Rory Speaks on the Union


It seems a little dry to focus on Lords amendment 18 with reference to clause 37, but it is a central issue. It is not a dry issue at all. As my hon. Friends the Members for Carlisle (John Stevenson) and for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) pointed out, this is central to two issues that define the Union. The first is the issue of borrowing and finance, and the second is that of what my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle called the issue of transparency. These two principles of borrowing and transparency—borrowing defined in clause 37 and transparency in Lords amendment 18—show why the Union matters. Transparency matters because an enormous amount of the pressure for separation from Scots, and from some English people, comes from suspicion—suspicion about money. Borrowing matters because borrowing shows why the Union can operate well.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain), pointed out three things which the clause delivers. It delivers, first, decentralisation. An important part of decentralisation is fiscal responsibility. It delivers, secondly, a lever for growth, but the third and most important thing that it delivers is macroeconomic stability within the context of the United Kingdom. This is central because the biggest argument for the Union, the thing that underlies the dry language of the Bill, is why being part of a bigger country matters—why, to put it in the most brutal terms, we do not want to be Denmark.

Why is it that our ancestors got on their Viking boats, left Denmark and came here? The answer is, of course, that there are benefits in size. There are benefits to having an economy 12 times the size of Denmark’s. There are benefits to having a population 12 times the size of Denmark’s, with the corresponding borrowing and fiscal responsibility. That perfect balance enshrined in clause 37 and revealed in amendment 18 is the balance that comes from the benefits of autonomy combined with the benefits of size.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): I am desperately looking forward to the hon. Gentleman explaining when a Viking decided to leave Denmark to come and be part of the British state. I like the hon. Gentleman, but I think his history is rather askew.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Actually, I would not like the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) to explain that in the context of these amendments, and I am sure he is coming back to what is relevant to them.

Rory Stewart: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am happy for us to discuss Scottish history later.

We are discussing transparency, which is exactly what Lords amendment 18 relates to—explaining to this Parliament, to the Scottish Parliament, to the British people and to the Scottish people what we are doing with their money. Transparency is crucial because money is at the heart of this. On the one hand, the Scottish National party uses money to fight for separation through fantasies about oil. On the other hand, English nationalists, who are equally to blame for what is happening to the United Kingdom, focus on money to attack Scotland. This is the wrong thing to do.

Lords amendment 18 matters because it should, we hope, put those arguments aside. There are those who imagine that we are going to wreck the United Kingdom because we are worried about free eye tests, prescription charges or tuition fees. For goodness’ sake, let us, in line with Lords amendment 18, see the money. What we will see is that we are spending every year in transfer payments to Scotland half of what we are spending on the war in Afghanistan, if we include the debt and veterans costs. The reason why we need to move beyond this is that the kind of borrowing enshrined in the clause and amended in Lords amendment 18 is the borrowing that made us great together.

The very economics that underlie that notion of borrowing came south from Edinburgh with Adam Smith and the enlightenment. The very same borrowing on the basis of the United Kingdom meant that Scots and English were able to fight together at Waterloo and win. The very borrowing enshrined in clause 37 is what allowed us to create the national health service together. The very borrowing enshrined in clause 37 and amended and made transparent in Lords amendment 18 is what allows us to flourish today. I urge the House to vote for Lords amendment 18 because it enshrines the principle of togetherness.

Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman spoke of a possible history debate with the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie). We invite the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) to come to the Floor of the House, because I am sure that the debate is one that the whole House would like to hear, and no doubt we know who the winner would be.

Rory Stewart: I thank the hon. Gentleman very much indeed.
Having been a little rhetorical, I will return to the measures set out in the new clause proposed in Lords amendment 18. I congratulate the example set by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South in the moderation of his tone. The conduct of the Ministers in this regard, which has been praised by the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie)—he is now leaving the Chamber to research in his history books—shows exemplary co-operation and is an example of why the United Kingdom Parliament works so well. The moderate voices of the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South and the shadow Minister show that separation is unnecessary. The correct praise for the Scottish National party for its successes shows the successes of autonomy, not of separation and independence. If we can get the principles of transparency correct and the exact details of Lords amendment 18, the sinews of the Union, the point-by-point, sometimes dry legislative amendments that allow us to work together and avoid what the Scottish National party wishes to push us into—a black-and-white solution of either fatal inertness or still more terrible activity—we will instead, through a voice of passionate moderation and amendments of this sort, keep together the Union that made us great and will make us greater still.

Print Friendly and PDF