21 Mar 2017
Below is the speech given by Ruth to open the debate on ‘Scotland’s Choice’:
Presiding Officer, on Monday last week, the First Minister announced her intention to demand a second referendum on independence.
On Saturday last week, the First Minister used her party conference speech to demand a second referendum on independence.
Today, we meet here to debate the SNP’s demand for a second referendum on independence.
Well – at least this last week has shown everybody what the Number One Priority of this Scottish Government really is.
Separation not education – this week they have made clear what comes first.
Presiding Officer, we have heard the First Minister speak today; let me run through what she said about a second referendum in times past.
In August 2014, a month before we voted on independence, we were told that “constitutional referenda are once-in-a-generation events’.
I take is she doesn’t deny saying that.
A few weeks later, at her party conference speech she summoned up all her gravitas to tell her delegates that another referendum in this parliament without a change of opinion “would be wrong and we won’t do it”.
A year ago this very week – she and I addressed the Federation of Small Business conference in Glasgow where a businessman called Alan Robbie asked her why she was taking us back to a referendum.
Looking him in the eye, she promised him: “If opinion stays as it was in the referendum, there won’t be another referendum.”
She talks of outrage: well, I wonder how outraged Mr Robbie is feeling today.
And just for good measure, in the live TV debates we all took part in last April, watched by hundreds of thousands of votes, she made herself clear.
“If support for independence doesn’t increase there won’t be another referendum.”
Well, support hasn’t increased.
Indeed, according to the weekend’s polls, the impact of the First minister’s big announcement last week has led to a drop in support for independence.
Never mind though.
In the SNP, you don’t even need to acknowledge old promises, still less honour them.
Instead, we are told today to forget about what was once said and instead submit to the SNP’s will.
Well, WE don’t. And WE won’t.
Now, Presiding Officer, let me set out the many reasons why my party will be opposing the Government motion today.
It calls on this Parliament to gain the power to call a referendum between the autumn of 2018 or the spring of 2019.
It also insists that it is only this Parliament which should have a say over the franchise and the details of this referendum.
This bull-dozer approach is completely at odds with the way the 2014 referendum was held.
Back then, the SNP won a majority with a clear pledge to bring forward a referendum bill.
The UK and Scottish Governments worked together on proposals for a fair, legal and decisive referendum.
The Edinburgh Agreement was then signed – with both sides promising to respect the result.
How different things are today.
Under this First Minister, the SNP lost its majority with no clear pledge to hold a referendum.
I’m sorry, but “believing” something “should” happen if something else takes place might be many things, but it isn’t a clear mandate.
Furthermore, the SNP wants to unilaterally decide on the rules and the timing of this referendum.
And we now know there is no agreement between the UK and Scottish Governments on the prospect of this referendum.
I remind the SNP today that they once described the last referendum – with the Edinburgh Agreement – unanimous backing in this chamber and 92% support across the public as the “gold standard” approach.
This isn’t the gold standard – it’s a tin pot approach to the biggest decision we could ever be asked to make.
But let’s cut to the chase: the SNP’s plan this last week were not actually about trying to hold a fair, legal and decisive referendum.
What it’s really about is a well-rehearsed game….
….put forward an unworkable proposal….wait for Westminster politicians to point that out… and then rush to any nearby microphone, angry face on, to trot out the same old tired complaints.
You know – once upon a time it might have worked.
But not any more.
Most people in Scotland are sick to death of the games.
Most people in Scotland don’t want another referendum any time soon, just three years after the last one.
And most people in Scotland see the plain common sense in our own position.
Brexit IS going to be a major challenge for this country.
None of us know how it will play out, none of us know how we will come through this, and none of us know what impact there will be on our country.
Which is exactly why we question how we can make a decision on our future constitutional path at a time of such uncertainty?
Why start an independence referendum campaign now, at this very moment, when the process of leaving the EU is only just beginning?
Why ask the people of Scotland to choose our future when they have not had the chance to see it playing out?
And most of all: how can the SNP sit here today and demand another referendum when they still cannot answer the basic questions on their own proposition?
On long-term membership of the European Union
On the cost of independence
Another SNP conference has gone by. Another opportunity to answer even basic questions has been squandered.
In short, the First Minister wants a date – but won’t give us a plan.
So our position is as follows:
There cannot be a referendum until people know what they’re voting for.
Until the Brexit process is complete and they know both what the UK and what independence looks like.
You don’t make a decision on leaving the UK by voting blind.
And we also believe there should not be one when there is no political or public consent for one.
Not when we were promised by this First Minister it wouldn’t take place for a generation.
Not when we were told it wouldn’t happen without a change of opinion.
Not when we know it will cause more division and more uncertainty for our country.
I know my plea will fall on deaf ears on the SNP benches – even among those who voted FOR Brexit and now see the sense in a pause.
Apart from Alex Neil, they still haven’t had the guts to stand up for their principles.
But we know the Scottish Greens are different.
This is a party that claims to stand by its commitments.
So we therefore call on them today to stick by their pledge to the people of Scotland.
They said it should only come about by the will of the people.
Well, there is none.
They said it should not be driven by the calculations of party political advantage.
Well, I’m afraid there’s plenty of that.
So I warn them today: dump their promises and push this over the line and their position as the self -appointed moral guardians of this place will be no more.
Now I know, all of the analysis and commentary surrounding today’s debate has pointed to a pre-determined result.
That there’s little point in turning up, as we all know how it is going to end, with the Greens dutifully backing the SNP as oft times before.
But even in the groundhog day that is Scottish constitutional politics, I have a longer memory. To a time when parties across the constitutional divide united to act for the country.
I remember in September last year, when this parliament voted for ministers to call in major NHS service changes. 6 months on, no action by the Scottish Government.
Also September, the parliament voted to ban fracking – I didn’t back it but the votes were there for it in the chamber. No action by the Scottish Government.
In November, The Scottish Parliament voted to abolish the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. Four months on, no action by the Scottish Government.
In January, this Parliament voted against SNP plans to scrap the Highlands and Islands Enterprise board. No action by the Scottish Government.
Just this month, this parliament voted against SNP plans to abolish the Scottish Funding Council.
Five times in six months the will of the Scottish Parliament has been clear. Five times in six months the SNP government has chosen to ignore it.
So if today, the vote does go as all the commentators expect, I hope SNP members will reflect as they are crying grievance – why do they exclaim that the Westminster government should recognise votes in the Scottish Parliament when the Scottish government does not do so?
And to those Scots watching at home – will the SNP explain to you, why votes on crucial issues such as health, education funding, Enterprise and Energy should be wilfully ignored by the SNP government. But when it comes to independence – and only when it comes to independence – Holyrood is sacrosanct?
Presiding Officer, this referendum may be the First Minister’s priority.
It is not mine. Nor that of my party.
We say: let this Parliament focus on the issues we were elected to deliver on.
Better schools. A sustainable NHS. A growing economy.
And a strong Scotland – as part of a strong United Kingdom.
I move the amendment in my name.