Rory speaks on Scotland’s place in the UK

Transcript of House of Commons Backbench Debate – 6th February 2014

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)

One thousand nine hundred years ago, Rome divided Britain with a wall. Britain is an island whose natural boundaries are the sea, and this wall split families and split tribes. Ever since that moment we have been debating this issue. These two fundamental principles for Britain are what we are debating today. They are in competition: are we divided nation against nation, or are we unified by culture and language? There is only one answer to that question, and it cannot be simply economics. If a relationship is going wrong—if a marriage is going wrong—the answer cannot simply be to say, ‘You can’t afford to break up because you are going to lose the house.” The answer has to be only one thing, which is, “I love you.” We in this House are struggling to express the nature of our love for Scotland. We are not very good, as politicians, at talking about emotions. We have become very bad at it, but we need to learn to do it, because otherwise a party that is trying to reduce, to shrink, to vanish will win.

What do we mean when we say, “I, as a Member of Parliament for an English constituency, love Scotland”? It would be personal to every single one of us. It could be that we love intellectual seriousness. I was paddling along in a canoe with Mr MacNeil a few months ago, and I would really miss him from that canoe. People in the United Kingdom would miss Scotland for different personal reasons—Scotland’s egalitarianism, its intellectual seriousness, its sense of realism and its sense of humour. I would be very ashamed and embarrassed to be part of a country that did not have Scottish Members of Parliament here.

Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw, Labour)
The hon. Gentleman is an expert in foreign affairs. Can he tell the House how much stronger Scotland would be as an independent country in relation to the world?

Rory Stewart
There are two answers to that question. First, Scotland must of course embrace the potential of being part of the United Kingdom in foreign affairs.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman himself represents what is good about our political settlement. He sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, so there is a Scottish voice on that Committee raising Scottish issues again and again, forcing us to focus on Scottish issues when we think about foreign policy, and that is something that we would deeply miss.

There is a great appeal to Scottish nationalism. We all feel it in our gut, and it is because the world is bewildering. People are angry. Some 85% of people in this country feel that politics is broken and 87% feel that society is broken. Our voters feel that Westminster is out of touch and that their lives have never been so complicated. Those are real feelings that we have to acknowledge and accept. But the answer to those problems is not to get smaller. When we face complexity and things that are bewildering in our everyday lives—when we feel angry or disappointed—the answer is not to get smaller, shut the door and pretend that we can shut those things out. The answer is to expand.

I have three suggestions on the lessons that we need to learn from Scottish nationalism. The first lesson is that it is not that Westminster is too far away: it is also that Edinburgh is too far away. The answer to the problems of our communities is to represent the issues of Argyll separately to the issues of Perthshire and the issues of the Borders. They are not the same issues. One of the great weaknesses in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland is the lack of real localism. Whether talking to someone in Muthill struggling with planning or someone in Kelso worried about economic development in their area, we need to learn from Mitterrand in France in 1983—hyper-localism and mayors at a local level—and not try to fool the Scottish people by pretending that transferring power from Westminster to Holyrood will solve those human problems.

The second thing that we need to do—and this is true for the north of England as much as for Scotland—is not to pretend that London and the south of England do not exist. We need to accept that they exist, that they are a challenge, that they have huge potential, and that we need to make them work for us, not pretend that they are not there.

The third thing is cultural links. It is a tragedy that the educational policy of the Scottish National party has made it more difficult for English students to study in Scottish universities and for Scottish students to study in English universities. We must reinforce the cultural links.

Finally, what we need is the human expression. On 19 July this year, I hope that 100,000 people will gather along that old Roman wall—English, Welsh, Irish and Scots—holding hands and linking arms across the border. Because in the end what matters is not the wall that divides us but the human ties that bind us in the name of love.

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