The Scottish Mail on Sunday

But for us Scots Tories, calamity Cor­byn would now be in No 10


LESS than three months ago, in the mid­dle of March, Ni­cola Stur­geon stood up at the SNP con­fer­ence in Aberdeen and sent her sup­port­ers into rap­tures. ‘There will be a ref­er­en­dum,’ she de­clared, to cheers from the faith­ful.

On Fri­day lunchtime last week, Miss Stur­geon stood up at a press con­fer­ence in Ed­in­burgh with a very dif­fer­ent mes­sage. The Scot­tish pub­lic had just dumped 21 Na­tion­al­ist MPs out of their jobs. The First Min­is­ter was forced to re­spond she would now be ‘re­flect­ing’ on her ref­er­en­dum plans. What a dif­fer­ence an elec­tion can make. In the spring, Miss Stur­geon and her col­leagues be­lieved a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum was theirs for the tak­ing. They as­sumed that if they de­manded it, Scot­land and the UK Govern­ment would meekly ac­qui­esce. It was a huge mis-read. If the Na­tion­al­ists had asked, they would have known how un­pop­u­lar another ref­er­en­dum was. If they had stopped to lis­ten, they would have known most of us felt down­right ap­palled at the idea. Last Thurs­day we had our chance to speak out. We said no – again. And, con­trary to her as­ser­tion back in March, Ni­cola Stur­geon now knows this: there won’t be a ref­er­en­dum. Not now. Not af­ter this. It is dead in the wa­ter.

Na­tion­al­ist MPs such as An­gus Robert­son and Alex Sal­mond have lost their jobs as a re­sult of Miss Stur­geon’s hubris. The SNP now knows that its reck­less de­ci­sion to push for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum has come with a high po­lit­i­cal price. And Miss Stur­geon knows, were she to con­tinue with this course, it would be her job next.

The Union is still in a pe­riod of great un­cer­tainty, but last week’s set­back for the SNP has given us some wel­come breath­ing space. So this week­end my fo­cus is clear. We must now use this chance to en­sure that we strengthen the Union while we can.

It has been pum­melled and dam­aged in re­cent years. Day by day, inch by inch, the SNP has tried to tease apart the ties that bind us, cre­at­ing dif­fer­ences where none pre­vi­ously ex­isted.

Last week, the Na­tion­al­ists were pun­ished for try­ing to take that mis­sion too far – and for tak­ing peo­ple’s sup­port for granted. We must not make the same mis­take. In­stead, we must show that the Union is work­ing for peo­ple every day. That is why I sup­port the Prime Min­is­ter’s ef­forts to move quickly to de­liver a work­ing Govern­ment.

Now, as most peo­ple know, I have my dif­fer­ences with the DUP and its views on equal rights. That is why I sought and re­ceived clear as­sur­ances from the Prime Min­is­ter that we will do all we can, as the party of equal mar­riage, to ad­vance that cause as we go for­ward.

And with that Govern­ment in place, we can be­gin to re­store con­fi­dence in the UK. We can fo­cus on get­ting the best pos­si­ble Brexit deal for all of us. And we can re­store faith in our own coun­try af­ter th­ese years of tur­moil.

The 13 new Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive MPs will be part of that. We will be no less pas­sion­ate than the SNP in rep­re­sent­ing Scot­land’s rights. But we will do so in the be­lief that those in­ter­ests are al­ways best pur­sued by be­ing part of our Union.

We will al­ways fight for Scot­land’s voice to be heard. We will al­ways cham­pion Scot­land’s needs. But we will be con­struc­tive, not de­struc­tive, seek­ing co-op­er­a­tion where the SNP has pur­sued only griev­ance.

We will, in other words, show how the Union can work for Scot­land – not by de­mand­ing the heav­ens and then moan­ing when it doesn’t come off but by work­ing with col­leagues from else­where in the UK, by press­ing our case, and by mak­ing progress.

We will do it by mea­sures such as cre­at­ing a new fi­nan­cial deal for our Border­lands re­gions, or en­sur­ing that the needs of our fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties in the North-East are ad­dressed as we leave the Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy, and that we do more to sup­port the oil and gas in­dus­try.

Th­ese are the tan­gi­ble gains that can be made at West­min­ster by Scot­tish MPs with a co­op­er­a­tive spirit. This is how we be­gin to show the Union isn’t some­thing im­posed on us to be re­sented – it’s some­thing we take part in, to our mu­tual ben­e­fit.

This is how we start to re­build trust that West­min­ster is work­ing for Scot­land. At the same time, we will aim to show the rest of the UK that we are all bet­ter for hav­ing Scot­land in the mix. And one rather big ex­am­ple of that comes to mind.

Had it not been for Con­ser­va­tive gains in Scot­land last week, Jeremy Cor­byn could now be Prime Min­is­ter. Ni­cola Stur­geon would be pulling the strings. And what would that have meant? Pu­ni­tive tax­a­tion, a crashed econ­omy, and the prospect of yet more con­sti­tu­tional up­heaval.

I pre­dict that Mr Cor­byn will con­tinue to be ex­posed over the com­ing months as a leader ut­terly un­suited for the job of Prime Min­is­ter. We will soon be see­ing more ex­am­ples of how it could have dam­aged us all. And peo­ple will know it was the Con­ser­va­tive gains made in Scot­land which stopped him from get­ting into power.

And that’s im­por­tant. Over the past few years, na­tion­al­ists in Eng­land have built up re­sent­ment against Scot­land. Aided by the SNP surge, they have tried to claim Eng­land’s needs have been ig­nored – and that the Union is there­fore bust.

We have seen how the Union could end, with re­sent­ment on ei­ther side of the Bor­der, lead­ing to an in­evitable di­vorce. Our Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive MPs will show that some­times it is bet­ter to have al­lies af­ter all. Sure, some­times you don’t get your own way. But some­times be­ing part of a big­ger club is worth it.

The new Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive MPs will take the fight to Mr Cor­byn’s de­struc­tive agenda over the com­ing years. And they will do so on be­half of all those in the United King­dom who op­pose his agenda.

In short, we in­tend to show that the Union works – that if it hadn’t been built, some­body would have ended up in­vent­ing it. You don’t al­ways get your own way, but there is al­ways value in tak­ing a big­ger per­spec­tive that reaches across our bor­ders – and it is worth mak­ing the ef­fort.

And I hope that, if we show it work­ing, we can fi­nally end what has now been a decade of un­cer­tainty over the UK’s con­tin­ued ex­is­tence. For ten years, the SNP has adroitly con­structed the nar­ra­tive that it’s all about to col­lapse, that di­vorce is in­evitable.

But last Thurs­day night that nar­ra­tive fell apart. The SNP took peo­ple’s sup­port for granted, and was ex­posed as just another po­lit­i­cal move­ment that got things wrong.

So here’s our chance. If the new Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment can show, over the com­ing few months, that the Union works for us all, and if we show we are pre­pared to lis­ten to all parts of the UK, then we can put this con­sti­tu­tional con­flict to bed – not by bul­ly­ing sup­port­ers of in­de­pen­dence into si­lence, but by per­suad­ing our fel­low Scots that the Union works for them.

And that way, we can get on with what most peo­ple want – a Par­lia­ment and a Govern­ment fo­cused back on the day job.

That’s the op­por­tu­nity last week’s elec­tion has given us, right across the UK. We will seize it.

Na­tion­al­ists pun­ished for tak­ing peo­ple’s sup­port for granted

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