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Separating The Country I Love? No Thanks.

1 May 2014

Ruth Davidson MSP

I’m voting ‘No’ in September not because I lack faith in Scotland. I’m voting ‘No’ because I’m proud of everything Scotland has achieved, and continues to achieve, as part of our UK family of nations.

It is an article of faith for the Nationalists that achievement and success can only come when Scotland is a nation set apart. But most Scots see things differently. Scotland is a nation already, and we don’t need a Yes or No vote in a referendum to tell us that.

We are a nation whose best interests lie in partnership with the rest of the UK. I want to rip up the insulting claims by Nationalists that we who back the UK lack belief in Scotland. That’s not our case and it never has been. In a Conservative debate in the Scottish Parliament today on our Union success story, I hope we can remind people what is: it’s about what we’ve been able to achieve together, how much Scotland has contributed to the UK and to the world – and how that contribution’s has benefited us all.

It’s time, in other words, to slay some myths. For one, backing the Union is a positive Scottish position because the Union is ours – every bit as much as England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It wasn’t forced on us against our will. Scots forged the UK; designed it, shaped it and propelled it to the world’s top tables – be they political, economic or diplomatic.

We have the most professional armed forces in the world. Our scientists are global leaders in research and development. BBC television programmes are shown on every continent. We have the second highest aid budget in the world and we’ve been voted the most culturally influential nation on the planet.

As a Scot, I’m proud of our role in creating that legacy. It may be unfashionable to talk up these achievements, but the UK is one of the great success stories of the world. That success is our success, because without Scotland, it would not exist. I think the Union can be built on and improved, But when I vote No in September I’ll be proud that this is the inheritance I’m passing onto the next generation.

So while some Nationalists may claim sole rights to national pride, I beg to differ. I’m voting ‘No’ as a patriotic Scot conscious of the practical case before us  – a currency we all trust, Armed Forces we rely on, a pension when we retire, the knowledge we’ll be cared for in hospital without the need to flash a credit card. These are the big things, but it’s the less known benefits that matter too  – last week, for example, a survey found that the UK was the joint best country in the world from where to travel, having been granted visa free access to no fewer than 173 countries. And let’s not  take for granted the social and family ties that bond us together across the UK as well – symbolised in a small way for me by the fact that fully a quarter of the people who asked to volunteer in this summer’s Glasgow Commonwealth games were from elsewhere in the UK.

Simply put, the thing works. And simply put, thanks to the intellectual black hole at its heart, the alternative is falling to pieces. On the one hand, the SNP seeks to reassure us by asserting that we will keep the UK pound, stay the best of chums with England, and keep things as they are. On the other, it whips up resentment against London, damns the Union as the fount of all Scotland’s ills, and declares brashly that once independence arrives, everything will miraculously change. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot escape the consequences of your own actions.

So while Alex Salmond may have framed the referendum question so that we are the side saying “no”, it is the Nationalists who have the negative argument. They are the ones telling Scots that the UK isn’t working. They are the ones saying Scotland is part of failed state. They are the ones trying to rip our country apart – and what could be more negative than that?

And what would Mr Salmond replace it with? He is fond of the grand pronouncement. Of course an independent Scotland could waltz into Europe without question. Of course the rest of the UK would be delighted to subsidise Scottish wind farms after independence. Of course a separate Scotland could simply keep the Bank of England as its lender of last resort.

He is less keen on some evidence for these assertions. In the SNP Twilight world, anyone asking for some is dismissed as  “scare-mongering”. Anyone saying no, is simply bluffing. And when the chancellor, shadow chancellor and chief secretary to the Treasury say the UK pound would not be shared with Scotland, then they are “bullying” our First Minister.

Never mind that the First Minister of Wales, the impartial permanent secretary of the UK Treasury, and the people of England and Wales say they don’t want a currency union. They must be bullying him too.

In Alex Salmond’s world, an impartial civil servant is a bully. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is to be admired.

Of course, we’re not denying that difficult times are being faced right now by many families in Scotland. Good news on UK growth yesterday cannot blind us to the fact that the recovery has yet to be felt by many families. But with other nations across Europe still suffering the after-shock of the global slump, to argue that the Union is uniquely to blame – as the Nationalists imply – is absurd.

The choice facing us was well put two years ago in a speech by the Prime Minister. Imagine, he asked, explaining to someone from America, or France, or Australia what was so intolerable about the UK that we decided to build artificial barriers between our nations?

It knocks down another myth that the Nationalists would have us believe: the UK is not a failed state. If it were, why would 800,000 Scots have settled happily in England, and 400,000 people from elsewhere in Britain have gone the other way? If it were a failure, why are the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland now clearly in favour of Scotland wanting to stay?

As proud, patriotic Scots we all want the best for Scotland. We also all know that the decision facing us this September is irreversible. It is the biggest political decision we’ll ever make.

My reasons for voting No will be simple. I love my country. It is precisely because of that love that I am proud of Scotland’s achievements – and the UK is one of its biggest ones.

I’m looking forward to seeing Nationalists try to strike down this positive case over the coming months. As we re-examine our family of nations this summer, I’m confident that they’ll fall well short. I’m confident that, instead, we’ll see the reality of a thriving union and the prospect of a revitalised future together.

Separation? It’s no thanks for me.