David Mundell: The case for the union: now stronger than ever speech

Scotland Office

September 17
11:24 2016

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It is a real pleasure to be here with you today and to participate in your ongoing discussion following the UKs vote to leave the EU in June.

The IPPR has a track-record of influential policy development and IPPR Scotland has established itself firmly in the Scottish political landscape.

You are an avowedly progressive, cross-party body and I am pleased to be here with you as a Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, because I think that open, civilised and respectful debate, across ideological and party political divides, is a hallmark of our democracy.

That respectful and collaborative approach will be absolutely essential in the months and years ahead, as we negotiate the United Kingdoms withdrawal from the European Union and together forge a new role for ourselves in the world.

Team UK

And that is the approach the UK Government has taken in Scotland since the referendum result.

I met with Scottish Government Minister Fiona Hyslop the day after the referendum, and I have maintained a dialogue with Scottish Ministers since then, including two meetings with Mike Russell, who sports the catchy title Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotlands Place in Europe.

Throughout, I have been clear that we should adopt a Team UK approach. Working closely with the Scottish Government, and the other devolved administrations, our aim is to get the best possible deal for all parts of our United Kingdom as we leave the EU. We have been clear from the start that we will give the Scottish Government every opportunity to have their say as we form our negotiating strategy and we will look at any suggestions they put forward.

Our aim should be to work together to ensure the best deal for Scotland and the whole UK. But in order to do so, there need to be some clear principles for that engagement. First, that the EU referendum result provides a democratic mandate for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.

Those who advocate ignoring the result, or interpreting it as anything other than a clear instruction to leave, are wrong to do so.For the UK Government, part of making a success of Brexit means the United Kingdom leaving the EU in one piece, and remaining in one piece after that process is complete.

Those who have long argued for separation will have a different goal but it should come as no surprise that a Conservative and Unionist government should put maintaining the Union as one of its chief aims.

Second, that the referendum result applies just as much to those parts of the UK which voted Remain as voted Leave.

To suggest otherwise is to question the integrity of the United Kingdom and, in the Scottish context, to subvert the democratic will of the Scottish people as expressed in the 2014 independence referendum.

And third, that under the devolution settlements, foreign affairs are a reserved matter to the UK Parliament and the responsibility of the UK Government. Of course anyone can disagree with any or all individual policies being pursued in this area, as in any other area. Thats what our democracy is all about.

But to question the legitimacy of the UK Government exercising its foreign policy function on behalf of the whole United Kingdom is again to dispute the democratic mandate of the 2014 referendum.

Speaking as someone who voted to Remain, I did not do so on the basis that my vote would be used as a mandate to question the integrity of the United Kingdom in the event that the vote went the other way.

Many thousands of committed Unionists voted to Remain in the EU, just as many thousands of convinced independence supporters voted to Leave.

I respect the views of those who support independence, but it is simply incorrect to use the EU referendum result as a front in the constitutional dispute between independence and Union, and it will not help us to achieve the best outcome in this process.

That is why it is so disappointing to see a second independence referendum once again under discussion.

Scotland and the EU

Because tomorrow will be two years to the day since voters in Scotland chose to maintain Scotlands place in the United Kingdom, by a ten per cent margin, on a clear and decisive question:

Should Scotland be an independent country?

I have said previously that the arguments in support of Scotlands place in the UK have got stronger, not weaker, since September 2014.

And I do not think that the UKs vote to leave the European Union does anything substantial to weaken the argument for UK.

It certainly does not make Scottish independence any more attractive, viable or beneficial a prospect than it was in 2014. Indeed quite the reverse.However, the First Minister has said she believed that a second independence referendum is now highly likely.

And I said in a speech I gave to mark the first anniversary of the independence referendum, those of us who believe in maintaining Scotlands place in the UK cannot stop making the case for it because those who take the opposing view will certainly not stop making their case.

In discussion of this topic in recent weeks, weve seen some history being re-written, and Id like to address today.

It has been claimed that those of us who campaigned to maintain the United Kingdom in 2014 did so on the basis that it would guarantee Scottish membership of the EU. But that was not the case.

By the time people voted on Scottish independence, David Cameron had already made his commitment to hold a referendum on the UKs membership of the EU if he was re-elected as Prime Minister with a Conservative majority in 2015 he did that in his Bloomberg speech of January 2013.

He said: we will give the British people a very simple in-or-out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms, or come out altogether.

As my colleague Ruth Davidson made clear at that time, if people vote to stay in the UK, they will have a chance of a say on Europe.

That was the context in which people voted in September 2014.

So contrary to the claim that people voted No in 2014 to guarantee EU membership, they in fact did so in the full knowledge that the issue of the UKs EU membership might very shortly be in question.

In fact, the debate in 2014 was not about a UK guarantee of EU membership, but about the failure of advocates of independence to explain by what means an independent Scottish state could become a member of the EU, and on what terms it might conceivably do so.

The argument went like this: the EU is a treaty-based organisation, and the United Kingdom not Scotland is the contracting party to those treaties.

So if Scotland were to leave the United Kingdom, it would be those parts which remained of the UK which would be the state that was a party to the treaties.An independent Scotland would be a new state, outside of the EU, which would have to embark on its own process of accession.

This position was confirmed by the then-president of the European Council, who said:The treaties apply to the Member States. If a part of the territory of a Member State ceases to be a part of that state because that territory becomes a new independent state, the treaties will no longer apply to that territory. In other words, a new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the Union and the treaties would, from the day of its independence, not apply any more on its territory.

And that sentiment was echoed by a number of other senior EU figures. So it was very clear if Scotland left the UK it left the EU automatically.In 2014 the Yes campaign was not able to explain how Scotland would re-enter the EU in those circumstances.

This week, and belatedly, Alex Neil confirmed what he and his party would not at the time, when he said:

We are not the member state; that is the UK.

Fast-forward two years and we find ourselves in the aftermath of a different referendum.

And lets remind ourselves what that referendum was really about, because once again there has been some revisionism in the public debate.

The question on the ballot paper in June this year was as simple and decisive as the question asked two years ago.

It was:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

It did not ask about Scotland in the abstract.

The question was about the UK which voters in Scotland voted decisively to remain a part of two years ago and the answer came from the UK as a whole.

England and Wales voted to leave, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain.

Now, I was sorry to see divisions across our United Kingdom on an issue like this, but they should not be exaggerated.

We should remember that almost four in ten Scottish voters backed leave not an insignificant number.

And the variation in the result did not amount to simply a Scotland-rest of UK difference. There was generational difference, with older people more likely to have voted to leave and younger people to remain.

A difference between cities and the countryside, with rural places like Moray voting differently to cities like Edinburgh.

And there was an economic division, with some of the poorest communities amongst the most pro-leave, while more prosperous areas voted to remain.

All of these raise troubling questions but they should be looked at in the round and not through a narrow lens.

And we should also be clear about exactly what people were voting for

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