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2 Apr 2008 : Column 291WHcontinued
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Dean, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing the debate. Having listened from the sidelines as a Member of Parliament who represents an English constituency, the debate has reminded me of what I have missed, having moved south. Now I know what the Conservatives missed while not on Renfrewshire council for all those years, in the days of Hugh Henry and the like.
The debate is a missed opportunity. It could have been about the opportunities and challenges facing Scotland, but instead it has pretty much followed the line of the SNP since it was elected in May 2007, which is all about gloating. The partys justification for everything is, We got more votes than you; we got rid of a few Liberal Democrat MSPs, and that is about it. I went to the Scottish Parliament and saw First Ministers questions last week, and that was the only answer that the First Minister, the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), gave to any of the questions asked by the Opposition. He was saying, Well, it doesnt matter, because we are more popular at the moment. However, we all know that popularity lasts only so long in grown-up politics. Real decisions have to come home to roost, and we have to stand by them.
We could have taken this opportunity to address UK issues that affect Scotland, such as defence. However, I am not surprised that the SNP did not want to address such issues, because it has no coherent defence policy whatsoever. I have a long memory and, as an ex-member of the Scots Guards, I follow closely pledges to save regiments, as well as marches through Dundee. The Black Watch is going to be saved by the SNP, but for what purpose, as the party has no defence policy whatsoever? The Scottish nationalists rushed to save RAF Leuchars and the base in Moray, but what are they going to fly in an independent Scotland? Who could forget Lieutenant-Colonel Crawford, the Scottish nationalist military adviser who said in a policy pamphlet for the SNP, in 1999, that we could replace Scotlands nuclear deterrent with chemical and biological weapon stocks? We cannot forget that. I am not sure what he is doing now, but no doubt he will make a surprise return to the SNP fold at some stage.
Unsurprisingly, this debate is about peddling the myth that the SNP speaks for Scotland and that it is building momentum. It is vital that the party has momentum, because without it people will realise that smart Alec is just that and nothing else. The SNP is absolutely determined that this referendumit is trying sneakily to divide us on the commissionis all about building momentum. However, the facts speak for themselves, and show that that is a myth: 17 per cent. of people who were eligible to vote in May 2007 voted for the SNP. That is hardly a ringing democratic endorsement of proposed independence. In every one of the past few polls, less than 30 per cent. of respondents wanted independence. Interestingly, 12 per cent. wanted to abolish
the Scottish Parliamenta mere 5 per cent. less than the percentage of eligible voters who wanted independence. Let us not get carried away with the myth.
Mr. MacNeil: We have failed to elicit a reasonable or understandable response from the Labour party on whether it wants the Scottish Parliament to have more powers. Does the hon. Gentleman favour giving greater powers to the Scottish Parliament and greater independent control to the Government in Edinburgh?
Mr. Wallace: I am a Scot and a Unionist, and I will do anything that helps Scotland to become more prosperous and more economically successful and to enjoy the security that the United Kingdom gives it. We can argue about Committees and the commission, but that is what I favour. If the ideas that come from the commission, whether from the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives, make sense and help Scotland to do well, I will support them. However, my party and I will not support an outdated, destructive break-up of the United Kingdom for some pathetic doctrine that does nothing to help the countrys poorer people other than to give them a pipe dream.
Rosemary McKenna: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the SNP consistently tries to pick fights with Westminster, and that fostering grievances is its speciality? Does he agree that todays debate fulfils the predictions that an SNP Administration would mean years of constitutional wrangling instead of them getting on with ensuring that Scotland prospers?
Mr. Wallace: I agree. The tragedy is that it is a two-part strategy. The first part is to upset the English and other members of the UK, and create a logjam so that people such as the entrepreneurs whom we saw in Scotland at the weekend say, Lets get this over with. The second part is to say that the party will keep the momentum going because it speaks for Scotland. That is a wicked trick to play on the electorate and on the UK.
We could have had some answers on the referendum. We could have been told whom the Scottish nationalists define as Scottish citizens. Will Scots who live in England or abroad get a vote? What about the English who live in Edinburgh, and those in the financial sectorwill they get a vote? We do not get any answers to those questions, because, as we know, even if they answer those questions and say that Scottish-born people or people who have Scottish parents will have a vote, more Scots are against independence.
Mr. Wallace: Is the hon. Gentleman going to answer that? I shall give way if he answers the question.
Mr. MacNeil: It does not matter where someone is from: if they are registered in a Scottish constituency, they can vote. If they are a Scot who lives in Saudi Arabia, they are not registered and cannot vote. It is very simple.
There we are; there is the answer. The hundreds of thousands of Scots who live in England because their jobs have sent them there, and the soldiers
who have been sent there, do not get a vote. That is exclusion, not inclusionon the record. We know the game, and people will soon see that this is not about citizenship; it is about political manipulation.
My party and I are Unionist. I believe that we are stronger together than we would be if we were independent. I do not believe in every man for himself, and I believe that we share our security, our opportunities and our potential. However, the Scottish people might be given the alternative of destroying what we have built up over hundreds of years for some pipe dream that we could be better. I do not believe that many Scottish nationalist politicians go around trying to pretend that the Scots want to be independent because they dislike the English. Indeed, I do not think the Scots do so. However, my English and Welsh colleagues in the House could make that mistake if they thought that that was the case.
The SNP predominantly thinks that Scotland could be made better by destroying what we have, but I think that we could be better without destroying it. However, the Unionist parties in the House face some challenges from our colleagues. Our party has colleagues in all parts of the UK, because we are big enough to take differences of opinion, as opposed to the position of some former SNP members, who are now independents in Edinburgh. We accept dissension in our party. The real myth that we have to scotch is that the SNP speaks for Scotland, because it has never done so. Finally, none of the facts, including the SNP polls at the last election, opinion polls and the political make-up of the Scottish Parliament, shows that the SNP speaks for Scotland.
The Minister of State, Scotland Office (David Cairns): I trust that you have enjoyed the debate, Mrs. Dean. The nation that gave the world the enlightenment and the rebirth of intellectualism continues to pioneer the way in profound political thought.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing the debate, and congratulate all hon. Members who have taken part either by giving a speech or by way of intervention. However, there is a profound irony at the heart of the debate. The hon. Gentleman broke the land speed record to get a debate in the House on the work of the Calman commission before it has even started work. The commission so far consists of one memberthe chairman, Sir Kenneth Calmanas the other members have not been appointed yet. The commission has not drawn up a work schedule or taken evidence from anyone yet, but the hon. Gentleman has rushed here to have a debate about it.
At the same time, his partys nationalist conversation, which has only one aimto break up the United Kingdomhas not been within a country mile of the Scottish Parliament. Not only has it not been there, but the SNP brought out the national conversation in August, when the Parliament was in recess. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will recall that, for the past eight years, every time a sparrow died in Scotland in the summer, Nicola Sturgeon demanded a recall of Parliament so that it could be debated. Yet, here we have the most profound change imaginable to the governance of Scotland and the United Kingdom being debated without any recourse to the Scottish Parliament.
Why is that? The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire was given five chances during his speech to tell us when the national conversation was to be brought before the Scottish Parliament, but he failed on every occasion. Is it not ironic that a party that purports to want to give more and more powers to the Scottish Parliament does not trust it with the powers that it already has, or trust it to debate the national conversation? It would bring a finance motion to the Scottish Parliament to help to fund the partys version of an independence constitution. What absolute cowardice his party has demonstrated. It will not trust the elected representatives of the people of Scotland to debate the national conversation.
Mr. MacNeil: Will the Minister give way?
David Cairns: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman only once because I have only nine minutes. I suggest that he gives it his best shot.
Mr. MacNeil: The Minister just spoke about cowardice. I am sure that he will not display the cowardice that was demonstrated by people refusing to answer a simple question. Does he support more powers for the Scottish Parliament?
David Cairns: In the three years that I have been a Minister, I have delivered more powers for the Scottish Parliament, enhanced the powers of Ministers and MSPs, and overseen the transfer of powers from this place to the Scottish Parliament, so I have no fear of what Sir Kenneth Calman and his commission bring forward. Unlike other hon. Members, I will not make any judgments in advance of it.
I am proud to support my party and this Government. We created the Scottish Parliament and ensured that it has the powers that it needs to address the big issues that face the people of Scotland. When we were devising that Parliament, where was the SNP? It was nowhere to be seen.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Minister is making an excellent speech. I served on the Cabinet sub-committee that drew up the Bill which subsequently became the Scotland Act 1998. It is fair to say that that sub-committee would have been astonished if, after 10 years, we did not feel confident about supporting the kind of commission that the Minister is commending to the House.
May I briefly refer the Minister to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown)? I believe that the Cabinet sub-committee would also have been astounded if it had been told that the Treasury serving the United Kingdom Parliament had allocated £34 million for disabled children and their families, including vital national health services, with absolutely no idea where the money has gone.
My right hon. Friend is a great champion of the rights of disabled people and children, and he makes his point well. I would ally his point with the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks). When Donald Dewar was First Minister, he had £14 billion to spend. Alex Salmond has £30 billion to spend, and the fact that he
will not allocate £34 million to help disabled children speaks volumes about his partys priorities. [Interruption.] The priorities are to spend money on a national conversation, to support a website that is a forum for every swivel-eyed, bigoted, anti-English lunatic in Scotland and beyond to spew forth hate-mongering and obscenities and to cast aspersions on the United Kingdom and its flag. It is a matter of profound shame that those are his partys spending priorities. This Governments spending priority is to ensure that money goes to disabled children and those who care for them.
Pete Wishart: Will the Minister give way?
David Cairns: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he makes a better fist of it than his colleague did.
Pete Wishart: For clarification, who was the Minister referring to when he came up with the phrase the McChattering classes? To which group of people in Scotland was he referring?
David Cairns: Actually, I had in mind the people who write opinion columns in the Sunday Herald and Scotland on Sunday. In fact, the newspapers could save money on those who write those columns. They could send an office boy around to St. Andrews house to collect press releases rather than have Ian McWhirter write them.
Those are the people who I had in mind. One individual wrote a column in which he said that antisocial behaviour did not really exist, that it was something that Labour politicians invented in order to stigmatise young people. I said to that gentleman, Come to Inverclyde any day. Dont tell me when you are coming, just come. We will open a map together, and you can pick any street you want. We will go to it together and ask the people of Inverclyde whether antisocial behaviour is something that Labour politicians invented. Those who are endlessly obsessed with the constitution, with balances of power and with grudge and grievance going back 300 years are not prepared to address the real concerns of the people of Scotland. That is why I have nothing to fear from a commission that will look at how the Scotland Act has worked.
Pete Wishart: Have a referendum.
David Cairns: So we are to have a yes-or-no referendum. That is interesting back-tracking, as my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) said, on the position that applied this past weekend. I was looking forward to hearing about that position. One has to hand it to the Scottish National party: one thing it does really well is come up with slogans that rhyme. Who can forget Scotland free by 93, or Scotland free by 2003? Now we are to have Scotland free by STVor single transferable vote.
To advance seriously a way of deciding the future of our nation that could result in its becoming independent through a first preference of 26 per cent. of voters is
taking the Scottish people for granted. The arrogance that has been displayed by the present Administration for the past year was encapsulated magnificently in a half-hour speech by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. The arrogance that they have demonstrated shows that, in the end, they will be seen to be out of touch with the ordinary people of Scotland, whose concerns are different.
It has been 10 years since the Scotland Act was passed. We remember what things were like before the Act, when a handful of Ministers in Dover house took all the decisions that affected health, education and transport in Scotland. We remember that that was wrong, and we remember how hard we worked to change the situation, and to have democratic accountability so that decisions on the big day in, day out issueshealth, transport, crimecould be taken by Scottish politicians in Scotland who are closer to the people who they represent.
That is why when Tony Blair came to office in 1997 the Labour Government put devolution at the heart of what they did: we now have a Parliament in Scotland, an Assembly in Wales, an Assembly in London with a directly elected Mayor, and an Assembly in Northern Ireland. We have put devolving power throughout the United Kingdom at the heart of what we do, because letting the people exercise power at a level that is closer to them is part of our core principles as a party.
Devolution was an enormous event. Those who say that it was not are missing the most astonishing change in more than 300 years in the way in which this country governs itself. Of course, it was an event, but it was an event that contained within it a process.
David Cairns: The hon. Gentleman says, Ah. He has just woken up to that fact.
Mr. MacNeil: Will the Minister give way?
David Cairns: No, the hon. Gentleman can sit down. He made a hames of his one shot at intervening. He has just woken up to the fact that, since devolution, since 1999, there have been 165 Scotland Act orders, 14 of them transferring significant powers directly to Holyrood Ministers, and 34 of them changing UK laws as a result of Acts of the Scottish Parliament.
This Government created the Scottish Parliament and protected it. The SNP wants to destroy devolution because it is obsessed with a dogmatic proposition to break up the United Kingdom. We are proud Scots. We are proud of our country, our history, and what we have achieved. We are confident about the future. It is because we are proud Scots that we have confidence to stand with our friends and colleagues in England and Wales and remain part of a united kingdom. That is the will of the majority of the people in Scotland, and no amount of bluster from Alex Salmond or manufactured grievance and fights with Westminster will change that.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): I am grateful to have secured this debate on an issue that is extremely important not only to my constituents
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
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