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Theresa May – We are stronger together

14 Mar 2014

I’m delighted to be back in the beautiful city of Edinburgh – and to see the Scottish Conservatives in such fine fettle.

This year’s conference is your biggest for many years – understandably, with the very future of our country at stake.

I know the Scottish Conservative – and Unionist – Party is making the case for our United Kingdom with passion and vigour.

That’s the most important battle for us all between now and September.

But, under the leadership of Ruth Davidson, I know you’re also showing the energy, vision and determination to win once again as a Party – increasing our share of the vote at the last 11 by-elections.

So the message this weekend is clear: the Scottish Conservatives are back, and fighting fit.

And I know you’re assembling a great team of candidates to fight next year’s general election.

I sit around the Cabinet table with a number of Scottish Liberal Democrats.

For the past four years, we’ve been working together in the national interest – not least when it comes to securing a ‘no’ vote in the referendum.

But come the general election, I have no qualms about saying that I want to see a lot less yellow on the electoral map of the United Kingdom.

So I was delighted to see an open primary last Sunday selecting a local businessman, Alexander Burnett, as our candidate for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine.

And another – Scotland’s first ever open primary – choosing John Lamont to fight Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk again in 2015.

I know that John has been a tireless local champion in the Scottish Parliament for the last seven years – I look forward to him making it third time lucky and joining us in Westminster.

Because David Mundell is doing a sterling job fighting for Scotland in Westminster, fighting for our Party across Scotland, and fighting for the future of the United Kingdom – but he could do with some reinforcements in 2015.

That’s why I was very glad to see the redoubtable Annabel Goldie taking up her seat in the House of Lords in November. It’s great to have such a strong Scottish Conservative voice in our national Parliament.

I’m sorry that I won’t be here tomorrow to join you in paying tribute to David McLetchie – but I know he will be in our thoughts throughout this whole weekend in the city where he was born and raised, and which he represented so formidably in the Scottish Parliament.

David was a fighter to the end. Even as he battled the cancer which eventually claimed his life, he was working to establish the cross-party Better Together campaign so we could mount the strongest possible operation to preserve our United Kingdom …

… and I know the best tribute we can pay him is to give that campaign our all between now and September.

The choice in September

Because that vote – six months on Tuesday – could not be more important.

It’s about the future of our country – and all its constituent nations.

It’s a choice for the Scottish people, but it will have ramifications for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland too.

Because the historic union between us has made this country what it is.

And we are better together.

I was born on the south coast of England.

I represent a constituency in Berkshire.

But as Home Secretary, I see the men and women who work tirelessly to keep this country safe and secure.

The committed officers of our police forces and our National Crime Agency.

The Border Force officers who keep a watchful eye on our borders.

The men and women of our intelligence agencies who work around the clock and often without credit to protect us all from harm.

It’s people like them – from all parts of the UK – who make this country what it is.

And I’m sure you’ll want to join me in saying thank you to them today.

The fight against crime

Their job is made easier – and we are all kept safer – by the fact that they can work together on a national level.

If Scotland chooses to leave the United Kingdom, that would have to change.

The Treaty of Union preserved Scotland as a separate jurisdiction operating under Scots law.

And policing is, of course, a devolved matter.

But we have always worked closely together.

The 2011 riots in England saw police officers from Scotland lending support to their colleagues south of the border.

Police forces from right across the UK helped to make the 2012 Olympics such a success – and they stand ready to return the favour during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer.

But the creation of a separate Scottish state threatens to hamper such co-operation.

Criminals do not respect borders, but rather work to exploit them.

Never before has crime been so international.

Organised criminal networks – and the internet – mean that people on the other side of the world can orchestrate crimes without even setting foot in this country.

So we shouldn’t make life any easier for them by erecting another international border in the middle of our United Kingdom.

Because borders bring with them bureaucracy, delays, and legal impediments.

For instance, police officers from the UK and a separate Scottish state would no longer have powers to arrest or detain criminals in each others’ jurisdictions.

It was to strengthen the fight against organised and international crime that we established the National Crime Agency.

At the moment, Scotland benefits from access to the NCA’s intelligence hub, its network of overseas liaison officers, and specialist capabilities.

These help us to tackle dreadful crimes like child abuse, modern slavery and human trafficking, and the smuggling of illegal drugs and weapons.

At the moment, Scotland has access to these resources because we are part of the same country.

The same applies to the UK’s National Cyber Security Programme.

As technology changes, so does crime – and we need to pool our expertise and ingenuity to stay ahead of it.

Scotland – this land of the Enlightenment, of Alexander Fleming, John Logie Baird, and Alexander Graham Bell – has helped to drive so many of the breakthroughs of our past. I want to see us working together to face the challenges of the future.

National security

One of those challenges is the continuing threat from terrorism.

It is clearly in the UK’s national interest to be surrounded by secure and resilient neighbours, including – in the event of a yes  vote – a separate Scottish state.

If Scotland voted to go it alone, Police Scotland would still be an important partner for the law enforcement agencies in the continuing UK – but it would lose its automatic access to MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the UK’s wider intelligence capabilities…

… the information, technology, processes, people and partnerships which do so much to protect us from harm.

Too many parts of our United Kingdom already bear the scars of terrorism. In June 2007, our emergency services disrupted two attempted car bombs on the streets of London. The following day, a Jeep loaded with gas canisters was driven into the doors of Glasgow Airport and set ablaze.

The people who wish us harm can strike on any side of the border – or target Britain and her allies overseas.

We must all remain vigilant in the face of such evil – and that crucial task will be made easier if we stick together.

Controlled migration

Another of our challenges as a Government has been to clear up the mess we inherited from Labour and restore control to our immigration system.

Labour deliberately let immigration get out of control. Peter Mandelson has admitted that they ‘were sending out search parties’ for people to come to the UK.

Net migration quadrupled under their watch. It totalled more than 2.2 million people – not far off half the population of Scotland.

Immigration has undoubtedly benefited Scotland and the rest of these islands – and our door will always be open to those who want to come here, work hard, and contribute to our national life.

Scotland’s world-class universities – just like those elsewhere in the UK – are open to the brightest and the best. There is no limit to the number of students able to come here: if you can speak English, and have a legitimate offer from a genuine university or college, you can come to study in Britain.

But we cannot tolerate the abuses of the system which Labour allowed for so long.

We have closed down the bogus colleges which allowed unskilled migrants posing as students to come to this country to seek work.

We now require students to prove that they have the financial means to fend for themselves.

We have introduced new powers and guidance to crack down on sham marriages.

And we have given Border Force officers the power to turn away people falsely claiming that they’re coming here to study but who cannot speak English well enough.

As a result of these and other changes, there are now 70,000 fewer people coming to the UK annually than there were under Labour. And we will continue our work to bring net migration back down to the tens, rather than hundreds, of thousands.

If the people of Scotland vote to leave the UK there would be profound changes for migration policy.

An international border would be created where one does not currently exist. This would have implications for people travelling to visit family, go on holiday or do business – and for our economies more generally.

Buried deep in Alex Salmond’s White Paper is the admission that – just like the last Labour Government – a separate Scotland would pursue a looser immigration policy.

That would undermine the work we have done since 2010 – and the continuing UK could not allow Scotland to become a convenient landing point for migration into the United Kingdom.

So that would mean border controls between a separate Scotland and the United Kingdom. Passport checks to visit friends and relatives. A literal and figurative barrier between our nations.

I was in Berwick earlier today – that historic border town which was for centuries the focus of disputes between a separate Scotland and England.

When our countries chose to come together, they put those bitter days behind them – and that’s the way it has been for more than 300 years.

Driving from Northumberland through the beautiful Borders this afternoon made me all the more determined to preserve the benefits of that Act of Union.

Because they are benefits we can all enjoy – English or Scottish; Welsh or Northern Irish.

We already know that a Yes vote would mean that, when it became separate, Scotland would no longer be part of the European Union.  President Barroso has been quite clear about that.

And it wouldn’t have an easy ride to gain membership. That requires the unanimous support of existing members.

If Alex Salmond went cap in hand to beg for admission, one of the conditions he’d be given – shortly after being told he’d have to sign up to joining the euro – is that new EU countries are expected to sign up to the Schengen Area.

That’s the EU deal to suspend border controls between EU members – a deal which the UK and Ireland have opted out of, but which all new EU states have to agree to.

The UK’s position on the Schengen Area isn’t about to change. So if Scotland had to join Schengen, it would have to construct border checks for a Schengen Area that ended at Berwick or Gretna Green.

Now, unlike Alex Salmond I’m not going to deal in bluster and ropey assumptions.

A separate Scotland could certainly try to negotiate a Schengen opt-out. But that would have to be negotiated and agreed with all the 28 existing Member States – it is not in Alex Salmond’s gift.

And even if he managed to do that – convincing countries like Spain – it would come at a price. Because in the world of EU negotiations, nothing comes for free.

So what would Mr. Salmond give up to try and secure a Schengen opt-out? Scottish fishing grounds? A bigger contribution to the EU budget?

Not a strong negotiating hand. And not a position I’d ever want to see Scotland in.

And what a lot to gamble just to try and regain something that Scotland already has as part of the Union.

A vote for independence would also separate Scottish and British citizenship.

It is one of the fundamental principles of sovereignty and international law that states have the right to define who their nationals are – and who, and what, can travel into and out of their territory.

Determining who would be entitled to citizenship of a separate Scottish state – and, indeed, of the continuing UK – would be complex and have profound implications.

It is a question that will affect not only those who vote in September’s referendum but their children and grandchildren.

We are stronger together

So there is a great deal at stake on 18 September.

A United Kingdom which has brought so many benefits – and means so much – to people in each of its nations.

Practical co-operation in the fight against crime.

An immigration system which works in our national interest.

The freedom to move around these beautiful islands without let or hindrance.

The citizenship of generations who are yet unborn.

It’s a momentous decision.

And there will be no going back.

So let’s make sure the people of Scotland make the right choice.

And let’s all affirm that we are better together.