By William Burstow
Last week saw Nicola Sturgeon’s raison d’etre of Scottish separatism ironically result in the Scottish Parliament failing to pass any laws for more than a year. In her quest for separation she’s foregoing actual governance – Sturgeon fiddles while Scotland burns.
Her ebb and flow of threats of a new separatist referendum also reached something of a high tide as she secured the support of the 6 Green list MSPs in Holyrood to petition the UK Government to grant an Order in Council under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 to start planning IndyRef2.
The Prime Minister has rightly concluded that now is not the time. This is sensible and reasonable for a number of reasons. First it is common sense that the SNP seek a fresh mandate for a referendum on separation as they were vocal in stating that a vote for the SNP at the Scottish Parliament elections last year was not a vote for ripping the UK apart. A point underlined by the fact that there is no urgency for a second vote before the UK leaves the EU as the EU have made very clear that the whole of the UK will be leaving the EU once Article 50 is triggered. Secondly, there’s no urgency at all from the people of Scotland. The 69 nationalists in Holyrood seem completely out of step with the people of Scotland.
Only 32% of Scots want a second referendum before Brexit, and just 19% want one after the UK leaves the EU. In addition, a huge 215,831 (at last count) Scots have petitioned the UK Parliament to stop a second referendum – eclipsing Sturgeon’s majority of 10. As it stands it is the third most popular open petition on the Parliamentary petitions website and an opposite petition is languishing on just 37,000 signatures. This is all before we get to the question of separation itself – where Scottish support for the Union has basically not moved since 2014. The SNP are becoming increasingly seen as an out of touch elite abandoning their responsibilities to Scotland for the sake of their own vanity project.
Naturally this all means a shadow campaign on the question of separation – which means pro-Union parties must make the positive case for the Union, rather than attempting another failed appeasement of separatists. The conversation should not be about more powers, or about yet another process story, but rather the vision that unionists have for the United Kingdom and our place in the world.
In addition, ‘project fear’ must be banished, which doesn’t mean pointing out that the economic argument for separation doesn’t add up, but does mean that all the other things that went unsaid about why we believe in the Union and why it matters must take a greater portion of the stage when we make our case. Salmond was dead wrong when he said the unionist parties had left it all out on the field in 2014 – truth is we benched some of our key arguments.
Unionists should make clear that the Union is more than an Act of Parliament and it’s more than an economic calculation. It’s the title we give to the things that bind us, that bring us together.
We not only have the confidence that we are joining in the now 310 year old shared endeavour built by the determination and work of millions of our fellow countrymen, but we also understand that this work resulted in the shared traditions, institutions, and customs that inform and enable us to build a better tomorrow for our peoples and set a standard for the world to follow.
The point of the Union, the nub of unionist philosophy, is undoubtedly that promise of a better tomorrow by a shared today. We are all part of a joint venture to continue building our United Kingdom – and this is a key message that unionists must hammer home. One of the ways we can do that, as Theresa May did last week (and I hope this is a taster of what is to come), is by highlighting the good work our nation does abroad with international aid.
Indeed as we set down our new relationship with our fellow Europeans and with the rest of the world, it is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate our unionist values by redoubling our efforts with overseas aid. Our United Kingdom, and the values that we believe in, is one of the greatest forces for good in the world, and with free trade in one hand, and our international aid budget in the other we can set the global agenda against poverty and war. Demonstrating that not only does our fellowship allow us to better ourselves, but it allows us to be outward looking as a people and help make the world a better place.
It is clear to those who seek it out that the philosophy of the Union is fundamentally a hopeful, forward looking one, but we have to tell people about it. We need to shout from the rooftops that the UK is a place where all citizens, by their actions, nurture an ever evolving, outward looking country where individuals can succeed, families can thrive, and we all work together to build a more perfect Union.
William Burstow is Director of Constitutional Affairs for Parliament Street