On Thursday September 18 the people of Scotland will be asked ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ I wanted to use this column to explain why I hope the people vote against leaving the United Kingdom, but also why it’s important that they get asked the question.
Much has been made of the ‘No’ campaign’s lack of focus on emotions. It is true that there are good economic reasons for Scotland to stay part of the UK but they shouldn’t detract from the other strong bonds between the English and the Scottish. The Commonwealth games at the moment is a timely reminder of this. Who couldn’t be thrilled for the Scottish swimmers doing so well in front of the home crowd, and we all still remember cheering Sir Chris Hoy on for Team Great Britain at the Olympics. Centre Court at Wimbledon last year was certainly pro-union!
These may sound like frivolous examples in a serious issue but they are not. We have a much deeper emotional bonds with the Scots than we sometimes remember. Spending time across the border is an enriching experience for both the English and the Scots – I certainly remember my years at St Andrews University very fondly, not least as my partner Nigel and I met there. I could not imagine having to get some currency changed for a trip to Edinburgh.
For these reasons I really hope that the Scots vote ‘No’ and the Union stays together. I also think that relationships can be strengthened by a process like this and that Britain can emerge more unified as a result. It gives an opportunity to consider the strengths and weaknesses in a way that otherwise doesn’t really happen. And most importantly the Scottish people are in control of their destiny – it just may be that they believe that lies within Great Britain. I have been running a survey on my website and so far 69% of respondents are in favour of Scotland staying part of the UK.
There is an obvious similarity here with the debate around a referendum on our membership of the European Union . It may lack some of the history, and a little of the emotion, of the Scottish referendum but some of the principles are the same.
There are issues around sovereignty and the economy that have clear parallels and there is no overwhelming consensus about what the best course of action is. I am certain though that David Cameron has done the right thing in pledging to have a straightforward in-out referendum in 2017 and it goes to the very heart of why I joined the Conservative Party.
People must be given the choice over the important issues they face. The Government’s job is to protect and to empower people; not to run their lives. Holding a referendum on an issue such as this shows clear commitment to this ideology. I strongly hope the Scots will decide to stay with us, but I also know it’s right that they are asked to make that decision.