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Scotland (Independence) (Westminster Representation)

Volume 578: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2014

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move.

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that, in the event of a positive vote in the Scottish Independence referendum, Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies shall vacate their seats on the day on which Scotland becomes independent; that Scottish constituencies shall be abolished with effect from the same date; and for connected purposes.

This Bill seeks to address the consequences of a positive yes result in the first consultation with the people of Scotland on the Union of the Parliaments of 1707. Indeed, it is the first such consultation for 307 years.

According to Michael Fry in his 2006 book, “The Union”, the Union was brought about following a trade war during which Scots parliamentarians sought to abolish their Parliament, end a trade war with a large neighbour and in return be able to trade freely with them. Today, thankfully, in a world with intergovernmental organisations such as the European Union, the European economic area and the World Trade Organisation, such a move would be unnecessary. Had those organisations existed in the past, perhaps such a union would never have happened. Incidentally, I understand that Mr Fry started writing “The Union” as a Unionist, but due to the knowledge he gleaned from the process he ended up supporting independence.

The main positive consequence of the referendum would, of course, be independence for Scotland, that most ancient of European nations. It is currently a stateless nation, but not, I hope, for much longer. We want to be clear about what the referendum seeks to do: it seeks to end the tawdry political union of 1707 and move political powers that belong to Scotland back to Scotland, completing logically the process of devolution and ending the anomaly of the West Lothian question, whereby some Scottish MPs vote on English matters, such as giving English students tuition fees of between £6,000 and £9,000, while their own constituents are being well taken care of by the good management of an SNP Government in Edinburgh and paying nothing.

Incidentally, Members will have noticed over the years that the SNP does not vote on matters affecting England, because it believes, like the French and Germans, that other peoples can govern themselves effectively without any help from the Scots. Such an approach should be adopted by all Scottish MPs in the event of a yes vote.

It should be understood by those people who often erroneously bundle things together that the referendum does not affect the Union of the Crowns of 1603, which started with James Stuart and continues to this day with our present Queen Elizabeth II, who is Head of State of 16 independent realms, with Canada, New Zealand and Australia the most notable among them.

The Bill has at its heart fairness, particularly the issue of democratic fairness for our neighbours—the good people who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland —as it would remove MPs from Scotland. It respects their democratic rights and functions as well as our own in Scotland. The Bill seeks to remove Scottish MPs from this place following what I expect—and the polls are moving—will be a positive yes result on 18 September. Scottish MPs should of course vacate this place when powers over Scotland are returned to Scotland, which is at present expected to be on 24 March 2016.

In reference to last week’s ten-minute rule Bill—Representation of the People (Scotland)—which was defeated in this House on a Division, some Members from non-Scottish seats seem to be in a greater hurry for independence, and in seeking to remove the franchise from Scottish people, to be moving independence to May 2015, 10 months earlier. If Scots no longer pay tax to the Treasury in London and our laws are no longer decided here, it would surely be an affront to democracy to have the spectre of non-Scottish taxpayers of the rUK—the rump or the rest of the United Kingdom—paying the salaries of MPs and staff. It would be the ultimate power without responsibility for a class of MPs without constituency duties, whose actions would be without consequences, to be paid for by the constituents of other Members, while their own constituents had moved on to build a successful Scotland and to develop an oil fund on the model of Norway.

This Bill seeks to give clarity to what will happen in this place post-independence. The state would also save £50 million, a step that I am sure would be very welcome. A journalist asked me yesterday whether I thought that some Scottish MPs would seek to cling on to the trappings of Westminster. I hope not, but I fear that some are putting career and power games at Westminster to the fore. I believe that it is more important to seek to improve lives in some of the most deprived parts of Scotland, to end poverty and child poverty, and to increase hope and opportunity.

Given that 200,000 jobs in the UK are now dependent on trade with a successful and independent Republic of Ireland—indeed, trade has never been higher between the UK and the Republic of Ireland—I hope that Scotland will similarly bring benefits to and improve lives in England, especially for our friends in the north of England with whom, just like the Irish, we share so much; except, we hope, a Government in London, thank you.

It is important for this House to speak clearly on things as people have the right to know how things will be after a positive yes result in September. Sadly, too many in the Government in London have not given mature and reflective consideration to what would happen post-independence. There has been a pattern. Initially, there was talk of any referendum following the SNP landslide victory of 2011—it formed the only majority Government anywhere in these islands—being a non-starter or even illegal, beyond the competence of the Scottish Parliament. When it became obvious that the referendum was going to happen anyway, Westminster then reacted late but correctly in reaching the Edinburgh agreement. The process in Scotland has lately been described by President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and the Foreign Minister of Poland, to name but three in a diverse bunch, as a model of how to go about such matters in a decent and civilised manner.

The negativity continued, however, and the Chancellor and his cohorts warned darkly that the referendum would deter investment in Scotland. I am pleased to tell the House that the opposite has happened. The scare stories are continuing. We are well used to that in Scotland. Whether it was the paltry assembly suggested in 1979, the Scots Parliament in 1997 or the election of the first SNP Government in 2007, we were told that the sky would fall in. Frankly, the sky has not fallen in; indeed, the sun has shone more strongly and brightly with all those institutions happily going from strength to strength over the years.

Why has there been that negativity? Instead of engagement, such as the important tidying up that this Bill seeks to do, the powers that be in Westminster and Whitehall are not thinking clearly and rationally about Scotland, but mainly have late thoughts and make very much knee-jerk reactions to events in Scotland that sound panicked and out of touch. Thankfully, I can report that not all hon. Members feel like that. Privately, many are relaxed about Scottish independence and very kindly wish us well—we could not have better friends and neighbours, as we move to independence—and many more would support the Bill if they did not have to deal with other pressing matters within their parties.

The powers that be still insist on the scare stories, the most notable being about the currency union. Even Tory Back Benchers do not believe these scares, as viewers of S4C in Wales will know. This weekend, Nicholas Watt of The Guardian found a similarly minded Government or Cabinet Minister, who believed a currency union was doable. Even those leading the no campaign, who maintain on one hand that having no currency union is an iron law, are saying on the other hand that a referendum about it is possible, oblivious to their earlier words on the matter. There is now a lot of rust on their iron law against Scotland, and polls show anyway that the people do not believe them.

The Bill is a plea for maturity and responsibility, for those in both Governments—Edinburgh and London—to sit round the table. I know that the Scottish Government are willing to do so. Both Governments should plan for and inform the people about the possibilities. Keeping such matters secret from the people in a democracy is surely an affront to that very democracy, and that weakens us all collectively when we proclaim the merits of democracy around the world. In the Lords, Lord Forsyth recently called—on 3 March—on the Government to anticipate events, and not just on the currency, and I agree with him.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure—quite accidentally—of greeting the Irish Prime Minister, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in the House of Commons. We chatted in Gaelic, a unique hybrid of Scots and Irish, you might say, Mr Speaker. It transpired that he had been to Downing street, where both sides had declared that relations had never been better between Dublin and London. They agreed on a variety of things, including joint trade missions to Singapore, moves to have common visas for people travelling from China or India to the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and cutting deals on renewable energy.

This House has changed and no one here thinks that Ireland should not be independent, or, indeed, the 50 other nations of Europe that have contributed to the fourfold increase in the number of independent nations worldwide, which is now at 200. Europe now has as many independent nations as the world had 100 years ago. As Professor Steven Pinker says, there has never been a safer place for a human being to be alive in history than Europe right now.

Scotland is following that successful tide of history. The tide indicates that Scotland will be independent. Something is happening in Scotland: an ancient nation is awakening to regain its statehood and to use its talents and resources for its people and to help and benefit others outwith our nation. The House, at the very least, should be aware of that and plan. Members should have watched the report by Martin Geissler on ITN a week last Thursday, which showed that people are returning to the electoral roll in droves after the poll tax debacle of 25 years ago. The yes campaign believes that that is for a purpose.

Scottish people want oil taxes to be controlled in Scotland, all general taxes to be controlled in Scotland, welfare to be controlled in Scotland, and decisions on whether our young men and women are involved in foreign wars to be controlled in Scotland. That is what we call independence and that is what we are moving towards. Scotland wants and needs to be part of those domestic and international realities. The Scottish people can do this, the Scottish people should do this and Scotland must do this. This is where Scotland is going. For the good of us all and to bring clarity, fairness and democracy, I commend the Bill to the House, even though it would make me unemployed.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil, Angus Robertson, Pete Wishart, Mr Mike Weir, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, Mr Elfyn Llwyd, Hywel Williams, Jonathan Edwards, Caroline Lucas, David T. C. Davies and Andrew Percy present the Bill.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed (Bill 196).