Tory leader demands action
Davidson says London-centric UK is threat to union
Ruth Davidson: urging action to defend the union (photo by Terry Murden)
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has called for more institutions to follow Channel 4 out of London to help counter the campaign for independence.
Ms Davidson says cultural centres like the British Museum should set up second homes while the fishing industry should be run from north of the border.
In an address to the Policy Exchange in London she demanded more positive action by unionists to defend “a union of nations that isn’t held together by mere convenience; but is kept together by the deeper bonds of shared identity and mutual values.”
She said she loved Britain’s “messiness, its lack of a founding text, no single document constitution”. She sit was “uncodified, relaxed and flexible: this is the British way.”
Britain she said it was too “London-centric” and that the city gobbles up talent, money and status that needs to be spread to other locations.
Her comments coincide with a television interview given by SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in which she spoke of kick-starting the campaign for a second independence referendum. It also comes just days before the publication of the report from the Growth Commission which has set out a new economic case for a separate state.
Ms Davidson said: “I believe in political unions. Britain is leaving one next year, but it must protect and enhance another, our own.
“That union, the United Kingdom, remains under threat. The Scottish Nationalist government continues to press for a second independence referendum. Having lost the arguments during the 2014 plebiscite, it is expected to publish this week a new blueprint for independence to keep the issue alive.
“Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister, has staked her reputation within the SNP on delivering a second attempt. All the indicators are that she wants to press ahead and seize the shot at history that eluded her predecessor Alex Salmond.
“It is unlikely Ms Sturgeon’s latest efforts will be met with enthusiasm from Scottish voters. People are weary after more than a decade of SNP rule, in which grievance politics have taken precedence over schools, the economy and building a sustainable health service.
“And, contrary to popular belief, Brexit has not eroded support for the UK despite a majority of Scots voting for Remain. If anything it has reminded folks that constitutional change brings insecurity and uncertainty. If leaving the EU is a bad thing, as the SNP insist, why is leaving a union four times more important in terms of trade to Scotland somehow a virtue?
“That said, we cannot be complacent. As long as our future relationship with the EU is in flux, it would be foolish to assume that the current trends on Scotland remaining in the UK will hold and that the threat of separation has gone away. The SNP is in power north of the border and will use that clout to drive a wedge between Scotland and the rest of the country. So we unionists must work hard to bolster our case for the union.
“Our union is a unique creation and I treasure its very messiness. I love being a Scot, I also value being British. I adore the fact that the UK does not force me to choose between the two — nor rank them, nor seek to limit my identity.
“The only trouble is that this messiness can sometimes lead to indifference about our fate. We are, after all, a country that four years ago, only woke up to the possibility of our being extinguished about a week before the Scottish independence referendum took place. To ensure that does not happen again, we all need to give a little more care and attention to maintaining the union.
“Devolution has transformed the UK’s political structures over the past 20 years. Government must develop better practices to ensure this constitutional reality is properly recognised. And while it is hard for Whitehall to build a relationship with Edinburgh, where one half wants to end that relationship, it must endeavour always to do so.
“We also need to spread the benefits of the union fairly and equally around the nation. The UK is still too London-centric. As befits one of the world’s great cities, the capital gobbles up talent, money and status. It is government’s job to ensure that more of this ends up in the other great British metropolitan areas in our regions and in our nations. The Conservative government in Westminster is already delivering on its manifesto promise to move Channel 4 out of London.
“But this should be just the start. More cultural institutions — like the British Museum — should set up second homes outside the capital. More government posts should be based in other parts of the UK.”
She said Brexit created an opportunity to ensure the powers that return to Britain are based nearer the communities they serve. As most of the UK’s fish are caught in waters off Scotland she said the fisheries authority ought to be based, not in London, but in Peterhead.