EDINBURGH CONSERVATIVES PENTLANDS LUNCH CLUB, BRAID HILLS HOTEL, EDINBURGH
12.00 hrs., Monday 9th March 2020
Ladies & Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be back in my old stamping grounds in Edinburgh South, despite the fact that it is the one last remaining bastion of Labour in Scotland. I spent three long years trying to wrest control of this seat from Nigel Griffiths in the early 90s, but sadly it has remained stubbornly Labour ever since. I recall at the general election in 1992 someone fired a bullet through the window of Nigel Griffiths’ office. The police asked me if I knew anything about it and I said if it had been me I wouldn’t have missed!
Ladies & Gentlemen, aren’t we all sick to death about hearing this constant bleat about a second independence referendum…INDYREF2? Do you know, 60% of all the goods and services Scotland sells go to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our trade with the rest of the UK is four times greater than our trade with the EU. But Nicola Sturgeon says that Brexit and our departure from the EU Single Market will cause massive damage to the Scottish economy, so she has come up with a magic solution…yes, you’ve guessed it….let’s break away from the UK Single Market, our greatest trading partner by far.
Nicola Sturgeon says:
NO, this will not create borders.
NO, there will be no problems with a new currency.
NO, we will not create a £12 billion plus blackhole in Scotland’s economy.
NO, we will not require swingeing tax hikes or austerity on steroids.
NO, we will have no problem re-joining the EU, even although we’ll have a bigger deficit than Greece.
NO, Scotland will not have to join the Eurozone,
NO, we won’t, by the way, have to re-join the Common Fisheries Policy.
And if you argue against any of these things you are accused of TALKING SCOTLAND DOWN!
I write a weekly column for the Herald and said all this in one of my articles a few weeks ago. I got trolled immediately by the Cybernats; over 100 tweets calling me everything from a liar to a Tory traitor. The Nats just won’t accept the truth.
The economic case against independence is unarguable, but the majority of SNP voters don’t care or don’t even understand. The problems Britain has faced and will face over Brexit are nothing compared to the problems that would be caused by independence. Boris would need to build several bridges to Ireland so that we could all escape.
Our difficulty, Ladies & Gentlemen, is that we have allowed the separatists to get away with these lies for far too long. It has to stop. We’ve got to get the truth across. Independence would be a crushing disaster for Scotland and the Scottish people would suffer.
The fact that a big majority in Scotland voted REMAIN while the Tory government took the UK out of the EU, has propelled the SNP’s grievance machine into overdrive. An obsessive, constant demand for INDYREF2 now punctuates every utterance from Nicola Sturgeon and her cabinet, not to mention the dreadful Ian Blackford and his bombastic team at Westminster. The surge in support for Sinn Fein on both sides of the Irish border has further exacerbated the pressure to break up the Union. That is why Boris Johnson’s government must seize the opportunity to rethink how it interacts with and benefits the devolved regions if it is to secure the future of the United Kingdom.
Nicola Sturgeon’s rise to superstar status was spectacular. When she inherited the role of First Minister from Alex Salmond in 2014 the nationalist masses swooned in adoration. Her barn-storming trips to America, China and countless European capitals transformed her into a chat-show celebrity. Her ascendancy to superstardom achieved its zenith in 2016, when Forbes Magazine listed her as the 50th most powerful woman in the world, second only to the Queen in UK-rankings.
But scholars of international separatist movements may find some interesting parallels in Canada. Pauline Marois, leader of the left-wing nationalist Parti Québécois (PQ), was Prime Minister of Quebec from 2012-2014. Like Nicola Sturgeon, she led a minority government. She was praised and feted by an army of passionate believers right up until her political movement imploded. The 2014 general election in Quebec saw her Parti Québécois swept from power. Pauline Marois was defeated in her own constituency and announced her resignation as party leader. It was a powerful lesson in how the electorate should never be taken for granted. Parti Québécois now occupy only 9 seats in the 125 seat Québec National Assembly where a populist centre-right conservative with a small ‘c’ party rules the roost.
The echoes of Canada’s separatist movement can certainly be heard here in Scotland, where the SNP government’s policy of high taxation, poor quality health and education, decaying infrastructure and constant preoccupation with independence, has served to destroy incentives, discourage innovation and sap the talent of Scottish citizens, by robbing them of opportunities. The constant refrain from the disgraced former Finance Minister Derek Mackay was that Scotland had the fairest and most progressive tax system in the UK. In fact, following their most recent budget, anyone earning more than £50,000 will pay around £1,500 more than people South of the border, while those earning £45,000 a year will pay £500 more. Even people who earn over £26,000, an estimated 370,000 Scots, will pay £149 more. There is nothing fair or progressive about that.
When the SNP government approved their most recent budget, supervised by the 29-year-old Kate Forbes, our new Finance Minister, we were informed that Scotland’s employers are facing a 25% hike in their business rates over the next three years. This means that Scottish businesses will have to pay an additional £674 million in tax. Unbelievable! It’s no surprise that the business community feels neglected by this nationalist government. But when Kate Forbes was accused of being anti-business, guess what she replied? “Our system of business rates in Scotland is the fairest in the UK.” By the way, Kate Forbes had no previous work experience before becoming an MSP.
The SNP’s tax policies have served to put a brake on the economy, forcing Scottish GDP growth to nosedive below that of the UK. So even with massive handouts from the London Treasury amounting to over £12 billion per year under the Barnett Formula, Scotland is still underperforming. So, already grappling with the impacts of Brexit and now a potential independence referendum within the next two years, Scotland’s businesses are being side-tracked from their important role as wealth and job creators in the Scottish economy. Nevertheless, the First Minister’s continued focus remains on appeasing the yes-supporting constituency, rather than seeking to do what’s best for our economy.
Scotland continues to enjoy a net gain by remaining part of the UK, so why should we do anything that could jeopardise that position? We can boast a business heritage of innovation and technological revolution that has led the world and it is that economic development that builds the jobs, brings in the work and secures international investment. The ongoing arguments and division over INDYREF2 have created a tangible hiatus in economic development, with investors turning to more stable political landscapes to support their business growth.
It has been acutely felt here, with many sectors witnessing examples where investment has been considered for Scotland, but due to the uncertain political landscape, have opted for some other part of the UK or beyond instead. Businesses know that Scotland’s economy will be suffocated by the process on independence. Before we hear any more talk of timetables for a second independence referendum, with Brexit as a flimsy pretext, Scottish voters are owed a full and convincing explanation of how adding future chaos to the present confusion can be anything more than a political gamble that our economy can’t afford the First Minister to take.
There are exciting times ahead for Scotland if we can remove the dead-hand of nationalism from the tiller. The ‘Boris Bonus’ of Barnett Formula spin-offs from the billions which will be spent on infrastructure projects in the ‘Red Wall’ Labour constituencies of Northern England, will mark the end of the years of austerity caused by the profligacy of Britain’s last Labour Government. Scotland must seize these new opportunities and concentrate our resources on the bread and butter issues like job creation, educating our children and sustaining the NHS, rather than squandering our time on fruitless constitutional arguments.
I am the Chief Executive of Scottish Business UK (SBUK), a group which makes the business case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. We have just released a new policy paper Strengthening the Union: A Framework for Business Success, in which we argue that steps should be taken to overhaul decision-making in Scotland by undertaking a range of reforms that would improve democratic accountability and drive better outcomes for communities and businesses. I’ve brought some copies of my report for you today.
Ladies & Gentlemen, let me finish by reminding you of a famous quote by George Orwell. He said: “Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception.” At the Holyrood elections next year, let us end the deception of the Nationalists and strip them of their power.