In February Frank Field asked the Prime Minister to open a debate on the English Question. Cameron shrugged off the question. Remarkably, Field reveals that on the strength of that question the BBC asked him to appear on Question Time from St Andrews, and that the Labour Party leadership tried to persuade him not to appear.
Following a question I put to the Prime Minister on what I call the 'English Question', the Question Time team asked whether I would like to go on last Thursday's show, as it would be broadcast from Scotland.
I readily agreed, but I wondered whether the powers that be in the Labour party would try and block my appearance. They did, or at least they tried.
It was presented to me that I should not go on and that any appearance by me on QT could lose Labour any number of elections in the foreseeable future.
This is the normal treatment. Last time I was on Radio 4's Any Questions?, the team refused to buckle to Labour pressure to get me off. This time the line was that I could not possibly understand complicated Scottish politics. They were really worried that I was going to express my views as an English MP and they didn't know how to handle this.
Nigel Farage take note. Perhaps the BBC are crying out for politicians with a national profile to discuss the English Question.
Field said he was shocked by the Question Time audience and the sub-standard level of debate surrounding the Scottish Independence referendum. Instead of charming him with the values and virtues of Scottish independence the audience was, Field said, scrubbing around on the floor arguing over whether Scotland would be better off or worse off financially and whether 16 year-olds should vote.
I have to say that I agree with Field. But it's not the audience that should be ashamed, it's politicians on both sides who have reduced the independence debate to such triviality. The longer the debate goes on the cheaper and more tawdry it appears, so much so that the stereotype of the penny-pinching Scottish miser is going to be the only winner. Unless, that is, the penny-pinching Shetlanders and Orcadians beat them at their own game.
First published on Our Kingdom.
From an English perspective David Cameron's most recent speech on the Union is marginally better than his previous big speech on the Union - also delivered to a Scottish audience - in which he blamed the rise of Scottish separatsim on English ignorance and promised to fight 'sour Little Englanders' all the way. David Cameron probably decided to leave the English out of Thursday's speech after reading that the Institute of Public Policy Research found that only one in four of the English support the status quo; that 59% of the English do not trust the UK government to work in the best long-term interests of England, with 79 per cent saying that Scottish MPs should be barred from voting on English laws, and; that 80% of English people support Devo-Max for Scotland. It was a calculated mistake; England, and the rest of the United Kingdom, complicate matters.
David Cameron (or rather Westminster) may have the legal right to prevent a legally binding referendum on Devo-Max but he does not have the moral right. Cameron, however, has gambled big by stating that the case for Devo-Max, the preferred choice of both the Scots and the English, cannot be an considered until after the Scots have rejected independence. This is snake oil salesman territory. Cameron will not consider Devo-Max as it is understood by the Scottish public because, as one questioner put it, "devo max is something that possibly poses as much a threat to the present state [status quo] of the United Kingdom as independence." Or to use Lord Forsyth's turn of phrase: "Devo max would mean creating an English Parliament and a federal government". Fiscal federalism of the kind that 'Devo-Max' entails would arguably have more profound consequences for the Westminster bubble than the loss of Scotland.
Even if federalism were a desirable outcome from a Conservative perspective, Devo-Max would still not be an option because it requires the consent of four nations - not just the Scottish people - and there is no Unionist blueprint for such an eventuality, nor any roadmap that could be rolled out in time for Autumn 2014. So Cameron is left selling a product that he and his Scottish audience do not understand. Will the quasi-federal Union that Cameron wants the Scottish nation to buy into be one in which Scottish MPs are prevented from voting on 70% of Westminster legislation, logically, therefore, excluding Scottish MPs from ministerial positions with an English portfolio? Will it be a Union in which reform of the Barnett Formula will trim Scotland's budget by £4.5 billion? Will it be a Union in which Scotland has proper tax and spend powers or control over oil revenue? Or will it be a Union in which Scotland has greater non-fiscal powers but in which Scottish Government policy is shackled - via Barnett - to those of the UK Government's in England, while the unwanted status quo remains a reality for a constitutionally discontent and increasingly nationalistic England?
Unionists need to answer these questions prior to the referendum on Scottish Independence.
We need to know exactly what manner of Union Cameron is asking the Scots to vote for? In refusing to countenance Devo-Max, and by ignoring the English, Cameron belies his claim that "The Union has never been about shackling different nations: it is a free partnership".
In what way is it a free partnership if the Scottish are not permitted a vote on Devo-Max and the English are never even consulted?
This is the speech delivered by the Prime Minister in Edinburgh on 16 February 2012.
Good afternoon everyone and thank you very much for coming. It is great to be back in Edinburgh. Whenever I come to Edinburgh I always remember an early visit that I made here as a young man. A friend of mine got some tickets for Murrayfield and on that occasion Scotland beat England. And I remember walking back into Edinburgh, stopping at a chip shop I think it was, and as I walked through the door a Scottish fan said: ‘What will you be having, humble pie?’ And it is in that spirit that I come today.
The air in Scotland hangs heavy with history. Edinburgh’s cityscape is studded with monuments to memories. Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Knox: they all compete for our attention. In Dundee, Captain Scott’s Discovery lies at anchor. In Aberdeen, King’s and Marischal Colleges remind us of a time when the Granite City had as many universities for its citizens as England had for all of hers. And while the hauntingly empty acres of the Highlands stand in mute memorial to the injustices visited on the victims of the clearances, Glasgow’s magnificent architecture and art galleries remind us of the mercantile greatness of the Empire’s second city.
For politicians north and south of the border, however, there is a danger of living in the past when thinking of Scotland. That is partly because its history is populated so thickly with great men and women who we might want to conscript for our contemporary battles. Those of us on the centre right will pray in aid of Adam Smith and David Hume: economic liberals and philosophical conservatives whose enlightenment thought laid the basis for later political action. On the left, the examples of James Maxton and Keir Hardie can still inspire class strugglers to one more heave.
This has been a pioneering country all its life: as a home of learning in medieval times; a nursery of literacy and learning at the time of the Reformation; a champion of liberty in the Enlightenment; the turbine hall of the Industrial Revolution; a recruiting ground for freedom’s fighters in two World Wars; the birthplace of John Reith, who gave us public service broadcasting; and as a powerful contributor to the last 25 years of economic growth. Scotland has so much of which to be proud and one of the reasons that we are tempted to look backwards is precisely because Scotland – as a nation and as part of the United Kingdom for over 300 years – has achieved so much.
But proud as that past and present are, I am convinced that both for Scotland and for the United Kingdom, our best days lie ahead of us. And that even though it may be a great historical construct, the United Kingdom is actually even more of an inspiring model for the future. Think of the key challenges of our times. There are the risks and opportunities of globalisation, with populations moving, cultures clashing, new routes to prosperity, and there is the impact of increasing economic competition from the new economic powerhouses of the world. I believe the United Kingdom has the answer to both of those challenges. In an increasingly uncertain world, where risks proliferate and atomisation threatens our ability to look out for one another, nothing encapsulates the principle of pooling risk, sharing resources, and standing together with your neighbour better than the United Kingdom. Whether it is ensuring the same disability benefits for those in need from Motherwell to Maidstone, or ensuring that the resources of 60 million tax-payers stand behind our banking system. Whether in Edinburgh or London, the United Kingdom is a warm and stable home that billions elsewhere envy. And in an increasingly competitive world, where the future belongs to those who can collaborate, innovate, and co-operate together best, the support a nation of 60 million can give, for example, to knowledge exchange between bio-engineers in Edinburgh and Oxford, or venture capital for the best start ups: this could be the envy of the world.
So I come here today with one simple message: I hope and wish that Scotland will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom. That is not because I want to dragoon Scotland into an arrangement that is in my interest or, frankly, in my Party’s interests. I know that the Conservative Party is not currently – how can I put this – Scotland’s most influential political movement. I am often reminded that I have been more successful in helping to get pandas into the zoo than conservative MPs elected in Scotland.
So more than a little humility is called for when any contemporary Tory speaks in Scotland. In fact, some say it might be wiser not to speak at all. As well as avoiding any criticism from the press – or politicians from other Parties for ‘interfering’ – it might be thought wise of me to just let Scotland, in every sense, go its own way. And some people – not all of them Conservatives – have suggested that an independent Scotland might make it easier for my Party to get a majority in Westminster. But that does not interest me.
I am not here to make a case on behalf of my Party, its interests or its approach to office. I am here to stand up and speak out for what I believe in. I believe in the United Kingdom. I am a Unionist head, heart and soul. I believe that England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, we are stronger together than we ever would be apart.
It is time to speak out – whatever the consequences – because something very special is in danger: the ties that bind us in the place that we call home. The danger comes from the determination of the Scottish National Party to remove Scotland from our shared home.
Now it is absolutely right that since the SNP won the Scottish elections, they should be able to determine the business of the Scottish Parliament and the agenda of the Scottish Government. They want to put the question of independence to the Scottish people and their ultimate ambition is clear: they want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. And it is right too that the choice over independence should be for the Scottish people to make. But that choice should not be made – with its consequences for all of us – without explaining why I believe in the United Kingdom, and why it matters to so many of us.
Let me be clear, though, I am not going to stand here and suggest that Scotland could not make a go of being on its own, if that is what people decide. There are plenty of small, independent nation states of a similar size or even smaller. Scotland could make its way in the world alongside countries like those.
Of course, every country in the world is facing new challenges and an independent Scotland would itself need to confront some big issues. There are those who argue about the volatility of dependence on oil, or the problems of debt and a big banking system. And there is – for some smaller nations – the risk that independence can actually lead to greater dependence.
Certainly today Scotland has a currency – the pound – that takes into account the needs of the Scottish economy as well as the rest of the United Kingdom when setting interest rates. And it can borrow on rates that are amongst the lowest in Europe. An independent Scotland would have to negotiate in future for things it now gets as of right. But these challenges and the need to overcome them: they are not my point today.
My argument is simple. Of course Scotland could govern itself. So could England. My point is that we do it so much better together. I can – and I will – enumerate a number of practical reasons for our United Kingdom. But the reason I make the case is partly emotional. Because this is a question of the heart as well as the head. The United Kingdom is not just some sort of deal, to be reduced to the lowest common denominator. It is a precious thing; it is about our history, our values, our shared identity and our joint place in the world. I am not just proud of the Union because it is useful. I am proud because it shapes and strengthens us all.
Just think of what we have achieved together. Scotland has contributed to the greatest political, cultural, and social success story of the last three hundred years: the creation and flourishing of a United Kingdom built on freedom and inclusivity. Individual nations can – of course – adhere around ancient myths, blood-soaked memories, and opposition to others. But we have built – in the United Kingdom – something that also coheres around the values embodied in standing up for freedom and democracy around the globe: in free healthcare for all; in a generous welfare system for the poorest; and championing the most vulnerable on the world stage. A United Kingdom which is not monoglot, monochrome, and minimalist but multi-national, multi cultural, and modern in every way. Our United Kingdom, founded on the strengths, yes, of our constitutional monarchy, our parliamentary democracy, and the rule of law. But it is also the birthplace of the NHS, the BBC and Christian Aid. We have shared achievements that more than match those of any country anywhere in the world.
From Waterloo to the Second World War, our servicemen and women have fought and won together. The liberation of Europe was a battle fought to the skirl of the pipes, as Lord Lovat’s Highlanders were among the first ashore on D-Day in the battle to defeat Hitler. Your heroes are our heroes. Men like Robert Dunsire, who – twice in one day – crawled out of the trench facing a hail of bullets to rescue injured men at the Battle of Loos in the First World War. And Lance Corporal Liam Tasker: the dog handler who helped save so many lives in Afghanistan before tragically himself being shot.
The Union has never been about shackling different nations: it is a free partnership – a joint effort – often driven by Scottish ideas and Scottish leadership. From the industrial and commercial leadership of James Watt and Robert Owen centuries ago, to Sir Bill Gammell and Ian Wood today.
And in Westminster, think of the cause of progress and how it has depended on the voices of politicians from Scotland: whether it has been the liberalism of Henry Campbell-Bannerman or Joe Grimond; the progressive conservatism of Iain Macleod and George Younger; or the generous and humane radicalism of Donald Dewar and John Smith. Together we have turned a group of off shore European islands into one of the most successful countries in the world.
But it is not just about what we have achieved together; it is about who we are together. The ties of blood are actually growing thicker. Far from growing apart, we are growing together. There are now more Scots living in England, and English people living in Scotland, than ever before. And almost half of Scots now have English relatives. I am something of a classic case. My father’s father was a Cameron. My mother’s mother was a Llewellyn. I was born and have always lived in England: I am proud to be English. But like so many others too, I am proud to be British as well. Proud of the United Kingdom and proud of Scotland’s place within it.
But then there are the practical reasons for the Union to stay together. The United Kingdom helps to make Scotland – and all of us – stronger, safer, richer and fairer.
We are stronger, because through our shared Union, we count for more together in the world than we would ever count apart. We have a permanent place on the UN Security Council. We have real clout in NATO and in Europe. We have unique influence with key allies the world over. The Scottish pilots helped us to free Libya from tyranny, and prevented a failed pariah state festering on Europe’s southern border.
We are safer, not just because of the expertise and bravery of our armed forces, to which Scotland has always made such an immense contribution, but also because of our policing expertise and our security services respected the world over. When that bomb went off at Glasgow Airport, the full resources of the UK state went into running down every lead, and our tentacles reach from the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as into the CIA computers at Langley.
Now, we are richer because Scotland’s 5 million people are part of an economy of 60 million. An economy with no boundaries, borders, or customs, but instead a common system, of common rules and a common currency, which has helped to make us the 7th largest economy in the world. And far from growing apart, again, our economies are actually growing together. A fifth of all Scottish workers are employed by firms registered in Scotland but owned by companies based elsewhere in the United Kingdom. And Scotland sells twice as much to the rest of the UK as to the rest of the world put together.
And together we are not only stronger, safer, richer, I also believe we are fairer. Not just because we all benefit from being part of a properly-funded welfare system, with the resources to fund our pensions and our long-term health-care needs, but because there is real solidarity in our United Kingdom. When any part of the United Kingdom suffers a shock or a set-back, the rest of the country stands behind it. Whether it is floods in the West Country, severe weather in the north, or that economic dislocation that has hit different parts of our country in different times and in different ways, we are always there for each other. And together we have the power to do so much in the world to promote fairness.
One issue that is close to my heart is aid. And this is an issue where Scottish people have a huge influence. Together as a United Kingdom, we have the second biggest aid budget in the world. Through the UK, Scotland has a global reach to make our world fairer. And with that, we are saving thousands of lives and helping people in some of the poorest parts of the world to forge a new future, from the famine in the Horn of Africa to the support for people in North Africa and the Middle East as they seek new freedoms that we and others take for granted.
So, I believe there are emotional and practical reasons why Scotland is better off in the Union, and why we are all better off together than apart. But I do not think that is enough. I also understand why people in Scotland want to express their identity as Scots strongly, and to have greater control over their lives.
I believe in real devolution and I want to make devolution work better. I want a Scotland where more people own their own homes; where more people keep more of their money to spend as they choose; where more people have secure jobs and a secure future for their children. A Scotland where businesses can innovate and create the wealth and the opportunities that are so vital to local communities; and where we bring down the barriers to entrepreneurship that have for too long held Scotland back. I believe in devolution, not because I see it as a mechanism for obtaining power – hardly the case for my Party in Scotland – but because I believe in giving people choice and a real say over their own affairs. I passionately believe that local is best, and the decentralisation of power is one of the core aims of the Coalition government that I lead.
One of my first acts as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was to come here to Scotland to meet Alex Salmond and to show that I want the governments in Westminster and Holyrood – whoever they are and whichever Party they come from – to work together to get the best for Scotland, to listen to Scotland, to act on Scotland’s voice and govern in Scotland’s interests. On that first visit I said the only political input into senior Scottish civil service appointments, should come from the First Minister, and I delegated all my previous responsibility to the Cabinet Secretary. This was a small but I hope symbolic gesture of the kind of change I want to bring about.
Since then, ministers in Holyrood and Westminster have met regularly and soon a much bigger change will become law. The Scotland Bill has not, I believe, got the attention yet that it deserves, but it is an incredible opportunity for Scots. It is not London telling Edinburgh which powers it can have, but opening up Scotland’s choice to expand the powers that it needs. By implementing the recommendations of the Calman Commission, devolving new powers to the Scottish Parliament – including for the first time the ability to raise tax revenue and borrow for capital and current expenditure – the Scottish government is getting real choice over how and when to invest in long-term projects that will benefit future generations.
And let me say something else about devolution. This does not have to be the end of the road. When the referendum on independence is over, I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further. And yes, that does mean considering what further powers could be devolved. But that must be a question for after the referendum, when Scotland has made its choice about the fundamental question of independence or the United Kingdom. When Scotland has settled this question once and for all – and ended the uncertainty that I believe could damage and hold back Scotland’s prospects and potential – then is the time for that issue.
So, I believe the strengths that have served us all through the centuries are precisely the ones that we need today. Our United Kingdom is a modern Union: it is one that evolves; one that protects us; one that allows our different nations to grow stronger; because we share the same secure foundations: institutions that celebrate diversity and turn it into a strength. Scotland’s greatest poet said we should ‘see ourselves as others see us’, and that is worth doing, because our Union is not some antique imposition: it is living; it is free; it is adaptable; it is admired around the world as a source of prosperity, power, and security. Just think for a moment: could you explain to someone in America, or France, or Australia what was so intolerable about Great Britain that we decided to build artificial barriers between our nations? I do not believe that the people of Scotland – any more than the people of any other part of the United Kingdom – want to turn inward and away from each other at this time.
I believe – indeed it is my reason for being in politics – that it is when you pull together, when you set aside difference, when you roll up your sleeves in a common endeavour, you achieve things that are truly worthwhile – even noble – which you could never accomplish on your own. For me, the principle that we work best when we work together, without coercion or conscription, bullying or bossiness, but in a spirit of shared service: that sums up what is best about our countries. That is what the United Kingdom stands for: common endeavour; being part of something bigger; a greater Britain which believes in the virtues of sharing, of standing together; and of making a difference for our fellow citizens; those things guide our every action. And if anything is worth fighting for, that surely is, which is why I am ready to fight for the life of this country. Thank you.
Do you regret that perhaps your Party and other political Parties have so allowed Alex Salmond to dominate this particular issue? And what are you going to do now to play catch-up, given that he and his party are so far better equipped to actually fight this referendum than you are?
Well, I think that actually, if you look at the range of Scottish politics, you see a whole number of Scottish Parties and politicians that, I believe, will come together and campaign for the United Kingdom. My voice is just one of those voices. You will see Labour politicians, Liberal Democrat politicians, and indeed people from all walks of life – and many people who do not like politics at all, who might even despise all politics and politicians – who will come forward and defend the United Kingdom. Do we need to do more? Yes. Do we need those of us who care about the United Kingdom to work together? Yes. Do we need to galvanise opinion across the country? Yes. But is that opinion there ready to be galvanised? Absolutely. I am quite convinced that the arguments – both of head and heart – for the United Kingdom are so strong that actually, when we make that appeal, we can win this campaign.
Now, I think one of the things that the government has done is actually to say that the question needs to be put. I think we have helped accelerate the debate and I think that is right, because I do not think it is fair on people in Scotland to have this question hanging over them: for it never to be asked or answered. So, the initiative that I have taken is to promote this and say: look, it is the last thing in the world I want for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, but when you have majority SNP government in Scotland, it is right that the question is put, that the debate is held, and the question is answered. And that will be something I will say to Alex Salmond today. We cannot go on waiting for this: it is February 2012. Are we really going to wait until the end of 2014 or 2015 to hold this referendum? Do the Scottish people really want to have this sort of never-ending debate – more and more speeches like this one and others – before actually asking and answering the question? I think there is a strong case for saying a simple question – decisive, fair, straightforward, asked and answered in reasonable time – so people can get on with their lives.
You referred there in your speech, Prime Minister, to being open to devolving more powers to Scotland. Can you envisage the day when the Scottish Welfare Bill would be financed by the Scottish Parliament?
The point I am trying to make is this: that there is an ongoing debate about devolution, and there has been over the last 10 or 20 years. I am happy for that debate to continue, but I think we need to settle the independence question first. I do not think you can muddle the two questions. Now, what exactly should be devolved – what further powers would make sense, what fiscal settlement – that is, I think, for individual parties, individual people to discuss, to debate, and to decide. All I would say is I think that the Coalition Government and the Conservative Prime Minister have shown very good faith on this issue, in that actually, I think some people doubted, when I came to office, whether we really would deliver what was decided in the Calman process. Well, we have delivered it, as it were, on time and on budget, as they say. I think we have shown good faith that if people in Scotland come together and want to see devolution take place, then we are prepared to be part of that and deliver it. But I think it is a debate to be held after this independence issue is settled and done.
Beyond defence and foreign policy, which obviously you want to see shared, can you point to anything – you have raised the issue of more devolution – can you point to anything, any power that you think should be devolved? You talk about good faith but there will be plenty of people who look back at the long record of Conservatism and think you were not exactly leading the charge towards devolution. Can I just ask you one other thing? You talked about your voice a moment ago. Do you think your voice – being English, being as you have said before, from a privileged background – actually pulls in votes or potentially, actually, makes some people bristle when you talk about this issue and sound like you are telling Scotland where it should go?
Right. First of all, on the history of the Conservative Party and devolution, I have only been Prime Minister for two years. The government I led has actually undertaken one of the largest acts of devolution in the history of our great nation, so I am very happy to be judged on my record. There was a process – Calman – involving all of the parties that believed in the United Kingdom. There was quite a bold and radical outcome. There were lots of questions that I remember being asked on every visit I made to Scotland about, ‘Would you really deliver this?’ We have delivered it. So, I think people can see that my commitment and love for the United Kingdom is also about understanding that there are people in the United Kingdom who want to change the arrangements to make it work better. As a practical, rational, sensible Unionist, I am always happy to listen to those issues, and to work with others to bring them about.
On the issue of powers, I think we have to try and get the balance right. One of the things I was talking about in my speech is this issue of solidarity. I think this is important; I think that when we consider further devolution I hope we do not lose that solidarity, because I think when you look around Europe, for instance at the moment, you can see a lack of solidarity. Now when there are floods in Cornwall, or if there is a factory closure in East Kent, or if there is an economic problem on the West Coast of Scotland, or whatever it might be: we do not sit around asking, ‘Shall we help?’ and ‘Is this our responsibility? Do we want to be part of this package?’ as we do when it comes to some of the European issues. We just think, ‘This is our country, this is our United Kingdom; we have solidarity and we help each other’.
We are all talking and debating endlessly about the single currency and the Euro and what needs to change in the euro to make it work. We have got a working single currency, where we do not have to ask those questions in our United Kingdom, whether one region is competitive enough to make it work inside the single currency; because we have the fiscal union – the single currency – we have all the elements that make our United Kingdom work.
So of course I am happy – as I have said – to look at issues of devolution. I am sure there will be a debate after an independence referendum, if the answer to independence was no, but I hope we would not lose the solidarity that we have in our United Kingdom.
As for the fact that I am English, that I had a privileged upbringing and that I might annoy people by making a speech in Scotland; all I can say is this is what I believe – this is what I think – I care about our United Kingdom. People often say to me, ‘Do you know what, it would be much easier to be Prime Minister of England?’ My answer to that is, ‘I am not interested, I don’t care; that is not the job I want’. I want to have a United Kingdom where we all bring to the whole so much more than we would be separate.
My voice in this debate is going to be one of many. I hope that we hear from Alastair Darling, from John Reed, from Gordon Brown; I hope we hear from all politicians in all Parties and from people who have no political connection at all but who care about what the United Kingdom means to them. So all I am trying to do today is set out my own views and how I approach this subject; I hope in a way that helps to galvanise this debate as we come towards answering this vital question.
Prime Minister, just to come back to the questions that have been asked here, do you think it is quite fair to leave the question of what further powers might be granted in the event of a ‘no’ vote for two and a half years, which is effectively what it will be? At the moment there is a lot of discussion about a second question on the ballot paper which revolves around something that not many people understand called ‘devo-max’. The more that goes on, ‘devo max’ is something that possibly poses as much a threat to the present state of the United Kingdom as independence. So can you actually hold off being clearer about what you stand for as that debate gathers pace?
First of all I hope it is not two and a half years. I think the key thing here is that we have got an SNP government elected in Scotland and they believe in independence—separation—they believe in having a referendum on separation; the legal situation is that is difficult for the Scottish Parliament to deliver under the law. So in Westminster the UK government is saying we will give you that power but, for heaven’s sake, for the sake of the Scottish people and for all our sanity, let’s get on and hold this question, hold this debate – do we really have to wait two and a half years?
I feel a lot of the arguments are quite well known already and I am sure we can all add to them over the period, but let’s get on and have the debate, put the question, and then I think it is rational to have a debate about further devolution. I do not think you should muddle up the two questions, because one is a fundamental ‘in or out’ question, where the second one is a question that does involve the whole of the United Kingdom and does involve inevitably, as you say, a debate where we look at all the different issues and try and work out what the Parties who support the United Kingdom would like to do. So I think you have to settle one before moving onto the other.
Just for clarity, Prime Minister, are you saying that you will go into the next election promising more powers for the Scottish Parliament and, if so, what will these powers be? And, on another subject, you are ultimately responsible for HMRC and HMRC are currently chasing Rangers Football Club for millions of pounds, do you want that bill paid promptly or would you urge HMRC to negotiate with Rangers so that this beleaguered club can perhaps carry on?
First of all, on the powers, I don’t think I have really got anything to add. I think we have to settle the question of separation altogether first, then I think we can go on and discuss as we did with the Scotland Act whether the balance we have now is right or whether we could improve matters in any other way. And I think it is right for the different Party leaders and Party leaders in Scotland to make their views known throughout this process about what they think of that issue. But I want to be very clear, the choice is separation on the one hand or our United Kingdom and further options for devolution on the other. I think it would be completely wrong to have mixed questions on the ballot paper and I will make that view very clear to the First Minister when I see him. I think it would be very confusing for people.
On the issue of Rangers Football Club, this means a huge amount to many people in Scotland, I completely understand that, no one wants to see—and I certainly don’t want to see—Rangers Football Club disappear. There are discussions underway between HMRC and the administrator; I hope they can be successfully completed and I hope that there will be a strong and successful future for Rangers. I am sure that is the right thing to happen and we need to do everything we can to make sure that does happen.
For financial services, which is an important industry up here, uncertainty is our greatest enemy. There are some very key issues which we need clarity on before we are going to know whether independence is good or bad. You have touched on some of them: prudential regulation of the banks; lender of last resort. Whilst not asking you for answers on those questions today, do you believe that it is likely we will get an answer or answers that we can use prior to the referendum or will we have to go into the referendum without knowing the answers to those very key questions for both running the economy and indeed running our industry?
That is a very important question. I think the role I want to play is to make a very positive case, which is what I believe, for the United Kingdom. I think there are then a series of separate questions that need to be set out in this forthcoming campaign: what happens in terms of defence forces, what happens in terms of businesses, how banks and financial services are regulated, how Scotland’s currency arrangements would work either inside the euro or in a pound sterling area but without a central bank that would take account of that area when setting interest rates.
I think there is a whole series of questions that have to be answered and the sense I have is that people in Scotland really want to get hold of the factual information that would lead them to make the best possible decision. I am sure that all of those questions can be asked and answered and frankly I don’t think it takes two and a half years to answer them, I think it can be done in a shorter period. And for the certainty of firms wanting invest in Scotland I hope we can try and truncate that period somewhat so that it is not too much of an uncertain period. But I think it is very important that all those questions are asked and answered in a rational and sensible way.
If you offered more powers to Scotland after a referendum, assuming that they stayed within the United Kingdom, would you use that as an opportunity to revisit the rest of the Union and the powers that England and the other parts of the United Kingdom have and their relationship to each other?
The way that powers and indeed finance are settled within a United Kingdom is inevitably a matter for all of the United Kingdom to be part of that debate, whereas the question of separation, or togetherness, is actually a question for the Scottish people. That is one of the reasons why I think you have to answer the separation question before you go onto powers, money and everything else. So I think it has to be done in that order; I don’t believe that every part of the United Kingdom has to operate devolution in exactly the same way.
We have a situation in Wales where we have just had a referendum – again proof that the government is listening to people and their demands for greater devolution and greater local control – but we have a situation in Wales which is different to the situation in Scotland and indeed when you talk to the Party leaders in Wales they don’t want to exactly mirror the arrangements in Scotland. But, as I say, while that is the case it is a legitimate interest of the different parts of the United Kingdom, the outcome of the devolution debate, whereas the issue of separation altogether is a matter for the Scottish people and a matter that shall be put to them in a referendum, hopefully not too long off.
Anyway, thank you very much for coming, thank you for your questions. I am sure this is going to be a debate where there will be further additions and contributions, but I hope that you have heard from me today what is a positive case for the United Kingdom; to me, this is all about saying yes to the United Kingdom rather than having a negative agenda. I hope we can keep the debate at that level because when we think of all the things we have done together the debate should be at that level of achievement of our great United Kingdom rather than thinking bad or negative thoughts. Thank you very much indeed.
The SNP's Nicola Sturgeon has called upon the Scottish Parliament to recommit to the principles of the Scottish Claim of Right:
Presiding officer, the motion for this afternoon’s debate is deliberately simple. It states that “This Parliament acknowledges the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and declares and pledges that in all its actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.”
This paraphrases the Scottish Constitutional Convention Claim of Right, 1989, to which all Scottish Labour and Scottish Lib Dem MPs - with the exception of Tam Dalyell - put their names:
We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.
It's very difficult to see how today's Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs could refuse to endorse Sturgeon's 2012 Claim of Right, and having done so, it's very difficult to see how they could then fail to cooperate over the inclusion of a Devo-Max option on the referendum ballot paper (seeing as the majority of Scots seem to believe Devo-Max to be "the form of Government best suited to their needs".
Benedict Brogan on why its all Labour's fault:
The word “Tory” became a contemptuous synonym for “English”; when John Smith, Gordon Brown, Donald Dewar or Robin Cook said “Tory government”, Scotland heard “English occupiers”. That willingness to demonise in the political interest created the unstoppable momentum that brought us first devolution, then Alex Salmond’s electoral triumph last year, which left him commanding the political landscape in Edinburgh, and now the first vote in 300 years on the future of the Union.
Of course, Labour’s strategy had another, more insidious consequence. By neglecting its Unionist traditions in favour of a tartan tinge, the party encouraged the process of delegitimisation that has excluded English politicians from any consideration of Scotland’s future. The SNP’s cod indignation when David Cameron presumed to raise the matter was predictable. But the trend was well under way when Labour, in power, allowed the subject of Scotland to become an issue reserved for Scots by Scots, with Gordon Brown as the ultimate arbiter of whose views could be heard in his fiefdom.
I think Mr Brogan may be onto something there. Take Robin Cook, a man of political integrity in many respects. Cook was converted to the cause of Scottish devolution by Thatcher, as he outlined in a speech to the Scottish Socialist Society in 1983:
"I have not been an extravagant supporter of the Scottish dimension but I have changed my mind. I don't give a bugger if Margaret Thatcher has a mandate or not - I will simply do all I can to stop her."
By the time Thatcher won the 1987 election this had become the common view of the Scottish Labour Party. Devolution was party-political: Socialist Scotland against Tory England. The Scottish Claim of Right did not explicitly mention the poll tax but there was a nod in its general direction:
"the Treaty of Union has been eroded almost to the point of extinction;...in which the wishes of the massive majority of the Scottish electorate are being disregarded...In such a situation one would expect to see breakdown of respect for law. They are beginning to appear."
In 1975 Gordon Brown, who went on to sign the Claim of Right, wrote:
We suggest that the rise of modern Scottish nationalism is less an assertion of Scotland’s permanence as a nation than a response to Scotland’s uneven development … the discontent is a measure of the failure of both Scottish and British socialists to advance far and fast enough in shifting the balance of wealth and power to working people.
Despite Salmond's recent claims that Scotland is a more progressive and socially liberal country than England, Gordon Brown was wrong; Scottish nationalism is about Scotland's permanence as a nation, and those Labour MPs who signed up to the Scottish Claim of Right were signing a statement of nationalist principle, even if their reasons for doing so were party political rather than nationalist. Canon Kenyon Wright believed that they had no idea what they were signing:
"Most of the MPs didn’t know what they were signing! Because they were signing something which was a direct contradiction of the claim of Westminster to absolute sovereignty, within our unwritten constitutional system. Because if the people are sovereign then Parliament still has an important role but it’s not an absolutist role."
Labour have attempted to out Scottish the SNP by wrapping themselves in the Saltire, but because the Labour Party is not a federal party and there is no similar exercise being conducted by an English Labour Party, it just looks like a cynical branding exercise by a British nationalist party to win Scottish hearts. Which is exactly what it is. Brogan is correct when he says that Labour allowed 'Scotland to become an issue reserved for Scots by Scots, with Gordon Brown as the ultimate arbiter of whose views could be heard in his fiefdom'
Brown and Tony Blair are faced with the very real danger of the 291-year-old Union between England and Scotland being dismembered. The Scottish Question remains unanswered and the forces of the Union are having to rethink, regroup and prepare to strike back. It has been a faltering response so far. Brown, deputed by Blair to sort it out, has been in the vanguard, struggling to come up with a coherent strategy…[…]… In the Treasury, and in Labour's Scottish headquarters in Glasgow, Delta House, the party's brightest have been struggling with ways of making the image of Britain more attractive for Scots. 'Cool Britannia had no resonance for most people,' said one of those formulating the new image of Britain. 'They all felt it was something happening somewhere else which they had no part in.' Many Scots never regarded themselves as British anyway. That view of identity has increased with each generation: Scots now present themselves as both Scottish and European, but not British. Why should they remain part of the United Kingdom any longer? Brown and his colleagues have been working on an answer. --- The Guardian; April 7, 1999
Unfortunately for Labour, and Unionists, all the Scottish Labour big hitters are now either dead or a laughing stock. There are signs that the new generation of English Labour politicians are willing to venture forth in the debate on Scotland (Miliband prepared to share a platform with Cameron). But the Nationalists now control the language and direction of debate, Scotland’s politicians are all Nationalists in the sense that they speak almost exclusively about whether Scottish self-interest is best served by inside or outside the Union. What effect this parochialism will have on the rest of the United Kingdom, in particular the English whose politicians never articulate a vision of England - but who now find their politicians venturing opinions on what is best for Scotland, remains to be seen. To this Englishman it seems increasingly clear that the Union, if not the World, revolves around Scotland.
May we have an early debate on who speaks for England and who should make decisions for England in an increasingly devolved United Kingdom?
I understand my right hon. Friend’s concern. We announced on Tuesday the establishment of the West Lothian commission, which will look at a range of options. For example, with issues that affect only England and Wales, one option would be that only English and Welsh MPs voted on such matters. In my view, that would be an appropriate rebalancing of the constitution to take account of the fact that in Scotland they have their own Parliament in which issues are resolved on which English MPs cannot vote. It seems somewhat perverse that Scottish MPs can vote on those very same issues when they apply only to England.
Do you see what George Young has done there? John Redwood has asked him a specific question, but instead of providing a straight Yes or No answer he obfuscates, avoids the question and moves on.
The West Lothian Commission is not about answering the question of who speaks for England. The West Lothian Commission is a collection of technocrats tasked with investigating changes to Parliamentary procedure in regard to MPs' voting privileges. It is not within its remit to recommend a Secretary of State for England, an English parliament elected on a mandate from the people of England, an English government, a First Minister for England or anything or anyone who might conceivably be understood to speak for England. It is not about finding a voice for England (though it would at least be a form of recognition of England).
The previous Government seemed to be of the belief that the UK Government spoke for England. George Howarth, a Government minister back in 1998 stated that "The Government as a whole speak for England".
That statement was met with an incredulous one word reply from Eric Forth: "Really?". Not an unreasonable response given that the Government of the time was top heavy with Scottish MPs.
Clearly the Government as a whole does not speak for England, and nor can it speak for England, but it is interesting to note that The Memorandum of Understanding does categorically state that individual UK Ministers do represent the interests of England:
This Memorandum sets out the understanding of, on the one hand, the United Kingdom Government, and on the other, the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, and the Northern Ireland Executive Committee (“the devolved administrations”) of the principles that will underlie relations between them. The UK Government represents the UK interest in matters which are not devolved in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Policy responsibility for these non-devolved areas is within the exclusive responsibility of the relevant UK Ministers and Departments. It is recognised by these Ministers and Departments that, within the UK Government, the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are responsible for ensuring that the interests of those parts of the UK in non-devolved matters are properly represented and considered. Other UK Ministers and their departments represent the interests of England in all matters.
In other words, in the absence of devolution to England, and in the absence of a Secretary of State for England, it is up to individual Government ministers and their departments to 'speak for England'. In reality some of them can't even bring themselves to say the word England, let alone speak for it; and none of them even know what the interests of England are because the Government as a whole dare not ask us.
Redwood's question to Young follows from his blog article on Scottish and English Nationalism in which he says that David Cameron 'can take comfort from the fact that he can deny the English a vote on the Scottish question'. In my opinion the English should have no say at all in the Scottish question because that it is a matter for the Scottish people. However, if the Scottish people choose Independence or Devolution-Max, David Cameron will find himself unable to 'deny the English' any longer.
Redwood goes on to speculate upon what it is that English nationalists want:
The dream ticket for a modern English nationalist is a decision by Scotland to leave the UK, followed by the ending of membership of the EU because the member, the UK, no longer exists.
That may be true of English nationalists within the Conservative Party, but they are not what I would call modern English nationalists. I am an English nationalist because I believe that the nation (in this case the people of England) is entitled to its own state, and is entitled - is sovereign - to determine the basis of its government. Implicit in this is the understanding that ultimately it is the nation - the people - that are sovereign, not the state. And whilst I may find Scottish independence and an exit from the EU a democratic improvement on where we are now, that scenario is by no means a dream ticket. Do we want an English parliament on the basis that the other nations of the UK have all buggered off leaving the British parliament as an English parliament, full of the same cretins who previously took comfort in denying the English, but who now call themselves English? No, I want an English parliament to come about as a result of a popular vote in England, an affirmation of nationhood, democracy and popular sovereignty.
My dream ticket is for the people of England to demand their say and for the Government to listen to them. I don't think it's an unreasonable request. If that ever happens then I will feel that I have won, even if the people don't vote for an English parliament of some sort. If the British State were to submit itself to the judgement of the people of England we will have entered a new era, a post imperial era in which all the people of Britain, not just the Scots, are entitled, but not obliged, to be independent or in a Union of their choosing.
Who speaks for England? The people of England speak for England, but we have not spoken, yet.
Is there anything worse than watching a married couple fall out in public?
Last week those purporting to act on behalf of England warned that they were to go ahead with plans to assemble a legal team to look at the possibility of kicking Scotland out of the marital home, the Palace of Westminster, that has been the couple's home since 1707.
And today the acrimony continues, with new polling which suggests that England is more keen on divorce than Scotland herself. A whopping 43% of England approves of Scottish independence, with only 32% against. In Scotland the figures are 40% in favour and 43% against. And even if the marriage can be saved it looks as though terms will need to be renegotiated. 61% in England think Scotland gets too much housekeeping money, and 49% think that England should have its own parliament compared with just 16% who are against.
If there is hope for this troubled marriage it looks as though that hope comes from Scotland, not England. The Telegraph comments:
In a similar ICM survey for The Sunday Telegraph in December 2006, voters in both England and Scotland were in favour of Scottish independence,
As well as clear support for Scottish independence, just under half of English voters (49 per cent) back the creation of an English parliament, with only 16 per cent against – a lead which is down slightly on 2006.
Although the figure in favour of an English parliament has declined since the similar poll in 2006 (down from 68% to 49%) the number opposed to an English parliament has fallen from 25% in 2006 to just 16% today. The number of 'Don't Knows' has increased from 6% in 2006 to 34% in 2012.
I really feel for the kids. Little Wales and Northern Ireland had thought that in the event of a divorce they would go and live with England but now they have to entertain the possibility that England will end the marriage and Scotland will become the successor state, leaving them in much reduced circumstances.
All of a sudden, David Cameron is opposed to fiscally-responsible government. George Osborne no longer wants to crack down on those living on hand-outs. Nick Clegg is disowning a policy Liberals have pursued for a century. And Ed Miliband disdains one of progressive Labour's oldest dreams.
So begins the best article on Unionist attitudes to Devolution-Max so far. Read the rest here.
Dear Alex Salmond,
You have played an absolute blinder today. Well done. Anyone who knew anything about Scottish politics warned David Cameron not to interfere in the referendum but he just couldn't help himself. And now he looks to everyone in Scotland like an arrogant fool who thought he could dictate the terms and timing of the referendum on Scottish independence to the Scottish Government. Does he not realise that the Scottish people are sovereign; and that they elected a government to deliver them a referendum; and that the government they chose was yours not his? The Scottish Government may not have the legal authority to hold a binding referendum but it has the moral authority.
Ignore the critics who say that you are frit, those same people deny England a referendum on an English parliament because they know they will lose. You are quite right to wait until 2014 so that Scotland can have a full debate on the pros and cons of independence; so that the Scottish people can see that the Calman proposals in the Scotland Bill are inadequate; so that the Scottish people can see what effect the West Lothian Commission will have on the ability of their MPs to represent them at Westminster; and so that the Scottish people can experience life under austerity Britain, caused by the economic incompetence of Westminster politicians (albeit Scottish ones).
Autumn 2014 is a good date for the independence referendum because in 2014 Scotland plays host to the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games, and celebrates the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, and in all likelihood the Scots will be complaining about the British media's biased coverage of England's World Cup campaign. .
You are also right to prevent Westminster from insisting that the referendum should be a straight YES/NO question on Scottish independence. We all know that the Scottish people would prefer Independence Lite (or Independence in Britain as I prefer to call it) and so, as a party of the people, you should do what you can to ensure that Independence Lite is an option.
Gerry Hassan suggests that Scottish Government should use the following wording for the independence referendum:
Do you authorise the Scottish Government to begin negotiations with the UK Government on Scottish independence?
These are words, according to Hassan, that are easily understood by everyone, with no doubts about what it means that is open to claim or counter-claim. I think he is right, no reasonable person could object. But having secured a mandate from the people to enter into negotiations with Westminster over Scottish independence, it is then possible for the two governments to come up with a bipartisan middle-way that can be put to the Scottish people in a legally binding referendum.
Independence (as was pointed out by DougtheDug on this blog) can be declared by Scotland on a unilateral basis, and there's not a great deal that Westminster can do about it. Whereas the problem with Independence Lite is that it has to come about bilaterally: it has to be offered by Westminster and accepted by Scotland. By using Hassan's suggested question you are more likely to engineer a situation in which both Independence and Independence Lite are on the ballot paper.
I would like you to know that there are a great number of people in England that are cheering you on. It's not only the Scots who feel trapped under the weight of the Imperial Parliament, an increasing number of English people do too. England is not a democracy and it lacks the basic trappings of nationhood: Parliament, Government, anthem, national holiday, etc. The government that we're lumbered with - the UK Government - is incapable of speaking for England; it can speak of England but not for England, the English question is ignored and we're left without a vision of an English future - England unimagined. Regrettably there is no English version of Alex Salmond, there is no politician for whom the interests of England are paramount. It doesn't matter how often we express a desire for an English dimension to governance, we are ignored, and it is the multi-national nature of the UK and the Unionists' desire to retain absolute sovereignty at Westminster that is the main reason preventing them from recognising English popular sovereignty. As an Englishman it makes me ashamed to say that you are the greatest hope for England, but at present you are. And not just England, you have the opportunity to shape the democratic future of the entire UK for the better.
Not that I want to put any greater pressure on you.
Good luck and God speed.
66% of us feel a strong connection to Britain but we feel a greater sense of belonging to our home nations. In England, surprisingly perhaps, 62% of ethnic minorities (including 69% of Asians) feel strongly English, which leads the authors to muse that Englishness is now considered a civic rather than an ethnically defined identity. The poll suggests that there is little conflict between English and British identities, with respondents who feel that they belong to Britain and to their local areas demonstrating a strong sense of English identity too. A strong sense of English identity fell to 27% among those who claimed to have no strong sense of being British. This mutually reinforcing link between English and British identity was reflected in the data from the North East of England where a whopping 40% of people claimed to have no strong sense of belonging to England:
Only 49% of people in the north east feel strongly British, much lower than the 67% who feel strongly British across England as a whole. While 62% of Welsh people and 60% of Scots feel strongly British, with 37% and 40% disagreeing.
Despite its low affinity with England the North East was the area that demonstrated the greatest support for the establishment of an English parliament (58%), which is perhaps a reflection of concerns over the Barnett Formula or simply due to a greater awareness of devolution to Scotland.
Across Great Britain (not the UK, Northern Ireland was not included in this poll) 51% of people support the establishment of an English parliament, rising to 52% in England alone. There is little support for the Status Quo (though it is noticeable that Scotland, which has the greatest degree of autonomy, is more supportive of the Status Quo than the rest of Great Britain) and even less for ending devolution by abolishing the national parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Opponents of an English parliament will doubtless argue that whilst it may be true that polls such as this show demonstrable support for the establishment of an English parliament it is not a salient or high priority issue, as demonstrated by the lack of signatures for that cause on the Government's petition site. Nevertheless, given that the three main parties, and until recently UKIP, have been fiercely opposed to an English parliament, it will concern the British political classes that they are out of step with public opinion and there remains the potential in England for an assertive English nationalism during their battle with the Scottish nationalists.
The spirit of British fraternity that is evident in support for an English parliament is also evident when it comes to Scottish independence. Opposition to Scotland leaving the Union is similar in all three home nations, with - the authors say - the main difference being a lower proportion of don’t knows in Scotland. Though the headline for nat-bashers like Alan Cochrane must surely read 'Scots are more supportive of Scotland remaining a part of the UK than either the English or the Welsh'.
Support for Scottish independence was highest in the South West of England, where 34% would like Scotland to become independent compared with 40% who would like Scotland to remain a part of the UK.