Ruth Davidson – A Union Revived Speech Here
Ruth Davidson MSP, Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, delivered the final speech of our series with the title, “A Union Revived”. Ms Davidson used her lecture to argue that the referendum debate provided an opportunity for Scots, and also those living elsewhere in these islands, to look again at what Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom gain from their 300-year old partnership.
Ms Davidson opened her speech by reflecting that David Hume’s call for scepticism and empiricism struck a chord with Conservative beliefs, but that they contrasted with the ‘razzle dazzle’ of the nationalist cause. This, she suggested, was a contrast all the stronger with the United Kingdom often unwilling to wear its patriotism on its sleeve.
However she maintained that, although it was perhaps more challenging to make the case for continuity as opposed to radical change, the Union was a magnificent thing.
To begin its defence, she tackled what she said were some of the myths that have been allowed to grow up around the Union, beginning with the caricature that suggests that to be in favour of a Union is to be somehow less than truly Scottish. There was no conflict, she suggested, in holding a loyalty to both Scotland and the UK as a whole, and in fact this dual identity allowed many Scots to celebrate the best of both worlds.
Ms Davidson argued too that partition would be a loss not only for Scotland, but also the rest of the United Kingdom. A Parliament without Scottish Members, such as Winston Churchill when he was the MP for Dundee, would be a poorer place, and she felt that it was sometimes the role of Scotland to keep the rest of our island on the right track. The ‘barbarians on the Thames’ benefitted from Scotland’s egalitarianism, intellectual seriousness, sense of realism, and sense of humour, and their loss would be to the detriment of all. This, she said, was the nature of a Union that was confident, altruistic and generous.
Next, Ms Davidson turned to what she said was the second myth, which was that Scotland was somehow not a full partner in the Union but rather a ‘surly lodger’. The Union was, she said, a benevolent, enduring and democratic friendship that any partner was free to leave whenever they chose, but with a reticence that meant this fact was something perhaps better understood in Catalonia than it was at home. Our guest therefore found it ironic that the Nationalists’ proposals would, in her words, leave Scotland looking more ‘like a Crown Dependency’ than either a full partner in the Union or an entirely independent and separate country.
The third myth Ms Davidson spoke of was that the Union was a drag on its constituent parts, claiming that the Coalition was committed to driving decision making closer to the people, both through devolution and through city deals. This was not, she said, a Union that ‘jealously clings power to its chest’, but rather a backup of sixty million people that supported each other if, in the worst of times, a bank with billions on its books were to go bust. It was rather something, like our currency, that we did not think about until we realised that it might be taken away.
Ms Davidson then turned to the questions posed by the Young Academy of Scotland in the open letter. Although she did not make reference to issue of enfranchisement of 16-17 year olds, an issue brought by the Scottish Youth Parliament, she did outline her vision of how the Union would support the economy. She said that Britain had taken some tough choices, but that the recovery was underway with some sources suggesting that the UK – the whole UK – could be the biggest economy in the European Union. She felt that this was not the time to change course, but rather a time to maintain stability and continue to work together with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ms Davidson told us that the SNP were, in fact, helping to make the case for Union by playing up Scotland’s currency and business strengths, underlining how it shared a time zone, a language and a regulatory system with London, and campaigning for ‘continued co-operation’ with the rest of the UK on the subject of research funding. She quoted Prof. Jim Gallacher in saying that there were three unions – the economic, social and political union – and it was impossible to ‘cut away the political union and hope to keep the others’. Pick’n’mix independence, she told us, would not work.
Finally, she turned to the impartial advice of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, who has advised ‘strongly against a currency union as currently advocated, if Scotland were to vote for independence’. This was, she said, devastating to Mr Salmond’s attempts to de-risk independence.
However, she also said that she had hoped that the referendum would be an opportunity to vote not out of fear or negativity, but also out of hope for a brighter future for a renewed nation. In her closing responses to questions from the floor, she described her formative Service experience where she saw UK forces working together prevent a genocide in Kosovo and her family members’ experiences in Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool, three cities which she said could scarcely be more alike. However, this final point sat slightly at odds with her reticence to embrace the notion of being a ‘North Briton’. When responding to another question from the floor Davidson cited clear cultural differences north and south of Hadrians Wall, in particular the ‘chippy confidences’ of Scots cities as opposed to those of Northern England. The contradiction here was the only let up in an otherwise consistent argument and line of thought held during the evening.
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