Strengthening Devolution, Taking Scotland Forward

26 Mar 2013

Below is a copy of that speech, made at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on George Street.



“I am a Scot, and I am proud of my country.

Like you, I want the best for Scotland; for us to be all we can be.

…To be a Scotland of freedom, opportunity, prosperity and fairness.

…A country not limited by the narrow perspectives of politicians, but liberated by the boundless possibilities and pursuit of our dreams.

And I understand what drives those who say they want independence for Scotland.

…Love of country.


…The hope and belief in a better future for all our people.

I don’t believe there is a single person in Scotland who does not understand those feelings; who does not share in that hope, belief and ambition for a better tomorrow.

I know I do, and I know you do too.

But no political party – and no side in the constitutional debate – has a monopoly on patriotism.

No side can fairly claim such a monopoly.

Nor should they seek to do so.

Those of us who believe in Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom are every bit as patriotic as those who favour independence.

For some, that patriotism may be quieter, but it runs just as deep.

We are all Scots.

This country is home to us all.

And each of us is guided by a desire to serve Scotland and the aspirations of its people.

But we must differ with those of our fellow Scots who believe, however sincerely, that those aspirations are best served by independence for Scotland.

Scotland has been – and continues to be – well served by membership of the United Kingdom.

Our progress as a nation has been achieved in partnership with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Our modern history is the story of that partnership and I fervently believe our best future lies in its renewal.

But Scotland is at a crossroads, and it’s time to choose what we want that future to be.

When the referendum comes in September next year, I don’t want Scots to vote in fear of what the future might hold, but in the hope for what it can bring.

A referendum campaign fought solely on the basis of fear and negativity would be no foundation upon which to build the Scotland of tomorrow.

The referendum campaign must be a movement for us, as much as it is for the nationalists.

A movement for progress and positive change.

This is not a big, nationwide by-election, it’s our future.

And there will be no second chance for those who believe in the UK.

We must win next year, or lose forever.

The 1997 referendum was won because it spoke to the hopes of the people of Scotland; their aspirations for a better future.

It reflected the desire of Scotland to have a bigger say in the running of our own affairs while still enjoying the shared benefits of the United Kingdom.

It echoed the public’s desire for their politicians to be more answerable through a new type of politics.

And it made clear that the result of the referendum would not be an end in itself, but a new beginning.

A vote for devolution opened the door to new possibilities for Scotland, and to a more confident future.

This is the spirit in which those of us who want to see Scotland prosper within the United Kingdom must approach this referendum.

But what is the victory we are fighting for?

The measure of success should not be a simple majority voting next year to stay within the United Kingdom, but a result which all Scots, no matter how they vote, can feel has moved Scotland forward.

The advocates of independence should have no monopoly on enthusiasm for the future.

…Because it’s our future too.

I believe that future lies in Scotland reaffirming its place at the heart of the United Kingdom and in the knowledge that it best advances our shared goals and national interest.

…The stability it brings; the jobs and future prosperity we want; the security we need.

We often hear the advocates of independence call for the positive case to be made for Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom.

It’s a reasonable call to make, and in reply, I say:

Look around you.

Listen to the people of Scotland.

Listen to the voices of the millions of ordinary Scots who in poll after poll, and at election after election, affirm their preference for Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom.

Listen to those millions of Scots who understand the positive case for Scotland staying within the UK.

They understand instinctively that we are stronger together, better together.

Often divided by political outlook, distinct in their religious beliefs, proud of their diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds and from all walks of life, they are nevertheless united in a common belief that Scotland is better off in Britain.

Have they all got it wrong?  …Far from it.

They understand that we can achieve more by pulling together than by pulling apart.

As a proud Scot, I reject the notion we are somehow incapable of governing ourselves.

But I equally reject the argument that our future prosperity is limited without independence.

Could Scotland survive as an independent country?

Of course we could.

But just because we could stand alone in the world, is not a reason for doing so.

What most people in Scotland understand, and why they will reject separation next year, is we gain much more from membership of the United Kingdom than we lose.

Would an independent Scotland – lacking the more broadly-based economy of the UK – not be more exposed to the risks and fluctuations of global markets?

Breaking away would surely risk the relative stability we currently have in an uncertain world economy and therefore threaten our standard of living.

That is not to talk Scotland down.

It is simply to recognise the benefit we gain from partnership in the United Kingdom.

Why would we want to throw that advantage away?

Saying ‘yes’ to that stability is to put Scotland first.

The United Kingdom is the seventh wealthiest economy in the world; very much one of its foremost economic powerhouses.

And there is no doubting the contribution made by Scotland both in the past and today towards that achievement.

But just as Scotland plays a vital part in maintaining the UK’s economic standing, we in turn benefit from full integration with the rest of the UK economy – in which most of Scotland’s trade takes place – and the harmonisation of our labour and capital markets.

Would an independent Scotland continue to trade with England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Obviously .

But why even hint at the creation of any new barriers and potentially diminish the substantial benefits Scotland gains from membership of a fully integrated UK economy?

To recognise and want to maintain the level commercial playing field we enjoy in the United Kingdom is not to do Scotland down.

Quite the reverse.

Saying ‘yes’ to those economic advantages is to put Scotland first.

And what of the prospects for Scotland’s businesses and financial institutions in the event of independence; what impact would it have on our ability to generate the secure, well-paid jobs and prosperity we want to see?

Consider the nationalists’ proposition.

An independent Scotland would follow its own taxing and spending policies, but allow the central bank of another country – over which we would have no say – to set our interest rates.

Would that really be better suited to encouraging inward investment, business growth and job creation than the existing arrangements we have through membership of the United Kingdom?

I don’t think so.

Economic growth and job creation relies on confidence, but a recent poll of 250 Scottish business leaders shows confidence in the ability of independence to boost our economy is in short supply.

In that poll just one in ten Scottish businesses felt their outlook would improve if Scotland were an independent country, while more than half believed  it would worsen their prospects.

Would the Scottish business and financial services communities collapse under independence?

Of course not.

But business confidence, economic growth and the creation of future jobs in Scotland is better served by Scotland remaining a partner in the United Kingdom with no suggestion of any barriers between us.

Why would we want to settle for second-best?

Why would we settle for an economic environment less likely to build business confidence and create jobs?

Saying ‘yes’ to Scottish business confidence, future jobs and prosperity for our people, as part of the United Kingdom, is to put Scotland first.

These are not idle debating points of interest only to politicians and economists.

They are among the practical questions the people of Scotland will ask themselves as they step into the polling booth to vote in the referendum.

Would our economy be more or less stable?

Would my job be more or less secure?

How would independence affect my mortgage payments?

What would it do to my energy bill?

How is the future of my family best served?

The answers to these questions are not found in the uncertainty of independence.

They are best answered by the continued stability of the United Kingdom.

The debate on Scotland’s constitutional future, and the referendum to be held next year, opens a new chapter in our nation’s history.

The Scottish Conservatives are resolute in our belief that this new chapter should be written in continued partnership with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scotland’s future is best served by playing a full part in the enduring story of our United Kingdom.

But we recognise that to play a part in the writing of this new chapter, the Scottish Conservatives must also turn over a new page.

With the benefit of hindsight, I believe we found ourselves on the wrong side of history in 1997.

We fought on against the idea of a Scottish Parliament long after it became clear it was the settled will of the Scottish people.

Our decision not to take part in the Scottish Constitutional Convention gave the impression that Scotland’s constitutional future was not a matter of interest to us, beyond keeping Scotland in the UK.

For many, the fact we were a lone voice saying ‘no’ in the referendum campaign simply underlined the impression we had no real faith in our own country.

It made us look as if we lacked ambition for Scotland.

But the Scottish Conservatives are not, and never have been, a party which stands in the way of the ambitions of Scotland’s people.

On the contrary, we embrace and want to advance those ambitions.

We are focussed on the road ahead and the future, not on events now in the rear-view mirror of history.

I look to the future with confidence, pride and belief in Scotland.

New times bring new challenges.

They bring new opportunities.

…And a need for new thinking.

When I was elected leader of this party, I promised to look again at the policies of the Scottish Conservatives.

I promised nothing would be off-limits for discussion.  There would be no ‘no-go areas’.

Over the last year, the Scottish Conservatives have listened to the people of Scotland.

We have heard their ambition for a devolved parliament – within the United Kingdom – with greater powers than it currently holds.

We have listened, we have heard and we will act.

We will respond positively to that ambition.

In doing so, we reaffirm our unshakable conviction that continued membership of the United Kingdom is the cornerstone of a safer, fairer and more prosperous Scotland.

A Scotland whose international interests and security are best served as part of the United Kingdom.

Our future lies within the UK, not separate from it.

Of course we will continue to explore how best the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament, and further powers already on the way, can be used. With an estimated 70 per cent of identifiable public spending controlled by Holyrood those powers are considerable.

But the challenge is to make sure that level of spending is balanced by a proper level of responsibility and transparency.

So today, I am making two new commitments.

The first is to examine those domestic powers currently held by the Westminster parliament and assess objectively whether they are best retained in Whitehall or devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

In reaching an assessment of each power, we will subject it to a series of tests.

Would its devolution reinforce or weaken the place of Scotland within the United Kingdom?

Would it strengthen the accountability of the Scottish Parliament to the people of Scotland?

Would it preserve the benefits Scotland gains from being part of UK-wide systems?

Would it improve the quality of the government of Scotland?

Would the decision-making be improved if taken as close as possible to the individual citizens directly affected?

We won’t be taking any part in a constitutional Dutch auction with other parties.

Scotland deserves better than that.

We will approach this with open minds and clear eyes.

Our approach will be objective and evidence-based.

So today I am not going to offer a detailed blueprint for the future of devolution.

But I will say this.

You learn from experience.

And my experience of the Scottish Parliament is there are too many members whose sole concern is how money should be spent.

…Politicians who have little or no concern for those who generate the money in the first place; the overburdened and underappreciated Scottish taxpayer.

Politicians who regard taxpayers’ money as theirs by right, not hard-earned cash they take on trust to spend on the people of Scotland’s behalf.

Politicians who take no real responsibility for difficult decisions and palm blame off on those who do.

Politicians who exploit the deficiencies of Holyrood – deficiencies laid bare by a majority nationalist government in whose interest it is to pervert the functions of parliament, hobble devolution and point the finger at the UK government.

A parliament with little responsibility for raising the money it spends will never be properly accountable to the people of Scotland.

It can never have the proper incentive to cut the size and cost of government, or to reduce tax bills.

So that means in future a far greater share of the money spent by the Scottish Parliament should be raised by it.

We will examine the mix of taxes best suited to achieving that goal, but the principle is clear.

If you spend the public’s money, then you must be accountable to the public both for how it is spent and how it is raised.

The devolution of new powers over taxation to the Scottish Parliament means it would be the responsibility of the parliament to use those powers in the best interests of the Scottish people.

And the position of the Scottish Conservatives on this is equally clear.

New powers over tax should mean one thing; tax rates being reduced and the burden of tax being lifted for every Scottish family.

We’ve already set out our proposal for a one pence cut in income tax for Scottish families, and new powers over tax in Scotland could let us go further.

To take this review forward, I have established a working group  to examine specifically the question of strengthening devolution and the accountability of the Scottish Parliament by examining its structures and extending its powers over taxation.

The working group will be chaired by Lord Strathclyde who, as a former Scottish Office Minister and Leader of the House of Lords, brings a wealth of experience at the highest levels of government.

Tom will be joined by two of my MSP colleagues; former leader of our party, Annabel Goldie, and former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, Alex Fergusson.

Independent advice will be given by two leading constitutional experts; Alan Trench, an honorary fellow in the School of Social and Political Science at Edinburgh University, and Professor Adam Tomkins, John Millar Chair in Public Law at the University of Glasgow’s Law School.

And in due course we will announce further expertise from outside the political and constitutional arena, from business and civic Scotland.


So the Scottish Conservatives are committed to a new path; more responsibility for the Scottish Parliament and a strengthening of devolution.

Scotland is a mature country.  It’s now time for its parliament to grow up too.

But I know there will be doubts.

Why should the Scottish people believe that we really mean it?

If Scotland votes next year to remain within the UK, won’t there be a suspicion we will just forget about it all, and fail to bring forward firm proposals?

I understand the suspicion.

That’s why I make a second commitment.

That we will publish our detailed plans in advance of the referendum, so the people of Scotland know exactly what we are proposing when they vote in that referendum.

And our working group will also aim to produce an interim report this year so we will be able to show real progress is being made and demonstrate our commitment to the process.

When this work is done, the people of Scotland  will be able to compare our proposals for a strong, devolved nation within the United Kingdom with the SNP’s plans for a Scotland separated from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And our proposals for devolution will not just be published before the referendum next year.

They will be written into our manifesto for the general election to be held the following year and the Scottish elections in 2016.

A vote next year for Scotland to stay within the United Kingdom will be a vote to strengthen devolution.

A vote for the Scottish Conservatives at the next general election will be a vote to increase the power and responsibility of the Scottish Parliament and to take Scotland forward.

Devolution within the United Kingdom has benefited Scotland.  It has given us the best of both worlds.

The Scottish Parliament has been a success and it is here to stay.

Scottish Conservatives are playing a full and active part in helping to make it even more effective for, and accountable to, the people it serves.

A Conservative-led coalition government is delivering the largest ever package of fiscal devolution to Scotland.

It is showing proper respect for the will of the Scottish people by facilitating the mandate won in 2011 to hold a referendum on independence.

And every week, Conservative ministers are working with their Scottish counterparts to improve the lives of the Scottish people.

But we need to do more.

The responsibility of each of us, of all political parties who share a belief in Scotland and in the United Kingdom, is to empower the Scottish Parliament in a way which meets the ambitions and aspirations of the Scottish people while strengthening the partnership of the four nations of our United Kingdom.

It is a responsibility the Scottish Conservatives are committed to honouring in full, on behalf of the people of Scotland.

We will come forward with our proposals.  Other parties will do the same.

And once Scotland has rejected independence, there needs to be a mechanism for establishing a consensus in Scotland on the shape of further devolution.

There will be no ‘empty chair’ policy from the Scottish Conservatives in any future gathering of Scotland’s political and civic leaders to discuss our devolved settlement or future direction of our country.

Instead, we will be leaders in that discussion.

Douglas Alexander’s proposal for a Scottish National Convention, to consider Scotland’s social, economic and constitutional future following a vote next year to stay within the United Kingdom is helpful.

The Scottish Conservatives will support the creation of such a body because we want to be positive participants.

We will do so because we have a constructive contribution to make to the discussion over Scotland’s future.

…A distinctive Conservative approach emphasising choice, responsibility, enterprise, low taxation and strong but limited government.

And we will participate because those hundreds of thousands of Scots who hold conservative views – whether or not they currently cast their votes for the Scottish Conservatives – must have a voice in that discussion too.

The framing of Scotland’s future must not be left to the parties of the centre-left.  Strong Conservative voices must be heard in that process, and we will ensure they are.

And there must be another mechanism after the referendum, one which looks at the impact of constitutional change across the UK, because the implications for the future governance of these islands are considerable.

Even with the spending powers already coming to the Scottish Parliament, the role of Scottish representatives in Westminster needs to be reviewed, as the McKay Report acknowledges.

Responsibility for raising up to 35 per cent of Scotland’s budget is coming to Holyrood under the Scotland Act by 2016, so the much-derided and little-understood Barnett Formula is already in its death-throes as it stands.

The Barnett arrangements are already being changed and will have to be changed further if Holyrood’s tax-raising powers are extended.

But fundamentally, we must find a means whereby we do not lurch from one commission to another, year after year; where the constitutional and commercial certainty we all crave is never reached.

Where devolution is not viewed as a bilateral arrangement between Holyrood and Westminster, Cardiff Bay and Westminster or Stormont and Westminster. But a mechanism which reviews devolution across – and within – our whole United Kingdom.

Next year the nation has a choice.

Opt for independence and you kill off devolution.  But stay within the United Kingdom and you take the whole country forward.

I know the choice I make; that we are better together.

Scotland is at its best when it stands on its own two feet, but doesn’t stand alone.

But whichever path we choose next year, we must never lose sight of what is most important; to serve the best interests of our country.

…To fulfil the hopes and aspirations of our people. …To put Scotland first.”