The United Kingdom is the most successful political, economic, social and cultural union the world has ever seen, and is the foundation on which our citizens and businesses are able to thrive. This Government are committed to protecting and promoting its combined strengths, building on hundreds of years of partnership and shared history, because when we work together collaboratively, as one United Kingdom, we are safer, stronger and more prosperous, better able to draw on the skills of our great shared institutions and better able to respond to challenges, such as the pandemic and supporting families with the cost of living.
Last year, the Scottish Tory manifesto stated that a vote for them was a vote to stop an independence referendum, yet they achieved only 22% of the vote. Does the Minister accept that the people of Scotland have a right to have a vote on 19 October 2023 because their campaign message has failed?
The constitutional issues were so far down the list of people’s priorities when that poll took place. What the people of Scotland want are their Governments, whether that is local, Scottish or UK, to be working together on addressing the issues that matter to them and responding to the big challenges we face as a country and a world.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I am sure the Minister would wish to join me in congratulating the Bridge café in Gilmerton in my constituency on winning café of the year yesterday and the Rotary Club of Braids on its 50th anniversary. We have had some wonderful achievements locally, and good luck to Andy—no relation— Murray at Wimbledon this afternoon.
In the latest poll in Scotland, the Prime Minister has a net approval rating of minus 71. Included in that negative figure of course are the Scottish Conservative leader and every Conservative MSP and Scottish MP —except for the Secretary of State. So does the Minister think that the threat to the Union posed by the Prime Minister clinging to his job is a price worth paying?
First, I would be delighted to congratulate the café in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and when I am next in Edinburgh I will endeavour to pay a visit.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. This Government and this Prime Minister are focusing on the big issues that face Scotland and the whole United Kingdom: keeping the west safe from Russian aggression; dealing with the global economic challenges from the pandemic and the war; and addressing the long-term challenges such as energy security and climate change. That is what we are focusing on.
The very fact that the Minister has to read that list tells its own story. The simple truth is that the Prime Minister puts the Union at risk every single day that he clings on. The country knows that, his party’s Back Benchers know it and even the First Minister knows it—which is why she wants him to stay. Yesterday was nothing more than an attempt by the First Minister to deflect from her horrendous record in government and to hinder the prospect of a future Labour Government replacing the Prime Minister’s Government. That is what she fears the most. The only thing that matters to Nicola Sturgeon is, of course, independence—not soaring NHS waiting times, hungry children, drug deaths, increasing poverty, a widening educational attainment gap or Scots worried about their bills. Why will the Minister not recognise that the Prime Minister is nothing but a gift to the SNP and put the future of the UK ahead of his blind loyalty to the Prime Minister?
I do agree with one part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, and that is about the real focus of the Scottish Government: it is, as he says, not about addressing the real challenges in Scotland; it is about appeasing the hard-liners in the separatist party. We are not going to be deflected from getting on with the job we were elected to do.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Minister when he says there are multiple priorities that should be at the forefront of the attention of the First Minister and SNP Members in this House. All of those are very challenging, but one simple thing the Scottish Government could do is adopt the UK Government’s approach to genetic technology and precision breeding. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would be a simple way to meet the priorities of Scottish farmers, food producers and research institutes?
The gene editing of crops is an important issue, and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. There is a widespread view in the agriculture sector in Scotland that it is a good move and would improve crop yields and resilience, which are part of our food security. It is only the dogma of the SNP Government that prevents Scotland from joining the rest of the UK in adopting this important technology. The door is open for them to put aside their blind adherence to EU laws and join us in developing this important technology.
Given that the UK wields the most control over the Scottish economy, my question is pretty simple: why is it that independent countries similar to Scotland are wealthier and more productive and have higher social mobility, lower poverty levels, a smaller gender pay gap and lower inequality? In other words, can the Minister not see that, when it comes to Scotland, it is this Government and this Union that are holding us back?
Before I answer the hon. Lady’s question, may I congratulate her on her recent wedding? Although we will disagree on many subjects, on this one I hope we can agree that a union is better than independence.
On the substance of the hon. Lady’s question, this Union has been one of the most economically productive in history. Only the separatists could believe that creating a hard border between Scotland and England, when 60% of Scotland’s exports are to the rest of the United Kingdom, would be in our economic and social interests.
I welcome the Minister’s warm words, but I remind him that unions have to be voluntary as well. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has changed his view on the Prime Minister three times in six months, so why do this Government refuse to let people in Scotland change their view after eight years?
The Union is, of course, voluntary. The question in the referendum was put and decisively answered. Of all the comments recently, the most revealing was from Cabinet Secretary Angus Robertson, who basically said that, even if there was another referendum and Scotland voted to stay part of the Union, the SNP would keep going—it would be a neverendum. That uncertainty and chaos would be bad for Scotland and bad for the United Kingdom. We want to level up the country and address the challenges; the SNP wants to divide Britain and divide Scotland.