(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the decision of the Supreme Court and the rights of the Scottish Parliament to call for an independence referendum.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for providing me with the opportunity to address the House on this important ruling of the Supreme Court on the issue of the competence of the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum on independence.
The UK Supreme Court has today determined that it is outside the powers of the Scottish Parliament to hold an independence referendum, and I respect the Court’s clear and definitive ruling on this matter. The Scottish Government’s Lord Advocate referred this question to the Supreme Court, which has today given its judgment, and the UK Government’s position has always been clear: that it would be outside the Scottish Parliament’s competence to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence because it is a matter wholly reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament.
We welcome the Court’s unanimous and unequivocal ruling, which supports the United Kingdom Government’s long-standing position on this matter. People want to see the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government focus on issues that matter to them, not on constitutional division. People across Scotland rightly want and expect to see both their Governments—the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government—working together with a relentless focus on the issues that matter to them, their families and their communities.
The Prime Minister has been very clear, and has demonstrated since day one, that it is our duty to work constructively with the Scottish Government. We fully respect the devolution settlement and we want to work together with the Scottish Government on vital areas such as tackling the cost of living, growing our economy and leading the international response to Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine.
At this time of unprecedented challenges, the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom have never been more apparent. The United Kingdom Government are providing the Scottish Government with a record block grant settlement of £41 billion per year over the next three years, and the people in Scotland are benefiting from unprecedented cost of living support announced by this Prime Minister and our Chancellor. It is important now that we move on from constitutional issues, to focus on tackling our shared challenges. I therefore welcome the Supreme Court’s judgment, and I call on the Scottish Government to set aside these divisive constitutional issues so that we can work together, focusing all of our attention and resources on the key issues that matter to the people of Scotland.
The United Kingdom Government are proud of their role as the custodian of the devolution settlement. The United Kingdom is one of the most successful political and economic unions in the world. By promoting and protecting its combined strengths, we are building on hundreds of years of partnership and shared history. I will conclude by saying that when we work together as one United Kingdom, we are safer, stronger and more prosperous.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.
It is right that the UK Government answer questions today, and answer them quickly, because this morning the Supreme Court dealt with a question of law; there is now a massive question of democracy. Some of the Westminster parties are already wildly celebrating this morning’s decision, but I think it is safe to say that their thoughtless triumphalism will not last very long, because this judgment raises profound and deeply uncomfortable questions about the basis of the future of the United Kingdom.
The biggest question of all is how the Prime Minister can ever again repeat the myth that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union of nations. In 2014, the Smith Commission made it clear that
“nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose.”
If that is true and if the Secretary of State’s Government are still committed to that promise, will he urgently amend the Scotland Act 1998 to ensure that the Scottish people have the right to choose our own future? If he fails to do that, is he deliberately choosing to deny democracy, because a so-called partnership in which one partner is denied the right to choose a different future, or even to ask itself the question, cannot be described in any way as a voluntary partnership, or even a partnership at all?
Today’s decision casts focus on the democratic decisions of the Scottish people. Since 2014, the Scottish National party has won eight elections in a row. We have secured multiple mandates. The question is: how many times do people in Scotland have to vote for a referendum before they get it?
The more contempt the Westminster establishment shows for Scottish democracy, the more certain it is that Scotland will vote yes when the choice comes to be made. Scotland did not vote for Brexit. We did not vote for a new age of Tory austerity. We did not vote for this Prime Minister, and we have not voted for the Tories in Scotland since 1955. What we did vote for was the choice of a different future. If Westminster keeps blocking our democratic decisions, lawfully and democratically Scotland will find a way out of this Union.
This idea that a mandate was delivered in 2021 in the Holyrood elections is completely misleading. As the First Minister herself said very clearly in an interview in The Herald—this is when she thought that the former First Minister, the previous SNP leader Alex Salmond, was gaming the system with his party Alba—that parties should stand on both the list and first-past-the-post constituency systems. The Greens did not fulfil that and neither did Alba. Let us be clear: in the 2021 Holyrood elections—the so-called mandate—less than one third of the Scottish electorate voted for the SNP.
I call the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.
I begin by thanking the Supreme Court for examining this case in detail, for reaching a unanimous decision and for doing so in a speedy manner. I also thank the Scottish Lord Advocate for referring this case to the Supreme Court. She was right not to allow it to be launched in the Scottish Parliament before seeking legal clarity on this matter, and we are all in a better place now for that clarity having been put forward. The Supreme Court’s ruling is absolutely clear and concise.
The Leader of the SNP has just accused those who are against independence of “triumphalism”. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are deeply disappointed and angry that the politics in Scotland is paralysed by this constitutional grievance. It is now time for all of us in Scottish politics to focus on the problems facing our country, from rocketing bills to the crisis in the NHS, and I wish the SNP had such passion for doing that. I fear that that will not happen after the First Minister announced that she will turn the next general election into a de facto referendum. As an example, the SNP has made such a mess of our NHS that, earlier this week, it was reported that NHS chiefs have been discussing plans to privatise our health service—Labour’s and perhaps our country’s greatest achievement.
There is not a majority in Scotland for a referendum or for independence, but neither is the majority for the status quo. There is a majority in Scotland, and across the UK, for change. This failing and incapable Tory Government are unfit to govern this country. They have crashed the economy and they are as big a threat to the Union as any nationalist. People in Scotland and across the UK are sick of watching their incompetence, our national standing falling in the world, and working people paying for their decisions, but change is coming. It is coming with a UK Labour Government that will bring economic growth, raise living standards and restore our nation’s place in the world.
Does the Secretary of State agree that change is indeed coming and that Scottish voters will lead the way by kicking his Government out of office and helping to elect a UK Labour Government?
No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on his last point.
My constituents will not be celebrating this outcome, but they will be deeply relieved that, with all the other issues that they face, they are not going to be facing a hugely divisive independence referendum next October. In my constituency, people cannot access an NHS dentist. They cannot access a GP. They can hardly get an ambulance to come out, and our local hospital was overwhelmed two weeks ago. On that basis, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is the time to move on and focus on the issues that really matter to our constituents in Scotland?>
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and I know he has put in a lot of work on this subject in the past. The Scottish Government must focus on the people’s priorities. Public services in Scotland are falling behind and failing in many areas and it is important that we now stop the constitutional wrangling and focus on the people’s priorities. That is what they want us to do.
Democracy denial is not a good look. We have had repeated non-answers and repeated assertions from those on the Tory Benches today that they somehow know better than the people of Scotland what they want. Now we have an extraordinary suggestion from the Secretary of State that we somehow do not have a mandate. None of those things is correct and none of those things deals with the crux of the issue. This is a fundamental issue of democracy and whether this really is a voluntary Union. Is the Secretary of State going to stand up for democracy or not?
I do stand up for democracy. As I have said, in the Holyrood elections last year less than one third of Scots voted for the Scottish National party, and current polling shows that less than one third of Scots want another independence referendum.
Now that we have clarity from the Supreme Court, I urge my right hon. Friend to redouble his efforts to work with the Scottish Government and local authorities in Scotland to deliver on the issues that matter to people. My experience of two years in the Scotland Office is that there is an appetite to work together on welfare, where there is shared responsibility, on the city deals and on many other issues. That is what we should be focusing on, not more divisive referendums.
My hon. Friend is right. It is not just about what is in front of us, but what is behind us. Behind us is the furlough scheme, which supported 900,000 jobs during the pandemic, and the £1.5 billion of Barnett support that the Chancellor announced in his autumn statement; in front of us is not just the growth deals, but freeports and forthcoming cost of living support.
This ruling is bad for the Government, and I do not think they quite see that yet. This ruling confronts the Scottish people with the fact that there is no legal or democratic route to a referendum. All that will do is to infuriate the Scottish people and make sure that they have their demands for Scottish democracy in place. What we have not had is the how. How do we now get to a referendum if the legal and democratic means are closed? The Prime Minister was asked, and the Secretary of State has now been asked, so will he now please answer?
I will answer very simply. In 2014, there was a consensus between both Governments, all political parties and civic Scotland. Those are not the circumstances today.
May I just point out to my right hon. Friend that it was in fact the United Kingdom Parliament that gave Scotland a referendum in 2014—[Interruption.] Oh yes! Does he recall that the SNP then said it was a once-in-a-generation decision? Has he ever known a generation to pass so quickly, in just eight years? Could it be that the SNP prefers campaigning for a referendum it cannot have because it wants to distract attention from the failures of the Scottish Government on schools, on health, on procurement of ferries and on many other issues?
My hon. Friend is right, and he only makes points that many of the commentariat in the Scottish media make.
The judgment today puts the point beyond any measure of doubt, and that is to be welcomed. I also welcome the announcement from the Scottish Government that they will respect the judgment of the court, because for Governments to respect the rule of law is very important. We shall hold them to that commitment in the future. Will the Secretary of State assure me that, while demanding respect for the rule of law from others, the Government of which he is part will do the same?
I, too, welcome the unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court and respect that judgment, as other Members have said. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, current polling and past election results do not show a majority of voters in Scotland favouring independence-supporting parties. Does he agree that there is no evidence that the democratic mandate has changed since 2014?
My hon. Friend is right; the majority of voters in Scotland vote for parties that support the Union.
The United Kingdom Supreme Court has answered a legal question this morning, not a political one. The lesson of history is that a nation’s exercise of its right to self-determination can be delayed, but not denied. Can the right hon. Gentleman answer the question that the Prime Minister could not or would not answer: if people living in Scotland continue to elect a majority of pro-independence Members of the Scottish Parliament and MPs who support a second independence referendum, what is the democratic route to realising that mandate?
As I have pointed out, it is not the case that a majority of the Scottish electorate have voted for independence-supporting parties.
I welcome the clarity of the judgment by the Supreme Court. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the constant political wrangling and doubts over Scotland’s constitutional status and the capacity for and prospect of holding a referendum will constantly undermine Scotland’s attractiveness to private investors, who would create the jobs, wealth and prosperity that people in Scotland rightly deserve?
Yes. Having been a businessman before I came into this place, I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is unattractive to investors when there is uncertainty and a cloud hanging over Scotland on this matter. Far better the Scottish Government put it behind them now—the ruling is very clear—and we move forward to building the Scottish economy for the benefit of all the people in Scotland.
We sit here in this House knowing that Scottish politicians will only ever make up a fraction of the seats. We have a UK Government that the people of Scotland did not vote for—indeed, a UK Prime Minister that nobody voted for. Bearing all that in mind, may I ask Westminster’s man in Scotland to name just one scenario under which he would agree to the people of Scotland being able to determine their own democratic future?
As I have said in my answers, the route to a referendum is when there is consensus between Governments, across political parties and across civic Scotland, as there was in 2014. That is not the case now: now, the UK Government want to focus on the Scottish economy, on creating freeports, on supporting people with the cost of living and on getting on with the day job, which is what I think the Scottish Government should do.
As someone of Scottish descent, may I say that there are many of us living in the United Kingdom, across the four separate territories, who have an enormous fondness and love for Scotland? When I have visited Scotland, for example, the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney—I notice, by the way, that the leader of the SNP in Westminster has never visited it himself—Nova Innovation outside Edinburgh or the Rosyth shipyards, it was to support great businesses, based in Scotland, doing exciting things that the United Kingdom can promote abroad for the benefit of us all. Surely that is the most important thing we could all focus on today?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. On his initial remarks, we are a family of nations and a nation of families.
I am a bit puzzled. Why do this Government, who do not have a mandate in Scotland, continue to refuse the right of the Scottish people to hold a referendum, as things have changed enormously since 2014?
Because this Government believe that the Scottish people’s priority is to see their two Governments working together in a collaborative and constructive partnership.
The SNP mistakes its obsession with independence for the obsession of the people of Scotland. As we have already heard, that is simply not the case. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, rather than going down the rabbit hole of creating a constitutional crisis, all our constituents, north and south of the border, want us to focus on making our public services work? That is an area in which the SNP conspicuously fails.
My hon. Friend makes a salient point, and he is absolutely right. The Scottish people want good public services delivered to them by a Scottish Government focused on the things that were devolved to Holyrood.
The Tryweryn vote in 1957 taught people in Wales that Welsh MPs can always be overridden by the structural tyranny of the majority here in Westminster. The First Minister of Wales, himself a Unionist, is on record as saying that the UK can be sustained only
“as a voluntary association of four nations, in which we choose to pool our sovereignty for common purposes and for common benefits.”
Given that the Labour Front-Bench team has parroted the same lines as the Tories this afternoon, will the Secretary of State write to the First Minister of Wales to confirm whether we are voluntary partners in this Union or involuntary inmates?
No, I will not write to the First Minister of Wales. I will leave that to the Secretary of State of Wales or anyone else who feels that it is in their remit. I say to the right hon. Lady that polling shows that less than a third of Scots want another independence referendum.
The smug, patronising and cloth-eared response from the Prime Minister, the so-called Secretary of State for Scotland and Tory Members to the ripping away of democratic human rights from the Scottish people will be seen by many Scots today. Imagine the uproar if the European Parliament and European courts had denied this Parliament the right to legislate on the Brexit referendum. The Secretary of State was unwilling, or simply unable, to answer that question when asked by the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). How does any member country leave this so-called voluntary Union?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the Supreme Court judgment, but it makes it very clear that the matter is reserved to the Westminster Parliament. On the mandate argument, it is clear that less than a third of the Scottish electorate voted for the SNP last year.
We are very clear about that, and we are very clear that a future referendum would take place, as in 2014, when there is consensus between—
I am answering it. When there is consensus between both Governments, all political parties and civic Scotland.
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot just sit there yelling. It is a really bad look. I call Amy Callaghan.
I will ask the Secretary of State the same question that I asked the Prime Minister just a short while ago, to which I am still waiting for an answer. What is the route for a nation to leave this so-called voluntary Union? He has answered three times now referring to a majority of votes, so would the Government respect the result of a general election as a de facto referendum?
General elections are when people expect parties to come forward with manifestos on the issues that Scotland and the United Kingdom face. That is what general elections are for.
A former Member of Parliament for Cork City once said:
“No man has the right to fix a boundary to the march of a nation. No man has the right to say to his country, ‘Thus far shalt thou go and no further’.”
Of course, this Parliament no longer has a Member for Cork City, because Charles Stewart Parnell was right. This United Kingdom is clearly not a partnership of equals—that has been made absolutely clear today—so when will the Government publish clear criteria for how the people of the north of Ireland can leave it?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman ask that question at Northern Ireland questions.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that his view is that this is a voluntary Union? If so, by what mechanism can the Scottish people, in the future, have their choice about whether to remain within it?
I feel that I have answered that question many times already, so I will refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier.
Things have changed dramatically since 2014. I remind the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), that in 2019 he said:
“a democracy fails to be a democracy if the public are not allowed to change their mind.”—[Official Report, 8 April 2019; Vol. 658, c. 124.]
Back in 2012, Alistair Darling said:
“Today we are equal partners in the United Kingdom.”
Today, our First Minister noted that this ruling confirms that the notion of the UK as a voluntary partnership is no longer—if it ever was—a reality. Why will the Secretary of State not acknowledge that the only way for Scotland to be treated as an equal is with its independence?
I have made my position very clear. I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave earlier.
Our Secretary of State for Scotland, who can go to the unelected House of Lords at a time of his choosing, is setting democratic tests on how Scotland can choose its own future. It is fanciful and absurd. If he is so confident in his view of what the Scottish people’s priorities are, why does he not call our bluff by calling a referendum?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we had a referendum in 2014, and we know what the agreement on that was between the Governments, political parties and civic Scotland. We feel now that the priorities for Scotland are for us all to pull together, work to bring back the economy after covid, tackle the cost of living crisis, and get in front of the issues that we believe are the priorities for the people of Scotland.
The legal position is now clear, but the political decision that needs to be made must also be clear. Under no circumstances should the power to hold referendums be devolved—be it to Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales—because we know that nationalism-obsessed politicians will use that power to call continual referendums until they get the result they want, to distort political debate, and to cover up their own governmental incompetence. I plead with the Government not to even contemplate going down that road. However, they also need to do far more, whether in the Northern Ireland, Welsh or Scottish context, to sell the benefits of the Union, which are apparent to everybody.
I agree that the benefits are apparent to everybody. The right hon. Gentleman makes good points. The Supreme Court looked at and opined on the Scotland Act 1998, and today agreed that this matter is reserved to the Westminster Parliament.
I will give the Secretary of State the opportunity to say something interesting. If this Union is genuinely based on consent, how can the people of Scotland demonstrate that they have withdrawn that consent?
The hon. Gentleman will be disappointed with my answer, which is that I refer him to the remarks I made earlier.
In 2014, the people of Glasgow voted for independence, and I am sure that if the question were put before them again, they would do so again. But we are not in 2014. Does the Secretary of State accept that democracy did not exist only on 18 September 2014? Democracy is a living thing. Does he accept that the people have the right to change their mind?
The people of Glasgow did vote for independence in 2014, as did three other local authorities in Scotland. However, the other 28 out of 32 voted to remain in the United Kingdom.
This important ruling settles the question for now—certainly on the legal matter. Does the Secretary of State think that it gives us ample time to investigate what else the Scottish Government are doing? The debate about the referendum has thrown up a lot of sand, but the Scottish Government are underachieving in so many areas of public service, and that needs to be shown.
The hon. Lady speaks for many people in Scotland who fear the same thing—[Interruption.]
Order. The more people yell out, the further down the order they will go. I call Alan Brown.
We are supposed to be living in a parliamentary democracy. As such, last year the SNP won 62 out of 73 constituency seats—85% of the seats. That is equivalent to a party here winning 552 seats. There is a pro-independence majority in Holyrood, and in the last four elections, a majority of voters voted for parties that support independence and having a referendum. If the Secretary of State is going to ignore a parliamentary democracy and parliamentary votes of the people, what is the route for the people of Scotland to have a referendum and have their say?
A union, like a marriage, should be based upon equality and consent. It is clear when a marriage has run its course how a partner can extricate themselves from it, but we are yet to find out from the Secretary of State how we can extricate ourselves from this Union.
I believe what we have is a collaborative and constructive partnership, and I think history shows that. I have been very clear: the answer is when there is consensus between the two Governments, across all political parties and civic Scotland. Let us be honest, polling shows that less than a third of Scots want another referendum and, as I said earlier and repeat again, less than a third of the Scottish electorate voted for the Scottish National party last year. When we face all those things and look at people’s priorities in polling, independence is right down the rankings. It is not what they go to bed at night worrying about. They worry about the health system, the education system, crime, drug deaths and whether or not they can get a ferry to their island. That is what they worry about.
Given how many Prime Ministers previously defended the Union, I am surprised there are so few Unionists here to defend it today. I want to quote John Major, who said that
“no nation could be held irrevocably in a Union against its will.”
Does the future Baron agree with that statement?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the remarks I made earlier. Polling shows the Scottish people do not want another referendum. There is not massive dissatisfaction with the Union. It is very low on the Scottish people’s list of priorities. What they want is our two Governments to start working together to deliver their priorities. That is what they want us to do.
On the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, we have been meeting our parallel scrutiny committees in the devolved legislatures. Some 20 years on, it is clear that devolution, parliamentary scrutiny functions and the inter-Union functions are not working and need improving. Our Union was forced and often violently formed, but it has for centuries successfully built, through consent and citizen recognition that unity is strength. The hallmark of this Government is ignorance of our history, disrespect for those institutions across the devolution settlement and a failure to engage across all Departments with the committees and bodies that have been formed to enhance the political Union. What the Secretary of State needs to take from this ruling is a need to force the Government to treat those institutions with the respect they deserve to keep our Union.
We put in place the intergovernmental relations recommendations from the Dunlop review. Those were put in place.
The Secretary of State has referenced a number of times the suggestion that only a third of the electorate in Scotland voted for the SNP at the last Scottish election. In that same election, the Conservatives secured less than 15% of the electorate voting for them, so we need a bit of context. This all comes down to a basic question: if not through the route of a referendum through the Scottish Parliament, what is the democratic route for Scotland to determine our own future? Countless Members have asked. Where is the answer?
First, there were also many other votes cast for other Unionist parties. It is a matter of consensus between the two Governments, political parties and civic Scotland—the answer I gave earlier.
The Supreme Court today did not rule that Scotland should not be independent or that Scotland should not be able to have a referendum; it ruled that the existing legislation written by Unionist politicians does not allow the Scottish Government to make that decision, unless the UK Government are willing to amend it, as they did in 2014. That is the legal argument.
I want to know what the democratic argument is against Scotland being able to do that. In the Scottish Parliament elections—one of the eight elections we have won since 2014—not only did the SNP leaflets say, “Vote SNP for a referendum on independence”, but the Tory leaflets, the Labour leaflets and the Liberal Democrat leaflets all said it. What is the democratic argument against Scotland and the people of Scotland being able to simply answer that question?
Order. It is important, if we are to get everybody in, that the questions are short.
It is important we get everyone in and they have their say. I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave earlier: less than a third of the Scottish electorate voted for the Scottish National party. It is entirely a matter of consensus, and at the moment we believe that the priorities should be elsewhere. The cost of living, supporting people through inflation, the energy price cap, getting on and delivering freeports, delivering on the growth deals—those are the things that we think the people of Scotland expect us to do.
I welcome the Supreme Court ruling today. I have sat patiently and listened to SNP Members, one after another, reflect what could fairly be said to be the concerns of their political party. Unfortunately, they do not reflect the concerns I get in my mailbox every day from constituents across Edinburgh West, who are concerned about the cost of living, energy prices, the state of the NHS in Scotland and the teacher strikes we are about to face. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is time they stopped this self-indulgent obsession and addressed the real issues that concern the people of Scotland?
Yes, I could not agree with the hon. Lady more.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), who was clear that this is a legal position by the Supreme Court that I think the entire Chamber welcomes. It is a legal opinion requested by the Scottish Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), who is no longer in their place, mentioned a Prime Minister. Does the Secretary of State agree with the former Baroness Thatcher, who said that “as a nation”, Scots
“have an undoubted right to national self-determination”?
The question to Westminster’s man in Scotland is this: does he agree with the former British Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, about Scotland’s right to national self- determination, and if he does not, what is he doing in the Scotland Office?
As I have said, less than a third of Scots want another independence referendum. Less than a third of the Scottish electorate voted for the Scottish National party. We just do not recognise this mandate.
All the leaflets from the right hon. Gentleman’s party at the last eight elections have said, “Vote Tory to stop an independence referendum”. I am confused, because he says today that the question was settled in 2014. Why, then, did he put out leaflets telling people to vote against a referendum? Clearly, despite being asked a number of times, the Secretary of State is unable to tell this House and the people of Scotland the democratic route out of this Union. He is unable to do it. Is that why he is scurrying off to the House of Lords, because he cannot face his constituents at the next election? Does he not realise that the people of Scotland are sovereign, and they are watching?
To pick up on the hon. Lady’s middle point, which was the only relevant point she made, the reason why leaflets in general elections say no to a second independence referendum is simply because the Scottish National party is obsessed with an independence referendum and nothing else.
In 2014, people in Scotland were told that if they voted yes the value of pensions would collapse, supermarkets would be empty of food and energy prices would rocket, and that if they voted no, freedom of movement would be guaranteed, the UK would have as close to federalism as possible and the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) would never become Prime Minister. Did the people of Scotland get what they voted for in 2014?
On the basis that none of the apocalypse happened and that in 2014 the Scottish National party was asking the people of Scotland to vote to leave the European Union, then yes, they got what they voted for.
As of 10 am today, we no longer have a Union of equals. This Union has ceased to be; it is bereft of life; it is a dead Union. When will the UK Government respect the people of Scotland and their right to choose? Now is not the time to deny them.
Okay, so we have resorted to quoting Monty Python, which does not surprise me. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier.
The Secretary of State says that in order for there to be democracy, there needs to be cross-party support, and that there needs to cross-support in order for us to have an independence referendum, but there was not cross-party support for a Brexit referendum, austerity or the demonisation of immigrants. Why does the Conservative party get to be the arbiter of what does and does not require democratic support?
As the hon. Lady knows, and as I have made very clear, we believe that the priority of people in Scotland is for the two Governments to work constructively and collaboratively together, in partnership.
On 18 September 2014, the people of Inverclyde voted to remain in the Union by 86 votes. A few short months later, they returned me as the SNP MP on an independence manifesto; they had changed their mind. They returned me in 2017 and 2019—if the Government want to go again I will go again. But what is the route for the people of Inverclyde to express their views now in a referendum?
The judges have quite clearly rejected the Scottish Government’s argument that they can hold a second referendum. Legal authority lies with the UK here, in this place. There have been clear attempts to manipulate devolution. With the rise in the cost of living and the increasing evils of the Putin regime, does the Minister agree that what is needed now is a campaign and a strategy to illustrate the advantages of the Union, showing that we are stronger together? We must focus on strengthening the Union, our economy and our joint prosperity.
Yes. I made those points in my opening remarks and I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman.
From the Scottish child payment to free prescriptions, to not really supporting the war in Iraq to free period products, Scotland has consistently chosen a different path from Westminster. I am reminded today of the words of the late Bashir Ahmad MSP, who said that
“it isn’t important where you come from, what matters is where we are going together as a nation”.
Many Scots like me support independence on the principle that decisions for Scotland should be made in Scotland, by the people of Scotland. Will the Secretary of State for Scotland clarify whether Scotland has the democratic right to choose her own path if she continues to vote for a majority of independence-supporting MSPs up at Holyrood and independence-supporting MPs here at Westminster?
I have answered the second part of the hon. Lady’s question a number of times already. In answer to the first part of her question, about the various policies she outlined, that is why we respect and strengthen devolution at every opportunity, whereas the Scottish National party wants to destroy devolution.
This is nothing short of parody. I have been an MP here for nearly three years and I have never heard a Minister say “I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago” as many times as this. That is because the so-called Secretary of State for Scotland has his back against the wall because he is denying democracy and democratic norms. He and all the other Tories say that we cannot have another referendum because we do not want to foment the division that exists around the constitutional space in Scotland—well, it exists already, so let us lance the boil. Let us have a referendum and find out what the people of Scotland want.
To pick up on the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the reason I say that I have answered the question so many times before is that hon. Members are asking the same question time and again—it is just a little bit repetitive. The answer is quite simple. As I have explained many times before, the route to a referendum in 2014 involved consensus between both Governments, across all the political parties and across civic Scotland. We are far from being in that place now.
The decisions taken in Westminster dictate the impact of issues such as the costing of living crisis on my constituents and all the people of Scotland. They deserve to have their voices heard, and we can all agree that the landscape has changed since 2014. How will the UK Government work with the Scottish Government to allow the Scottish people to choose whether they wish to remain part of the Union or to be an independent country?
We want to work with the Scottish Government to show the people of Scotland the benefits of being part of the Union and to show that we can work together on delivering on growth deals, freeports and the cost of living crisis, and on delivering the £1.5 billion of extra funding that is coming as a result of the Chancellor’s statement last week. We want to show the people of Scotland the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom. Looking at the numbers, there seems to be an in-built majority for Unionist parties, so I think the people of Scotland recognise that.
The Secretary of State has been struggling to answer the most basic questions from colleagues, so I have a simple question for him. On 13 November 2017, in a debate in Westminster Hall, I asked him if he agreed with the preposterous suggestion of Michael Kelly, the former Lord Provost of Glasgow, that Scotland should not have another independence referendum until every person who voted in the 2014 referendum was dead. In reply, the Secretary of State said that
“if I had my way, we would wait even longer.”—[Official Report, 13 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 24WH.]
Is that still his position today?
I will give the same answer that I have always given, which is that we believe a referendum is not the priority for the people of Scotland. We believe Scotland is stronger in the United Kingdom and benefits enormously from the United Kingdom, and that the rest of the United Kingdom benefits enormously from having Scotland in it. From renewables and oil and gas to cultural matters and many other things, Scotland is a very valued member of the United Kingdom, and that remains my position.
The Secretary of State keeps patronising us about what the priorities of the people of Scotland are. The fact is that the people of Scotland keep voting for the SNP and for an independence referendum as the means to deliver on their priorities. The non-answer that he keeps referring us to is some vague nonsense about reaching consensus. In 2014 we reached consensus precisely because there was pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament. Why is that not good enough now? He can dissemble and he can dodge this afternoon, but he cannot do that for the weeks ahead.
As I have said on many occasions, there is not any clear evidence that a majority of Scots are voting for the SNP—quite the contrary. Less than a third of Scots are voting for the SNP. It is very clear in all polling that less than a third of Scots want a referendum any time soon.
The Supreme Court has really done us all a favour by answering one legal question but leaving us with a far bigger democratic one. But let us have some facts: 73% of Scots want back into the European Union; 50% plus of Scots want an independent Scotland in the European Union; and 22% of Scots trust the UK Government to act in their interests. Does the Secretary of State accept my point that his blinkered defence of the indefensible democratic deficit will be the UK’s undoing?
As I have said on many occasions, the United Kingdom Government believe that Scotland, in the United Kingdom, brings many benefits and that we, as a United Kingdom, are stronger together. We believe that the majority of Scots see that too.
If the Secretary of State is so convinced that there is a substantial anti-independence majority among today’s people of Scotland, will he agree to publish in its entirety all the polling done at our expense by the Scotland Office? If not, can we assume that the reason the Government are desperate to avoid a referendum is that even their private polling tells them that, this time, the result will be a massive yes?
The Scotland Office has done no private polling. The polling that I referred to is the public opinion polling that we can all read.
Scotland joining the Union predates the Scotland Act 1998 and it was the 1998 Act that the Supreme Court judged on today. The 1998 Act will not and cannot stop Scotland being an independent country. I am sure that the Secretary of State believes in the right of independence for Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Ukraine, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia and many others, so does he believe the same for Scotland? If Scotland votes for independence at an election ballot box, will he respect the democracy of that event?
As I keep pointing out to SNP Members, less than a third of Scots voted for the SNP at the ballot box.
In 2018, this House voted to acknowledge the claim of right that Scotland’s people have the right to choose their own destiny. Does the Secretary of State now deny that decision of Parliament?
The claim of right? We had a Union of the Crowns in 1603 and a Union of the Parliaments in 1707, but they were all a terribly long time ago. We firmly believe that we have a strong partnership that has endured for more than 300 years and has delivered for all parts of the United Kingdom, and that we are better together.
I thank the Secretary of State.