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Ruth Davidson: young Scots best served by UK

15 Jul 2014

Ruth Davidson MSP

Ruth Davidson has delivered a speech outlining why young people in Scotland are best served by the Union.

Here is a copy of her speech:

“We’re told  – time and again – by the cynics and the sceptics that young people aren’t interested in politics.

That their votes are less reliable.

That fewer of them will make it to the polls.

That they just aren’t interested in the debate.

This referendum campaign – and all of you here – has proven once again that these glib assumptions are just plain wrong.

Whatever the result in September, these last two years will be remembered for the debate that we have had.

It will be remembered as the time that Scotland put its delicate sensibilities of never discussing politics in polite company to bed.

And it will be remembered as the time when people from all political parties and –more importantly – from none got themselves out there and led the discussion about the future of our country.

This referendum is not going to be won or lost by me or Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon or Johann Lamont making points on television.

It will be won and lost by ordinary Scots having conversations within their family; discussions with friends; arguments with workmates and debates in taxis, in pubs and on the doorsteps.

This is good for democracy.

It’s good for democracy now, and it’s good for our democracy in the future.

We need brave, passionate, articulate people to take our country forward – and I see a room full of you today.

Who knows how many future political careers will be a direct result of the awakening of debate in our country over the past few months.

How many MPs, MSPs, ministers, First Ministers, Prime Ministers of the future have cut their teeth outside a railway station in the sodden rain handing our literature to commuters this year or last?

I wouldn’t bet against it.

Over the last two and a half years I have done more hustings and Q & A’s in schools and universities than I can remember.

And here’s what politicians will never tell you. The questions you get from the audience there are infinitely better than the ones you get from professional journalists.

I know, I used to be one.

And while the Times or the BBC may want the minutiae of the preferred application route for EU membership debated, young people want straight answers – not debating points.

You want practical solutions to the problems and issues facing you – and your country – in the world today.

“What’s this going to mean for me?

“How will this decision impact on my university? How will it affect my chances of a good career? Or my future opportunities and the security of my family?”

They’re the real questions people want answered.

And they should be front and centre of the last few weeks of the campaign. Not just for you, who are asking them – but for everyone.

Because while it’s true that every age group will be impacted by the decision we take on September 18th, no one group will be personally affected more than you – the people who have their whole lives ahead of them, the people whose future careers and prospects depend on the outcome.

So while we’ll all have a vote on September 18th, it’s my belief that the votes of Scotland’s young people carry that little bit extra weight. It is your future, and the future of your children and their children, that will be decided this September. It is your interests which should take paramount importance.

That’s why, today, I want to focus on young people.

I want to talk about the clear message that they’re giving not just the politicians, but the whole country ahead of September.

A message that I call on every voter, no matter their age, to hear and to heed before they cast their ballot.

First of all, let’s be clear – the overwhelming view from young people is for Scotland to stay in Britain.

This has surprised a lot of people. The theory was that on the back of the 2011 election, younger people would rush to the SNP banner to smash the state and seize the chance to separate from the tired old United Kingdom. It is partly why, I believe, the SNP was so keen to ensure that 16 and 17 year olds got the vote.

But one of the stories of this campaign is how far that lazy analysis has been from the truth.

Time after time, poll after poll, study after study, and in mock referenda held right across Scotland, the outcome has been clear to see.

11 and a half thousand high school pupils in Aberdeenshire – polled on a single day in a mock referendum  – Seventy five percent of them said they supported a No vote.

Last month, the whole of Moray held a mock referendum in every secondary school across the region, 71% of pupils also said No.

In six of our Universities, across four of our cities – In Glasgow, in Edinburgh, in Aberdeen and Dundee, every single one has politely said ‘No thanks’.

Why is this?

Firstly, it’s to do with the culture that we have been brought up in.

The generation I – just about – belong to is Scotland’s devolution generation.

For anyone aged 35 or under, we have grown up in a country where Holyrood is a fact of life.

Our more relaxed, looser Union – with decision making shared between Westminster and Edinburgh – is just normal.

This has had a big impact. Yes, the SNP has managed to win the last two elections in Scotland. But the old Nationalist rallying cries – reheated in this referendum campaign – that Scotland must be freed from the oppressor, that London rule must end, just sounds odd.

We have devolution now. We know things are different.

And by carrying on the old battle cries, the SNP end up looking like that Japanese solider who was still fighting World War 2 a couple of decades after it had ended, refusing to acknowledge that peace had broken out.

And their response to developing devolution? To the new powers that are already coming and the plans each of the Unionist parties want to bring to Holyrood?

Denial. The SNP says we’re not serious. That more powers can’t or won’t come.

Well, let me tell Alex Salmond, I am deadly serious about bringing fiscal responsibility to Holyrood, and to end his grievance politics.

And I’ll remind the First Minister of this.

Three of Scotland’s four main parties have delivered greater powers to Scotland – The Labour Party delivered the parliament, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats delivered the Scotland act, the greatest fiscal devolution for 300 years and backed unanimously in Holyrood, even by SNP members.

Only one party has handed powers back to Westminster and that’s the SNP. There’s the history they don’t talk about.

Our referendum in 1997 had two questions on the ballot paper – the first was should there be parliament, the second was should it have tax raising powers.

Scotland voted yes to both – it was the settled will of the Scottish people that Holyrood could alter taxation – a power John Swinney handed back without asking.

So the next time the SNP tries to kid on that more powers aren’t coming – remind Alex Salmond that he’s the only nationalist in history who’s handed powers back to the state he’s trying to leave.

Here’s what the Nationalists needs to realise.

Devolution happened. It happened 15 years ago.

And for most young people, (and I generously include myself in that), it is a fact of our lives.

So the problem that the Nationalists face with young people is that when they try to airbrush it out of existence, when they wheel out those long held grievances that pre-date devolution, they end up sounding tired and old.

Their lines sound like old songs, repeated as comfort for the singer, and oddly out of tune with modern Scotland.

The SNP wants to end devolution. We want to develop it.

And this claim that only separation will halt the stuffy establishment from stopping Scotland doing things just sounds bizarre.

And it’s made even more so, coming from a party of government.

The SNP appears not to realise that it’s no longer an insurgent political movement.

Alex Salmond isn’t the plucky outsider trying to bring an overbearing Westminster to heel.

He’s been in power at Holyrood for seven years. He IS the political establishment.

If you are a 17 year old voter, casting your first ballot, you were ten when he entered Bute House.

People in their teens and twenties in Scotland have no memory of another party running the country.

You can’t claim victimhood when you’re the ones in power.

You can’t claim you’re starting a revolution when it’s you who has been bossing the nation around for the last seven years.

And I think young people get that more than anyone.

The second reason why independence is falling on deaf ears for many younger people is related to the first, but wider.

It isn’t just Scotland that’s a very different place for young people than the one remembered by the older generation – the entire world is too.

The extraordinary force of globalisation – something we carry around with us in our smart phones and tablets – has changed utterly the way we live our lives and experience reality.

The debate about whether it has been a force for good or ill is irrelevant; the point is that this force is shattering old ways of working and thinking. And that is particularly so for those of us who have grown up in this era, who have never known anything different.

How has it changed us?

It may be a coincidence that the World Wide Web was invented in the same year that the Berlin Wall came down, but it is a telling one nonetheless.

Because one of the biggest changes that this new connected world has led to is the commonly held view that openness and a border-less world should now be a given.

And so the idea of dividing the UK, and creating a new border, feels odd too.

The Nationalists have been at pains to claim that independence wouldn’t do this. Listening to them, you would think that splitting up the 300 year old union is just a small, administrative exercise. That’s because they know just how unpopular the reality is.

And that reality includes a new international border between our two separate nations. And it would have consequences. From commercial ones like double regulation of our financial services that Callum wants to join, to the personal, like our tv habits. The BBC charges 6.99 euros a month for the iPlayer in Ireland, for only half the service. Would Scotland be the same? The nationalists say no, but that decision is not in their gift to make.

These consequences – the result of a decision to erect barriers where none previously existed – goes utterly against the way young people think the world should work.

They expect to be connected.

They expect not to have to pay for it.

They don’t like anything that blocks our access to the wider world.

They place a very, very high premium on things that keep us wired up.

They don’t want that put at risk.

This attitude is a huge challenge for all politicians and for the idea of a nation state. There are big issues to resolve in the future on what that means.

But for now, the question is: in a networked, globalised world, why suddenly do something as old-fashioned as to draw a line on a map, to create divisions between people where those divisions had been removed?

Young people need a very, very good reason to do something as un-modern and counter intuitive as this. And the fact is that the SNP has failed utterly to provide one.

And that proposed line – between Gretna and Berwick – leads me to the third possible reason why young people aren’t seized by the idea of independence.

My clear impression is that young people see the UK, all of it, as a place where opportunities and security lies – and they don’t want to be cut off from it.

To them, the UK isn’t the great subjugator of Scottish life that more extreme Nationalists still seem to think it is. Again, this viewpoint is simply out of date.

The UK is a liberating, exciting, free country, built into the mainframe of the globalised world, and best of all, it’s a nation that Scotland helped build, design and create.

The UK is what we’ve made it and its successes are our successes too – we own them, because we were part of making them happen.

Look around modern Britain and see the success stories around the country.

Where is cutting edge research taking place right now into developing the one-atom thick material Graphene which could revolutionise manufacturing? Manchester.

Where is the world’s third largest technology start-up cluster after New York and San Francisco, where Google has set up shop to create a new Silicon Valley? Shoreditch in East London.

Which city is leading the world in video game development, and was the birthplace of Grand Theft Auto to name but one? Dundee.

And where is the medical research on cloning and stem cell technology happening which could arrest and reverse diseases across the world? Edinburgh.

Why would you want to carve this country up so that it is more difficult, not less, to decide which of these brilliant opportunities you want to take up? I genuinely have no idea.

Of course, the Nationalist argument is that, by slicing and dicing the UK up, then we’d be better off. It’s a mindset borne of the view that if a Scot leaves Perth or Inverness for London, it’s a soul lost.

So even though independence won’t move London an inch further south, the idea is that we should cut free from the UK family anyway.

What a miserable, negative, small-minded, deeply pessimistic view to take.

Why shouldn’t thousands of Scots seize opportunities to work in London, one of the world’s great cities?

Or, for that matter, why shouldn’t an ambitious young person move from Birmingham or Swansea if they see their future in the vibrant financial services industries of Edinburgh or in Glasgow’s Digital Media Quarter?

Why should we make it harder for people to go wherever their talents and interests take them in our country?

I love Scotland, it’s my home.

I’ve travelled the world, but I’ve never lived or worked anywhere else but here.

I don’t want to.

But I still like the idea that I could.

And I don’t understand how it benefits anyone to make it more difficult to do.

And why make it harder for businesses to operate UK-wide?

One in five workers in Scotland are employed by companies based elsewhere in Britain, but operating here.

Scotland’s place within the UK is the best route to advance the opportunities we want everyone to share in.

While those who have already ‘made it’ in life have the luxury of esoteric debate in the country’s coffee shops, those who haven’t ‘made it’ yet, but who want to, have been asking themselves simple, straightforward questions that go right to the heart of the matter.

…What’s the best way of maximising job opportunities?

…What’s gives me the best chance of a mortgage I can afford?

…What’s best for my family?

…What’s best for my future?

They’re asking these questions because they know their own futures depend on the answer we all give on September 18th.

If we vote to leave the UK, we’d be closing off avenues of opportunity for young Scots that have existed for generations.

We’d be selling young Scots short.

Our young people are as dynamic and ambitious as their contemporaries in any other corner of the globe.

They’ve got what it takes to ‘make it’ in life – the talent, the drive and the determination to make their mark on the world.

And it’s our responsibility to make sure they get the best possible chance of achieving their full potential.

So when I vote on September 18th, I’ll cast my vote for ‘No’.

…No to independence.

But in doing so, I’ll also be giving a resounding endorsement to

…Scotland staying in Britain, to Scotland advancing through partnership and not division, to delivering for the devolution generation, to ensuring future generations of Scots enjoy greater opportunities, not narrower horizons.

Young people in Scotland want to make it in life – they see the opportunities their parents had, and they want those opportunities too, and more besides.

Time and again our young people tell us that they want to be part of something bigger.

Of a Scotland in the UK.

Let’s listen to their voices as we go to the polls.

Let’s give them the future life chances they deserve – not pull the ladder up behind us.

When the argument and debate is done and we cast our vote, it will all come down to belief.

I believe in Scotland.

I believe in Britain.

And I believe in our young people who want to live in a UK without borders or barriers.

Who want every opportunity afforded to them.

Who want the best of all possible worlds.

A strong Scotland in a strong UK.

Let’s vote with confidence and belief.

Let’s vote for our young people, for the next generation – for generations yet unborn – and for the opportunity and security that they deserve.

On September 18th, we’re voting for all our futures.

Let’s vote ‘No Thanks’.”