Speech by Alastair Cameron, Director of Scotland In Union, at a Supporters’ Event on Sunday 5th July 2015
Welcome to this Scotland In Union event. Some of you are here because you have supported us over the last few months — financially, online, or on the streets. We would like to thank everyone who has helped SIU already. Others I know are new to SIU, and for your benefit I’d like to start by reiterating what Scotland In Union is: we are a not-for-profit, non-party and all-party, pro-UK movement, committed to promoting Scotland within the UK.
We’ve come a long way in a short time since our launch in March this year. Our volunteers delivered 50,000 leaflets during the election campaign. Our Facebook and Twitter presences have expanded dramatically. We have featured in a variety of media, and have lobbied politicians and showcased original and informative articles via our website. We have also had some fun, including our ‘No to Nationalism’ aerial banner. And we have helped a lot of people to feel more positive about our political situation, providing hope and encouraging them to take action. We have done all this efficiently, and on a relatively small budget: 80% of our expenditure has been on projects rather than infrastructure.
We have the same clear vision for the future that we had at our launch. We look forward to a time when people in Scotland no longer consider themselves and others as ‘Yes voters’ or ‘No voters’; when flying a saltire is patriotic, not political; when more people understand better the benefits of the United Kingdom; when Scottish politics is about policies, not powers; and business and individuals invest in Scotland because they value stability.
We look forward to a return to what I would call ‘politics as normal’, with the debate being about how best to use the resources we have to improve people’s lives, and constitutional obsessives relegated to the margins where they belong — where they were not that long ago, before the low-turnout Scottish Parliament election of 2011, and the massive injections of cash to the SNP which started shortly after that that time.
We’re not going to get to that situation overnight — you can be sure of that. But we can get there if we all play our parts. Scotland In Union will continue to support the moderate majority, based on three strategic themes.
The first theme is the imperative of decoupling of Scottishness from separation — this is the cultural and emotional theme. Despite its claims, the SNP isn’t Scotland. Our vision is an inclusive Scottishness which overlaps with other identities – Scottish AND British, not Scottish or British. You can be a patriotic Scot AND proud to be British: patriotic Scots want the best for Scotland, and rational patriotic Scots know that staying in the UK is best for Scotland. We’re not narrow-minded or selfish, either: we want the best for Scotland AND for the UK. We support Team GB, not just the Scottish-born athletes within Team GB. The saltire is our flag, and so is the union flag our flag.
The second theme is helping people to understand the benefits of the UK — if you like, the rational theme. In a logical world, this would be sufficient: the benefits to Scotland, the rest of the UK, and indeed to the world of a strong, positive United Kingdom have been rehearsed many times. It is beyond doubt that pooling and sharing rewards and risks across the UK has benefited Scotland in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. But there is more to be done to remind people of these benefits, whether it’s talking about the economic benefits of the UK, as people like Kevin Hague do so well (and we are looking forward to hearing Kevin shortly); or reminding people how freedom of movement across the UK brings opportunities for businesses and employment; or helping them to remember that their British passport is envied by millions across the globe. We also need to remind people outside Scotland that the SNP do not speak for the majority of us here, and that we understand pooling and sharing works in several directions – if the UK benefits from Scotland, we all benefit.
It’s hard work making the case and convincing people, though. The SNP propaganda machine is slick and well-funded. There are many who have fallen for their half-truths, and can now reasonably be described as showing cult-like disregard for countervailing evidence. If I had a pound for every time I’d had someone suggesting, with great sincerity but miles from the truth, that Scotland subsidises the UK, I’d have…well, more spare pounds than a fiscally autonomous Scotland would have. Less worthy of our sympathy are those who peddle this stuff while knowing it’s false. Not just the online nutters like the infamous “Wings” (if you don’t know about this, and you’re not on Facebook or Twitter, you probably don’t want to know, trust me), but senior nationalist politicians.
Mention of politicians brings me to our third theme, the political one: seeing the nationalists back to the margins of politics. Scottish politics should be about improving lives, not relentless constitutional reform. We will remind people that political debates should be about tax, spending, health, welfare, security and the other functions of the state, rather than indulging empty separatist gestures at the expense of running the country properly. People sometimes ask if we are anti-SNP. My answer is that we are not willingly anti anything, but it’s pretty hard to be pro-UK and not to oppose a party with a constitution which states the single overriding aim of separation, throws in a small afterthought about Scottish interests, and makes no reference to the UK, social justice, welfare, rights or the economy.
SNP policies are, of course, designed to promote that single aim. Did Transport Scotland insist on a Gaelic sign at my local Edinburgh station because Gaelic speakers kept getting off at the wrong stop? Did the SNP add mandatory Scottish texts to the curriculum and increase the emphasis on pre-1707 history because they thought that would help our kids’ life chances? Did they rename the Scottish Executive the Scottish Government, and more recently did that body move its website from scotland.gov.uk to gov.scot, for reasons of efficiency? Of course not: these are all policies designed simply to increase the sense of difference and promote the idea of separation. But these are actually trivial examples compared to the way in which the nationalists’ obsession with separation has been at the expense of improving health or education.
In the run-up to the 2016 election, therefore, we will need to get involved in political campaigning. We need to remind people that the SNP have been in power since 2007. We need to highlight how they have not used the powers which they already have. And we need to highlight how that party’s desire to eliminate dissent leads them to embrace policies which increase central control (police centralisation, or the named person state guardian proposal).
We can also encourage people to look at their candidates and their relationship with the central party — the SNP doesn’t tolerate dissent well, and the result is that constituents may not be well represented. I think the behaviour of the SNP MPs at Westminster will help people to understand this.
If you will permit me a brief anecdote, I recently wrote to my SNP MP to ask her to support the amendment to the Scotland Bill which would set up a commission on FFA; her response (a copy and paste) made it clear that the SNP would be deciding on which amendments to support en bloc, and sure enough they did, inexplicably scotching the plan for an FFA commission. Perhaps my MP had a rationale for opposing an FFA commission which I have been unable to fathom – and, to be fair, there are many examples of MPs toeing their party lines. However, given the SNP’s general control-freakery, many people in Scotland would be wise to keep an eye on whether their elected representatives are putting party before constituency.
I’m spending a bit of time on the political theme, so I’ll draw it to a close by touching on some specifics: the EU referendum; the idea of a new political party; and the prospect of a second separation referendum. (Yes, I do keep saying ‘separation’ rather than ‘independence’, because if the choice is anything like the last time, that independence is pretty notional – just ask the Greeks about shared currencies, for example.)
On the EU referendum, Scotland In Union will not take a side — we will leave that debate to others — but we do have one strong view: it will be a decision for the United Kingdom to make, together. Ms Sturgeon’s posturing about Scotland having a different vote compared to the rest of the UK is as nonsense as Edinburgh having a different vote, or Cornwall having a different vote — or my street deciding to declare independence from the City of Edinburgh Council — and I think she knows it.
Discussion of a new pro-UK political party in Scotland has swirled around recently, and several people have suggested that we should be that party. Others may have different views, but I can tell you now that the SIU committee does not have any intention that SIU will become a party. We will in some respects help to hold the fort while the mainstream parties recover their strengths, which they will, by campaigning and lobbying, but at present we have no plans to run SIU candidates.
On the idea of a second referendum, we are also clear: once in a generation. We don’t want to obsess about a new referendum, but if we need to have that fight then we will lobby the UK government to ignore any calls for one until at least 2030 — 16 years from the last one. If the SNP do push ahead with an unauthorised Catalan-style referendum in order to keep their nuttier fringe happy (which they could do, if they win a majority in Holyrood), then we’ll deal with that when it comes, but a boycott would be a pretty good option.
I’ve talked a lot about general principles; you can enjoy getting into some of the specifics in your discussions later this afternoon. I’d like to close this introduction with what could be called, with a nod to Fawlty Towers, a statement of the bleedin’ obvious: to achieve our vision, we need help.
We already have good, informal relations with other grassroots groups. You can help us too, either with direct support to SIU, or by doing things which support our aim — whether it’s spreading the word; countering nationalist propaganda online or in discussion with friends; proudly reclaiming the saltire at every opportunity; writing to MPs, MSPs or newspapers; or canvassing and leafleting. We need to be prepared for the long haul, but we can take the task one step at a time. You, as our supporters, can help to make this happen – do something for the UK every day, and we will make it happen. We can work together for a united Scotland, in a United Kingdom. Thank you.