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Policy on International Law: Strength of the Union

Volume 681: debated on Thursday 1 October 2020

What assessment he has made of the implications for the strength of the Union of recent differences in UK and Scottish Government policy on international law. (906870)

What assessment he has made of the implications for the strength of the Union of recent differences in UK and Scottish Government policy on international law. (906875)

What assessment he has made of the implications for the strength of the Union of recent differences in UK and Scottish Government policy on international law. (906893)

Given that the Cabinet Office refused to answer my written questions within the agreed timescales, will the Minister confirm whether his Department undertakes opinion polling and research into public attitudes to the Union? If that is the case, will he commit to putting that information in the public domain, since it is paid for by the taxpayer?

First, I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for any delay in answering his written questions. I will take that up with the team in the Cabinet Office.

Of course, Government do undertake research, and that research reinforces to us the vital importance of serving every part of the United Kingdom effectively. The research that we undertake, for example, reveals that, across the United Kingdom, people believe it is vital that Governments work together to deal with the current covid pandemic, and it is important that the good co-operation that we have recently enjoyed with the Scottish Government continues.

It seems to be the approach of a slippery fish from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. How much money—UK taxpayers’ money—is he spending on this private polling? Given that all public polling shows that there is an increase in support for Scottish independence, is it not correct that support for the Union is pretty weak at the moment and it is only a matter of time before Scotland becomes an independent country?

Talking of fish, slippery or otherwise, one of the benefits of leaving the European Union is that we will be taking back control of our territorial waters. As the Scottish Government have pointed out, and as I know the hon. Gentleman is aware, there will be hundreds of thousands of new jobs and millions of pounds of new investment in the north-east of Scotland as a result of leaving the European Union. We do not need any opinion polling to tell us that that is a Brexit boost for the north-east. These are facts, and facts are chiels that winna ding. Therefore, that is a ding-dong for the Union.

This House has approved a Bill that allows the democratically elected Scottish Government to be overruled by the right hon. Gentleman’s Government—happy to ignore laws they have not made, happy to break treaties and hungry to take power from everywhere they can. Alongside this appalling level of respect for the law and for Scotland, can I at least highlight one silver lining and thank him for the contribution he is making towards Scotland’s independence?

It is always flattering to receive compliments from colleagues across the House and across parties, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the gracious compliment that she pays me, but it is one that I am afraid I must gently turn down, because the Scottish Parliament will be receiving additional powers—a power surge—as a result of our departure from the European Union. That proves that devolution works. I think, and I think the majority of people in this House think, that devolution provides the people of Scotland with the best of both worlds—a strong Scottish Parliament and a strong UK Parliament. The Scottish National party, I am afraid, would force people to choose between being Scottish and being British, and I do not think that people should be forced to make that choice. They should, as Andrew Wilson, the author of the Scottish Government’s growth commission report, recently pointed out, take pride in being both Scottish and British.

If the right hon. Gentleman’s Union is so strong, as he contends, can he tell me why he thinks Scottish independence is at a record high of 55% and has been at a sustained majority all year?

The evidence of my eyes is that support for our United Kingdom across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in England, is strong. People recognise that it is the broad shoulders of the UK Treasury that have been responsible for helping to ensure that we can borrow money cheaply and invest in the people of Scotland’s welfare. In the conversations that I have had with Scottish Government Ministers, they always express their thanks and gratitude for the support the Treasury is giving. Whether it is the furlough scheme, Eat Out to Help Out or the support we have been giving to investment in hydrogen technology in Glasgow and in Aberdeen, the United Kingdom Government work with both the Scottish Government at Holyrood and Scottish local government to strengthen our United Kingdom. This has been a partnership for good for hundreds of years, and I know it will endure for many more.

The right hon. Gentleman will not produce his own opinion polls and he will not believe actual opinion polls, so maybe I will give him a few suggestions as to why support for Scottish independence is so high. He can see if he agrees with me in this. How about this? The power grab; the attacks on our democracy in Parliament; the contempt this place shows for our beautiful country; the constantly saying no to a majority of our people in Scotland; taking our nation out of the EU against our national collective will; the Prime Minister; him. Do any of them sound familiar to him at all?

What an impressive list. What a pity that so many of the items in it sadly do not stand up to scrutiny. There is no power grab; there is a power surge as the Scottish Parliament receives additional powers as we leave the European Union. I think the hon. Gentleman used the phrase “contempt”. Actually, one of the things that the beautiful country of Scotland has achieved throughout our time in the United Kingdom is improved productivity, improved competitiveness, improved employment and a stronger health service. Sadly, over the last 10 years, some things have blighted progress in Scotland: a declining level of educational attainment as Scotland has gone down international league tables; a failure to procure the basic ferries that will mean that Scotland’s islands are connected to its mainland; and a failure to invest in the sick kids’ hospital in Edinburgh and elsewhere. All of those are failures of the Scottish Government. It is a sad state of affairs when the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government, who have so often committed to working together, are faced with a situation where the Scottish Government have comprehensively failed in these areas, but we stand ready to help the people of Scotland do even better in the future.