading member of the Yes campaign saying:
“Wouldn’t it be great if @Tesco @Sainsburys @Morrisons @Asda just left Scotland after Yes vote”.
What kind of message does that send to the people who are trying to create productivity and jobs in the braw brave new Scotland?
Given the continuous pursuit of positivity, I must point out that that quote was not from a leading member of the twittersphere but from the communications director of the Yes Scotland campaign. That demonstrates that the positivity exists only on one side of the debate in Scotland.
Corporation tax is a good example of what I have been talking about, because the tax raised not only from Scottish companies but from the biggest businesses across the UK is redistributed across the UK to where it is most needed. Similarly, we all remember when the Royal Bank of Scotland was in trouble and needed bailing out, and taxpayers from across the UK stepped in to help, with no questions asked and no IOUs demanded. We see today the tragic circumstances across parts of England resulting from flood damage. Again, it is taxpayers from across the UK who will pool and share resources to help out, and again with no questions asked or IOUs demanded. There is a recognition that in times of trouble people from across the UK stand shoulder to shoulder. Now, with energy bills going up and the value of wages falling, and with household budgets being squeezed and household incomes not keeping pace with the rate of inflation, the answer is not to turn our back on the rest of the UK but rather to come together as we have always done to tackle our biggest challenges head on.
It is also right that Scots should be in the room when the big decisions that affect them are being taken. When interest rate decisions affecting the cost of Scottish mortgages and car loans are being taken, it is right that Scottish voices should be heard. When the regulation of financial and banking markets—which affects every one of us across the UK—is being agreed, it is also right that Scottish voices should be heard. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with that; there are some whose position is to diminish or mute the voice of Scots and to take us outside the room when decisions are being taken. Do not take my word for that: the SNP’s own Jim Sillars described the proposed currency union this week as “stupidity on stilts”. I am clear that Scots speak louder and do more as part of the UK. We have a can-do attitude, but it is unfortunately not shared by some others.
That demonstrates that we have a Government in Scotland who are determined to win women’s votes but not to change women’s lives. That is why we need a Labour Government in this place and in Holyrood.
Some people argue that we can deliver social and economic change only when we have constitutional change, but the truth is very different. The fact is that the big challenges we face in reducing poverty and inequality cannot be put on pause until after September 2014. It is not surprising that the SNP is using the extent of constitutional change as its measure of success. Labour is, and always has been, about so much more. The Labour movement has never argued for the status quo; indeed, it is something we have always fought against. For us, the real measure of success is the extent of economic and social change and the positive impact it has on people’s lives. That is why, for those on either side of this debate, this is a change referendum. We will argue for a strong voice across the UK, and for a strong Scotland within the United Kingdom.
I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on allocating the time for this important debate. I also congratulate those who have contributed to it so far; their speeches have been very thoughtful. I hope that we will be able to maintain that tenor throughout the afternoon, although that might be wishful thinking. Everyone who has spoken so far has acknowledged the fact that we have a big moment coming up in a few months’ time. The election in 2011 was transformational, and we are finally focusing on the big choice for Scotland between going it alone and staying part of the most successful family of nations in the world.
It is hardly a surprise that I want Scotland to stay part of the United Kingdom. That desire is based not only on my upbringing and experience in the borders and elsewhere in Scotland but particularly on my experience as Secretary of State for Scotland. It was a great privilege to hold that post, not least because of the people I worked with, including the great team of civil servants, special advisers and others who did an immense amount, even though it was a small team. They helped to produce the Scotland Act 2012, which brought about the biggest transfer of financial powers from this place to Edinburgh since the Act of Union, and supported me in the work that we did on the Edinburgh agreement. It was not just those two moments that were important, however. As Secretary of State, I also had the chance to get out and about and see the fantastic country that we all call home and that we are proud to be from and to represent.
I am thinking of the young woman in Glasgow who had been given an opportunity through the jobcentre and Skills Development Scotland to get some training and to work up a business plan, which she wanted to develop into something big. She had the vision, and she wanted to go for it. I am also thinking of the woman business leader in Fife who had taken her small family agricultural business and, with her family, developed it into a business that operated across the United Kingdom and Europe. Her vision was an expansive and positive one.
I am thinking, too, of the oil and gas sector. For Members representing Aberdeen, and for those on both sides of the House representing the north-east of Scotland, including my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), that sector is a precious jewel. We argue about the politics involved all the time, but I doubt that we truly appreciate all that it does, and all the highly skilled people working in Aberdeen and the north-east, including those from all our constituencies. They have a great future, but they will also face a big challenge in a few decades’ time, and that is something that we should all be thinking about now. It was a great privilege for me to learn much more about that sector, and to see the opportunities that exist now and that will exist in the future, when the oil and gas are finished.
Travelling all those miles around Scotland over three and a half years reinforced my sense of Scotland’s place in the UK. We have fantastic economic opportunities. That is not just about being part of the huge single market in the UK, or about having a great platform from which to promote our goods and services throughout the world through UK Trade & Investment and other channels; it is also about having the right attitude and approach to connecting with the international business sector.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern among some businesses that have taken advantage of UK representation around the world that, if Scotland became independent, the UK Foreign Office network would effectively be competing with a Scottish network, rather than acting as an ally working towards achieving economic success?
That would be a terribly sad situation. Last March, I was part of an energy showcase in Rio de Janeiro, at which Scottish Development International was working in partnership with UKTI and the consulate there to promote Scottish business and Scottish skills on the international stage. We were supporting each other, and we do not want to lose that scale and that ability.
This is not just about opportunity, however. It is also about our resilience. We have already heard references to the banking collapse of a few years ago. The right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, is in his place today, and I am sure that he will say more about this. The fact that we in Scotland had the whole of the UK standing behind us at the time was massively important and gave us the ability to work through those difficult times, the legacy of which is still with us today.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the evidence given by the Business Secretary yesterday to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, in which he said that he thought it likely that RBS would relocate its headquarters to London if Scotland voted for independence?
My right hon. Friend’s evidence has been well reported, and most people who look sensibly at the options will understand that that is a real possibility—perhaps more: perhaps a probability. The reality is that we have to think through all these issues. We have to think about what we have at the moment that is very special and that might have to be given up if we were to vote for independence.
Apart from the economic issues, which I am sure we will debate at length, we also need to think about our place in the world. Because of our proud record of reaching out to the world, Scots are delighted that we have half of the Department for International Development’s work force and policy makers in Scotland, a few miles from Glasgow in East Kilbride, the constituency of the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann). That is a fantastic place to visit.
There we are—Scotland—punching above our weight internationally, not only through that policy work, but because we are part of a country that is now reaching the United Nations target on international development. We also have greater security, as part of NATO, by being at the top table in the UN Security Council and through so much else. As others have said, this is because we are part of this great family of nations. We may be temporarily divided about the rugby this weekend—we might be hiding under the duvet, depending on what we expect the outcome to be—but we will set aside our differences shortly after.
In my part of the world, in the borders, we understand more than most about the family of nations that we have; the 500-year echo of Flodden that we think about at this moment reminds us of what went before and why we must not let those divisions ever return. I do not want to see that, and I do not believe that most people in Scotland do either. Of course we face challenges, on health, inequality, infrastructure, and transitioning and transforming our economy, but I simply believe that if we use the powers we already have and the new powers that are coming, if we sensibly discuss further powers that might be added to them, on tax, borrowing and employment support, and if we work together across parties, across Scotland and with the rest of the UK, we have a very positive future. We should channel our energies into that, not seek division or separation. I am proud to be Scottish, I am proud to be British and I hope that, together, we can keep this family of nations together.
My first comment will come as no surprise to any of my colleagues in here, including the Secretary of State and the two former Secretaries of State: it is good to have a debate on Scotland. There is a long list of speakers and people are already complaining about the length of time they are going to be given to participate in the debate, yet both Front-Bench teams deny themselves eight Grand Committees a year to discuss Scotland. Today, the Leader of the House was boasting about being at a Welsh Grand Committee yesterday where he was discussing devolution. I just make that point as I get on to making my contribution—I have got it off my chest, so I can move on.
I wish to make a few points in the four minutes or so remaining to me. First, I wish to discuss membership of the European Union. I was the Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation from 1992 to 1998, and of its successor, the European Scrutiny Committee, from 1998 to 2006. For 14 years, I was the Chairman of the Select Committee dealing with European legislation and, in particular during that term of office, enlargement. Along with my Committee colleagues, I scrutinised the applications of Finland, Sweden and Austria, and then the big bang of the accession of the three Baltic states and the seven central European states. I also began the process of dealing with the Romanian and Bulgarian accession—that was six years ago and they have only just joined the European Union fully. So although I have never claimed to be an expert on anything, I do know a little about European legislation.
A lie was told to Andrew Neil in a television interview: that the First Minister from the Scottish Government had legal opinion to back up their having automatic membership of the European Union. That was proved to be a lie, and it is distasteful that this important debate is wasted by that sort of atmosphere. This place is about debating and democracy, and has been for centuries. Surely this is a debate on the merits of what the proposition is, and not a debate based on the quality of propaganda. Propaganda is not about political debate; it is about selling a pup. There is a pup for sale in my country and in my constituency, and I am strongly against it.
I know that the Scottish National party is lying about Europe, as it is about pensions and welfare, and about keeping the pound. Even if the SNP was right and there was a grand, great thing at the end of the rainbow for the SNP and its debate for independence, I would still be against it. If the Scottish people are going to be better off economically and so on, I would still be against breaking away from the Union. That is part of my history. I was proud to be born into a mining family in a mining community, where it was not about self-betterment, and where judgments are not made about people on the basis of which side of the road or of the bed they were born on.
I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s comment that his views are not based on whether individual Scots would be better or worse off. Does he agree that many Labour Members have a bigger vision which is about the whole of the country and redistribution within it, and that we need to see real distribution to all the poorer areas in this country?
Well, of course. Wherever we see poverty, we have empathy with those who are suffering it. As we have heard said many times, poverty is just as important to us if it is by the River Thames or the River Clyde. That has always been the case. [Interruption.] I hear what is being muttered behind me and I will try not to be put off—I am becoming a bit used to it.
Thirty years ago, on 5 March, I was proud to be involved in the miner’s strike, fighting for my community, for my campaign and for my values and mining community values. We were fighting against a lying Westminster Government then, and I am fighting against a lying Government now in the Scottish Parliament. In 30 years’ time, when somebody asks what I was doing in 2014 and which side I was on, my grandchildren will be able to say, “He was on the side of Scotland, and he opposed devolution and—
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker.
One thousand nine hundred years ago, Rome divided Britain with a wall. Britain is an island whose natural boundaries are the sea, and this wall split families and split tribes. Ever since that moment we have been debating this issue. These two fundamental principles for Britain are what we are debating today. They are in competition: are we divided nation against nation, or are we unified by culture and language? There is only one answer to that question, and it cannot be simply economics. If a relationship is going wrong—if a marriage is going wrong—the answer cannot simply be to say, ‘You can’t afford to break up because you are going to lose the house.” The answer has to be only one thing, which is, “I love you.” We in this House are struggling to express the nature of our love for Scotland. We are not very good, as politicians, at talking about emotions. We have become very bad at it, but we need to learn to do it, because otherwise a party that is trying to reduce, to shrink, to vanish will win.
What do we mean when we say, “I, as a Member of Parliament for an English constituency, love Scotland”? It would be personal to every single one of us. It could be that we love intellectual seriousness. I was paddling along in a canoe with the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) a few months ago, and I would really miss him from that canoe. People in the United Kingdom would miss Scotland for different personal reasons—Scotland’s egalitarianism, its intellectual seriousness, its sense of realism and its sense of humour. I would be very ashamed and embarrassed to be part of a country that did not have Scottish Members of Parliament here.
There are two answers to that question. First, Scotland must of course embrace the potential of being part of the United Kingdom in foreign affairs. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman himself represents what is good about our political settlement. He sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, so there is a Scottish voice on that Committee raising Scottish issues again and again, forcing us to focus on Scottish issues when we think about foreign policy, and that is something that we would deeply miss.
There is a great appeal to Scottish nationalism. We all feel it in our gut, and it is because the world is bewildering. People are angry. Some 85% of people in this country feel that politics is broken and 87% feel that society is broken. Our voters feel that Westminster is out of touch and that their lives have never been so complicated. Those are real feelings that we have to acknowledge and accept. But the answer to those problems is not to get smaller. When we face complexity and things that are bewildering in our everyday lives—when we feel angry or disappointed—the answer is not to get smaller, shut the door and pretend that we can shut those things out. The answer is to expand.
I have three suggestions on the lessons that we need to learn from Scottish nationalism. The first lesson is that it is not that Westminster is too far away: it is also that Edinburgh is too far away. The answer to the problems of our communities is to represent the issues of Argyll separately from the issues of Perthshire and the issues of the Borders. They are not the same issues. One of the great weaknesses in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland is the lack of real localism. Whether talking to someone in Muthill struggling with planning or someone in Kelso worried about economic development in their area, we need to learn from Mitterrand in France in 1983—hyper-localism and mayors at a local level—and not try to fool the Scottish people by pretending that transferring power from Westminster to Holyrood will solve those human problems.
The second thing that we need to do—and this is true for the north of England as much as for Scotland—is not to pretend that London and the south of England do not exist. We need to accept that they exist, that they are a challenge, that they have huge potential, and that we need to make them work for us, not pretend that they are not there.
The third thing is cultural links. It is a tragedy that the educational policy of the Scottish National party has made it more difficult for English students to study in Scottish universities and for Scottish students to study in English universities. We must reinforce the cultural links.
Finally, what we need is the human expression. On 19 July this year, I hope that 100,000 people will gather along that old Roman wall—English, Welsh, Irish and Scots—holding hands and linking arms across the border. Because in the end what matters is not the wall that divides us but the human ties that bind us in the name of love.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), who is a fellow member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I hope his wish to get all those people to the border is fulfilled, and I would certainly be pleased to be there on the day.
Next September, we Scots will take one of the most important decisions in the history of Scotland and of the UK as a whole—whether to stay in the UK or walk away to become a separate state. It is extremely important—we owe it to all the people of the UK, especially Scots—that this debate is conducted in a measured, respectful and positive manner, and is informed by proper analysis rather than the name calling that has been all too common until now. This has been an affront to the people of Scotland and does nothing for the case of those involved in that puerile bullying and infantile behaviour.
On whichever side of the argument we fall, or even if we have yet to decide, we should go forward on the basis of what we believe is best for Scotland, not necessarily just for the generation represented in the Chamber today, but for our children and grandchildren and those who will follow them. That does not mean that the debate should not be robust, however. The fact is that Scottish people in general do not subscribe to the idea of “knowing your place”, and I would argue that Scots have punched well above their weight as part of the UK and internationally in many different fields, and that continues today.
In that regard, I congratulate Sir Tom Hunter not only on the success he has achieved as a New Cumnock lad, but on what he gives back. He certainly has not forgotten where he came from, as local people will tell you, but he is also to be congratulated on his initiative to provide a forum for people to ask questions and get the answers they need to help them make this important decision about the future of their country.
We need answers to the difficult questions. The more that is asked about the consequences of separation, the more we get talk of
“shared responsibility with the rest of the UK”,
the best example recently being the SNP’s plan for a sterling union. Leaving aside the fact that it takes two to tango, it is yet another proposal that is unravelling. Once it was to be the Scots pound, then the euro, now sterling, but maybe it should be the Scots pound. Even Jim Sillars, erstwhile deputy leader of the SNP, has dismissed a currency union as “stupidity on stilts”.
I am a proud member of Unite the Union, but the hon. Gentleman’s Scottish history is obviously much better than mine.
As I was saying, Mr Sillars is well known in Ayrshire for changing his mind—sometimes he does not seem to know which party he is in or whether he is for devolution, for separation or for staying with the UK.
The First Minister seems to be leading a campaign with the slogan “Don't frighten the horses” and suggesting that nothing is really going to change. When we do get any policy promises, such as the child care initiative outlined in the White Paper, we find that nationalists are proposing something that could be delivered right now under the powers of devolution. Instead, in a cynical attempt to win women’s votes, child care is offered as a bribe to vote yes. Well, Scottish women are not so easily fooled.
We in Ayrshire have a special regard for Keir Hardie as one of the great Scots of the Labour movement. Keir Hardie believed in devolution, but in the context of promoting social justice across the whole of the UK. He started the Scottish Labour party and the British Labour Party, and he helped build trade unionism in Scotland and in Britain. He was an internationalist in outlook, and an MP for a Welsh and then an English constituency. Look at the Scots who followed in his footsteps, like John Wheatley, Tom Johnston and Willie Ross—another of Ayrshire’s own. They all made a tremendous contribution to Scotland but did so from within the UK Cabinet. That is not to mention Scottish influence in the last Labour Government and indeed the present shadow Cabinet.
We have no desire to “know our place” in any deferential sense, or even to be content to be a junior partner—Scots are not a subjugated people. We have been free to choose independence since universal suffrage almost 100 years ago. Instead, Scots have positively chosen in election after election to remain a partner in the United Kingdom, and I believe that will be their choice in the referendum vote in September.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) and I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) on securing this debate and the Backbench Business Committee on recognising the importance of addressing this issue.
I want to take a positive approach to Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. It has played a dynamic role and it is one that has evolved. With 300 years of common history, we have still got our distinctive legal system, our distinctive education system, our national identity, and we have recreated our own Parliament to deal with those issues that directly affect us in our lives in Scotland, so we do, as the slogan says, get the best of both worlds: a say in those decisions that affect us that are taken at the UK level, and a say in those decisions that affect us directly in Scotland in the Scottish Parliament.
In putting the positive case for voting no, I return to what the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) said, and point out that the best and simplest way of keeping the pound sterling is to remain part of the UK. That is most easily achieved by voting no in the referendum. It gives us a say in how our currency is managed and it keeps us part of a borderless fully internal market, with a more diversified economy. The banking crisis reminded us that Scotland’s heavy dependency on the financial services sector—a great achievement by many people working in that sector—presents a challenge when it goes wrong. It was the rest of the UK’s economy and diversification that helped to sustain us through that crisis.
The oil and gas industry is also a great success story in Scotland, as the former Secretary of State my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore) mentioned. It is a great technical achievement and there are a lot of people with a lot of skills and the work they do has a lot of export potential. It is also a very unstable source of revenue to the economy, however, because it depends on the global oil price. When the price is high, the economy does well. When the price is low, being part of a larger economy, when other parts of the economy can benefit from the low oil price, gives the ability to transfer resources and sustain the economy. The UK’s diversified economy also allows us to come up with tax incentives to stimulate exploration, forgoing cash flow now for long-term benefits.
Norway is far more dominated by the oil and gas sector and has a successful economy, but if there is a downturn in the oil price Scotland does not have the economic resources and reserves to take that hit, yet we have the benefit of being part of a wider, dynamic, more diversified UK economy—and we will be, too, when the oil eventually runs out.
As has been mentioned, we also have access to a global network of embassies and trade missions that work positively to benefit Scotland and promote Scottish trade and investment in Scotland. We will continue to enjoy that positive benefit if we vote no in the referendum.
As has been highlighted in recent speeches, the business community does not have a vote in the referendum. The referendum is for the people of Scotland to decide Scotland’s future. It is one person, one vote and it is up to the people of Scotland to make that decision, but they are entitled to know the concerns of business. We want to hear the voices of business. Yes they cannot tell people how to vote, and yes they cannot dictate the result of the referendum, but if they remain silent and then quietly implement what they plan to do in the event of a yes vote in the referendum, the people of Scotland will have voted for a future without knowing the consequences and being able to take that on board. It is therefore extremely important that the business voices have the courage to speak up and inform the debate so people can make a clear and decisive choice in the referendum.
Having talked to some businessmen in Scotland, I have discovered there is a feeling of nervousness on their part. They feel that if they were to put their heads above the parapet and express a view in favour of the Union, they might get picked on and discriminated against by the SNP.
There is an undercurrent of a bullying culture in respect of some of the voices that come forward in this debate, but I notice that people of the level of Bob Dudley, who is high up the pecking order, are less easily bullied. That is an important point, however, and I hope the fact that these voices are coming forward will encourage others to speak up. Businesses do not, of course, want to fall out with customers and their work force, but they can put their concerns in a way that says, in effect, “It’s up to you how you vote, but we have this concern and the consequence of voting that way is that there will be the following implications for our business, and you need to take that into account.”
With a yes vote, there is no turning back. It is not an experiment. The message that must go out to the people of Scotland is that if they vote yes it is for life, so they need to be very confident and certain about their decision. A no vote is a positive vote for the benefits of Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, with the best of both worlds. We are better together and I urge people to vote no in the referendum.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), and may I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) on ensuring we have this important, but all too short, debate today? May I also say to hon. Members that I will not be taking any interventions? Members of the other parties will get 90% of the time so it is only fair to the people watching this debate that they get the opportunity to hear from the other side.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that next Tuesday the SNP is in control of Opposition business in this House and that it has not tabled a motion to discuss independence for Scotland?
What a chance; what an opportunity: on 18 September this year we can make the choice to become a self-governing nation once again—to walk tall in the world with national self-respect and dignity like all other normal independent nations do, being responsible for ourselves and blaming no one else for our setbacks. The most exciting thing for me is that our independence will release and ignite a tsunami of energy, creativity and imagination as we get down to the business of building and creating our new independent nation—a new nation according to our Scottish priorities, built on our sense of community, always securing the Government we vote for, pursuing the agenda we want.
We will run an independent Scotland better than the Westminster Tories because of one key and very important fact: we care more about Scotland than the Westminster Tories do—of course we do, and that is why we will run it better. Never again will we have a Tory Government without our democratic consent. We want no more picking on our vulnerable; no more obscenities such as the bedroom tax; no more of Labour’s illegal wars and no more Tory or Labour weapons of mass destruction defiling our beautiful country—[Interruption.]
We will ease pretty seamlessly into a new independent status. The day after we secure a new nation, it will be pretty much like the day before, but something remarkable will have happened. All of a sudden, the country will be ours to shape and to determine. If things do not work out, we can change them. We can change them because we have the power of independence. For the first time in 300 years, our nation will belong to us, and nothing could be more exciting and transformative.
It is all down to this choice. If we vote no, we are accepting that this is as good as it gets. This is what we have to settle for. It signals a contentment with Westminster rule and Westminster politicians’ ability to deliver for Scotland.
I do indeed remember that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that up because it happened in my constituency. In Perthshire, we have long memories when it comes to these issues.
If we vote no, we will be saying that we approve of Westminster government and whatever future the rest of the UK decides for us. Well, I do not like where the UK is going.
I am not giving way. I do not like where the UK is going at all. I do not have much time, so I will mention just two examples. The first was last week’s appalling Immigration Bill, which would charge visitors to our country fees for health care and turn those who rent houses in the private-rented sector into immigration officers. It is a nasty, pernicious and rotten Bill that is designed to counter the threat of the UK Independence party. We do not do UKIP in Scotland; we barely do Tory. We have a national treasure on the Front Benches; our one and only Tory Member. None the less, we will get that Bill, because this Government took it through on a Labour abstention. I object to my country being dragged into this monstrous race to the bottom between this Government and UKIP about who can be the hardest on those who might want to come and live in my country. Scotland is better than that, yet the Bill was passed. It was passed on the same day as the House of Lords debated our country. I do not know whether you saw that, Mr Deputy Speaker. That bloated, unelected Chamber stuffed full of party placement cronies and donors had the audacity to tell our nation what it should do. Then it also had the effrontery to defile the memory of our war dead and insult the many brave veterans who have served this country with distinction just because they happened to support independence for our nation. One thing we will get with independence is the ability to wipe away that ermine-wearing unelected Chamber from the face of Scottish public life, and our nation will be much better for that. Scotland is so much better than that.
We know that if we gain control of our own resources and secure all the necessary powers, there is nothing stopping us becoming an economic powerhouse, and that is what we look forward to.
The hon. Gentleman is putting an emotional case for independence, but he is not taking on board the wise words of the Governor of the Bank of England who talked about the illusion of independence if an independent Scotland keeps the pound sterling. The voice of Scotland will be taken away from the decisions that will affect its very core monetary policy.
We have listened to their speeches with as much respect as possible, but we are shouted down. It seems impossible for Members to listen to the other side of the debate. I do not know why this place thinks that that is attractive. It is a choice between negativity and positivity. No European country has done what we are about to do. As an exercise in democracy, this is huge. This is Scotland’s great choice, because it is a choice between two very different and distinct futures. We can decide that this is as good as it gets, or we can decide to do something much better—to take control of ourselves and to put the nation in the hands of the Scottish people. If we get this chance, this once-in-a-generation chance, we will vote for the positive, because positive beats negative. What a prize there will be when we vote yes in overwhelming numbers. When we go to the polls in September, we will vote ‘yes’. What a prize there will be—a country of our own.
I am honoured to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) on securing the discussion today. Like the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), I want to make principally an emotional argument. My birthday is on 18 September, and I want to celebrate it—hopefully for many years to come—with a glass or two of a good single malt and a celebration of my country. I do not want it to be a permanent reminder of the day that my country was lost. My nationality is British and my country is the United Kingdom. I want to speak up for my constituents and everyone on both sides of the border who feel the same.
There are some very good distilleries, and I have a taste for the water of life, so I would be happy to send the hon. Gentleman a list. Perhaps he will buy me one on the day.
We have more than 300 years of a forged special identity. That does not diminish the importance, the history or the culture of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. Initially, it is like a marriage, in which two separate families come together. Over the centuries, those two families forge something unique together, and a shared identity comes about. Something special is created whether it is through triumph, disaster, adversity or opportunity. We dismantle that at our peril.
My second point is what I see as a fundamental flaw at the heart of the Scottish National party’s position. It is not a proposal I agree with, but there is a logical coherence to the argument that Scotland, as a separate nation, should become independent and a master of its own destiny with the ability to shape its own future, as the hon. Gentleman has set out. Quite apart from the huge emotional costs that would have to be paid, there are many uncertainties and other costs that would flow. None the less, I understand the emotional appeal and the logic that goes behind it. What is not logical is to go through all that pain, cost and uncertainty only to argue that nothing would change for this new separate, independent sovereign country. The hon. Gentleman admitted it himself. He said that the day after would be the same. Why go through all that, particularly on the point of currency union, which has been the subject of much discussion? I do not often agree with Jim Sillars, a former Member of this House, former deputy leader of the SNP and one-time ally of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, but his article in the Sunday Times last weekend was spot on. He said that
“a currency per se, like sterling, is a badge of sovereignty printed by a sovereign government”
and that will be the badge of the United Kingdom.
He went on to argue that
“you don’t pool sovereignty, you transfer it and lose it.”
That is what would happen in a separate Scotland according to the SNP’s argument.
Should independence happen, Scotland, England and the rest of the United Kingdom would survive. I do not subscribe to the theory that we would be reduced to an economic wasteland, but I believe we would all be poorer. Time does not permit me to go into all the arguments about the practicalities, but the strength of the Union is greater than the sum of its parts. If we split up, we are all diminished.
May I point out that the influence of Scotland is enormous? There are three Stewarts on the Government Benches today and there is a Douglas behind me. Scotland has huge influence in the United Kingdom and should remain in the United Kingdom.
My fellow clansman puts the point eloquently. Scotland punches above her weight in the United Kingdom. England punches above her weight by being part of the United Kingdom. Be it in international affairs, defence or economic clout, we are stronger together.
Devolution is a dynamic process and I think that was always the intention when the Scotland Act 1998 was passed. In 2012 we passed a further Scotland Act, which contains a substantial transfer of powers, principally fiscal powers, from this place to Holyrood. That transfer has huge implications, particularly for businesses in Scotland as they adjust to the new fiscal arrangements. I support that, as it makes Holyrood responsible for more of the money it spends. It finds as much of a welcome in my constituency in England as I know it does in Scotland. Surely the sensible thing to do is let that major change happen and bed down before we see whether there are further practical changes that can be introduced so that we have the optimal arrangement between Scotland, England and the rest of the United Kingdom, rather than gambling on the one-way ticket to uncertainty that a yes vote on 18 September would represent.
Let me conclude by returning to my principal point. Whatever the economic, strategic or practical arguments about Scotland’s remaining part of the United Kingdom, for me the principal point is emotional. This is my country. I will not rest until we see a no vote on 18 September. I do not want to swap my country for dual citizenship or whatever other arrangements come about. I am British, I want to stay British and I will fight with every fibre of my body to keep us British.
It is a pleasure to follow such a thoughtful and emotional contribution from the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart).
I want to talk about the reasons why Scotland is stronger when we pool and share our resources as a United Kingdom, but let me start by outlining what I believe to be the three main elements of the debate on the streets of Scotland. First, it is about the things that we know will change. Secondly, it is about the things that would not change. Thirdly, it is about the issues that would require negotiation. It has become apparent that there is a nationalist plan to move as many items as possible from the negotiation box into the box for things that would not change: the pound, membership of the European Union and membership of NATO, to name just three. It is pretty clear that the motivation for that move is to create an atmosphere in which people in Scotland feel that separation is not a risk. I hope that the yes campaign will change its strategy and tactics because a victory based on a deceit would be no victory at all.
We also know that many people have stepped in to make their views known, most notably and recently the Governor of the Bank of England. I hope that people will continue to do so without fear and will make positive contributions to the argument on both sides, but I must place on record my concern that the apparatus of the state is being abused by those in power. The White Paper, which I have in my hand—Members will be delighted to know that it is not my speech—was billed as the document that would answer all the questions on independence, but it does not. Sir Peter Housden, the permanent secretary to the Scottish Government, must explain why taxpayers’ money was used to create and issue that document. The Secretary of State, the Cabinet Office and the head of the civil service should explain why they have maintained their silence while the impartiality of the civil service has been compromised.
Let me give just two examples. On page 37, the White Paper states:
“The Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government in Edinburgh are responsible for a range of ‘devolved’ matters”
before going on to list them. It then states:
“The Westminster Government—currently a coalition of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties—and the Westminster Parliament have ‘reserved’ responsibilities”
before going on to name those rights. What can we take from those two statements? There is no mention of the United Kingdom Parliament and it refers to a Westminster Parliament and Westminster Government that do not exist. It is factually incorrect, so why did civil servants allow the document to be released and published at the taxpayers’ expense?
It does not end there. Each page is filled with similar partisan comments that belie the Scottish Government’s position that the document was designed to illuminate. One example really makes my blood boil, and it was mentioned a few moments ago by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Page 13 is entitled “Gains from independence” and states:
“Abolition of the ‘bedroom tax’ which will save 82,500 households in Scotland—including 63,500 households with a disabled adult and 15,500 households with children—an average of £50 per month”.
What could be more despicable and reprehensible than preying on the fears and concerns of the most vulnerable people in Scotland? That statement and the words of SNP Ministers on the issue were designed to create the impression that the Scottish Parliament could not remove the tax without independence. This week, by their own actions, they have confirmed that as a deceit.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, not just dissecting the White Paper as what it is, a work of fiction, but saying that the Scottish Government’s current powers can be used in such a way. Does he think that the people of Scotland will be asking serious questions of the SNP Government about why they have waited more than 12 months to abolish the bedroom tax in Scotland?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. There are many more examples and each page of the document is filled with similar deceits. It is not fair on the people of Scotland, who should be relying on informative documents from the Scottish Government to inform the decision they will have to take on 18 September.
Scotland is part of the most successful political and economic union that the world has ever seen, as has been mentioned by other hon. Members.
I will defer to my hon. Friend on the amount of time, given that he was probably there for most of it. He is absolutely correct.
If people vote no in the referendum, they can wake up on 19 September knowing that they will keep the pound, that the United Kingdom will remain a member of NATO and that we will retain our EU membership. They will know that brave men and women, a lot of them Scots, are looking after our national security and much more. They will know that those matters will not be subject to negotiation.
There is one more crucial point. The United Kingdom is successful because we pool and share resources. Money earned in more prosperous parts of the United Kingdom can be shared with areas that have fewer resources and, as history tells us, areas of wealth are not always fixed. The size, depth and sheer diversity of the United Kingdom mean that we will always have sources of wealth for redistribution, even when certain natural resources cease to exist. Our ability to pool and share our resources, coupled with the certainty of currency and international agreements to which we are party, insulates us as a United Kingdom in ways with which smaller nations cannot possibly compete.
There is a human element too. I was a trade union official, elected and full time for 26 years of my career, and I have worked with colleagues and friends across the United Kingdom. Walking down a street in London, Darlington, Cardiff or Belfast is, apart from the accent, no different from walking down the streets of Glasgow, because people have the same problems. We share much more than currency and membership of international agreements. We share a history, and we share the same hopes and aspirations for future generations. Last night, there was an addition to the McCann family. My niece Maria had an 8 lb 4 oz baby boy in Wishaw general hospital. Members will be delighted to know that mother and child are doing well. I hope that that child gets the same chance to grow up in the United Kingdom as I have had.
I am delighted to follow the powerful contribution made by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann). I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I congratulate him on the addition to his family.
Much of the debate has been on the forthcoming referendum and has centred on the economic issues, which are a bit clinical. Bob Dudley’s warning that BP would question future investment in a foreign country called Scotland will surely not be the last such intervention. The Business Secretary’s statement that the Royal Bank of Scotland would move its headquarters to the place where it is regulated will doubtless be followed by others. The Governor of the Bank of England has warned of the consequences of secession. It would not be in Alex Salmond’s gift to decide whether an independent Scotland could keep the pound, a case that was strongly and brilliantly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), so I will not repeat it.
Defence is another critical area. The defence industry in Scotland employs 12,600 people, many in the Clyde shipyards and in Rosyth, where the largest warships ever built in this kingdom, the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, are being assembled. Under Article 346 of the European treaty, the British Government are not required to put out to tender across the EU any contract for defence equipment. In a separate Scotland, all that would be lost.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that since the second world war, the MOD has never placed a contract for any defence ship anywhere other than in the UK. If Scotland is no longer part of the UK, obviously it will not get those contracts.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and it is terribly important that the people of Scotland understand the significance of defence in this debate. I am grateful to him for his contribution.
There is also the strategic risk to the rest of the United Kingdom if the defence of our northern borders were to be entrusted to a foreign country, not to mention the ludicrous situation regarding the UK’s critical nuclear deterrent, which would have to be removed from Scotland at massive expense and huge danger to the whole of the current United Kingdom.
But these are all matters of the head; like my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) I want to address matters of the heart. My father was born in Lancashire, but my mother was a Douglas, the daughter of a Scottish Border farmer, himself a Border Reiver. I am a product of the Union and I am intensely proud of it. I do care about Scotland, even if I do not have a Scottish accent. My closest relatives have farmed that magnificent rolling border country for centuries, and are doing so today as we debate this issue. My uncles, together with MOD representatives from the Northumberland side, defined the border between England and Scotland along the Cheviot in the 1950s. My uncle played flanker for Hawick, two of my cousins played for Jedforest, and my second cousin, the late W. I. D. Elliot, was hailed by The Daily Telegraph as the greatest post-war Scottish rugby player, with 29 caps for Scotland. This is no foreign country; this is where a large part of my soul resides. When I cross the border back into Scotland, I think of the words of Sir Walter Scott:
“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!”
I trace my roots to nowhere else but the soil of this United Kingdom and the Scottish Borders is where half my soul resides.
Let us be in no doubt, as the noble Baroness Liddell said during an excellent debate led by my noble Friend Lord Lang of Monkton in another place last week—sadly, not properly covered, of course, by our newspapers—the SNP has filed for divorce. It wants to end 300 years of a mighty and successful partnership, a partnership to which Scotland has contributed a huge amount: the market economist Adam Smith; Alexander Graham Bell who gave us the telephone; John Logie Baird, inventor of the television; Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin, James Wilson from Hawick who founded the Standard Chartered bank for which I worked; Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding who famously commanded RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain—all Scots who enriched this kingdom—and today, Sir Alex Ferguson, possibly the greatest football manager of all time, J.K. Rowling, Sir Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and the rest.
That one man’s personal vanity should drive the campaign to put asunder that which has endured for centuries amounts to constitutional vandalism. We have worked together, played together and fought for freedom together. My uncles fought in the second world war to retain the freedoms of these islands. If this divorce were to happen, Scotland’s influence would be virtually zero.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to make that analogy and to point to the unforeseen consequences to which the Scottish National party does not wish to draw attention. I entirely support him.
In this divorce court, of course the judges will be those of whatever nationality reside in Scotland. The 800,000 Scots living in England have been disfranchised and can only watch helplessly as others determine the fate of the land of their birth: people such as Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown, Royal Navy, who has flown more aircraft types than anyone else on this planet, who has done more ship deck landings than anyone else—2,500—and who interrogated Hermann Goering in German after the war. Brought up in the borders in Melrose, Eric, who helped to save us from Nazi domination, will have no vote because he does not reside in Scotland. Nor will those Scots living and working overseas, contributing to the prosperity of this our kingdom. Are we then all to have separate passports? Will I and my family on the other side of the border have to have separate passports? Are we to be divided in this way? This is monstrous.
So, to those in Scotland, whether born there or of other nationality, to whom has been granted the exclusive privilege of deciding the destiny of this, our United Kingdom, I say, “Please vote to retain the unity of the kingdom in which Scotland plays such a proud and distinguished part.” It would be a tragedy if families across the kingdom were to be divided in the way the separatists are demanding.
I add my own congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) on securing this important debate on Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
One way or another, 2014 will be the year that Scots will remember. In seven months’ time the Scottish people will vote to decide either to continue 300 years of partnership and shared prosperity, or to go it alone as a separate state. Unlike some, I did not get into politics to obsess over the constitution. I would rather be talking about how to build a better Scotland, a better Britain and a better world. I am just as appalled by poverty in Birmingham, Liverpool and West Ham, as I am in Broxburn, Livingston and West Calder in my own constituency. I would rather the Scottish Government were focused on their day job of improving the lives of ordinary Scots than on abusing public resources to promote an SNP agenda.
By pooling and sharing our resources, Scots have contributed to one of the most successful and prosperous political unions the world has ever seen. But whereas there is little doubt that Scotland could be an independent country, the question the Scottish people will have to consider is whether Scotland will be better off by going it alone. My view is that Scotland would not, and there is a range of positive reasons why I believe that we are all better together. Scotland is linked intrinsically to the rest of United Kingdom, socially, politically and economically.
It is important to point out that Scotland is linked not only to England, but to Wales and Northern Ireland, because there are strong bonds across all the countries. Those of us who are from those areas must send out a strong message to our Scottish fellow citizens that we cherish the fact that they are part of the United Kingdom and want them to remain as such. It is important that, without interfering in the democratic vote, we send out that positive message.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention and fully understand that there are major cultural links between the people of Scotland and the people of Northern Ireland. Indeed, I have many friends and relatives from Northern Ireland.
The single market within the UK affords significant economic, trade and employment opportunities to people on both sides of the border, and our membership of the European Union, through the United Kingdom, provides a vast marketplace for Scottish exporters. Together, we have a place at the top table of the European Council of Ministers, we are one of the G8 forum of the world’s largest economies and we are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, all of which allows us to wield unprecedented influence on the European and global stages. As a member of NATO, we have collectively benefited since the war from international security and defence co-operation on a grand scale.
When it comes to the economy, Scotland has a very important relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland benefits from access to a market comprising tens of millions of people within a single jurisdiction. Scots are employed by firms based in the rest of the UK, and people in the rest of the UK benefit from employment opportunities with Scottish-based companies. Indeed, Scotland’s exports to the rest of the UK are worth double its exports to the rest of the world.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. On day one of independence, were Scots to vote for it, the rest of the United Kingdom would remain within the European Union but Scotland would not, so it clearly would not benefit from the EU single market, to the great detriment of Scottish business and Scotland overall.
Mr Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] Welcome, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is great to see a Scot in the Chair this afternoon. [Interruption.] And a woman, my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) reminds me.
In addition to the shared opportunities, the pooling of resources across the UK allows risk as well as reward to be spread, as seen most notably in the bail-out of the Scottish-based banks during the financial crisis, when the UK, led by a Scot, injected an amount of capital into the banks well in excess of the Scottish Government’s total budget. The pooling of resources also allows for distribution on the basis of social need across the welfare state. Were Scotland outwith the UK, that would place a major question mark over its ability to continue to fund benefits at current levels and to meet state and public sector pension commitments.
Of course, Scotland has its own devolved Parliament, with significantly more powers to come as a result of the Calman commission and the Scotland Act 2012. It can therefore be argued that Scotland has the best of both worlds: local decision making, but under the financial umbrella of the UK Barnett formula, giving Scots more funding per capita than anywhere else in the UK.
Scotland benefits disproportionately from the Barnett formula to the tune of £1,400 per capita because of rurality, super sparsity and Scotland’s particular needs, so my hon. Friend’s point is well made.
Since 2011 we have been told that the answer to every question the Scottish people have ever asked about independence would be in the Scottish Government’s White Paper. Given Alex Salmond’s recent statements, I was half expecting next week’s lottery numbers to appear in its pages, too. The Scottish people were promised the New Testament but instead had to settle for the SNP’s next election manifesto. The truth is that Alex Salmond simply cannot guarantee many of the White Paper’s promises and has completely failed to answer many of the legitimate questions that have been asked of the yes campaign. The Scottish Government could deliver more with the powers they already have, but they choose partisan dividing lines, rather than improving the lives of the Scottish people.
On 18 September the Scottish people will have a choice: either to support the continuation of Scotland within the UK, and all the advantages and benefits that involves, with a further strengthening of devolution; or to take a leap into the unknown, never to return.
I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak in this debate, and to speak not just as a Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, but as the Member for Carlisle— the city at the very centre of the UK and situated on the English-Scottish border—and, of course, as a Scot.
Scotland is one part of the United Kingdom, and that United Kingdom, of which Scotland is a part, has been hugely successful over the past 300 years. Indeed, I suggest that not only do we live in a Union that has a number of different parts, but the whole is much greater than the sum of those parts. The United Kingdom, as one nation, is far superior and far more successful than two or more separate entities would be. That is why it is in the interests of all of us to remain part of a United Kingdom.
We live in a nation that has been, and is, hugely successful—economically, socially and politically. We live in a wealthy, prosperous and stable country, a country that respects the individual and upholds the rule of law. We live in a country with a comprehensive education system, a health service that is free at the point of use and a standard of living that is the envy of much of the world. Scotland is a part of that. Indeed, Scotland has made a very valuable and substantial contribution to the success of the United Kingdom. It has helped create the prosperity we all enjoy, and it continues to do so.
However, in less than eight months’ time this most successful of unions could start to fracture and come apart. It is my view—a view shared by many in this House—that a move to independence would not be in the interests of Scotland or the people of Scotland. In fact, I believe that it would also be detrimental to the remaining parts of the UK and, if I may be more parochial, that it would be against the best interests of the people of my constituency and the surrounding area, both north and south of the border.
On a recent programme a commentator suggested that the debate on independence was one between the accountants and the poets. That is the “hearts and minds” argument. I do not subscribe to the argument that it is one or the other—that it is a debate between those concerned only about the financial and economic implications and those who believe in a more romantic attraction to the idea of independence. Scotland’s continuing place within the United Kingdom can be supported by both emotional arguments and sentiment as well as by hard economic facts.
The Union has been to the economic benefit of the Scottish people. The real danger for Scotland is that independence will lead to significant economic stagnation and decline. Without the Union, Scotland might not be as attractive a place for some sectors and industries to invest or do business in. Talent and business might leave. We must remember that the 1707 Union was as much about economics as it was about politics. Businesses do not like uncertainty. There is clear certainty and continuity if Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom. Businesses and investors will know exactly where they stand if Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom. They know and understand the regulatory regime, the laws and the relationships. In contrast, there will be massive uncertainty if Scotland decides to pursue an independent course.
I appreciate that other hon. Members have touched, and will touch, on many of the business and economic issues, such as the currency—the euro, sterling or a Scottish dollar—membership of the EU, immigration, tax and regulation, particularly of the financial sector.
As for the emotional debate, I see nothing wrong with people being proud of their roots; proud to say that they are Scottish as well as British, in exactly the same way that someone can call themselves Welsh, Irish, a Yorkshire man, a Brummie or much else. They are still British, but they can and should be proud of both. Indeed, the Olympic games demonstrate the unifying attachment that most people have to the United Kingdom.
We must not forget that the debate on Scotland’s place in the UK is of great importance to places such as Carlisle. There is much work, leisure, social, shopping and family relationships that cross the border. There is therefore a danger that we will end up with unnecessary complications and difficulties that could hinder such activity, particularly business. There could be different currencies, different health and safety or environmental regulations and alternative immigration policies. Indeed, daylight hours could be different. In an extreme case, we could end up with someone who travels across the border in either direction needing to carry ID, change their money, alter their watch, follow different regulations and pay different taxes, and wondering whether it was all worth while.
In conclusion, speaking as the MP for Carlisle, a Scot and a UK citizen, I believe that Scotland’s place in the UK is very much like Carlisle’s—it should be at its centre.
Se urram mhor a tha ann dhomh an diugh cothrom bruidhinn air Alba a bhi neo-eisimeileachd.
I start in Gaelic, the oldest language of these islands of Britain and Ireland, to say that it is a great pleasure to speak in this debate about the day Scotland will be independent. It is tremendous that this House has taken this opportunity to debate the vital topic of how Scotland can join the world as an independent nation—how it can be a full part of the United Nations and a full and proper member of the Commonwealth, not kept apart and separate as a region of another state, and certainly not knowing its place in the Union. If ever a debate had a title with the hangover of imperialism, it is this one. Scotland’s place, like that of New Zealand, Canada, Norway, Denmark and Ireland, is in the world. No country in the developed world has voted against their independence, and I am sure that Scotland will not be the first. It is an odd insult to Scotland that here in Westminster every other nation is seen as independent but Scotland is insulted by the word “separate” or “separatism”. We will be independent like the others, too.
The right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling)—the darling leader of the no campaign—often says that independence is a one-way street. [Interruption.] Yes, he darkly warns. In fairness, not much he says has any brightness and joy. But he is describing a situation and not a fact. The fact is that independence is probably irreversible. The empirical reality, from observation, is that none who gains independence chooses to give it up. As it works personally when we stop being children and start making decisions for ourselves, so it works for countries. The best people to make decisions for a country are the people who live and work there, and this is true for Scotland.
No, I will not, but others are free to campaign for that if they so choose and to do so if they win a mandate.
To my many English friends who worry that in the absence of Scotland they would have permanent Tory Government in the rump UK, the facts are that Scotland has changed the Government of the UK for only six months since 1945, whereas the Scottish nation, under the tawdry political Union of 1707, has got a Government it has not voted for two thirds of the time since 1945.
My hon. Friend makes a great point. Labour is out of power in Scotland, and, like the Liberals and Tories, is heading ever further downwards.
Scotland will not affect the Government of Westminster 98% of the time. Regardless of that, our first job as representatives of the people in Scotland is to make the lives of those who live in Scotland better. Concern about who is in government in London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin or Dublin should not be the guiding light of any Scots democrat: it should be the conditions of people in the housing estates of Easterhouse, Castlemilk, Sighthill and The Raploch and bettering our cities.
My time is limited.
Our concern should be improving lives in Lochaber, better quality jobs in Sutherland, more young people staying in Lewis, and a flourishing Skye. No more neglect! Our concern should not be the red Tories or the blue Tory Government in London, but the needs of the people of Scotland and the democratic will of the people in Scotland, regardless of where in the world they are from. Our immigrants are very welcome in Scotland, as my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has often said. Scotland’s destiny is in those people’s hands, and only a yes vote keeps that destiny in the hands of the people in Scotland.
We are at a crossroads in Scotland. Do we have the courage to deliver a better future to succeeding generations? The Norwegians did. Dirt poor when they made the decision in 1906, without the manifest advantages of Scotland today, they now have an oil fund for future generations so that when the oil runs out, the money will not. The finances of Scotland are good, despite having a tax system that is not designed to optimise or maximise Scotland’s potential. But in each and every of the last 32 years, estimates show that Scotland has contributed more tax per person than the UK as a whole. The figures for Scotland are equivalent to £10,700 tax per head annually, while for the UK as a whole they are only £9,000. From 2007-08, public spending has been a lower share of Scotland’s GDP than in the UK as a whole. Taking tax and spending together, over the past five years public finances in Scotland have been better than in the UK as a whole by £12.6 billion.
Time does not allow.
Only this week, the Financial Times backs this with the immortal line—[Interruption.] Members should listen rather than barrack. They should have the courtesy to listen, and they should listen to this: “An independent Scotland could”—[Interruption.]
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that Labour Members feel suitably chastised. They should listen to this:
“An independent Scotland could…expect to start with healthier state finances than the rest of the UK.”
Even without oil and gas, Scotland’s GDP is higher than Italy’s and equal to that of France. Why we should say, “Even without oil and gas”, I do not know—we do not mention that when we talk about Norway or Saudi Arabia. Financially and economically, Scotland can do it. In fact, it has been said:
“It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another such successful, independent country.”
Would any Government Member wish to tell me who said that? It was the Prime Minister. Who could disagree with those words, or indeed the words of Ruth Davidson? I see the blank looks on the Tory Benches; Members can Google her later to find out who she is. She said:
“The question is not whether Scotland can survive as a separate state. Of course it could.”
Notice that she uses the word “separate”. My real favourite, knowing that the economic case has been won by the yes side, is this:
“Our argument has never been that Scotland couldn’t be independent”.
That was the Tory’s Darling in Scotland, the Labour MP for Edinburgh South West.
Our message is one of hope. Parents in the UK pay the highest child care costs in Europe. Scottish parents spend an average of 27% of household income on child care, whereas the OECD average is 12%. When we are independent and get the taxes and the economy properly organised, we in Scotland will dramatically improve child care. But we need the necessary powers, and we cannot have financial leakage of fiscal benefits to those in Westminster who choose not to fund this. It happens in Sweden and it will happen in Scotland. Independence must happen. We cannot have families looking at £9,000 tuition fees for every child going to university, costing every family £36,000 per child, with a family of three paying a staggering £108,000. That is the cost of voting no. Voting no to independence risks our budget, 100,000 more children in poverty, Scotland going out of the EU against our will, no guarantee of more powers for the Parliament, and no guarantee of getting the Government we vote for. Therefore Scotland must be independent.
We know we can keep the pound sterling. The Daily Telegraph blew the gaff when it said that the
“new nation will be able to keep the pound”,
or else “renounce…the debt”. We are not subsidy junkies. We can keep the pound while the rest of the world looks at us: the independence generation. They envy us in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, because we will deliver independence.
What a considerable pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil). Rarely can a speech with such a terrible lack of facts have graced this hallowed Chamber. What a load of perfectly emotional clap-trap!
Do sit down, dear boy.
When I originally put my name down to speak in this debate, I intended to stick to the dismal science, as Governor Carney called it in his address in Edinburgh, and to confine myself to the facts as they have been exposed in the Treasury Committee, but alas, the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), was the first to be called and did a far better job than I could.
When I listened to the extraordinarily good and trenchant speech by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), I was struck by the fact that we should not run away from the emotion involved in this decision. I would therefore like first to touch a little on the “heart” issues before I return to the “facts” issues.
Not long ago, I had the honour of addressing a group of Girl Guides in Thurso who had asked me to come and explain the consequences of independence or the potential for Scotland of independence. I felt it was very important to try to give as balanced a view as I could and to explain both sides of the argument before giving my conclusion as to why I preferred to stay in the Union. Like the hon. Gentleman, I started by giving a bit of history. I did not quite go back to the Romans, but I did point out that it was not until, I think, 1468 —it was certainly around that part of the 15th century—that the northern isles came into the Scotland we now know. The administrative construct of modern Scotland, therefore, existed for less time than the Union.
It is important to put that in context, because we are so often given a wonderful diet whereby somehow the great Gaeldom goes back for millennia to some distant point in history and are told that if we do not give Scotland its independence we will be denying it its destiny. The plain fact is that that is just a load of emotional tosh. We should set it to one side and understand the true history.
If we look back a little further to the battle of Largs, we will see that, up to that point, Caithness and its people owed allegiance, through the Earl of Orkney—one of my ancestors—to the Norsk side and the King of Norway. Were Scotland to find itself in the impossible position of being independent, I think I would join my good friends from the northern isles in seeking independence and going back to that earldom.
We need to assess the risks as well as the benefits, and I hope the debate will be calm and rational. When I first joined the Treasury Committee, we looked at globalisation, and that is what we need to consider in order to understand what is happening in business. When we talk about what might happen to business, we have to consider where companies would be best regulated. The financial services industry in Scotland may well think that business would be better off regulated in a different jurisdiction. We have to think about companies that have treaties with other sovereign nations and may not continue to build things in Scotland if it becomes a separate country. We also have to think about whether people who wish to invest in the United Kingdom would go to Scotland or elsewhere in the UK. I would suggest that the simple, practical commercial decision for most of them would be to go elsewhere in the UK. The benefits cannot be marginal and nor can they be uncertain. If Scotland is to seek independence, the benefits must be substantial and proven, but that case has not yet been made.
We are a brave heart nation. That is a great Scottish characteristic, but another one is the canny heid and this is a time for canny heids. Otherwise, my grandchildren will one day read the headline in one of the Scottish newspapers, “Will the last person leaving Scotland snuff out the candle?”
It is a pleasure to be able to contribute to this debate. The first priority of any responsible Government is, of course, the security of their people and I want to say a few words about that.
As part of the UK, Scots have a high level of security in a very dangerous world. Service personnel from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland work together in our armed forces to keep us safe at home and to tackle threats around the world. People like the security that the UK armed forces provide, and that is reflected in some of the findings of the recent Scottish social attitudes survey. If Scotland became independent, only 27% believe she should have her own army, navy and air force, while 67% believe we should still combine our armed forces with the rest of the UK. There are very few issues in the survey on which there is such overwhelming majority support for one option over another. Overwhelming support is also given to the idea of keeping the pound, whatever happens. The views of Scots on the issue of the nuclear deterrent are not as clear cut as they are on what should happen to our armed forces.
As part of the UK, we are also a part of NATO. Our membership is vital and means that we work with other countries and benefit from full spectrum defence capabilities; that we are not out on our own; and that we have influence in the world. The SNP, having dragged its members to reverse their long-standing opposition to NATO membership, is still in a muddle on the issue. It says that it would want to join NATO only if it were given a guarantee that no nuclear submarines would pass through Scotland’s waters. However, the White Paper also states that it would operate a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Both positions cannot be true: either the SNP would apply to join NATO on the basis of its condition, or it would drop that condition and be happy to join and operate a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Therefore, if we become independent, the SNP’s position on our membership of NATO, and the basis on which it would like us to join, is entirely unclear. Of course, there is no guarantee that we would be allowed to join.
The White Paper’s proposed defence budget is £2.5 billion a year, which is just 7% of the current total UK defence budget, every penny of which is spent on protecting Scottish families and others throughout the UK. The White Paper also includes an annual defence budget, but it does not mention any start-up costs or make a single procurement pledge.
The UK’s defence structure cannot be easily disaggregated. Assets and troops based throughout the UK and the rest of the world are for the defence and security of everyone who lives here. Scotland receives the full benefits of the protection and security afforded to the rest of the UK.
I will not, I am afraid: I do not have much time.
We pool our resources and work together to keep the people of the UK safe. Why would we want to give that up?
A yellow thread of assumption runs through the White Paper. It is assumed that the remainder of the UK would cheerfully hand over whatever equipment an independent Scotland asked for, but what would an independent Scotland do if the remainder of the UK said, “I think we’ll keep our frigates and Typhoons”? Such equipment cannot be bought off the shelf, unless it is bought second hand. Perhaps that is the back-up plan.
UK defence sustains thousands of jobs—both on the front line and in industry—in Scotland. As has been said, our shipyards get special preference when it comes to the awarding of contracts. The UK does not build complex warships in other countries. The GMB convenor in Scotstoun has described the SNP’s defence plans as a “complete fantasy” that would lead to “yard closures”. We pool our resources and we share the risk, and our defence is much better within the UK.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle).
I speak in this debate both as a representative of my constituents in Stafford and as a proud citizen of the United Kingdom who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) so eloquently put it, cares deeply about—indeed, loves—the kingdom and its constituent nations of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Together with the vast majority of my constituents—if a poll we took at a recent meeting and many conversations I have had with them are anything to go by—I wish Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Somehow there is a notion that people in the rest of the UK are not concerned about this decision, but that certainly does not accord with my experience. They do care: it is just that, quite rightly, they respect the right of the Scottish people to make up their own minds in this most important decision. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) said that as the United Kingdom we stood united against fascism. We stood together for freedom and against tyranny during the cold war, and today we work together in tackling poverty and its causes around the world. It is not for nothing that the historic agreement about tackling poverty was signed in 2005 at Gleneagles in Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about the nations that stood together under the allied banner during the second world war. It is important to remember that there were about 40 nations under that allied banner. I am particularly thinking of Norway, with the likes of Joachim Rønneberg, the Telemark hero, who made sure that Hitler did not get heavy water, and so prevented the flattening of this city. It was not just about one nation, but about the allied umbrella, and we should thank all the allies.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for saying that, and he is absolutely right. We must remember all the nations that worked together, but we stood together as the United Kingdom, together with those nations. As a United Kingdom, we now have a very strong voice in the world through the G8 and our seats on the United Nations Security Council and the executive boards of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other organisations. That voice is vital both for our own interests but, even more importantly, for those of the citizens of the world.
To be a little personal for a moment, my late father-in-law, Donald MacKay from Caithness, is just one important but personal example of the fundamental contribution made by Scots across the ages to our United Kingdom. He worked on radar for the Royal Navy in Haslemere during the war alongside my father—he, completely coincidentally, was there at the same time—and so many others from across the UK and, as the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) said, from other nations, and therefore played his role in protecting our vital supply lifelines in the Atlantic and elsewhere. That is just another example of the intellectual seriousness, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border, that Scotland and Scots so often bring to our deliberations and work in the United Kingdom.
As the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar) said, we are part of one family in the UK. Like any family, we have our squabbles, but we also stand up for each other in difficult times, shoulder to shoulder. I and, I believe, millions of others in England and, indeed, in other parts of the United Kingdom care deeply about Scotland remaining in the UK. We have done so much together; let us continue to do so.
The debate has been interesting so far, particularly the contributions of Scottish National party representatives. There has been sound, fury and passion about what they see as the great differences between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, but the danger is that the sound, fury and passion will obscure the reality of the SNP’s proposals to change the Union.
There is a rather peculiar notion at the heart of the nationalist case, which is that the economic and social union between the peoples of these islands should continue, but that the political Union should end. I will come back to examine what that peculiar notion means for Scotland, but the fact that the Scottish National party believes that economic and social union should continue—the White Paper is eloquent testimony to that desire—says something about how 300 years of partnership have brought the peoples of these islands closer together. That is not surprising: we have a shared language, notwithstanding the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) and others, as well as family ties, a shared currency, free trade and common trade unions across the United Kingdom.
Perhaps after I have made some progress.
We share tastes, preferences and of course a common popular culture, which is reinforced every Saturday night when the nation comes together to watch “Strictly Coming Dancing”, among other programmes. It is important to recognise that the White Paper is eloquent testimony to all that. The SNP wants to argue that all those matters can be retained in their current form, while the political Union disappears.
Why do nationalists, whose philosophy is based on a belief in difference, come to that conclusion? The answer is that 300 years of shared history cannot be washed away or forgone. When Alex Salmond says, as he recently did to James Naughtie, that he has a Scottish identity but also a British one, it is testimony to that, whether Mr Salmond believes it or not. He knows that the people of Scotland believe that there are mutual ties that bind us across these islands.
The hon. Gentleman should allow me to develop my argument a little further.
The SNP wants the political Union to end, but the social and economic union to continue. In those circumstances, the referendum will be about the best form of Government across these islands. That point was eloquently made by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). If economic and social union is to endure, as shown by the SNP’s White Paper, the question becomes one about how Scotland’s political interests are to be represented. The answer that Scots came up with 300, 400 or even 500 years ago was a Union. With John Mair of Haddington in the lead, they came up, in diabolically clever Scottish fashion, with a way to create a partnership between two countries of very unequal size. When we celebrate Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, we are saying that because Scotland entered the Union freely, we created a partnership and were not subordinated.
Will not the Scottish Government’s proposals lead to an incredible democratic deficit? At the moment, if people in Scotland do not like what the UK Government do, they can have their say through their MPs. In the new arrangement proposed by the SNP, any negotiations would be intergovernmental, and it would not be up to the people of Scotland but to the Scottish Government to see what could be extracted from negotiations with the UK Government.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is a very Scottish way of putting it: the nationalists want us to have our cake and eat it, but that is very difficult. When Alex Salmond claims that by Scotland leaving the political union, England would lose a surly lodger and gain a good neighbour—that is important, because it illuminates the nationalists’ view of the world—my response is very straightforward: how can you be a lodger in your own house? We built this house together, and it is ours as much as anyone else’s. That house has of course been refurbished; it is not unchanging. The biggest constitutional change in this country in 300 years was the creation of the Scottish Parliament. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar does not like to be faced with facts—his speech was a fact-free zone—but the fact is that this is our house as well as that of the other peoples of the United Kingdom.
That is the basis on which this debate must proceed: how can one continue an economic and social union—the ties that bind us are accepted even by the nationalists—without political representation in the place where such social and economic decisions are made? The debate about the currency, interest rates and continuing social ties must proceed on that basis.
Order. Before we go any further, I should point out to the House that there is a time limit on speeches in this debate, and not much time is left. There are more hon. Members who wish to speak than there is time available if they all take the full five minutes, plus an extra two and a half minutes for interventions; several hon. Members who have sat here all afternoon may not have an opportunity to speak. I ask those about to speak to keep within the five minutes, including interventions, out of courtesy to their colleagues. If they do so, everyone will have the opportunity to speak in this extremely important debate.
My father, Squadron Leader Jock Stewart, MC, was an RAF officer from Glasgow. My mother was from London and served in the Special Operations Executive. I am therefore half Scottish, half English and proudly British. As I come from a service family and have been a soldier myself, I intend to talk about just how valuable men and women from Scotland are to our armed forces.
Scottish soldiers, sailors and airmen have always had a tremendous reputation as brave, ferocious warriors. Throughout history, proportionately more Scots than Englishmen, Welshmen or Irishmen have taken the Queen’s shilling to fight for the Crown. Since 1707, Scottish soldiers have played a crucial part in most battles fought by the British Army.
The Gordon Highlanders had a leading part in the 1815 Waterloo campaign. At the battle of Quatre Bras on 16 June 1815, the Gordons halted the French advance in its tracks with the bayonet. Two days later, the regiment was in the midst of it again on the field of Waterloo. By then, casualties had reduced the gallant Gordons to about 250 men, and yet those incredible soldiers again charged the French frontally with the bayonet. As the Highlanders approached, the French broke into disarray and could only be caught by other Scotsmen on horses. The Scots Greys galloped past the Gordons to get at the French enemy. According to some accounts, Scottish infantrymen clung to the stirrups of the Scottish cavalry so that they could reach the enemy more easily. Is not that wonderful?
No, I have heard too much rubbish from the hon. Gentleman this afternoon.
About 700,000 Scots served in the first world war, with about 150,000 losing their lives. The Highlanders earned their nicknames—the devils in skirts or the ladies from hell—at a battle in 1916, when the 51st Highland Division crossed a battlefield littered with the fallen to storm German positions with such force that thousands of prisoners were taken. At the end of the first world war, the 51st Highland Division was widely reckoned to be the best fighting force in France.
The second world war enhanced the Scottish soldier’s incredible reputation. To date, 117 Victoria Crosses have been won by Scotsmen—soldiers, sailors and airmen.
For me, there is nothing more stirring in a fight than the sound of bagpipes. As the British United Nations commander in Bosnia in 1992-93, I used my two pipers frequently. For instance, I asked them to play at line crossings because all of us needed courage to advance through no man’s land, especially as Staff Sergeant Steve Bristow had previously been wounded beside me by a sniper. The sound of bagpipes wafting through the air was an incredible encouragement to those of us who were frightened. My mainly English soldiers loved the skirling, thrilling and impossible to miss sound of the pipes. Once, there was intense fighting all around my base at Vitez. I asked my piper, Lance Corporal Cleary, to stand on the roof and make an impact. He did just that. The fighting and the shooting died down quite quickly as that tremendously emotive and martial sound echoed down the valley.
My purpose this afternoon has been to remind the House just how important those in the British Army—indeed, those in all three services—consider the contribution that is made by their Scottish comrades, both men and women, to be.
In the short time available to me, I will focus on the referendum and the issue of independence.
A recent YouGov poll showed that 29% of the people of Scotland were in favour of independence. That figure is typical of recent polls. Why does the SNP want a debate with David Cameron? Why is it targeting Labour voters with the nonsense that this debate is about Labour Scotland versus Tory England? Why is it undermining the prospect of a future United Kingdom Labour Government? That argument is not supported by the facts.
Less than a quarter of Scottish people supported the SNP in the 2011 elections, but it has a majority in the Scottish Parliament. It has a mandate for a referendum, but not a mandate to be fixated on independence. In the 2010 general election, the Labour party received more votes than the SNP received in that election and in the 2011 election. With respect to Government Members, the reality is that the 41 Scottish Labour MPs in this House are more representative of the views of the Scottish people than the present Scottish Government.
The majority of Scottish votes in the 2010 general election were cast for centre left parties. The same was true in England, Wales and even Northern Ireland. We therefore share the same values throughout the United Kingdom. We have the same values and, indeed, the same problems in Glasgow, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Aberdeen and Manchester. The reality is that, whatever the problems, the United Kingdom works.
In all candour, I must say that what does not work is the coalition’s attitude to working people, which has been rejected by Scottish, Welsh and Irish people and most English people. The SNP disregards the fact that it has been rejected and uses it as an excuse to promote independence. The Scottish Government could act now on child care. As my colleagues have pointed out, Labour has pushed the Scottish Government hard for more than a year to act on the bedroom tax. For purely political reasons, they delayed their decision until this week. I do not for one second want the nats to regard the issue of welfare as an argument for separatism. Who can forget the fact that they took £34 million from disabled children and their families in Scotland and spent it on other things, mostly on political gimmicks? I certainly will not.
The positive reality is that the economies of Scotland and England are interconnected. Mr Salmond called the pound
“a millstone round Scotland’s neck”
and said that he wanted to join the euro. Now, the nationalists wants to opt out and keep the pound. How opportunistic can they get? The rest of the UK is Scotland’s largest trading partner. If corporation tax is cut, it will become a competitor. Will Scotland be allowed to keep the pound and cut corporation tax?
Mr Salmond is, by nature, a gambler. He is willing to take a risk with the Scottish economy and our people’s prosperity. However, there will be no way back if the people decide to have independence. I believe that the majority of our kinsfolk in the United Kingdom want Scotland to stay. The United Kingdom is not just a political system; it is our home. We are entitled to know what the future offers.
Thankfully, the only people who can stop Scottish independence are the Scottish people themselves. I passionately urge them to reject the precarious and uncharted path of independence and separatism, which in so many ways would leave our country defenceless, exposed and alone.
It is a pleasure to follow some interesting speeches and in the brief time available I want to pick up on the three themes with which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) opened the debate: identity, economics and vision. I may not have much time to talk about the economics, but other hon. Members have made some good arguments about the currency, and mentioned the comments made by the Governor of the Bank of England, and others.
On identity, like everyone else who has spoken today from across the House, I am proud of my cultural identity as a Scot. I would describe myself as Scottish, and in the days when we wrote in our school jotters our full name and address, it would always be “Shortlees, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, UK, Europe, the world, the universe.”—[Laughter.] I recognise that other hon. Members have done the same thing. That signified how I have always seen myself, and how the majority of Scots see themselves. We are passionately proud to be Scottish, but we also see ourselves as citizens of the world, and no doubt in future years, as citizens of that universe. That is why, when I speak to my constituents they raise real concerns about the idea of separating and splitting from the rest of the United Kingdom.
In the past week I have been at a number of meetings and met people from across the United Kingdom, and interestingly, the first things we talked about were the Scottish connections. So far this week I have met people who are living and working in England but whose families come from Coatbridge, Cambuslang, and even further afield up north in Aberdeen and Inverness. Although they would now describe themselves as English because that is where their families are located, they are none the less proud of their Scottish heritage.
I am terribly sorry but I do not have time to take interventions as other Members want to speak. My point is that we are able to be Scottish and citizens of the United Kingdom—and indeed Europe—at the same time, which is important.
Let me pick on one point. I think that the Scottish people are entitled to have a fair, honest and courteous debate on this issue.
I hear the hon. Gentleman baying at me across the Benches, but my point is that many of my constituents may well vote yes and that will be their right, but the debate should take place in a courteous way. People should have the facts and information, and they should not have others shouting them down from 12 feet away. It is important that that information is trustworthy and that people have a sense that there is no political bias from the Government.
Interestingly, I have been sent a copy of a press release issued by Transport Scotland—the transport agency in Scotland. It begins:
“Powers of independence would better support transport.”
When such things are issued by a Government agency in Scotland it gives cause for concern that the civil service and Government agencies have become overly politicised. That makes it difficult for others to feel able to speak out because they fear they will somehow be castigated or suffer the consequences of doing so, and that issue ought to be looked at.
In this constant drive for additional powers, I served for 12 years in the Scottish Parliament and saw the changes that were made. I worked with UK Government Ministers when I was a Minister in the Scottish Executive, and looked at how we could transform and move on with powers. However, it is dangerous to think that simply adding more and more powers without any overall pattern is any more democratic or likely to deliver anything further than social justice. We should be proud to be Scots and part of the UK. This debate will continue but it must do so in a way that gives our constituents the opportunity to hear the arguments and make up their own minds.
I wear a badge in this House and in Scotland that has on it the saltire and the rose. It states: “Labour: A UK voice for Scotland.” That is the reality of Scotland’s place in the UK. With all due respect to those on the Government Benches, we have the ability to get rid of the coalition Government and the things they are doing, and vote in a Labour Government. That is the duty of the 41 Scottish Labour Members of Parliament, which we have because we are in the United Kingdom. We get to choose for everyone.
For me as the Member who represents 75% of Tam Dalyell’s old constituency of West Lothian, it is the answer to the West Lothian question. He wondered why he could talk about Blackburn in England but not Blackburn in Scotland, but I can talk about Blackburn in both countries in this Chamber, because the policies of this Parliament affect people in England and in Scotland—in both Blackburns.
I am seeking a permanent place in the UK, but one that is changing. It is about Scotland in an economically safer place: the UK’s economic resilience is a thing that Scotland has. Think of what happened when £44.7 billion of UK taxes were used to save RBS, plus £20 billion for HBOS and £20 billion for Lloyds TSB, which has places in Scotland. The resilience of the UK economy was the reason we could survive that, and Scotland would not have survived it without being part of the UK.
With quantitative easing, how much money was printed by the Bank of England to save the economy of Scotland, keep interest rates down, and save companies and households in Scotland? I do not like the austerity policies introduced for the people of the UK, but I understand why we need to save the economy of Scotland in a UK environment. Today, RBS announced in The Guardian that if there is independence it will switch its headquarters from Edinburgh. It has sensibly realised the problem that will exist if Scotland is cut off from the rest of the UK.
The other thing that Scotland gets as part of the UK is fiscal independence. For reasons of good socialist practice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), the much criticised former Chancellor, kept us out of the euro and the eurozone. He kept us out of the stability and growth pact and away from the budgets that are now being written for the eurozone countries through the two pack and the six pack that we would have faced. I have sat on the European Scrutiny Committee for 15 years—the Chairman for a lot longer—and we have heard President Barroso say that Scotland will have to reapply to the EU and that it will get back in only if it signs up to the euro. That is why it is dangerous to leave the UK and that fiscal independence, and try to renegotiate another pact. There is no question but that Scotland will get back into the EU, but only if it signs up to the eurozone fiscal disciplines.
What does that mean? A recent paper states what happened to Croatia, the latest entrant to the EU. Its budget will be 5.4% in deficit in 2013, 6.5% in 2014, and 6.2% in 2015—but oh no it will not. It has been told that under eurozone rules it must reduce the deficit to 4.6% in 2013, 3.5% in 2015, and 2.7% in 2016. It will have to slash almost 3% off its budget. Consider what happened to Lithuania in those circumstances: a 15% collapse in its economy, a 40% cut in all public sector pay, and now it is struggling. We were there recently during its presidency, and were told that 40% of all transactions now take place under the counter without paying tax. That is the effect of the discipline of the eurozone.
Scotland could, of course, go for the sterling currency union—the latest wheeze—which is a mini copy of the eurozone with the fiscal interests of control in the larger economy. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, delivered the home truths in Edinburgh and was quoted in the Financial Times:
“The desire of the Scottish government to remaining in the sterling area would, he stressed, sharply curtail Scotland’s fiscal and financial independence.”
It is quite clear that the bigger country would dictate the policies of the smaller country.
At the moment there are massive subsidies from England and its taxpayers for wind farms. Our renewables are being brought up in the UK, and they are paid for by the UK. Postal services are subsidised in exactly the same manner, and under independence there would need to be either a massive subsidy through the taxpayer, or a massive hike in postal charges. The best thing we can do is remain in the UK and fight for change that benefits Scotland in the UK.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. Scotland has a proud and distinct history within the UK, and the UK is a union state rather than a unitary state. John P Mackintosh, former MP for Berwick and East Lothian, was a great thinker and proponent of devolution. He said:
“People in Scotland want a degree of government for themselves. It is not beyond the wit of man to devise the institution to meet those demands.”
Those words are now engraved about the Donald Dewar Room in Holyrood. Unfortunately, it was beyond the wit of the SNP to be a part of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, where men and women across Scotland’s civic society joined together to devise the Scottish Parliament, which now provides Scottish accountability for Scotland to make distinctive decisions on a wide range of policy.
For those of us in the Labour movement, devolution is about so much more than political accountability. I, along with 74% of voters, said yes in September 1997. I had seen how our councils in Scotland had battled to protect our people from the worst excesses of Thatcher’s Government. Her plan, and we now know it was her plan to close the pits and escalate the dispute, devastated my constituency. I wanted greater protection from any future Tory Government. Just yesterday in the Scottish Parliament, we have seen how that can happen. Despite John Swinney saying that he did not want to let Westminster off the hook and Nicola Sturgeon preferring a scrap with Westminster to scrapping the bedroom tax, thanks to the efforts of Jackie Baillie, Iain Gray and the Govan Law Centre, people in my constituency and across Scotland are now protected from this inhumane measure. I also want to give credit to my own local housing association, which has found a legal way to protect its tenants. This is the success and the power of devolution. This is the reality of having the best of both worlds.
I have known since my early years that I was not a nationalist. I remember a conversation on the Fort William primary school minibus. A nationalist girl took out a sweetie paper, tore it in half, and explained to me that this was what happened to Scotland’s wealth. I acknowledge that the nationalist argument has moved on from sweetie papers, but what it cannot challenge today—no matter how many White Papers it publishes, however much it uses our civil service for its political ends and however much it seeks to silence those who even dare to ask questions of its case—is the fact that Scotland, as part of the UK, is better placed to do good here at home and around the world.
In a packed Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh this week, the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) spoke about the difference that Scottish MPs made in this place in stopping military intervention in Syria. In the recent report from the Select Committee on International Development, we can also see the good that we do. I urge the voters in Scotland: do not tear my country apart and do not tear my family apart.
I will endeavour to be as brief as possible, because I know that other Members are still waiting to contribute to the debate.
I believe that Scotland’s place in the UK is about being part of one of the largest economies in Europe and the sixth largest in the world. I believe that separation from the rest of the UK would give Scottish businesses an unnecessary barrier to trading with our biggest market. We know, without doubt, that the rest of the UK is Scotland’s biggest market. Independence would turn our border into a barrier for existing and future trade. What sense would that make? The open border between Scotland and the UK brings significant economic, trade and employment opportunities. As part of the UK, Scotland has access to a single market of approximately 70 million people.
In addition to shared opportunities, the pooling of resources across the UK allows risk to be shared, something seen most recently by the bail-out of the banks by the UK Treasury. The UK Treasury used £37 billion to bail out Scottish-based banks during the world financial crisis, saving more than 400 RBS jobs in Inverclyde. The evidence is that, economically and socially, the Scottish people are better off being part of a Union that pools risks and rewards. There is, of course, also significant UK public sector employment in Scotland. Two thirds of all civil servants in Scotland work for the UK Government. UK defence contracts are also essential to Scottish industry. The Ministry of Defence has some 700 direct contracts in Scotland, supporting thousands of jobs. We also have cross-border private sector trading. Ease of doing business and contract tendering are essential for bringing success to Scottish firms in a wider UK market. Clearly, Scotland has an important economic relationship with the rest of the UK, benefiting from access to a single market comprising tens of millions of people.
The facts speak for themselves: Scottish business buys and sells more products and services within the UK than any other country in the world. In 2010, 70% of Scotland’s exported goods went to other parts of the UK and 70% of imports are estimated to have come from the UK. That clearly demonstrates that Scotland’s economic performance is stronger because it is part of a larger integrated UK economy. Exit the UK and our border becomes a barrier: a barrier that will impede and restrict ease of trade.
Even where free trade agreements exist alongside controlled borders, neighbouring countries with similar economies are affected by the presence of that border. Analysis finds, for example, that trade between the US and Canada is thought to be 44% lower than it could be as a result of the border between them. It is not just business that will be disadvantaged. Labour migration between Scotland and the rest of the UK is also estimated to be as much as 75% higher in an integrated UK, allowing the sharing of skills and knowledge. Leave the UK, and we create an unnecessary barrier to trade with the rest of the UK. That is why Labour’s vision for Scotland is about working across borders. Our vision for Scotland is being part of bigger, not what independence offers—part of smaller.
One of the laziest forms of political argument is to put up a straw man, knock it down and think the argument has been won. We had an example of that from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). What he is saying to this House and the Scottish people is that they have two choices: independence or this, which is as good as it gets. That is not the choice. If by “as good as it gets” he means the policies of the current UK Government, I think I am just as much opposed to them as he is, however much we might disagree on other matters.
The current situation is not as good as it gets—of course it is not. The way to change that, however, is to campaign against those policies. The way to change that is to win the next general election. The way to change that is to use the powers we already have and those that are coming. We never hear from the Scottish Government about the fact that the Scotland Act 2012, which was passed in this place, is coming into force in a number of stages. The Act will devolve fiscal powers to a degree we have not had before in Scotland. What does the Scottish National party want to do with those powers? What is it doing with the powers it already has? In my city, people are desperate for affordable housing. Why are we not using some of the powers we already have to increase investment in housing to stop the housing crisis? There are so many things the Scottish Government could be doing with what we already have. So no, it is not as good as it gets: it is up to us to make it better—within the United Kingdom.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer and welcome to your position—I mean Madam Deputy Speaker. I was in the Scottish Parliament for 12 years. I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me start again.
I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for allocating the time for the debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) for securing it. As ever, his contribution was substantial and well informed. What has been most striking about the debate so far has been the demand for it and the pressing nature of the time given. I call on the Government to find time in their schedule to debate this pressing issue. Scotland has two Parliaments, and it is important that this one rises to the occasion to debate this important issue.
As I said, this has been mostly a good debate. As hon. Members will know, I stand here to support the cause of Scotland staying part of the Union, but I would ask that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) be given more time in future debates, because I think he makes my case strongly for me. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar) made clear in his compelling speech, and as was as echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), Scotland can have a better future, but based not on separation and pulling away from our friends and allies, but on co-operation. Based on the values of solidarity and equality, we can build a new future for Scotland and for future generations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East said, this is not a binary choice. Scotland can have a better future.
It is in the nature of my job that I often travel around the different parts of Scotland. I sit in many taxis, and I talk to many taxi drivers; and I go to a few bars—not as many bars as taxis—and I talk to people in bars. It has become clear to me that in our schools and homes there is a sense that the debate has entered a new phase. Throughout Scotland, people understand that we are deciding the future of our country, for our families and for generations to come. It will be one of the biggest decisions we Scots will make in our lives, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) put it so well, and its effect will be felt not just by us, but by our children and our grandchildren.
Across Scotland, in the characteristic way demonstrated today, people are asking, “What are the consequences of independence? What will it mean for me and my family?” Important questions are being asked, and ordinary people were promised by the SNP Government that they would be answered, but it is widely recognised now, throughout Scotland, that the White Paper systematically failed to do that, as my hon. Friends the Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann) and for Livingston (Graeme Morrice) indicated. We were told the White Paper would resonate throughout the ages, but the view in Scotland is that it did not really last a fortnight.
Fundamental questions persist—questions that people ask me time and again. I know that not everyone likes to hear this, but we have to face the facts and spell out the impact that independence would have on people throughout Scotland. It is time to get real about the independence debate, so I want to spell out what separation would mean for families across Scotland and respond to some of the concerns about independence that people have raised with me. We need to get away from the clichés and the jargon, and make this debate real for ordinary people across Scotland. To start, we have heard about comments from the First Minister. I have got news for him: no one exemplifies the political elite more these days than Alex Salmond. He is so enjoying the comforts of his office that he has forgotten that his primary duty is to be straight with the people of Scotland. It is time he got away from the dinner circuit, and got out there and started telling the people of Scotland the truth about independence.
I want to share some facts with the House that I believe people across Scotland should know before they cast their vote. From talking to people—others will have had this experience—I know that the fundamental question they are asking themselves is, “Will it make me better off or worse off?” It is not a surprise, therefore, that arguments about currency, borrowing and financial regulation have dominated the debate so far. What would the nationalists’ plans for the currency mean for families? According to independent experts, they would mean higher interest rates—1.5 percentage points higher than in the rest of the UK.
What would that mean for someone struggling to raise a family? It would mean higher credit card borrowing costs. It would mean that someone who buys their Christmas presents on credit and pays off their card over the year will pay more. It means it will take people longer to pay off their mortgages. And when we talk about the Bank of England, what do we mean? Why is it so important? At the moment, it sets interest rates, determining how much people pay on their mortgage. Under the SNP’s plan, Scotland’s mortgage rates would be set by a bank in London over which Scotland would have absolutely no control or say. How would that empower people in Scotland?
As we have said, working across the UK keeps the cost of goods and services low because, as the major supermarkets have told us, a market of 60 million people allows costs to be spread wider than in a market of 5 million. What does that mean? It means that they
“would treat it as an international market…by putting up…prices”.
Those were not my words, but the words of a supermarket boss, quoted recently in The Financial Times—and, it must be said, endorsed by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, because it is worried about higher costs for ordinary working people in Scotland. That is why all this matters.
The National Association of Pension Funds has said that the value of pension funds would be “eroded” in an independent Scotland, and Scottish Financial Enterprise has warned that Scotland faces a multi million-pound bill for a new regulator. What does that mean? It means, in short, that our pension contributions will be paying for independence. It is time that the First Minister was straight with the Scottish people. It is time that he told them that cross-border pension costs resulting from independence would increase costs in Scotland, and would undermine and erode the value of our pensions.
Finally, what does this tell us about Scotland’s public finances? I do not believe for a second—and let me say again that it is time that the SNP was not allowed to put up this straw man—that Scotland could not survive as an independent country; but surviving is not thriving. We know that, at present, Scotland gets back from the UK more than it pays in. In 2010-11, Scotland contributed £56.9 billion to the shared UK pot, and got back £64.5 billion. What does that mean for Scottish families? It means that we have £1,200 more per head. For Labour Members, the ability to redistribute funds across the UK is a point of pride.
My approach to the referendum is very simple. When we look at the great strengths that Scotland has—its great geography, our industries and the resilience, resourcefulness and skill of our people—we see what kind of a future we can have with those great strengths. We face enormous challenges too—we need to fight the poverty that is still so deeply embedded, and we need to tackle ill health—but the way in which to meet those challenges and maximise that resource is to exploit the values that have built the great achievements of the past, from the NHS to the welfare state. With those enduring values, we can work together in partnership for a new Scotland for new times: not pulling away with a deceit on the Scottish people, but delivering a promise to work in partnership for a better world and a better future.
Let me begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) on securing the debate and expressing my gratitude to the Backbench Business Committee for selecting it. It has been an excellent debate, made all the better by the fact that we have heard voices from the whole of the United Kingdom. It has brought contributions of both passion and intellect, and I think we should thank all who have taken part in it.
This is one of Scotland’s two Parliaments, and it is right that we should take the opportunity to discuss Scotland’s future at a crucial moment in our history. This Parliament makes key decisions for Scotland as part of the United Kingdom in many areas: the economy, defence, international relations and pensions, to list but a few. As an integral part of the United Kingdom, this Parliament, and those within it who represent constituents throughout the UK, make decisions on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom. However, this Parliament also recognised in 1997 that some decisions are better taken closer to the people, and it was through this House that the Scotland Act 1998 was delivered, providing real devolution of power within a strong United Kingdom. That decision was revisited by the work of the Calman commission in 2008, and implemented in the Scotland Act 2012.
The balance of powers between this Parliament and the Scottish Parliament is a dynamic settlement, and will rightly continue to be so. The debate on where that balance is struck is a debate that presupposes our continued membership of the United Kingdom family, but the question that will face us on 18 September is quite different: should we remain part of that family, or should we become an independent country?
Choosing to leave the United Kingdom would be a fundamental and irreversible step. As part of the UK family, we have a shared history and share many common values. As part of the United Kingdom, those of us in Scotland—like people living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland—benefit from the UK’s size and scale. We also benefit from the UK’s international influence, and from its economic strength. Scotland, like the rest of the UK, contributes to those benefits. We contribute in all manner of ways: economically, culturally and socially. As the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) put it: together, we are truly greater than the sum of our constituent parts.
If we vote for independence, however, we walk away from those benefits. Scotland’s future would be based on a series of protracted negotiations with dozens of different states and organisations. Which currency would Scotland use? How would Scotland join the EU, and what terms of membership would it be able to secure? Would Scotland have to join the euro or become part of the Schengen arrangements? These are all questions to which the people of Scotland want answers. The nationalists owe them answers, but so far they have failed to deliver them. The truth is that all these issues would require detailed negotiations to pull Scotland out of the United Kingdom family of which it has been an integral part for over 300 years and to establish a new set of international relationships. Independence is a 20th century—or maybe even a 19th century—solution in search of a 21st century problem. Across a world in which change comes at a breathtaking pace, the prevailing trend is to pull down barriers and borders, not to put them up.
The right hon. Gentleman says that some questions need to be answered. We know that some of them can be answered only by the European Commission. As Scottish Secretary, he should be Scotland’s man in Westminster, rather than Westminster’s man in Scotland. Will he ensure that the UK Government go to the European Commission and get answers to those questions that he describes as vital?
The answers to those questions, if they were ever to be posed, would not be given by the European Commission; they would be given by the 28 member states of the European Union. The hon. Gentleman gives me the opportunity to remind the House that we have already heard from a number of them that this would not be a straightforward, painless process. If Scotland walked away from the United Kingdom, she would walk away from membership of the EU and would be required to negotiate her way back in.
As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland enjoys the best of both worlds. We have a strong Scottish Parliament in charge of key areas of Scottish life: health, education, transport and criminal justice. When it makes sense to do so, key decisions of the state are reserved to the UK Government and Parliament here to be taken on behalf of all citizens across the United Kingdom. Ours is a flexible settlement. When it makes sense to do so, we revise the settlement to provide further powers and to increase the Scottish Government and Parliament’s responsibility and, crucially, their accountability, not just for spending money but for raising it too.
The Scotland Act 2012 will substantially increase the Scottish Parliament’s powers, and it does so on the basis of evidence, consensus and consideration, ensuring that we adapt and evolve, but never at the expense of losing what works well and what works in the interests of all, right across the United Kingdom. All this—the creation of a Scottish Parliament and the incremental provision of further powers for it—has been designed by Scots and delivered by Scots for Scots, through this United Kingdom Parliament. Our devolution settlement is well and truly stamped “Made in Scotland”.
Right now, however, the issue on which we are all focusing is whether Scotland will remain part of the Union. Let me turn to the question of currency. It has featured strongly in this debate, and little wonder. The currency that we use is vital to all of us. It is vital for individuals buying food and paying off loans; for businesses paying employees, and trading with one another and across borders; for our banks and financial institutions; and, of course, for Scotland’s economy as a whole. Last week, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, set out his views on currency unions in very measured and, as he described it, “technocratic” terms. Governor Carney highlighted the principal difficulties of entering a currency union: losing national sovereignty; the practical risks of financial instability; and having to provide fiscal support to bail out another country. A currency union would involve giving up some national sovereignty over economic policy. Why would it be in an independent Scotland’s interest to join a currency union?
It was not worth taking the hon. Gentleman’s last intervention, so I am not going to take this one.
Joining such a union would result in severe limits to Scotland’s economic freedom and a risk of losing economic resilience and credibility. What about the continuing UK? We heard about this from the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie). A currency union would expose the continuing UK to the risk of bailing out banks in an independent Scotland if they were to get into difficulties again—these would be banks over which it would have no control, their being regulated under a different system in a foreign country. That is why we have consistently said it is highly unlikely that a currency union could be agreed, because it is highly unlikely that a currency union could be made to work. No one should vote for an independent Scotland on the basis that they will get to keep the UK pound sterling. Independence means leaving the UK’s monetary union; the only way for Scotland to be sure of keeping the UK pound as it is now is to stay in the UK. Nothing the Scottish Government have asserted changes that reality.
Earlier this week I was asked by a journalist what I expected to be doing on 19 September this year. I was able to reply that I am almost certain that I shall be celebrating the continuation of a highly successful Union, one that has been built on shared effort, common endeavour and, yes, love—19 September will be my 27th wedding anniversary. As I celebrate that anniversary with my English-born wife and my half-English, half-Scottish children, I am confident, but by no means complacent, that we shall be able to toast the continuation of that other highly successful Union, the one between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall sum up.
We have had an interesting afternoon, and this debate has shown the best of the House of Commons: it has at times been irreverent, moving and witty, but it has also provided serious analysis of serious factual issues relating to this whole discussion of the constitution of the United Kingdom. We heard 25 contributions from Back Benchers. I have insufficient time to run through all of them, but I was particularly struck by the first, which came from the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), who chairs the Treasury Committee. He emphasised clearly that for a functioning currency union there needs to be a banking union, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont) said, a political union, too. As Martin Wolf wrote in the Financial Times last week, the Bank of England cannot serve two masters, and that was the point that came from the hon. Gentleman’s contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar) spoke passionately about the contribution of the UK Labour movement in Scotland’s development. The right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore) spoke about the scale and extent of the positive potential in Scotland’s economy if we make the right choice in this referendum in terms of our energy policy and in keeping the family of nations that is the United Kingdom together. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), along with other hon. Members, spoke about the head and heart case for keeping the UK together. Other hon. Members referred to our links with the European Union and the risks that this debate causes to those.
This political, economic, social and cultural Union has been more than the sum of its parts for the past 300 years. I hope that this will not be the last time this House of Commons discusses that Union, and that we shall celebrate the continuation of that Union for many decades and centuries to come.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Scotland’s place in the UK.