Thursday, 18 September 2014

Scottish Independence

I think it would be an absolute tragedy if Scotland were to leave the UK and break up our country but the referendum which will decide the future of our nation is now looking closer than ever with just a week to go. I have been to Scotland several times in recent months in my role as farming and fisheries minister to make the case that we are stronger together.

The United Kingdom is one of the most successful political and economic unions in history. We have so much rich diversity on our islands but a shared purpose which is what makes Britain great. Here in Cornwall, many of us would probably describe ourselves as Cornish before English but first and foremost, we regard ourselves as British.

It is not the first time Scotland has taken us all to the brink. In 1979, there was a referendum that was close. In 1997, Tony Blair thought that by having a new parliament in Scotland with new powers, there could be a new settlement that would put the debate to rest. However, as it turns out, Alex Salmond and the SNP used the new settlement as a means to an end and to foster new grievances and try to drive a wedge through society and divide our community of nations. But once the separatists won 70 percent of seats in the last Scottish election, there was little choice but to settle the argument through yet another referendum.

There is now one week to go to win that argument that we are better together. For those who want to divorce Scotland from the rest of the UK, there are so many questions they have not answered. What currency will they have? One thing we have learned from the euro fiasco is that you cannot have a single currency without a single government and a single tax system. Scotland does well financially by being part of the UK and it would have to slash public spending if it had to pay its own way. Finally, Scottish industry benefits from being part of the UK with a comprehensive network of international embassies to support exporters. For instance, Scotch whisky is one of the country's greatest export success stories but it is heavily dependent on all the help is receives in hundreds of countries across the world from British embassies and consular staff.

If we can get a no vote and keep the country together, it will be important to review the way the union works. It is not just about so called "devo-max" where new powers are given to the Scottish parliament. It would be an opportunity to think about governance of the whole United Kingdom so that we can get the balance right between having a national parliament that has the power to act decisively where required but with other powers and responsibilities moved locally. But if Scotland votes for outright divorce, it would be an incredibly sad moment in our island history.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.