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