The Prime Minister travelled to Scotland last week to set out the Conservative Party’s case for the defence of the United Kingdom. As a Scottish MP serving an English constituency, I have a dual interest in this referendum: Scottish independence matters as much to my constituents as it does to my compatriots. David Cameron understands this and deserves credit for consistently supporting the Union out of conviction rather than convenience.
The referendum campaign will be a long one. It is currently focused on procedure rather than substance. As the SNP’s vision for Scotland’s future is examined from all angles on the political spectrum, I have no doubt that many swing voters will begin to question how much they have to gain from breaking away from the UK. Which single fault with devolution as it stands is so insurmountable that it requires closing the chapter on three hundred years of history? Do Scots really have more in common with Scandinavians than they do with the Northern English, Welsh or Northern Irish? Scottish people get this. A Scotland that votes for the SNP is a very different beast from a Scotland which votes for independence.
However, that does not mean that Unionists have any reason to be complacent. A strong cross-party campaign is required to represent all the different voices in favour of keeping the UK together. The recent ‘No to AV’ campaign, while not directly analogous, offers a useful example of how politicians can unite on issues of constitutional importance to defend what has been proven to work from populist whims.
All Unionists have an interest in defending the UK. It is natural that Scottish politicians, particularly those with Scottish seats, should play a leading role – but not an exclusive one. I would encourage all Members of Parliament, and especially those with experience of Scotland, to speak up in favour of the Union in order to demonstrate its strong non-partisan support.
Of course, Members with English, Welsh and Northern Irish seats have a primary obligation to represent their constituents. But to represent their constituents effectively they must also defend our constitution. Scottish independence would have significant consequences for the rest of the UK. Not least of these would be the end of the United Kingdom as a nation state: Alex Salmond may say that Scotland would retain the monarchy, at least for a while, but Scotland and England would become no more united a kingdom than England and Australia.
There are also significant practical consequences for the rest of the UK, some of which are neither intended nor foreseeable. In defence, London would lose control of its Faslane nuclear base, Scottish training facilities and strategic northern locations. Economically, Scots commercial law would almost certainly diverge and, while Scotland may become fiscally independent, it would apparently remain in currency union with the Bank of England – the same ingredients which are currently causing such grief in the Eurozone. All this would make for a very volatile major trading partner for the rest of the UK.
Letting Scotland quietly go its own way is therefore not a risk-free proposition for the rest of the UK. It is because of this that I intend to play my part in the Unionist cause on behalf of both the constituency I represent and the country I love.