I will answer these questions together. There is no independence of thought in the questions.
The Prime Minister has received the First Minister’s correspondence, which contains the Scottish Government publication, and he will respond in due course.
The Secretary of State repeatedly said to the people of Scotland during the general election campaign that every vote for the Conservatives is a vote to “say no to indyref2”. That went well for them, didn’t it? It saw them lose over half their seats and left them with barely a rump of MPs. Will the Secretary of State now listen to the people of Scotland, as reflected by the 80% of seats won by the SNP, and support their expressed democratic will to choose their own future?
Some 45% of Scots voted for the SNP in the 2019 election, and 45% of Scots voted for independence in 2014. The numbers simply have not changed. Further, in 2014 the independence referendum came on the back of something called the Edinburgh agreement, which was signed by Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, the then deputy leader. The Edinburgh agreement stated that both parties would respect the outcome of the referendum, and that has not happened.
A good new year to you, Mr Speaker. The Scottish Secretary has anticipated that the Scottish Parliament will refuse legislative consent for the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. He said,
“that’s something we understand and respect because their position is that they don’t support Brexit.”
When consent is refused today, how will the UK Government demonstrate that respect?
What we are respecting is the democratic outcome of referendums, which the SNP does not respect. The referendum in 2016 was a United Kingdom referendum, and we voted to leave the European Union. We are respecting that. Under the Sewel convention, we have provision for what is known as “not normal”. This is a constitutional matter. Constitutional matters are reserved, and they are not normally under the remit of the Scottish Parliament. We are delivering what the 2016 referendum requested us to deliver.
This Tory Government are claiming that their 43% of the vote in the last general election provides them with an overwhelming mandate to implement Brexit. Can the Secretary of State therefore explain the absolutely blinding contradiction of his own position when he says that the 45% vote for the SNP, providing 80% of Scottish seats in this very House, does not equate to a mandate for the people of Scotland to choose our own future?
It was a referendum three years ago. We are speaking for the majority of Scots. The majority of voters voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. We are respecting that decision, whereas the SNP is not respecting it and wants to tear up the United Kingdom.
The Secretary of State’s performance thus far highlights just how untenable the Government’s position is on this matter. He has completely failed to answer my colleagues’ questions, so I remind him that his party enjoys 43% of the vote to deliver Brexit yet denies the SNP, with its 45% of the vote in Scotland, its right to give the people of Scotland their say. What is his democratic case for denying the people of Scotland their right to choose their own future?
The First Minister has asked for the right to set and decide the context for future referendums. We are very clear that constitutional matters are reserved. It would be completely wrong for us to hand over those powers to the Scottish Parliament because we would end up with a series of neverendums, which would be bad for the Scottish economy and bad for Scottish jobs. It would reduce tax income and therefore damage already failing public services.
The UK Government have ignored Scottish people’s voices and votes in every election and referendum since 2016, careering on with both Brexit and austerity. What precise electoral event would convince the Secretary of State that Scotland’s people should have the right to choose their own future?
First, on austerity, the Scottish Government’s own independence figures show that there would be a £12.6 billion hole in the Scottish finances, which would mean real austerity. On when the time will be right, both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond said at the time of the referendum that it was a once-in-a-generation, once-in-a-lifetime decision. I do not feel that either a generation or a lifetime has passed.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister to the Dispatch Box.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this document is just another expensive and time-wasting stunt by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP? The people of Scotland chose decisively in 2014 to remain in the United Kingdom, and it is time that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP accepted that and moved on.
May I start by thanking my predecessor for his four years as Secretary of State for Scotland and, prior to that, five years as Under-Secretary and four years as a shadow spokesman? In all, he spent 13 years as a spokesman on Scottish affairs in this House, and I think the last person to do so for that length of time was Willie Ross under Harold Wilson. I thank him for all the hard work and service he has given to the people of Scotland.
It is quite clear that the Scottish Government constantly harp on about independence and separation because they want to deflect from the main issue, which is that they are failing on our school standards and failing our NHS.
I welcome the new ministerial team to the Scotland Office. In Scotland, education standards are falling and the NHS is failing patients with missed waiting-time targets. Does the Secretary of State share my embarrassment that the First Minister of Scotland, rather than sorting out these important issues, is obsessing with independence?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the SNP has every right to continue making the case for independence, and to do so with passion and force, but that what it does not have the right to do is to keep dragging the people of Scotland and Scottish businesses around the same mountain time and time again to try to get the answer it did not get the first time?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. What Scotland needs now is a period of peace and tranquillity, not division and rancour. We need to take the opportunities that Brexit will bring us, not least on the common fisheries policy and other great trade deals, and make 2020 a year of optimism and growth.
The NHS is a precious asset that is just as important to people in Scotland as it is to my constituents in Redditch. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Government’s obsessive attraction to independence detracts from their focus on the NHS? They should focus first on the people of Scotland who are missing the 12-week treatment target, which the Scottish Government have never met.
Yes, my hon. Friend makes a good point. Today’s The Herald highlights the fact that accident and emergency waiting times have deteriorated in Scotland to a record low, with record numbers of patients now waiting more than 12 hours to be treated.