This is the speech delivered by the Prime Minister in Edinburgh on 16 February 2012.
Good afternoon everyone and thank you very much for coming. It is great to be back in Edinburgh. Whenever I come to Edinburgh I always remember an early visit that I made here as a young man. A friend of mine got some tickets for Murrayfield and on that occasion Scotland beat England. And I remember walking back into Edinburgh, stopping at a chip shop I think it was, and as I walked through the door a Scottish fan said: ‘What will you be having, humble pie?’ And it is in that spirit that I come today.
The air in Scotland hangs heavy with history. Edinburgh’s cityscape is studded with monuments to memories. Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Knox: they all compete for our attention. In Dundee, Captain Scott’s Discovery lies at anchor. In Aberdeen, King’s and Marischal Colleges remind us of a time when the Granite City had as many universities for its citizens as England had for all of hers. And while the hauntingly empty acres of the Highlands stand in mute memorial to the injustices visited on the victims of the clearances, Glasgow’s magnificent architecture and art galleries remind us of the mercantile greatness of the Empire’s second city.
For politicians north and south of the border, however, there is a danger of living in the past when thinking of Scotland. That is partly because its history is populated so thickly with great men and women who we might want to conscript for our contemporary battles. Those of us on the centre right will pray in aid of Adam Smith and David Hume: economic liberals and philosophical conservatives whose enlightenment thought laid the basis for later political action. On the left, the examples of James Maxton and Keir Hardie can still inspire class strugglers to one more heave.
This has been a pioneering country all its life: as a home of learning in medieval times; a nursery of literacy and learning at the time of the Reformation; a champion of liberty in the Enlightenment; the turbine hall of the Industrial Revolution; a recruiting ground for freedom’s fighters in two World Wars; the birthplace of John Reith, who gave us public service broadcasting; and as a powerful contributor to the last 25 years of economic growth. Scotland has so much of which to be proud and one of the reasons that we are tempted to look backwards is precisely because Scotland – as a nation and as part of the United Kingdom for over 300 years – has achieved so much.
But proud as that past and present are, I am convinced that both for Scotland and for the United Kingdom, our best days lie ahead of us. And that even though it may be a great historical construct, the United Kingdom is actually even more of an inspiring model for the future. Think of the key challenges of our times. There are the risks and opportunities of globalisation, with populations moving, cultures clashing, new routes to prosperity, and there is the impact of increasing economic competition from the new economic powerhouses of the world. I believe the United Kingdom has the answer to both of those challenges. In an increasingly uncertain world, where risks proliferate and atomisation threatens our ability to look out for one another, nothing encapsulates the principle of pooling risk, sharing resources, and standing together with your neighbour better than the United Kingdom. Whether it is ensuring the same disability benefits for those in need from Motherwell to Maidstone, or ensuring that the resources of 60 million tax-payers stand behind our banking system. Whether in Edinburgh or London, the United Kingdom is a warm and stable home that billions elsewhere envy. And in an increasingly competitive world, where the future belongs to those who can collaborate, innovate, and co-operate together best, the support a nation of 60 million can give, for example, to knowledge exchange between bio-engineers in Edinburgh and Oxford, or venture capital for the best start ups: this could be the envy of the world.
So I come here today with one simple message: I hope and wish that Scotland will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom. That is not because I want to dragoon Scotland into an arrangement that is in my interest or, frankly, in my Party’s interests. I know that the Conservative Party is not currently – how can I put this – Scotland’s most influential political movement. I am often reminded that I have been more successful in helping to get pandas into the zoo than conservative MPs elected in Scotland.
So more than a little humility is called for when any contemporary Tory speaks in Scotland. In fact, some say it might be wiser not to speak at all. As well as avoiding any criticism from the press – or politicians from other Parties for ‘interfering’ – it might be thought wise of me to just let Scotland, in every sense, go its own way. And some people – not all of them Conservatives – have suggested that an independent Scotland might make it easier for my Party to get a majority in Westminster. But that does not interest me.
I am not here to make a case on behalf of my Party, its interests or its approach to office. I am here to stand up and speak out for what I believe in. I believe in the United Kingdom. I am a Unionist head, heart and soul. I believe that England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, we are stronger together than we ever would be apart.
It is time to speak out – whatever the consequences – because something very special is in danger: the ties that bind us in the place that we call home. The danger comes from the determination of the Scottish National Party to remove Scotland from our shared home.
Now it is absolutely right that since the SNP won the Scottish elections, they should be able to determine the business of the Scottish Parliament and the agenda of the Scottish Government. They want to put the question of independence to the Scottish people and their ultimate ambition is clear: they want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. And it is right too that the choice over independence should be for the Scottish people to make. But that choice should not be made – with its consequences for all of us – without explaining why I believe in the United Kingdom, and why it matters to so many of us.
Let me be clear, though, I am not going to stand here and suggest that Scotland could not make a go of being on its own, if that is what people decide. There are plenty of small, independent nation states of a similar size or even smaller. Scotland could make its way in the world alongside countries like those.
Of course, every country in the world is facing new challenges and an independent Scotland would itself need to confront some big issues. There are those who argue about the volatility of dependence on oil, or the problems of debt and a big banking system. And there is – for some smaller nations – the risk that independence can actually lead to greater dependence.
Certainly today Scotland has a currency – the pound – that takes into account the needs of the Scottish economy as well as the rest of the United Kingdom when setting interest rates. And it can borrow on rates that are amongst the lowest in Europe. An independent Scotland would have to negotiate in future for things it now gets as of right. But these challenges and the need to overcome them: they are not my point today.
My argument is simple. Of course Scotland could govern itself. So could England. My point is that we do it so much better together. I can – and I will – enumerate a number of practical reasons for our United Kingdom. But the reason I make the case is partly emotional. Because this is a question of the heart as well as the head. The United Kingdom is not just some sort of deal, to be reduced to the lowest common denominator. It is a precious thing; it is about our history, our values, our shared identity and our joint place in the world. I am not just proud of the Union because it is useful. I am proud because it shapes and strengthens us all.
Just think of what we have achieved together. Scotland has contributed to the greatest political, cultural, and social success story of the last three hundred years: the creation and flourishing of a United Kingdom built on freedom and inclusivity. Individual nations can – of course – adhere around ancient myths, blood-soaked memories, and opposition to others. But we have built – in the United Kingdom – something that also coheres around the values embodied in standing up for freedom and democracy around the globe: in free healthcare for all; in a generous welfare system for the poorest; and championing the most vulnerable on the world stage. A United Kingdom which is not monoglot, monochrome, and minimalist but multi-national, multi cultural, and modern in every way. Our United Kingdom, founded on the strengths, yes, of our constitutional monarchy, our parliamentary democracy, and the rule of law. But it is also the birthplace of the NHS, the BBC and Christian Aid. We have shared achievements that more than match those of any country anywhere in the world.
From Waterloo to the Second World War, our servicemen and women have fought and won together. The liberation of Europe was a battle fought to the skirl of the pipes, as Lord Lovat’s Highlanders were among the first ashore on D-Day in the battle to defeat Hitler. Your heroes are our heroes. Men like Robert Dunsire, who – twice in one day – crawled out of the trench facing a hail of bullets to rescue injured men at the Battle of Loos in the First World War. And Lance Corporal Liam Tasker: the dog handler who helped save so many lives in Afghanistan before tragically himself being shot.
The Union has never been about shackling different nations: it is a free partnership – a joint effort – often driven by Scottish ideas and Scottish leadership. From the industrial and commercial leadership of James Watt and Robert Owen centuries ago, to Sir Bill Gammell and Ian Wood today.
And in Westminster, think of the cause of progress and how it has depended on the voices of politicians from Scotland: whether it has been the liberalism of Henry Campbell-Bannerman or Joe Grimond; the progressive conservatism of Iain Macleod and George Younger; or the generous and humane radicalism of Donald Dewar and John Smith. Together we have turned a group of off shore European islands into one of the most successful countries in the world.
But it is not just about what we have achieved together; it is about who we are together. The ties of blood are actually growing thicker. Far from growing apart, we are growing together. There are now more Scots living in England, and English people living in Scotland, than ever before. And almost half of Scots now have English relatives. I am something of a classic case. My father’s father was a Cameron. My mother’s mother was a Llewellyn. I was born and have always lived in England: I am proud to be English. But like so many others too, I am proud to be British as well. Proud of the United Kingdom and proud of Scotland’s place within it.
But then there are the practical reasons for the Union to stay together. The United Kingdom helps to make Scotland – and all of us – stronger, safer, richer and fairer.
We are stronger, because through our shared Union, we count for more together in the world than we would ever count apart. We have a permanent place on the UN Security Council. We have real clout in NATO and in Europe. We have unique influence with key allies the world over. The Scottish pilots helped us to free Libya from tyranny, and prevented a failed pariah state festering on Europe’s southern border.
We are safer, not just because of the expertise and bravery of our armed forces, to which Scotland has always made such an immense contribution, but also because of our policing expertise and our security services respected the world over. When that bomb went off at Glasgow Airport, the full resources of the UK state went into running down every lead, and our tentacles reach from the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as into the CIA computers at Langley.
Now, we are richer because Scotland’s 5 million people are part of an economy of 60 million. An economy with no boundaries, borders, or customs, but instead a common system, of common rules and a common currency, which has helped to make us the 7th largest economy in the world. And far from growing apart, again, our economies are actually growing together. A fifth of all Scottish workers are employed by firms registered in Scotland but owned by companies based elsewhere in the United Kingdom. And Scotland sells twice as much to the rest of the UK as to the rest of the world put together.
And together we are not only stronger, safer, richer, I also believe we are fairer. Not just because we all benefit from being part of a properly-funded welfare system, with the resources to fund our pensions and our long-term health-care needs, but because there is real solidarity in our United Kingdom. When any part of the United Kingdom suffers a shock or a set-back, the rest of the country stands behind it. Whether it is floods in the West Country, severe weather in the north, or that economic dislocation that has hit different parts of our country in different times and in different ways, we are always there for each other. And together we have the power to do so much in the world to promote fairness.
One issue that is close to my heart is aid. And this is an issue where Scottish people have a huge influence. Together as a United Kingdom, we have the second biggest aid budget in the world. Through the UK, Scotland has a global reach to make our world fairer. And with that, we are saving thousands of lives and helping people in some of the poorest parts of the world to forge a new future, from the famine in the Horn of Africa to the support for people in North Africa and the Middle East as they seek new freedoms that we and others take for granted.
So, I believe there are emotional and practical reasons why Scotland is better off in the Union, and why we are all better off together than apart. But I do not think that is enough. I also understand why people in Scotland want to express their identity as Scots strongly, and to have greater control over their lives.
I believe in real devolution and I want to make devolution work better. I want a Scotland where more people own their own homes; where more people keep more of their money to spend as they choose; where more people have secure jobs and a secure future for their children. A Scotland where businesses can innovate and create the wealth and the opportunities that are so vital to local communities; and where we bring down the barriers to entrepreneurship that have for too long held Scotland back. I believe in devolution, not because I see it as a mechanism for obtaining power – hardly the case for my Party in Scotland – but because I believe in giving people choice and a real say over their own affairs. I passionately believe that local is best, and the decentralisation of power is one of the core aims of the Coalition government that I lead.
One of my first acts as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was to come here to Scotland to meet Alex Salmond and to show that I want the governments in Westminster and Holyrood – whoever they are and whichever Party they come from – to work together to get the best for Scotland, to listen to Scotland, to act on Scotland’s voice and govern in Scotland’s interests. On that first visit I said the only political input into senior Scottish civil service appointments, should come from the First Minister, and I delegated all my previous responsibility to the Cabinet Secretary. This was a small but I hope symbolic gesture of the kind of change I want to bring about.
Since then, ministers in Holyrood and Westminster have met regularly and soon a much bigger change will become law. The Scotland Bill has not, I believe, got the attention yet that it deserves, but it is an incredible opportunity for Scots. It is not London telling Edinburgh which powers it can have, but opening up Scotland’s choice to expand the powers that it needs. By implementing the recommendations of the Calman Commission, devolving new powers to the Scottish Parliament – including for the first time the ability to raise tax revenue and borrow for capital and current expenditure – the Scottish government is getting real choice over how and when to invest in long-term projects that will benefit future generations.
And let me say something else about devolution. This does not have to be the end of the road. When the referendum on independence is over, I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further. And yes, that does mean considering what further powers could be devolved. But that must be a question for after the referendum, when Scotland has made its choice about the fundamental question of independence or the United Kingdom. When Scotland has settled this question once and for all – and ended the uncertainty that I believe could damage and hold back Scotland’s prospects and potential – then is the time for that issue.
So, I believe the strengths that have served us all through the centuries are precisely the ones that we need today. Our United Kingdom is a modern Union: it is one that evolves; one that protects us; one that allows our different nations to grow stronger; because we share the same secure foundations: institutions that celebrate diversity and turn it into a strength. Scotland’s greatest poet said we should ‘see ourselves as others see us’, and that is worth doing, because our Union is not some antique imposition: it is living; it is free; it is adaptable; it is admired around the world as a source of prosperity, power, and security. Just think for a moment: could you explain to someone in America, or France, or Australia what was so intolerable about Great Britain that we decided to build artificial barriers between our nations? I do not believe that the people of Scotland – any more than the people of any other part of the United Kingdom – want to turn inward and away from each other at this time.
I believe – indeed it is my reason for being in politics – that it is when you pull together, when you set aside difference, when you roll up your sleeves in a common endeavour, you achieve things that are truly worthwhile – even noble – which you could never accomplish on your own. For me, the principle that we work best when we work together, without coercion or conscription, bullying or bossiness, but in a spirit of shared service: that sums up what is best about our countries. That is what the United Kingdom stands for: common endeavour; being part of something bigger; a greater Britain which believes in the virtues of sharing, of standing together; and of making a difference for our fellow citizens; those things guide our every action. And if anything is worth fighting for, that surely is, which is why I am ready to fight for the life of this country. Thank you.
Do you regret that perhaps your Party and other political Parties have so allowed Alex Salmond to dominate this particular issue? And what are you going to do now to play catch-up, given that he and his party are so far better equipped to actually fight this referendum than you are?
Well, I think that actually, if you look at the range of Scottish politics, you see a whole number of Scottish Parties and politicians that, I believe, will come together and campaign for the United Kingdom. My voice is just one of those voices. You will see Labour politicians, Liberal Democrat politicians, and indeed people from all walks of life – and many people who do not like politics at all, who might even despise all politics and politicians – who will come forward and defend the United Kingdom. Do we need to do more? Yes. Do we need those of us who care about the United Kingdom to work together? Yes. Do we need to galvanise opinion across the country? Yes. But is that opinion there ready to be galvanised? Absolutely. I am quite convinced that the arguments – both of head and heart – for the United Kingdom are so strong that actually, when we make that appeal, we can win this campaign.
Now, I think one of the things that the government has done is actually to say that the question needs to be put. I think we have helped accelerate the debate and I think that is right, because I do not think it is fair on people in Scotland to have this question hanging over them: for it never to be asked or answered. So, the initiative that I have taken is to promote this and say: look, it is the last thing in the world I want for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, but when you have majority SNP government in Scotland, it is right that the question is put, that the debate is held, and the question is answered. And that will be something I will say to Alex Salmond today. We cannot go on waiting for this: it is February 2012. Are we really going to wait until the end of 2014 or 2015 to hold this referendum? Do the Scottish people really want to have this sort of never-ending debate – more and more speeches like this one and others – before actually asking and answering the question? I think there is a strong case for saying a simple question – decisive, fair, straightforward, asked and answered in reasonable time – so people can get on with their lives.
You referred there in your speech, Prime Minister, to being open to devolving more powers to Scotland. Can you envisage the day when the Scottish Welfare Bill would be financed by the Scottish Parliament?
The point I am trying to make is this: that there is an ongoing debate about devolution, and there has been over the last 10 or 20 years. I am happy for that debate to continue, but I think we need to settle the independence question first. I do not think you can muddle the two questions. Now, what exactly should be devolved – what further powers would make sense, what fiscal settlement – that is, I think, for individual parties, individual people to discuss, to debate, and to decide. All I would say is I think that the Coalition Government and the Conservative Prime Minister have shown very good faith on this issue, in that actually, I think some people doubted, when I came to office, whether we really would deliver what was decided in the Calman process. Well, we have delivered it, as it were, on time and on budget, as they say. I think we have shown good faith that if people in Scotland come together and want to see devolution take place, then we are prepared to be part of that and deliver it. But I think it is a debate to be held after this independence issue is settled and done.
Beyond defence and foreign policy, which obviously you want to see shared, can you point to anything – you have raised the issue of more devolution – can you point to anything, any power that you think should be devolved? You talk about good faith but there will be plenty of people who look back at the long record of Conservatism and think you were not exactly leading the charge towards devolution. Can I just ask you one other thing? You talked about your voice a moment ago. Do you think your voice – being English, being as you have said before, from a privileged background – actually pulls in votes or potentially, actually, makes some people bristle when you talk about this issue and sound like you are telling Scotland where it should go?
Right. First of all, on the history of the Conservative Party and devolution, I have only been Prime Minister for two years. The government I led has actually undertaken one of the largest acts of devolution in the history of our great nation, so I am very happy to be judged on my record. There was a process – Calman – involving all of the parties that believed in the United Kingdom. There was quite a bold and radical outcome. There were lots of questions that I remember being asked on every visit I made to Scotland about, ‘Would you really deliver this?’ We have delivered it. So, I think people can see that my commitment and love for the United Kingdom is also about understanding that there are people in the United Kingdom who want to change the arrangements to make it work better. As a practical, rational, sensible Unionist, I am always happy to listen to those issues, and to work with others to bring them about.
On the issue of powers, I think we have to try and get the balance right. One of the things I was talking about in my speech is this issue of solidarity. I think this is important; I think that when we consider further devolution I hope we do not lose that solidarity, because I think when you look around Europe, for instance at the moment, you can see a lack of solidarity. Now when there are floods in Cornwall, or if there is a factory closure in East Kent, or if there is an economic problem on the West Coast of Scotland, or whatever it might be: we do not sit around asking, ‘Shall we help?’ and ‘Is this our responsibility? Do we want to be part of this package?’ as we do when it comes to some of the European issues. We just think, ‘This is our country, this is our United Kingdom; we have solidarity and we help each other’.
We are all talking and debating endlessly about the single currency and the Euro and what needs to change in the euro to make it work. We have got a working single currency, where we do not have to ask those questions in our United Kingdom, whether one region is competitive enough to make it work inside the single currency; because we have the fiscal union – the single currency – we have all the elements that make our United Kingdom work.
So of course I am happy – as I have said – to look at issues of devolution. I am sure there will be a debate after an independence referendum, if the answer to independence was no, but I hope we would not lose the solidarity that we have in our United Kingdom.
As for the fact that I am English, that I had a privileged upbringing and that I might annoy people by making a speech in Scotland; all I can say is this is what I believe – this is what I think – I care about our United Kingdom. People often say to me, ‘Do you know what, it would be much easier to be Prime Minister of England?’ My answer to that is, ‘I am not interested, I don’t care; that is not the job I want’. I want to have a United Kingdom where we all bring to the whole so much more than we would be separate.
My voice in this debate is going to be one of many. I hope that we hear from Alastair Darling, from John Reed, from Gordon Brown; I hope we hear from all politicians in all Parties and from people who have no political connection at all but who care about what the United Kingdom means to them. So all I am trying to do today is set out my own views and how I approach this subject; I hope in a way that helps to galvanise this debate as we come towards answering this vital question.
Prime Minister, just to come back to the questions that have been asked here, do you think it is quite fair to leave the question of what further powers might be granted in the event of a ‘no’ vote for two and a half years, which is effectively what it will be? At the moment there is a lot of discussion about a second question on the ballot paper which revolves around something that not many people understand called ‘devo-max’. The more that goes on, ‘devo max’ is something that possibly poses as much a threat to the present state of the United Kingdom as independence. So can you actually hold off being clearer about what you stand for as that debate gathers pace?
First of all I hope it is not two and a half years. I think the key thing here is that we have got an SNP government elected in Scotland and they believe in independence—separation—they believe in having a referendum on separation; the legal situation is that is difficult for the Scottish Parliament to deliver under the law. So in Westminster the UK government is saying we will give you that power but, for heaven’s sake, for the sake of the Scottish people and for all our sanity, let’s get on and hold this question, hold this debate – do we really have to wait two and a half years?
I feel a lot of the arguments are quite well known already and I am sure we can all add to them over the period, but let’s get on and have the debate, put the question, and then I think it is rational to have a debate about further devolution. I do not think you should muddle up the two questions, because one is a fundamental ‘in or out’ question, where the second one is a question that does involve the whole of the United Kingdom and does involve inevitably, as you say, a debate where we look at all the different issues and try and work out what the Parties who support the United Kingdom would like to do. So I think you have to settle one before moving onto the other.
Just for clarity, Prime Minister, are you saying that you will go into the next election promising more powers for the Scottish Parliament and, if so, what will these powers be? And, on another subject, you are ultimately responsible for HMRC and HMRC are currently chasing Rangers Football Club for millions of pounds, do you want that bill paid promptly or would you urge HMRC to negotiate with Rangers so that this beleaguered club can perhaps carry on?
First of all, on the powers, I don’t think I have really got anything to add. I think we have to settle the question of separation altogether first, then I think we can go on and discuss as we did with the Scotland Act whether the balance we have now is right or whether we could improve matters in any other way. And I think it is right for the different Party leaders and Party leaders in Scotland to make their views known throughout this process about what they think of that issue. But I want to be very clear, the choice is separation on the one hand or our United Kingdom and further options for devolution on the other. I think it would be completely wrong to have mixed questions on the ballot paper and I will make that view very clear to the First Minister when I see him. I think it would be very confusing for people.
On the issue of Rangers Football Club, this means a huge amount to many people in Scotland, I completely understand that, no one wants to see—and I certainly don’t want to see—Rangers Football Club disappear. There are discussions underway between HMRC and the administrator; I hope they can be successfully completed and I hope that there will be a strong and successful future for Rangers. I am sure that is the right thing to happen and we need to do everything we can to make sure that does happen.
For financial services, which is an important industry up here, uncertainty is our greatest enemy. There are some very key issues which we need clarity on before we are going to know whether independence is good or bad. You have touched on some of them: prudential regulation of the banks; lender of last resort. Whilst not asking you for answers on those questions today, do you believe that it is likely we will get an answer or answers that we can use prior to the referendum or will we have to go into the referendum without knowing the answers to those very key questions for both running the economy and indeed running our industry?
That is a very important question. I think the role I want to play is to make a very positive case, which is what I believe, for the United Kingdom. I think there are then a series of separate questions that need to be set out in this forthcoming campaign: what happens in terms of defence forces, what happens in terms of businesses, how banks and financial services are regulated, how Scotland’s currency arrangements would work either inside the euro or in a pound sterling area but without a central bank that would take account of that area when setting interest rates.
I think there is a whole series of questions that have to be answered and the sense I have is that people in Scotland really want to get hold of the factual information that would lead them to make the best possible decision. I am sure that all of those questions can be asked and answered and frankly I don’t think it takes two and a half years to answer them, I think it can be done in a shorter period. And for the certainty of firms wanting invest in Scotland I hope we can try and truncate that period somewhat so that it is not too much of an uncertain period. But I think it is very important that all those questions are asked and answered in a rational and sensible way.
If you offered more powers to Scotland after a referendum, assuming that they stayed within the United Kingdom, would you use that as an opportunity to revisit the rest of the Union and the powers that England and the other parts of the United Kingdom have and their relationship to each other?
The way that powers and indeed finance are settled within a United Kingdom is inevitably a matter for all of the United Kingdom to be part of that debate, whereas the question of separation, or togetherness, is actually a question for the Scottish people. That is one of the reasons why I think you have to answer the separation question before you go onto powers, money and everything else. So I think it has to be done in that order; I don’t believe that every part of the United Kingdom has to operate devolution in exactly the same way.
We have a situation in Wales where we have just had a referendum – again proof that the government is listening to people and their demands for greater devolution and greater local control – but we have a situation in Wales which is different to the situation in Scotland and indeed when you talk to the Party leaders in Wales they don’t want to exactly mirror the arrangements in Scotland. But, as I say, while that is the case it is a legitimate interest of the different parts of the United Kingdom, the outcome of the devolution debate, whereas the issue of separation altogether is a matter for the Scottish people and a matter that shall be put to them in a referendum, hopefully not too long off.
Anyway, thank you very much for coming, thank you for your questions. I am sure this is going to be a debate where there will be further additions and contributions, but I hope that you have heard from me today what is a positive case for the United Kingdom; to me, this is all about saying yes to the United Kingdom rather than having a negative agenda. I hope we can keep the debate at that level because when we think of all the things we have done together the debate should be at that level of achievement of our great United Kingdom rather than thinking bad or negative thoughts. Thank you very much indeed.
David Cameron's Speech to the Ulster Unionist Party (Saturday, December 6, 2008)
A new political force in Northern Ireland
It’s a great pleasure to be here in Belfast.
Today we come together – Conservatives and Unionists – to create a dynamic new political and electoral force, a new force to cement Northern Ireland’s position as a peaceful, prosperous and confident part of our United Kingdom.
I want to talk to you about the future we’re going to build together.
But before I do, I need to answer a very simple question:
Why am I here?
Why do I want us to take this radical step?
Why has my team been working so hard to make this happen?
Put simply, why is this new force so important to me and my Party?
These are good questions.
There are some who’d wonder why we are tying our parties together.
For those who see politics and all it can achieve through the prism of dry electoral data, it might seem a waste of time.
After all, we’ve only got a small presence in Northern Ireland, so why not focus instead on building our base in England?
Today I want to tell you why I utterly reject this view and the whole notion of no-go areas for the Conservative Party and explain why I believe that Conservatives and Unionists are better together than apart.
It comes down to three things.
A deep commitment to the Union.
A strong belief in democracy.
And a great respect for the Ulster Unionist Party.
Let me take each of those in turn.
First, the Union.
I’ve never been a little Englander.
I passionately believe in the Union and the future of the whole United Kingdom.
We’re better off together – England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland – because we all bring our strengths to the mix.
When I fly into Belfast and see the great cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyard I’m reminded what an incredible part Northern Ireland played in our past.
When I’m walking through the Glens of Antrim I’m moved by some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK today.
When I visit one of Northern Ireland’s thriving social enterprises - now employing over 30,000 workers – I know that the ideas, energy and enthusiasm of these entrepreneurs will help us build a better Britain for the future.
It’s a union built around shared belonging, shared past and a shared destiny.
But standing up for the Union isn’t just about expressing our important feelings about our shared heritage.
It’s also a rational argument based on mutual interest.
Together, we are the fifth largest economy in the world.
Together, we have a seat at the top table and are listened to in a way that other countries can only dream of.
Together, we have one of only five permanent seats of the United Nations Security Council.
Together we are a major player in the EU, in NATO and other international organisations.
And together, we have the British military - one of the most respected armed forces in the world.
Northern Ireland punches above its weight in Britain's armed forces and Britain punches above its weight in the world because of the expertise and bravery of those forces.
Indeed, nothing embodies the Union better than our military bonds.
Last century, when we stood alone against a deadly threat to all we hold dear, we stood alone together.
The servicemen of our islands fought together in every single theatre of the Second World War.
They were led from the front by a strikingly high number of senior British officers with roots in Northern Ireland: Sir John Dill, Sir Alan Brooke, Sir Harold Alexander, Sir Bernard Montgomery.
As Churchill affirmed, 'the bonds of affection between Great Britain and the people of Northern Ireland have been tempered by fire'.
That is not some rhetoric belonging to the past.
A few weeks ago, you welcomed home to this city the brave men and women of the Royal Irish Regiment.
All of them heroes – risking their lives thousands of miles away protect our security at home.
We rightly salute them for their courage and professionalism as we do those who over thirty long years paid the ultimate price to protect democracy and the rule of law here in Northern Ireland.
We owe them an immense debt of gratitude.
Not just here, but throughout these islands.
We will never forget.
The first Member of Parliament who ever represented me was Airey Neave.
One of the first politicians I ever wrote a speech for was Ian Gow.
Both men were great Conservatives – and they were great Unionists.
Both died for their devotion to the Union.
I suspect there isn’t a single person in this room who hasn’t been affected in some way by terrorism.
Of course Northern Ireland bears most of the scars from those days but when I think of Airey Neave and Ian Gow, or the likes of Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball in Warrington, I am reminded that the fight against terrorism wasn’t just your fight, it was the fight of unionists and democrats everywhere.
We were all in it together.
And we came through it together.
So for me coming here and joining our parties is not a matter of political calculation.
It’s about strengthening those unbreakable bonds that bind our union.
I’m also here as a strong believer in democracy, with a desire to see that deepen across our islands.
For as long as anyone can remember, politics here has been dominated by constitutional issues – the Union, or the latest developments in the peace process.
Many people have been put off from participating in a politics based on division.
Others still haven’t bothered to vote.
But the constitutional certainty that Northern Ireland now enjoys opens the opportunity for that to change and for normal politics to develop.
Normal politics in which people in Northern Ireland can participate at all levels of government in the United Kingdom, from the council chamber right the way to the cabinet table itself.
I support devolution and want to see the Stormont Executive succeed.
In Reg Empey and Michael McGimpsey you have two outstanding ministers.
Together you control nearly 60 per cent of the Assembly budget.
It’s in good hands.
But people in Northern Ireland need to be involved in decisions about their lives that are not devolved: taxation, public expenditure, pensions, the broad thrust of social policy, defence and foreign affairs.
As things stand, Northern Ireland MPs are effectively excluded from exerting a real influence on any of these matters.
This is not true representative democracy and it has got to change.
That’s not just in the interests of Northern Ireland – it’s in the interests of the United Kingdom.
It’s in my own selfish interests, too.
I want the most talented people to form my government and that will mean people from all corners of the UK.
Why are there great Ulstermen and women on our television screens, in our boardrooms and in our military but not in our Cabinet?
The semi-detached status of Northern Ireland politics needs to end.
It’s time for Northern Ireland to be brought back into the mainstream of British politics.
Northern Ireland needs MPs who have a real prospect of holding office as ministers in a Westminster government.
That’s what a dynamic new political force of Conservatives and Unionists offers a revival of real democracy across the United Kingdom.
ULSTER UNIONIST PARTY
So: a commitment to the union, a belief in democracy.
These aren’t the only reasons I’m here today.
There’s also my great respect for the Ulster Unionist Party.
Today, Northern Ireland can look forward to a brighter future in which its best days lie ahead.
Many people, on all sides, deserve credit for that.
The Irish and American governments deserve our thanks for their contributions over many years.
But let me pay a particular tribute to the Ulster Unionist Party, to Reg Empey’s leadership and to other leaders of the past.
It is largely through your efforts that Northern Ireland’s constitutional position is settled.
The consent principle is paramount, enshrined in national and international law.
Nationalists and republicans now work with Unionists in a shared administration at Stormont.
The territorial claim in the Irish constitution is gone.
The relationship with the Irish Republic is of the kind one would expect of two neighbours that share a land border.
None of these things would have been achieved but for the steadfastness of your Party, your willingness to engage and take risks.
You have helped to bring about a situation in which life for most people in Northern Ireland is unrecognisable from what it was a few years ago.
That’s why I’m here today – for the union, for democracy and for the Ulster Unionist Party.
We now have the chance to forge ahead and build a new, and better, Northern Ireland, economically, socially, and politically.
This is our dream, but how do we get there?
How do we combine to create a modern, moderate centre-right force that promotes the United Kingdom?
The links between our two parties are long and intimate.
We stood side by side at times of crisis.
As with any long relationship we’ve had our disagreements, and our misunderstandings.
I acknowledge that we’ve all made mistakes – and I regret that.
But today is not a time for dwelling on the past.
It’s for looking to the future.
The future we can build as Conservatives and Unionists together.
A fortnight ago, your executive and the Conservative Party’s Northern Ireland Area Council approved a paper drawn up by the working group that we set up in July.
I want to pay tribute here to the work of Owen Paterson and David Campbell, and to Neil Johnston and the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland.
Thanks to your efforts we look forward to offering a new choice to the people of Northern Ireland.
First at the European elections – where it is essential we see Jim Nicholson returned to the Conservative Group in Strasbourg – and then at the General Election.
We will be the only party contesting every seat in every part of the United Kingdom on one joint manifesto.
THE CONSERVATIVE AND UNIONIST PARTY
And let’s be clear about what this new political force stands for.
Yes of course it’s a party of the union – that’s what brings us together.
But this is also a strong centre-right force for modern Conservatism that people can vote for in every part of the United Kingdom.
A party that believes in enterprise, because we know that it’s people that create wealth and jobs, not government.
A party that is passionately committed to improving our National Health Service and education system, because we want to live in a civilised society that cares for the sick and nurtures the young.
A party that supports the family, because we know that loving parents are the best welfare state there is.
A party that says there is such a thing as society, just that it isn’t the same thing as the state.
A party that believes in progressive ends and social justice but understands that Conservative means are the best way of achieving them.
A party that celebrates Britain for what it has been, for what it is today and what it can be in the future.
And a party that will not duck the long-term challenges we face – be they climate change, fixing our broken society or repairing the economic mess that Gordon Brown has created through his debt-fuelled
A modern, outward-looking, inclusive, compassionate Conservative and Unionist party for the 21st century.
I recognise, of course, that within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has its own special needs and priorities.
Yes we’re a party of the Union, but we need to make devolution work.
The agreement that’s been reached on the process for the transfer of policing and justice powers is welcome.
Now that the executive is meeting again there is much for it to tackle.
In all the areas that are devolved to Stormont, Ulster Unionist Ministers will continue to deliver better services for local people depending on local priorities.
There is no question of me seeking to impose ideas from London.
That’s not the way I work and it’s not the way we do things in Scotland or Wales either.
I believe in making devolution work head, heart and soul.
But we can learn from each other.
So I will be asking members of my shadow teams to work with your spokesmen, to see where we can develop common approaches.
Because let’s face it.
Many of the social problems we see here are the same as in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Only this week Iain Duncan Smith was visiting some of the most deprived parts of Belfast.
So we’ll work together as Conservatives and Unionists.
But there are things that only Westminster has the power to do.
For example, keeping taxes as low as possible by getting irresponsible government borrowing under control.
Providing real help for businesses through the recession, such as VAT holidays to help small firms with their cashflow.
Cutting the small companies tax rate to 20 per cent and the main rate to 25 per cent.
Reducing employers’ national insurance rates by one per cent for the smallest firms.
And a “tax break for jobs” scheme to reward companies that take on new staff.
Real help for business during a time of real need.
Not the “borrow now, tax later” approach of Gordon Brown.
And one more thing.
A Conservative Government led by me will look at those issues – such as the shared land border with the Irish Republic – that affect inward investment and Northern Ireland’s economic competitiveness.
Northern Ireland has made great strides forward over the past fifteen years.
The paramilitary campaigns have ended.
New investment has come in.
Devolution has been restored.
For the first time in over a generation we can all look forward to a shared future underpinned by democracy and the rule of law.
As Prime Minister I will always honour Britain’s international obligations.
I will continue to work closely and constructively with our nearest neighbours in the Republic of Ireland and I will always uphold the democratic wishes of people here in respect of their constitutional future.
But I will never be neutral when it comes to expressing my support for the Union.
So, today, let us pledge ourselves to come together as Conservatives and Unionists in a new and dynamic political force in Northern Ireland.
For the good of our parties.
But, above all, for the good of the people and our United Kingdom.
David Cameron's Speech to Scottish Conservative Party Conference, Friday May 23, 2008
"It's great to be here in Ayr. This is a town with a special place in the hearts of Conservatives. Ayr was ably represented for so many years by that great Scottish Tory, George Younger. It is also the home base of one of our Party's most redoubtable fighters, Phil Gallie. And it was the scene of a famous by-election victory in 2000 when John Scott won the Scottish Parliamentary seat from Labour.
"Down south it's taken us a bit longer to get the hang of by-elections. But I think you'll agree that in a seat that was labour for 30 years, in the north of England where they said we couldn't win, with a Labour campaign that threw every bit of dirt, class war and scare tactics at us, after the Prime Minister brought forward his entire legislative programme and a mini budget to spend 3 billion of your money to try and save his own skin.
"After all that, when we ended our by election drought - as we did last night in Crewe and Nantwich - we did it in some style.
"I've been keeping a close eye on what's been going on in Scotland. There's certainly a fight going on. And here's the tale of tape as I see it.
"In the blue corner, there's Annabel Goldie. The best performer in Holyrood, unwavering and unstinting, leading a strong and united team, dedicated to standing up for the best interests of Scotland and Scottish people.
"They got extra police, cuts in business rates and more drug rehabilitation. That's the Conservative Party - and Conservative principles - in action.
"And then, in the red corner, there's Wendy Alexander, not exactly steady on her feet …. quite liable to knock herself out.
"First she opposed a referendum on independence. Then she did a u-turn and said "bring it on." Then Gordon Brown u-turned on that u-turn. Then Wendy Alexander u-turned on Gordon Brown's u-turn on the first u-turn.
"You still with this? I'm not. You don't know whether to laugh - or cry. Knowing Wendy, she's doing both.
"So that's it. That's the bout. It's Solid Goldie versus Bendy Wendy. If I was the referee, I'd stop the fight right now.
"This would be funny if it wasn't so serious. Labour think they're being clever. What they've actually done is put the Union under greater threat.
"To play games by calling for a referendum right at the moment when people would take any opportunity to give the most unpopular Government in living memory a good kicking, isn't clever, isn't good politics, isn't defending the Union. It's absolutely reckless - and we should have no part of it.
"And that's what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the future of the Union. And I want to talk about the future of the Conservative Party. And I want to show how these two things are inextricably linked.
"We - the Conservative Party - are a party of the Union and a part of the Union - and we've got to play a leading role in defending the Union - because, heaven knows, Labour won't. And I want to explain what playing our part means. It means continuing what we've started - changing our Party so we can change our country. It means setting our minds to the great challenges both England and Scotland face. Above all, it means recognising that the Conservative Party is at its best when it's talking about - and acting upon - our country's future prosperity and future progress.
"But to start, we've got to be completely frank. The simple truth is that the Union between England and Scotland is under attack as never before. Whether we like it or not, the ugly stain of separatism is seeping through the Union flag. And it's up to serious politicians to put their cards on the table.
"Let me make it one hundred percent clear: I am passionate about the Union. I don't want to be the Prime Minister of England. I want to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom - all of it, including Scotland.
"I absolutely believe we are stronger together, and weaker apart, and I will do anything and everything to keep our two countries as one. And that means addressing one-by-one the deeper questions that are fuelling separatism.
"Now, there are some would simply blame constitutional and economic arrangements between England and Scotland. 'Sort out West Lothian, renegotiate Barnett, and everything will be fine' they say. Sorry, I don't think that's an adequate explanation for the separatism we're seeing today.
"The West Lothian question and Barnett Formula have been around and been debated for decades - don't tell me it's only now that they've lit the separatist touchpaper. Of course, that doesn't mean we should ignore them. It's essential that we find answers to any unfairness in the Union - and to questions of accountability, justice and democracy. And unlike Labour - who sweep it under the carpet and hope it goes away - we will take those questions seriously. I am confident it will be possible to develop an arrangement whereby, when the House of Commons considers matters that affect only English constituencies, it is English MPs who have the decisive say.
"But let me say this: if it should ever come to a choice between constitutional perfection and the preservation of our nation, I know my choice. Better an imperfect union than a broken one. Better an imperfect union than a perfect divorce. My answer is simple: I choose the United Kingdom.
"The Union is in danger for other reasons too. There is, of course, the question of identity. The number of people who think themselves British - ahead of Scottish or English - is in decline. People no longer look to the Union flag for their sense of belonging - they look to the cross of St.George or the Saltire … if anything at all.
"It doesn't have to be like this. Being British is one of the most successful examples of inclusive civic nationalism in the world. We can be a shining example of what a multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multi-national society can and should be. And the challenge now is to renew that sense of belonging.
"It's vital we get this right. As so often, Gordon Brown gets it wrong. He approaches the question of national identity like an advertising exec. So we have citizen's juries - focus groups - to decide what it means to be British. We have a competition to come up with a motto for Britain. And we have the attempt to replace the National Anthem.
"It all goes to show: Gordon Brown's view of Britishness is mechanical, not organic, it's something to be redesigned, repackaged and relaunched by Whitehall, not something which lives in our hearts.
"He talks about British values - liberty, fair play, openness. He's right, but these are general, unspecific, almost universal. What the Prime Minister's response lacks is the emotional connection with the institutions that define Britishness. These institutions are the vital part of what it means to be British.
Our armed forces.
"I have to say to the Prime Minister, you don't stand up for Britishness when you weaken our Army by destroying the Scottish regiments. And you don't stand up for Britishness when you undermine our Houses of Parliament by passing more and more power to Brussels without giving people the referendum you promised. Britishness is a matter of instinct, not calculation, and the sooner we have a Government that is willing to stand up for, and take pride in, that instinct then the sooner we can fight the forces of separation.
"But let us also acknowledge this truth. We will serve neither our Party's interest - nor the Union's interests - if we think this is enough. The Conservative Party is, and always has been, a party of the Union. Its fortunes are wrapped in ours. When we succeed - the Union succeeds. In the 1950s, when the Conservative Party was at its strongest in Scotland, the Union was at its strongest.
"But when we fail - we weaken the Union. You know what I mean. I don't want to stand here and talk about the mistakes that were made in the 1980s - I've said it before and that's all in the past. But let's recognise - for the strength of our Union - that it's vital that we succeed again now. And I'm one hundred percent clear about how our Party has always succeeded - and will succeed.
"Yes, we're a party of the centre-right - of enterprise, of families, of self-reliance, common sense and practicality. But that's not enough. We really succeed when we're the party of everyone - rich, poor, young, old, urban, and rural. And most of all, we really succeed when we're the party of the future - the party of progress.
"Just think about it: when has our Party served Britain best? It's when we have relentlessly pursued progressive ideals. We're the party of Wilberforce, who brought down slavery. We're the party of Peel, who took on vested interests, repealed the corn laws and brought cheap food to everyone. We're the party of Disraeli, who spoke of One Nation, stood up for the poor and cleared the slums. We're the party of Churchill, Macmillan and Eden who took on fascism across the continent, and built and sold homes to create a property-owning democracy. And we're the party of Margaret Thatcher, who rejected decline, refused to live in the past and who freed up our economy and stood up for aspiration for all.
"And that spirit, that determination, that drive to be on the side of progress, on the side of freedom, on the side of giving everyone the opportunity to make the most of their lives is what should fire us in the 21st century too. Not only because it will make our Union stronger - by joining everyone into a shared purpose of fighting our social ills. Not only because it is the right thing to do - because a country where someone's life story is written before they are even born is a tragedy for us all. But because history - because social, technological and economic change - is on our side.
"We have both the will - and the means. In the twenty-first century - the century of opportunity, of the information revolution, where people have and want more power and control over their lives - progressive ends will best be met through conservative means.
"Let me explain what I mean. Take fighting poverty. No one can deny Labour's sincerity when it comes to erasing poverty from our land. And it would be churlish to say they haven't achieved anything. Giving low paid people more money through tax credits has helped lift many out of poverty. But for too many it's been about taking people from just below the poverty line to just above it - and when there's 600,000 more people in severe poverty now than there were in 1997, it's clear Labour's methods have run their course.
"What we've got to do now is get to grips with the persistent causes of poverty - not just the symptoms. We've got to tackle head on the family breakdown, the drug addiction and the debt which traps people into a life of deprivation. And how can we do that? Through Conservative means.
"Using our tax system to help make Britain the most family-friendly place on Earth, so young kids get the best and most loving start in life. Reforming our welfare system so people out of work really get the help they need to get off benefits - and yes, some pretty tough sanctions so that anyone swinging the lead can't live a life on welfare if they're able to work. Tackling the causes of poverty means sorting out our prisons so we focus not just on sentencing but also rehabilitation, giving people the chance to move away from a life of addiction, poverty and crime to one of hope and opportunity. And it means recognising that in all these areas; voluntary bodies, charities, social enterprises - they aren't the third sector - they are often the first and best sector….
"See what I mean? Progressive ends. Conservative means.
"What about the key progressive aim of protecting our environment? As Conservatives, this comes naturally to us. Passing on an inheritance to future generations is what we're about. So how are we going to do it? Of course, there's a role for government to set the framework, establish the targets for carbon reduction and lead by example - especially internationally. But leave this to Labour, and you'd think this was it. The truth is, real environmental transformation will only come when we harness the Conservative means to that progressive end. Setting a price for carbon in our economy. Creating a market so our best businesses and best minds come up with the products and services that will transform our environment and our economy. Creating incentives and profits for innovation and research - so we lead the green revolution like we did the industrial one a century and a half ago. When Conservatives look out from Aberdeen, we don't see depleted North Sea oil fields we see the ideal location for Carbon Capture and Storage, so we secure our energy supplies, protect our planet and lead the world in the new technology.
"See what I mean? Progressive ends. Conservative means.
"And what about the most fundamental progressive ideal of all? Equal opportunity and real social mobility. The idea that no one should be imprisoned by the circumstances of their birth. The idea that you can go from the very bottom to the very top. We all know that outside the home the real engine of social mobility are schools.
"And again, let's not dismiss Labour's record. Our schools needed investment and they gave it. But the approach that says - it's just money plus endless central direction has run its course. The Chief Inspector of Schools told us this much in plain terms, education standards have stalled.
"So what's the answer? It's time to open up the state monopoly to new providers, to new ideas and new pioneers - so that people with a passion for giving children the best opportunities can set up new schools. It's time to recognise that every child is different so they should be taught according to their ability, with setting in every school. It's time to make every Headteacher the captain of their ship, so they can really create disciplined and ordered learning environments.
"See what I mean? Progressive ends. Conservative means.
"This is why it's so exciting to be a Conservative right now. Not because we're doing well in the polls - though, of course, that's good. Not because we've got the strongest team in Parliament - though, of course, we have. But because we're coming up with the plans to help with the cost of living, to take up the fight against crime, and to really reform and improve our public services. Because we're leading the intellectual agenda. Because we're winning the battle of ideas.
"And it's absolutely vital that we lead that agenda and win this battle in every corner of the United Kingdom - including right here, in Scotland. At the moment, Scottish people have no choice.
"On the one side is the establishment Labour Party, offering big state solutions and endless interference into peoples' lives. And on the other side is the disestablishment SNP, making up for rhetoric on the dismemberment of the Union what they lack in intellectual coherence on any other subject.
"What Scotland is crying out for is a strong, sensible and moderate centre-right party. A Party that says yes, we're for the Union - for England and Scotland together as one. A Party that says yes, we back families, we'll take the fight to crime and we'll always remember that it's your money, not ours, that we're spending. But also a Party that stands up for progressive ideals, like tackling poverty, unlocking social mobility and protecting our planet. We can be that party. For the sake of the Union - we must be that party.
"So, to Alex Salmond, I say this. I know you've got a plan. I know you think a Conservative government at Westminster will ignore what Scotland wants and needs, and that you will use such claims to promote your separatist agenda.
"Well, think again. We've got the vision. We've got the ideas And we've got the ambition. And to the people of Scotland, I make this guarantee. Whatever the outcome in Scotland of the next General Election, a Conservative Government will govern the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, with respect. Whoever is Scotland's First Minister, I would be a Prime Minister who acts on the voice of the Scottish people, and will work tirelessly for consent and consensus so we strengthen the Union.
"As we already are with the Calman Commission, we will work to see how the devolved settlement can be improved upon so it builds on what we have, takes it forward and continues to deliver for the people of Scotland.
"So after we've just won our first by-election victory in a quarter of a century. In a constituency which had been Labour for sixty years and in which no one gave us a hope. At a time when people said that the Conservatives couldn't do the North.
"Now is the time for us - the Conservative Party - to stand up and say there really are no no-go areas for us anymore. Right here, in Scotland, we can be the force that defends the Union. We can be the force that delivers on progressive ideals. We can be the force that makes Scotland - makes the United Kingdom - stronger, richer and fairer. We can be. We must be. And, together, renewed, rejuvenated, reinvigorated by our great success this year, we will be.
Speech by Mike Knowles to The CEP's "Future of England" Conference, 26 April 2008
We are here to consider the future of England.
Why should we have a concern for England’s future?
After all, England has been around for a long long time. The Venerable Bede wrote a History of the English Nation (gens anglicana) in 731, 1300 years ago. Even then there was recognition of a distinct English identity. And England became a unified nation state in the 10th century, if not before, the first nation state in Europe. ‘There’ll always be an England’, the song says. What is there to be concerned about?
There are a number of things. Very serious things. For example, there is the future of England’s environment which is being battered and kicked about like a tin can in an alley. There is the issue of local and national cohesion, weakened and dangerously misdirected by governments over decades. For us, unlike our governments, England is one people, that is our campaign belief, no matter the differences of ethnicity, religion and cultures. An English parliament will be for everyone for whom England is home and future. And then there is the issue of the European Union, a huge growing issue in respect of national identity and self-government, not just for England but for every nation state in Europe. Just to mention three major issues about England out of many.
But our concern today is another one. It is, in the pithy phrase of Philip Johnston of the Telegraph, about England’s identity and governance. It is about our right to have our English identity given the same political and constitutional recognition as has been given to that of Scotland and Wales and about England getting the same degree of self-governance as Scotland has and potentially Wales has. It is about England’s future in the United Kingdom and its relationship to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is not a narrow concern. I would maintain that it is the platform from which all our other concerns can be effectively addressed and resolved.
As up to 1998 England’s future like that of Scotland and Wales was just as part of the UK. But the 1998 devolution legislation changed all that.; and the constitution of the United Kingdom fundamentally. It had two basic principles::
(1) devolution is granted as to nations. The language of the legislation spoke of Scotland and Wales as nations, not as anything other than nations.
(2) devolution is self-rule by means of a national parliament or assembly separately elected.
Devolution 1998 established Scotland and Wales, constitutionally and politically, as distinct and separate nations within the United Kingdom, with their own parliaments; and formally terminated the political fact established in 1707 of one British nation with one parliament.
A parliament, where freely chosen as in Scotland’s case, is the most potent and effective statement of a common national identity; and the Scottish Parliament has governance of all Scotland’s internal affairs. It has made Scotland 75% independent of the UK. And it has this feature, one that cannot be given too much significance- it is a parliament with 129 members who are there as Scots. Not as British but there as Scots. To represent not British interests but those, and only those, of Scotland. And the same principle obtains in Wales too with its 40 Assembly members. I cannot emphasise it enough, they are elected to govern in the specific interests of Scotland and Wales, not Britain. And England? Nothing. No recognition. no self governance, no parliament or assembly, no voice, no MPs elected to concern themselves solely with English interests. Instead, to make matters even worse, the insultingly undemocratic direct opposite -the WL situation. Scotland’s future, like that of Wales, is now in the hands of their own people. England’s future is not in the hands of the English people at all. And 550 MPs from England voted for all of this.
But that was them. Besides them there is us. A second thing happened in 1998. Unheralded, and unnoticed -but it will prove no less important than either the 1707 Act of Union or the 1998 devolution legislation. On June 14th 1998, ten years ago, six people met in a house in Thetford Forest in Norfolk. They founded the Campaign for an English Parliament. Guy Green, Tony and Pearl Linsell, Roy Meadowcroft, Harry Bottom and Terry Brown. In the Policy Document which remains the foundation statement of the campaign ever since, they made this statement: ‘The people of England have an identity separate from a British identity, and they need a parliament and a constitutional arrangement which recognises that identity and serves their special interests'. The statement is about governance and identity. It is a demand that the two foundation principles of devolution implemented in Scotland and Wales, be applied equally to England.
That is our vision for England’s future which for the Scots and the Welsh is already a reality. A nation once again. Like what they have. Just like what the Union government, the political set, gave them. On it depends so much that also has to be done for England: environmentally, governmentally, and culturally and socially in respect of community and national cohesion. It does not challenge the existence of the Union. All it does is call for the changes in the Union already brought about by the 1998 legislation to be extended to England.
But there are other visions too of England’s future. It is with just one that I will deal. It is that of Gordon Brown. It is the one that matters because he is the Prime Minister. His is a vision of Britain and of England consisting, as he says repeatedly, of ‘nations and regions’. By nations he means Scotland and Wales, by regions he means the divisions of England into regions. No political or constitutional recognition of England as a nation, or of its identity; as was explicitly given to his own Scotland in the 1998 legislation. No English Parliament; its territory to be the only part of the United Kingdom ruled in every aspect by the British parliament. It is a policy that would terminate England qua England altogether. And in the two years of office that might be all that is left to him, he will use every lever and every instrument of power in the British state to bring it about.
He will proceed by dictat. He will not place his plan for the future of England before the people of England by means of a referendum. The government burnt their fingers with the 2004 referendum in England’s North East counties and cities. For him the regionalisation of England is the device by which, with deliberate deception, he can fudge and, he hopes, dissolve the West Lothian Question. But more than that. Much more, For Brown the termination of England as a nation, and its dissolution into regions, will resolve the English Question. There can be no English Question if there is no England. He is already proceeding by dictat. He has already appointed 9 MPs as ‘regional ministers’, which was not in Labour’s manifesto. And there is open speculation that in his next reshuffle he will appoint a Minister for the English Regions. The battle lines for the future of England, for England to be or not to be, are being drawn between the Member for Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath and us. Because we here in this hall are England.
What is it that is driving Gordon Brown to use all the power of the British State to deny to England what he has so successfully achieved for Scotland? In Edinburgh on March 30th 1989 together with 133 fellow members of the Scottish Constitutional Convention he signed, the Scottish Claim of Right, ‘We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests will be paramount’ He signed that pledge. So did the present Speaker of the House, Michael Martin.
Look at those words –Brown’s pledge to make the interests of Scotland ‘paramount in every action and deliberation’. We have seen what his deliberations are for England, what action he has taken already. Is it for Scotland then that he wants England to become a collection of regions? Does Brown see it as in the interests specifically of Scotland that England should in effect be denied devolution and a parliament and through regionalisation be terminated as a nation? He will of course deny it. He will argue that it is in the interests of preserving the Union, that for England with 80% of the population and producer of some 85% of its wealth to have its own parliament will fatally unbalance the Union. From the ardent Scots he declared himself in 1989 he’s now become the most ardent of Britishers. Why?
Brown signed the pledge to support the sovereign right of his own Scottish people to ‘determine the form of Government best suited to their needs’ and he got it in the form of a referendum. Doesn’t the people of England have that right too? On his terms only an outright hypocrite would say no. That therefore is what he is. But he is something even worse. The Member for Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath thinks he can tell the English people what form of government is best suited to their needs’ The arrogance of the man is incredible.
The present arrangement of the Union suits Brown. In that he differs crucially from his fellow countryman Alex Salmond. Salmond believes Scotland has the economic critical mass to go it alone. And believes Scotland has the sovereign right to go it alone if it wants to. Brown believes that Scotland being in the Union best serves Scotland’s interests and does not have the sovereign right to choose otherwise. I believe that on the evidence we can say this: that for Brown England is the milch cow. England environmentally, England’s identity, does not matter to Brown. England could be windswept with plastic bags and its countryside hidden under concrete –no matter. What matters to Brown about England is just the wealth and the power it produces from which Scotland benefits.
It is he who is in power. That is why I am focussing on his plan for England. First and foremost we must address what threatens England now. Look at the forces lined up against us: the might of the United Kingdom government, all three political parties; a media either opposed or indifferent; the BBC which organises itself precisely the way Brown thinks of Britain, as nations and regions, a BBC which has a BBC Scotland, a BBC Wales, a BBC Northern Ireland and an Asian Network but adamantly refuses to have a BBC England; and heaven knows how many Establishment think-tanks like the Fabian Society, Democracy Unlocked, the IPPR and the Constitution Unit. To list but four. How can we possibly win against such a Goliath of forces like that?
We can and we will. Because our cause is both very just and very fair’ We ask only for the principles of the 1998 legislation to be extended to England. We present the only just and fair answer to the West Lothian Question and the English Question’ and just as crucial, the only solution that will hold the Union together . And that is no silly idle boast. Strangely, unexpectedly, confirmation for that assertion comes from the very same Goliath of forces that oppose us. In the year 2000 in the Fabian Society publication ‘the English Question’ Professor Robert Hazell, Director of the Constitution Unit., a think-tank set up to promote the division of England into regions, asked what the 1998 devolution legislation might lead to in five to ten years’ time. ‘One option’, he says, ‘can be quickly dismissed: an English Parliament’. Seven years later, November 14th 2007, the Professor appeared as a witness before the Justice Select Committee and informed it that: ‘the closest to a complete answer to the West Lothian Question is a separate English Parliament’. It took him and his fellow university academics 7 full years to reach the conclusion the founders of this Campaign arrived at in a matter of hours in Thetford Forest.
And we are now surrounded by support. The latest four professional opinion polls, conducted in 2006 and 2007, averaged 60% in favour of an English Parliament. And how was it achieved? First, by the sheer instinct of the people of England for basic justice and for recognition of their own distinct identity. National identity is a birth right. It is what we are and we will govern ourselves by what we are, with all the complexities, variety and vitality of modern England, which together are producing a new, a changing and vibrant culture.
And secondly, it has been achieved by our unremitting campaigning and our arguments. Our weapons, our instruments in our struggle are not the arrows of the Cheshire bowmen as at Agincourt or the little boats of the men of Kent crossing to Dunkirk. No, our weapons and our instruments now are our arguments One brief summary of them, the Booklet ‘Devolution for England’, has been placed on every chair for you to take away, read, understand and tell people about, write to news papers about, organise branch meetings wherever you live and discuss. And you can take more if you want to for distribution. Knowledge is power. The influence and power of this Campaign has been incredible. Now, you must organise for England and for an English parliament wherever you live. You here in this hall, you are England.
We want England’s destiny to be in the hands of the people of England. Surely no more than a very basic human right.
Will England see it? It will. Of course not all of us possibly. But our attitude must be that embodied in the message which the London Correspondence Society gave to its delegates setting out across England in 1795. 1795 was a dark year. A year of harsh political repression in England. Hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, were in dire poverty and subject to terrible conditions as the Industrial Revolution changed and ravaged their lives. The delegates went out to get people to unite to struggle for the very basics of a decent living. And the message they carried with them should be ours. ‘Remember. You are wrestling with Injustice, not for yourselves only, for you may not see the full Day of Liberty, but for the Child hanging at the Breast’
Speech by David Wildgoose to the CEP's "Future of England" Conference, 26 April 2008
It's too easy to look at the world not as it is, but rather as we would wish it to be.
We are all guilty of this, but as rational beings we have to recognise this fact and address the realities as they actually are.
The Union is broken.
More accurately, the Unions are broken, because the United Kingdom was created via a series of Acts of Union between 1536 and 1801.
In 1707 England and Wales were joined by Scotland with an Act, part III of which stipulated "That the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one and the same Parliament".
Part IV of that Act stated "That all the subjects of the United Kingdom shall from and after the Union...have the same Rights, Privileges and Advantages".
But since Devolution in 1998 the people of the United Kingdom are NOT represented by one and the same Parliament. And we do NOT have the same Rights, Privileges and Advantages. There are now distinct differences in for example Health, Education and Old Age provisions between the different nations of the UK, divisions deliberately separated upon national grounds, and deliberately emphasised by nationalist politicians with the successful aim of inflaming national passions.
These divisions are getting worse.
The ongoing saga of the Welsh government's refusal to pay the bills of Welsh patients attending English hospitals has now resulted this week in Bristol's NHS Trust issuing instructions that Welsh patients should not be booked in for surgery or for further outpatient appointments until their bills start to be paid.
The British government also has bills to be paid. So it in turn, has decided to start and pawn English NHS properties, starting in London. Our hospitals - English Hospitals - are being sold off by our Scottish Chancellor and leased back in order to raise money. Not Scottish Hospitals though. No, just like when the Tories privatised England's Water Companies and not Scotland's, England is always the loser.
The powers that be have seen fit to encourage and pander to nationalist sentiment in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by transferring more and more powers to their respective national governments. We are told "Devolution is a process, and not an event". Which no doubt explains why the so-called "Wendy Commission" was set up by the Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties to debate what additional powers could be transferred to the Scottish Government.
Similarly, in Wales, Labour and Plaid Cymru have agreed that the Welsh should shortly be given another referendum. This time the question will be about increasing the powers of the Welsh Assembly to match those of Scotland with full primary law-making rights and further separation from England. It is worth noting that Labour MP Kim Howells commented that this would help "nationalists to the gates of independence."
Talking of independence, the SNP-led Scottish government have announced their plans for a Referendum in 2010 on Scotland leaving the Union.
And in Northern Ireland of course, the prolonged violence of The Troubles abated with The Belfast Agreement - an Agreement which provides for repeated referenda, 7 years apart, on whether Northern Ireland should leave the Union and join with the Republic.
It appears the answer to nationalist separatism in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is to pander to it with the declared aim of preserving the Union. If we are honest, looking at the situation as it is, does this seem to be working?
But what of England?
Simple requests for an end to our second-class status and a return to equality for all British citizens by the creation of a matching devolved Parliament for England are demonised as a "threat to the Union". Schools have been instructed - in England only - to teach "Britishness". Jack Straw, when he was Home Secretary, even went on Radio 4 to describe the English as "potentially very aggressive, very violent" and who had used this "propensity to violence to subjugate Ireland, Wales and Scotland".
I suppose it at least admits to a consistent approach, with the same historical distortions being peddled in all 4 of the nations of the United Kingdom. But as for their aim of suppressing the idea of England, you only have to look at this week's St George's Day celebrations to see the rise in English national consciousness in an equal and opposite reaction.
The other approach has been to try and abolish what they perceive as the problem of England by abolishing England. This is best exemplified by Charles Kennedy's speech at the 1997 Scottish Lib-Dem Conference, and his comment "with the advent of English regional assemblies we can start to call into question the existence of England itself".
The proposal to take away local powers and centralise local government into Regional Assemblies was only put to the vote in the North East of England. It was rightly rejected in the referendum with 78% voting against. The Regional Assembly was created anyway. So much for Democracy in England.
But should we be surprised?
The academic and former Labour and SDP MP David Marquand has written about the "wonderful growth of national feeling in Scotland and Wales." However at the same time he also said "Unless and until the English decide who they are, and rediscover the buried republican tradition of Milton and Blake, they will not be fit for self government." Apparently we aren't to be allowed to vote on our future until we can be trusted to vote as our masters want us to.
This is a colonialist attitude.
Representative Democracy is that you elect people from amongst yourselves to represent you and your interests.
Colonialism is when people outside your country send Representatives to govern and make decisions overriding your wishes - such as happened with the imposition of tuition fees on English students by Scottish MPs whose own people were not affected.
England is being abused as a colony, and it is this, and not a return to equality via an English Parliament, that will finally destroy the Union.
It is our duty to see the world as it is, and not how it was, or how we would wish it to be. The Devolution genie cannot now be put back in its bottle. We have to accept this fact and deal with it honestly.
This means one thing.
We have to separate what divides us from what unites us.
If this is done in good faith then I see no reason why a renewed Union cannot be forged. At least, if it is done early enough, and before attitudes have hardened too far on all sides.
But this will require the voice of England to be heard.
Who speaks for England?
Not our *British* MPs that is for sure - with, it appears, the honourable exception of Frank Field.
No, YOU speak for England. Talk to your families, your friends, your work colleagues. Write to local papers, radio and TV stations. Do not allow yourself to be discouraged, to be silenced. The future of England is in all our hands. Rise up, and Speak for England!
Ed Abrams' speech to the CEP's 'Future of England' conference, 26 April 2008
I’d like to thanks the members of the CEP for inviting me here and allowing me to speak. I have a huge amount of respect for the CEP and their work, the tireless commitment to England is there for all to see and I believe in my blood and my bones that we will one day , united we will reach our promised land – A PARLIAMENT FOR OUR NATION.
I stand before you not just as an member of the English Democrats, not just as someone who campaigns for English Democracy but I stand here before you all simply as an Englishman who wants what my birth right is – that birth right is that I was born into a country my forefathers gave their lives for so that I and others could live in a land that was free, a land where truth prevails, where democracy is there for all and justice smoothers discrimination.
Friends - My speech today is called the Politics of Nationhood, I’ll go on to outline why I believe that this new breed, this fresh ideal, this vision, this belief will blow away the cobwebs of political complacency and kick start the nations consciousness to building a newer, fresher and more accommodating England but an England that stands alone, proud, resolute and free.
Now I am no scholar as I unfortunately wasted my education but from the pages of history I’ve read, we have had for over 150 years, the politics of class rammed down our throats, we've had our democracy and our vote used and abused, we've had separation not liberation, with had dictatorship not comradeship and the butchers apron has hidden the cracks of resentment and disdain, it's hidden the politics of discrimination, it's hidden the West Lothian Question and the Barnett formula. The politics of class has divided our nation and turned are people to a state of utter despair.
The politics of class is the political ideology of old, of yesteryear, one that’s had its day.
See what our glorious leaders conveniently forget is that politics is a living beast, it changes, it moves, it lives – what was right yesterday does not mean it’s right for today or in the future. A political ideology that doesn’t move of change with the times dies from the neck upwards, it breeds resentment and disdain and it proves that it no longer has the ear of the people.
My vision is the politics of NATIONHOOD not of class. This is the new way, it’s not the 1st, 2nd or 3rd, in fact it’s the only way, this way is one whereby the whole country binds together and acts as one for the dual benefit of the nation and it's people.
It doesn’t ask how much money you earn or how many cars you've got, it doesn’t ask if your left or right or middle of the road, it doesn’t ask if you’re black or white, Christian or Jew, young or old- all it asks of you is that you unite, join arms, stand shoulder to shoulder with your neighbour and work to build a newer, fresher more accommodating England. An England that respects and learns from the past, works with the present and truly embraces the future with hope, vigour, commitment, openness, honesty and with a smile.
The politics of NATIONHOOD allows England to regain her rightful at the top table of the worlds nations. It allows us to promote with pride our cultural identity, it allows us to take our nation forward, give our people a voice and more importantly – it gives England a future. It allows us to celebrate of history, cradle our young and care for our elders.
This new ideal also solves the problems we have with cultural identity; it allows our young to have a future and a collective future. One of the challenges that we have today is that our kids, our nation’s future are not allowed an identity; they are forced to grow up with no knowledge of our history. Presently it is left down to us, the parents of England’s future to explain our nation and all its glory. See my vision allows us to rebuild our children’s futures, it allows us to put back the moral fibre of our society, it allows all to come together and work as one. It puts back respect and values, it restores honour and creed. It moves away from the nation of one to one nation for all.
As we all know misguided patriotism is the order of the day, we’ve been force-fed the BRITISH IDEAL for decades, I, like many of you have never brought this ideal, I’ve never considered myself British, I come from an immigrant family of Polish Jews who where allowed safe haven and harbour from the evils of the Russian programs.
We came to England not Britain because of English ideals such as liberty, democracy, honesty and justice, these went hand in hand with the name of England not Britain, however as we know at England’s expense, the ideals of liberty, democracy, honesty and justice in today's politics are just empty words, they are so often used and certainly abused by so called Political Professionals, those who put careers before consciousness, those who have never seen a hard days work in their lives, those who have thrown away their convictions the moment they entered the hallow halls of Westminster.
Many of our modern day politicians have enter politics with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths, have these so called elite ever been unemployed, worried about where the next pay check is coming from, panicking about having to buy the latest and greatest pair of footwear for their kids. Because career politicians are now the order of the day can someone explain to me how people like Darling, Cameroon, Brown, Milliband be the voice of the people when they don't KNOW the people.
These so-called democratic savours, our champions of liberty openly demand that we follow their path, that we throw garlands of flowers at their feet, pay homage to there very presence and afford them our respect, well my respect is earned and not just given and what the big three have done to my nation is beyond the pale.
These people live by the motto of “ DO AS I SAY AND NOT AS I DO” , I always thought that our leaders lead by example, they lead from the front and not from the back, that when duty calls, our leaders are there at the front, heads held high, leading charge. I’m afraid this isn’t the case with nearly all of the MP’s in parliament.
As I’ve said, I’m not an educated man but can some one please explain to me how these leaders represent England. The big 3 with their outdated and old styled politics of class have orchestrated England's final solution, they are the ones who are destroying the very idea of England, and they’ve eroded the fabric of our identity, the common purpose of our people.
They are the ones who are sending people to their deaths because of the ill-fated and not thought out policy of partial devolution, they are the ones who are herding our nations elders into care homes like horses to the knackers yard because they no longer add value to the treasuries coffers,
they are the ones who are pushing our people to despair as tax upon tax upon tax is being raised in our nation whilst other parts of this so called UNION of equals don't have these rises and they are the ones who have created policies that enforce discrimination upon the people of England – such as
Top up Fees ( only in England )
Prescription Charge Increases ( only in England )
Elderly folk having to pay for care ( only in England )
Class sizes over 30 kids ( only in England )
A paltry 50p per school meal ( only in England
Life saving drugs being refused our people ( only in England )
Brutishness’ Lessons taught ( only in England )
New Nuclear Power plants ( only in England )
Eco Towns ( only in England )
And many many more
This is what the politics of Class and of the old guard / the big 3 have given us. If like some, you decide to stay with one of the big 3, stay with the politics of class, the politics of spite, envy and hate and try and change from within then you'll just be a loan voice, you'll be a small little rowing boat trying to change the course of a super tanker, you know in your ENGLISH hearts that you'll never win, you'll only get lip service, you'll get a pat on the back and be told the same old line of " we all agree and WE must do something about it, in fact we have set up a working committee to investigate and review" sounds more like brushing it under the carpet to me.
I have had it said to me that there's no logic in trying to change the political landscape, it’s almost like pushing water uphill with your bare hands, a common comment has been that regardless of our efforts, nothing will change, I believe that the biggest single reason why people are so turned off from politics is because of the politics of class, people feel isolated, disassociated and forgotten. The gap between rich and poor has got wider and there’s no glue between them, well my vision – the politics of nationhood, cements all people together, it allows people from all sides to work together and engage one another, it allows us all to invest in England’s future therefore making all our people feel valued, respected and wanted.
I set about creating this new vision, this new political creed because the big 3 don't own politics, it's not there's to play with or pick up or put down as and when they desire, they’re wheels only ever turn when it's close to an election and they throw themselves at the voters mercy and beg for your vote. Politics isn’t a closed shop; whereby only the chosen view get it, it shouldn’t be a job for life either. I’d put politicians on performance related pay and see them run for cover.
My vision also erodes the secret society, the cosy little love affair that the big 3 have with the media, it is wrong that companies like the BBC become Browns mouthpiece or paper like the TORY mail over ever report Cameron's spin. The politics of nationhood removes these relationships and allows for free, fair and uncensored reporting that gives and unbiased and impartial view
I believe that these parties have changed in all recognition to the virtues and values of when they were created. Remember when the hard-pressed working class created the origins of the Labour movement they stood against discrimination, they stood against oppression, they stood up for and defend their own – are these still really the cornerstone values of Brown’s government or Blair’s legacy
Patriotism is not owned by anyone of anything, it's not enough to wave a flag when it suits and pretend your defenders of a nation. I believe that the wind is changing and the people of England don't want plastic patriotism anymore; they no longer have any faith in the old, outdated and stale current political parties. They cry out for a beg for a new style of political creed, one that involves and engages, one that interacts and learns and one that represent them and only them – THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND.
As I’ve said, my vision allows people from all walks of life, regardless of all age, regardless of our different experiences, it brings old and young together, it allows left and right to bind, it even allows those strange types ( you know the ones, the guardian readers with open toed sandals, i think people call them liberal democrats to stop sitting on the fence and get involved as again it moves our folk away from the politics of class, it defends ALL of our people and truely delivers the virtues of truth, justice, liberty and freedom.
A senior Conservative once asked me to a meeting, during that meeting he told me that he agreed with everything I said, he thought and felt the same but in the same breath as those words, he offered me the parliamentary seat of Chester if I joined their party. He wanted me to sell out my principles, my beliefs, my ENGLISH CORE. He thought that my pride and passion for England was something that you could pick up and put down on a wimm. I sat there and shook my head in disbelief as he thought I could be brought, that I would turn my back on my nation at the offer of a seat – how wrong he was.
See this is the difference between my vision of nationhood against there’s of class is that the establishment, New Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems made it personal because they are calling into question the very idea of England itself.
Ladies and Gentleman, Time is coming to take sides, to show your colours, to make a stand for i believe that perhaps not at the next election but certainly the one after that, the politics will be either Nationalist or Unionist, they’ll be no other option – you have to ask yourself which one protects England and her people, which one involves all and alienates none, which one delivers the politics of hope and which offers resentment and hate, it will be the new guard against the old, it will be about a new fresh approach to really engaging with and valuing the populas and not dictating to or ignoring their core values.
Folks, that time is coming, make sure you are on the right side – the ENGLISH SIDE
Thanks for your time and god bless England,
Canon Kenyon Wright: There'll Always be a....Britain? (England and Scotland - Partners in a reformed Union)
Address to Conference on “The Future of England (Campaign for an English Parliament)
by Canon Kenyon Wright CBE, 26 April 2008
What is this? A Scot daring to speak about the future of England?. Are there not already too many Scots deciding England’s future? So why am I here?
I am not here to tell you what to do. We Scots are good at that, but it is not my purpose today. Our two nations have been linked for centuries – as enemies, as friends and as partners in the Union. I admit that we Scots have too often defined our identity in resentment of our larger neighbour. As far back as the 16th century, the Spanish ambassador to the court of King James IV reported back to his homeland that “nothing pleases the Scots so much as abuse of the English!” I hope in the 21st century we have grown up at last, and can meet each other openly and honestly as friends who tell each other the truth, but as CS Lewis once wrote “we cannot meet face to face till we have faces!” The Scottish sense of identity is strong but hard to analyse or define.. One leading Academic in Edinburgh said that anyone who comes for any time to Scotland becomes aware of “a world of dense Scottishness” I am convinced that England has also a strong sense of identity, but that you are in the process of rediscovering it. For both of us, it means redefining the nature of our relationship with Britishness, and the Union. It seems to me that at heart, that is what your campaign and this conference are all about.
I cannot tell you how to influence the future of England – but I can share with you a glimpse of the Principles by which we worked for long years in the Campaign for a Scottish Parliament, and later in the Constitutional Convention; of the Process by which we achieved our goal, and of our continuing task of defining the Future of Scotland as a participative democracy. It is your task to judge whether, and if so how, these facts are relevant to your very different situation.
The Founding Principles
In the 1950’s Scotland’s greatest legal mind of the 20th century. Lord President Cooper was called upon to decide on a legal challenge to our monarch being designated Elizabeth the Second – on the very reasonable grounds that she was indeed the first, not only to reign as Queen of Scots, but in fact first in the United Kingdom. Cooper dismissed the case on the legal grounds that the Royal Prerogative reserved this decision to the monarch – but he did go on say, in a landmark judgement
“The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law”
This reflects the two foundation principles on which we worked. – Sovereignty and Subsidiarity. Our first act in the Convention was the solemn signing by all present (including of course Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling et al) of the “Claim of Right for Scotland” which proclaimed “the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine how they will be governed”. To this day I wonder how many of those MPs who lined up to sign it, fully realised they were by implication denying the right of Parliament to be the final arbiters in constitutional matters.
The second founding principle of subsidiarity, maintains that power should be limited, dispersed, and exercised at the lowest effective level. This means for us, clearer protected and positive powers, constantly under review, for local government, for Scotland, for the UK (though here there is a dispute as we know) and for the European Union too. Scotland is much more positive towards the EU than I sense you are, and generally does not see it as a threat to our sovereignty or nationhood..
I suggest hesitatingly, that there might be two ways in which our story has relevance to yours.
Political Grievances are not enough
First, we did not base our case on political grievances, but on constitutional principles. Like you, we certainly had plenty of complaints, and they provided fertile ground for our task
You have legitimate anger over the West Lothian Question – the undemocratic right of Scottish MPs to influence education and health say, in Doncaster and Edmonton, but not in Dundee or Edinburgh– or indeed in any of their own constituencies. Also many resent Scotland’s apparent advantages through the Barnet Formula, which will obviously be revised if and when the Scottish Parliament gains Fiscal powers, as seems likely in any revision of the Scotland Act
We in our turn, pointed out that, while the votes of Scottish MPs would have made a difference only for two or three years since the war, the votes of English MPs imposed policies on Scotland for some 50 years. This came to a head when the Thatcher Government not only made us guinea pigs for the Poll Tax, but imposed on us measure after measure which the Scottish people and their Representatives had manifestly and massively rejected. A Church of Scotland Report in 1989, the year the Convention was formed and the Claim of Right signed, said “that which was always unacceptable in principle, has now become intolerable in practice”.
My point is simply this. Contemporary political grievances can strengthen your case, as they did ours, but they should not be the basis on which you work. The principles, based on national identity and aspirations, should be clear.
Second, the Process was important
We strove for the widest possible consensus on exactly what we were asking for. Through enormous difficulties, we defined in detail what a Scottish Parliament would look like, and how it would relate to the UK and the EU. That task may indeed be even more difficult for you, but I hope it can be done.
The Future of England is inseparable from the Future of the Union
There is a profound reason why Scotland must be interested in, and aware of, what you are doing here. – simply that the success or failure of your campaign has enormous implications for us.
The devolved Scottish Parliament and Government have many weaknesses, but in one major aspect their very existence breaks the log jam of British politics. For the first time in the history of the Union, we have succeeded in establishing a secure base of alternative constitutional power which is in practice irreversible.
However, we are a small nation of 5 million people, one tenth of England. Our success challenges, but has not radically changed, the United Kingdom or the central institutions of the British State. But make no mistake about it – if your campaign succeeds, it means the end of the Union in the form we now know it. At the least it means the radical transformation of the Union into a very different political reality, one of genuine and secure power sharing. That is as important to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as it is to England. It is time for us to be discussing seriously together what kind of Union, if any, we think best for the 21st century
The new Scottish Constitutional Commission which a group of prominent Scots have recently formed (see www.constitutionalcommission.org) - to be clearly distinguished from the Commission set up by the unionist parties in Scotland, which has a much narrower mandate - should be in regular touch with you and the other nations, to ensure that our thinking on the future of our common relationships and governance, are in harmony, and must be taken seriously.
Scotland is in danger of polarising the debate into two extremes. On the one hand, devolution as at present with a few extra powers – on the other hand, independence; in other words, either the Union with a bit of tinkering at the edges, or the end of the Union. Of course, Scottish Independence would deliver your English Parliament on a plate – but my hope is that you will help us all by bringing fresh ideas to the future of a Union, which your success would inevitably change. Are we talking of some form of Federal or Confederal solution, with powerful Parliaments and Governments in the 4 nations, and with a central Government for those matters we agree to hold in common?
I do not know, but I think it urgent that we begin to ask these questions now
I am aware that the CEP accepts the final authority of the UK Parliament, but I find this hard to endorse.. The very existence of an English Parliament would question the size, the shape and the powers, of the continuing UK body. Certainly for Scotland, it would raise with a new urgency the hope expressed by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1989. that the coming Scottish Parliament would “represent a fundamental shift away from the notion of the unlimited or absolute sovereignty of the British Parliament, towards the Scottish and Reformed Principle of limited or relative sovereignty!"
I believe some major changes are unavoidable if a reformed Union acceptable to all its component nations, is to be preserved in the 21st Century.
At the least we need
- The development of a genuinely constitutional monarchy through the abolition of the Royal Prerogatives and the enormous power and patronage they give to the UK Prime Minister.
- A clear and accepted definition of the relationships of the Union government and the “devolved” governments, which defines and effectively limits the powers of each (though the word “devolved” would no longer be strictly accurate in a situation where power is securely shared. Enoch Powell once said “Power devolved is power retained”)
- A written constitution defining these powers and relationships.
The Future of England is inseparable from the Future of Britain.
Towards a Participative Democracy
In one important respect, our Parliament has only partly succeeded. The vision was of something “radically different from the rituals of Westminster, more participative, more open, more creative, less needlessly confrontational”. At a time when there is widespread contempt for politics, and the erosion of trust in politicians, it is vital that the Parliaments for which we strive are closer to the people, elected by a fairer system, open and honest in all they do, and encouraging the people to be part of the decision making process.
If there is one central thing I have learned from the experience of the last twenty years, it is this. Politics is too important to be left to the politicians.
Recently the POWER Inquiry, after extensive hearings all over Britain, laid bare the growing contempt, not for politics as such, but for the system. On that basis, its Convenor, Lady Helena Kennedy said
“Changes of this magnitude cannot be left simply to elected representatives. An alliance for change needs to be built amongst the most clear-sighted MPs, local councillors, MEPs and members of the devolved institutions, but only a sustained campaign for change from outside the democratic assemblies and parliaments of the UK will ensure that meaningful reform occurs. We, the people, have to stake our claim on power”
That seems to me to define your continuing task – and ours
David Cameron: Speaking on the importance of the Union at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, Monday, December 10, 2007.
"On May 1st, our countries marked the three hundredth anniversary of the Act of Union.
Two days later, the SNP, who want to break apart that Union, took office in the Scottish Parliament.
I passionately believe in the Union and the future of the whole United Kingdom.
It may have started out of convenience…
England, at war with France, needed a secure northern border.
Scotland, financially unstable after the failure of the Darien scheme in Panama, needed economic respite.
But what should inspire us – and continues to inspire me – is what came after.
Together, we turned a small, off-shore European island into the one of the most powerful countries known to the world.
In the 18th century, the Union helped create the sense of possibility that inspired the titans of the Enlightenment.
In the 19th century, what was Europe’s first common market brought unparalleled prosperity to both our countries.
And in the 20th century, we not only remained stable in the face of…the totalitarianisms that were the scourge of mainland Europe…but we confronted them side by side.
STATE OF THE UNION TODAY
But so much for the past. It is my desire and duty to help shape the future.
And the future of our Union is looking more fragile - more threatened - than at any time in recent history.
The SNP now promises to deliver independence within ten years.
At the same times there are those in England who want the SNP to succeed, who would like to see the Union fracture.
They seek to use grievances to foster a narrow English nationalism.
We must not allow the legitimate and affectionate doubling up of patriotic pride…
…English and British…
…Scottish and British…
…British and proud of it…
…to be pushed aside by a coarse and casual nationalism.
We must confront and defeat the ugly stain of separatism seeping through the Union flag.
BETTER AN IMPERFECT UNION THAN A BROKEN ONE
This is where I stand, here in this great and beautiful capital, an English politician in a Scottish city saying clearly today and for all time that Britain comes first.
For I believe that we are stronger together.
Stronger together: Scotland and England……more, much more than the sum of our parts.
And in every part of these islands I want people to hear me when I say this.
That if it should ever come to a choice between constitutional perfection and the preservation of our nation, I choose our United Kingdom.
Better an imperfect union than a broken one.
Better an imperfect union than a perfect divorce.
One part of the challenge to our Union is the need the people feel today for a clear identity. You see it all over Europe, all over the world.
But in this search for identity, here in Great Britain we have the best possible start.
Not just English; not just Scottish; not just Welsh; not just any regional or religious identity.
That is because being British is one of the most successful examples of inclusive civic nationalism in the world. We are a shining example of what a multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multi-national society can and should be.
And the challenge now is to renew that sense of belonging by creating a positive vision of a British society that really stands for something and makes people want to be part of it.
A society in which we are held together by a strong sense of shared history and common values and institutions we cherish.
A society which encourages active citizenship, not a passive standing on the sidelines.
A society which people are not bullied to join, but are actively inspired to join.
STRONGER, SAFER, RICHER, FAIRER…TOGETHER
That means saying loudly and proudly: together, we are stronger.
Britain is one of only five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
We have a seat at the top table and arcountries can only dream of.
So yes, together we are stronger.
It means saying loudly and proudly: together, we are safer.
Scotland and Wales punch above their weight in Britain's armed forces….and Britain punches above its weight in the world because of the expertise and bravery of those armed forces.
So, yes, together we are safer.
It means saying loudly and proudly: together, we are richer.
The City of London overtaking New York as a global powerhouse……Edinburgh’s role as a great financial centre.
So yes, we are richer.
And it means saying loudly and proudly: together, we are fairer.
The NHS is the best of British……created by a Welshman and benefiting from the skills of doctors trained in the great medical schools of Scotland.
Stronger. Safer. Richer. Fairer…together.
It’s vital we get this right.
And, so often, Gordon Brown gets it wrong.
He approaches the question of national identity like a brand manager trying to launch a new product on the market,…or a spin doctor seeking to revive the reputation of a failing government department.
So we have citizen’s juries – focus groups – to decide what it means to be British.
We have a competition to come up with a motto for Britain.
We have the attempt to replace the National Anthem.
And in one of the Prime Minister’s earliest, most embarrassing, misplaced and trivialising forays into this territory, we see the poverty of imagination that instructs British people to put a flag on their lawn.
He talks about values but Britishness isn’t just about values - liberty, fair play, openness - are general, unspecific, almost universal.
They are virtues which could be as easily associated with Denmark, say, or Holland.
Britishness is also about institutions, attachment to our monarchy, admiration for our armed forces, understanding of our history, recognising that our liberty is rooted in the rule of law and respect for parliament.
Just a s people seek identity in this new world of freedom, so they seek opportunity.
We are on the brink of a new, post-bureaucratic age
But when you look at our Government, they’re stuck in the bureaucratic age: still top-down, still old-world, still centralised.
No wonder so many people both north and south of the border are frustrated.
Frustrated at not being able to afford a new home or get a mortgage.
Frustrated at the state of their public services.
Frustrated about a gridlocked transport system.
Frustrated about paying so much tax but seeming to get so little in return.
And that’s the thing about frustration is: it’s easy to blame your neighbours.
But what we should be doing is blaming Labour.
So, to those in England who are angry about rising council tax, angry about the rising cost of living, and angry when they look across the border and hear about no prescription charges and free social care, I say this.
Don’t blame the Scots.
Don’t blame the Union.
It’s not because of the Union that your aspirations are not being met.
It’s not because Scotland is taking and not giving.
It’s because your Government is failing and not delivering.
The same goes for Scotland.
I know you have great aspirations for your country.
To become a model for success based on a competitive economy and the skills and talents of your people.
To follow the examples of Ireland and Scandinavia and deliver prosperity and high living standards for all.
But again, it’s not because of the Union that you’re being held back…it’s because of the Labour Government.
That’s why I believe you voted in the SNP earlier this year.
It wasn’t a vote for independence – recent polls show that.
It was a vote against Labour, a vote for change.
But real change will only come when we change the Government of the United Kingdom
And today, it is the Conservative Party that is offering a message of change, optimism acourse, when it comes to the rise of separatist sentiment, some would seek to blame constitutional and economic arrangements.
I do not believe this represents an adequate explanation: after all, issues like the West Lothian question and the Barnett formula have been debated in one form or another for decades.
But that does not mean for one second that we can afford to ignore them today.
It is essential that we seek answers to any unfairness in the Union, and to questions of accountability, justice and democracy.
It is a sign of Labour’s weakness and irresponsibility that they prefer to sweep these questions under the carpet, pretend they don’t exist, simply because they are difficult.
I want my Party to be better than that.
So yes we will take part enthusiastically in the Constitutional Commission, and I applaud Annabel Goldie for her courage and determination to do that.
And we will, after due consideration, bring forward our proposals on these matters.
But we will address them in a calm and considered way.
We have not leapt on the Barnett formula bandwagon.
We have not sought to exploit these matters to foster a sense of English nationalism.
And we never will, because we believe in the Union and we will never do anything to put it at risk.
And that applies to the Conservative party’s whole attitude to Scottish affairs..
I recognise the impression that was left by my Party in Scotland after the 1980s.
You will not be surprised to hear that I reject the view that overall Conservative rule was bad for Scotland.
Look at how financial services are thriving in Edinburgh.
Look at the cultural renaissance of Glasgow.
And look what oil revenues have brought to Aberdeen.
But I know there is still a reluctance to openly support the Conservative Party in Scotland.
So let me say this.
Consider all our Party’s history, not just the recent past.
It was a Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, who set up the Scottish Office.
It was a Conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who elevated the Scottish Secretary to full Cabinet rank.
And it was the Conservative Party after the war that stood up for Scotland’s identity, and the life of Scottish businesses, against the attempts at nationalisation and centralisation by Labour.
We are a party of the Union and as long as I lead it that is how it will stay.
And to the people of Scotland, I make this guarantee.
I will carry out my duty to nurture and support the Union whatever my Party’s political standing in any of the Union’s constituent parts.
I will fight for every seat in Scotland just as I will throughout the United Kingdom.
But whatever the outcome of the next General Election in Scotland, a Conservative Government at Westminster will govern the United Kingdom, including Scotland, with respect.
Whoever is Scotland’s First Minister, I will be a Prime Minister that respects and listens to the voice of the Scottish people.
And I will work tirelessly for consent and consensus so we strengthen the union and stop separatism.
So I say to Alex Salmond, if you think you can succeed in your separatist agenda because there’s a Conservative government at Westminster, think again.
We will not play your game to break up our United Kingdom.
And we will not stop fighting to meet Scotland’s needs.
I want a Scotland where young people can fulfil their ambition of buying their first home.
I want a Scotland where businesses can innovate and create the jobs, wealth and opportunities that are so vital to local communities.
I want a Scotland where first-class health-care is the right of all, and not just a few.
I want a Scotland of opportunity, responsibility and security.
But I don’t just want this for Scotland.
But for all of the United Kingdom.
So let us scrub out the stain of separatism that is starting to disfigure our land.
Let us search for practical and reasonable solutions to our cons
But let us do so in a spirit of unity and purpose that will see Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland move forward together into the twenty-first century with confidence and pride.
Stronger together; weaker apart.
Stronger together: let us keep that precious idea forever in our hearts."
In a speech on liberty at the University of Westminster, Thursday 25 October 2007, Gordon Brown said that the discussion would focus on how to "entrench and enhance" individual freedoms while also detailng the responsibilities "that flow from British citizenship". Mr Brown expressed his hope that the debate be informed by all people and all viewpoints regardless of any political affiliation.
I want to talk today about liberty - what it means for Britain, for our British identity and in particular what it means in the 21st century for the relationship between the private individual and the public realm.
I want to explore how together we can write a new chapter in our country’s story of liberty - and do so in a world where, as in each generation, traditional questions about the freedoms and responsibilities of the individual re-emerge but also where new issues of terrorism and security, the internet and modern technology are opening new frontiers in both our lives and our liberties.
Addressing these issues is a challenge for all who believe in liberty, regardless of political party. Men and women are Conservative or Labour, Liberal Democrat or of some other party - or of no political allegiance. But we are first of all citizens of our country with a shared history and a common destiny.
And I believe that together we can chart a better way forward. In particular, I believe that by applying our enduring ideals to new challenges we can start immediately to make changes in our constitution and laws to safeguard and extend the liberties of our citizens:
- respecting and extending freedom of assembly, new rights for the public expression of dissent;
- respecting freedom to organise and petition, new freedoms that guarantee the independence of non-governmental organisations;
- respecting freedoms for our press, the removal of barriers to investigative journalism;
- respecting the public right to know, new rights to access public information where previously it has been withheld;
- respecting privacy in the home, new rights against arbitrary intrusion;
- in a world of new technology, new rights to protect your private information;
- and respecting the need for freedom from arbitrary treatment, new provision for independent judicial scrutiny and open parliamentary oversight.
Renewing for our time our commitment to freedom and contributing to a new British constitutional settlement for our generation.
And my starting point is that from the time of Magna Carta, to the civil wars and revolutions of the 17th century, through to the liberalism of Victorian Britain and the widening and deepening of democracy and fundamental rights throughout the last century, there has been a British tradition of liberty - what one writer has called our ‘gift to the world’.
Of course liberty - with roots that go back to antiquity - is not and cannot be solely a British idea. In one sense, liberty is rooted in the human spirit and does not have a nationality. But first with the Magna Carta and then through Milton and Locke to more recent writers as diverse as Orwell and Churchill, philosophers and politicians have extolled the virtues of a Britain that, in the words of the American revolutionary Patrick Henry, ‘made liberty the foundation of everything’, and ‘became a great, mighty and splendid nation…because liberty is its direct end and foundation’.
At that time few doubted that modern ideas of liberty originated from our country. Britain ‘hath been the temple as it were of liberty’ said Bolingbroke as early as 1730 ‘whilst her sacred fires have been extinguished in so many countries, here they have been religiously kept alive’. ‘The civil wars of Rome ended in slavery and those of the English in liberty’ Voltaire wrote. ‘The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to regulate the power of kings by resisting them…The English are jealous not only of their own liberty but even of that of other nations’.
So powerful did this British idea of liberty become that the American War of Independence was fought on both sides ‘in the name of British liberty’ and the first great student of American democracy de Tocqueville acknowledge its roots across the Atlantic: ‘I enjoyed, too, in England’, he said, ‘what I have long been deprived of - a union between the religious and the political world, between public and private virtue, between Christianity and liberty’.
A century and more later, facing fascism on the right and Stalinism on the left, Orwell wrote that ‘the totalitarian idea that there is no such thing as law - there is only power - has never taken root in England [where] such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed in’.
And while we should not overstate it, the anthems that today celebrate our country have at their heart a call to liberty. In 1902 A.C Benson wrote ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ to define Britain as ‘the mother of the free’ and two centuries before Rule Britannia, written in England by a Scot, resounded with the resolve ‘Britons never never shall be slaves’.
Of course the cause has been hard fought — won and lost and won again. But if you draw a line through all the peaks and valleys, the direction over time is upward.
A passion for liberty has determined the decisive political debates of our history, inspired many of our defining political moments, and those debates, conducted in the crucible of great events, have, in my view, forged over time a distinctly British interpretation of liberty —— one that asserts the importance of freedom from prejudice, of rights to privacy, and of limits to the scope of arbitrary state power, but one that also rejects the selfishness of extreme libertarianism and demands that the realm of individual freedom encompasses not just some but all of us.
And I believe that to each generation falls the task of expanding the idea of British liberty and to each generation also the task of rediscovering liberty’s central importance as a founding value of our country and its animating force.
Indeed I am concerned that too often in recent years the public dialogue in our country has undervalued the importance of liberty. Too often the political debate has become polarised between a new right that has emphasised laissez-faire more than liberty and an old left that has mistakenly marginalised liberty by seeing it as the enemy of equality.
Now is the time to reaffirm our distinctive British story of liberty - to show it is as rich, powerful and relevant to the life of the nation today as ever; to apply its lessons to the new tests of our time.
So instead of invoking the unique nature of the threats we face today as a reason for relinquishing our historical attachment to British liberty, we meet these tests not by abandoning principles of liberty but by giving them new life.
We all approach the history of these islands in our own way. But for me certain key themes emerge over and over again through the centuries to characterise the British conception of liberty.
First, I trace the historical roots of liberty in Britain to a struggle for tolerance, by which I mean also a gradual acceptance of pluralism - a notion of political liberty that would allow those of different denominations and beliefs to coexist peacefully together.
The commitment in Britain to basic freedoms of worship, assembly, speech and press began to emerge in the 16th and 17th centuries alongside a rejection of religious persecution. ‘If not equal all, yet all equally free’ wrote Milton in Paradise Lost.
This did not happen all at once, or without setbacks and struggle. The flames of religious intolerance burned across this land too. But never as strongly as in continental Europe.
And down the centuries the British people have come to demonstrate a shared belief that respect for the dignity and value of every human being demands that all be given the freedom and space to live their lives by their own choices, free from the control and unjustified interference of others.
There is of course always the danger that villains of history become redeemed by the passage of time. There is a human instinct to recast the past as a lost golden age. I do not wish to fall into that trap. Nor should we succumb to an excessively Whig-like interpretation of history that assumes an inevitable stage-by-stage progress. In particular we should neither glorify nor distort what has gone before - and the struggles, both the ups and downs, of empire are not long behind us - to uphold a particular view of where we are now or what we can become.
So we need to recognise, for example, that it took until 1829 for Catholic emancipation, even later for legislation ending discrimination against the Jewish community. It is true that in 1914 our franchise was more narrowly restricted than nearly all other countries in Europe. It was only in the second half of the twentieth century that Parliament took action to combat discrimination against women and ethnic minorities and there is still much work to do in these areas and against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, disability and religion.
But the single most powerful thread that runs though our history is a succession of chapters in the defence of liberty and toleration.
We gave refuge to Huguenots fleeing persecution in the 1600s.
By the eighteenth century, London was arguably already the world’s most diverse city - a situation which we can remain proud of in Britain to this day.
The abolition of slavery was an act that led the world in the defence of human dignity - and today our abhorrence of torture is and must be unequivocal.
And as the chapters have unfolded and the battles have been won, tolerance in Britain has evolved from a passive defence of free speech and freedoms of press and assembly into a positive assertion of their place in our progress.
Indeed today one of the qualities British people say they admire most about our country is our tolerance, and the characteristic that makes them most ashamed is any intolerance.
And this British idea of liberty evolved into something even more remarkable in the early modern era - the right to dissent - fought for by the civil war dissenters and embodied in the campaigns of the chartists and later the suffragettes.
Now, tolerance may have been instrumental in shaping modern British beliefs in liberty, but liberty for Britain steadily became not just about mutual acceptance but also about due process against arbitrary power.
While this great tradition can be traced back to the Magna Carta, it was the rise of the modern state with all the new powers at its disposal that made the 17th century the pivotal period in the struggle against arbitrary and unaccountable government —— as Britain led the way in the battle for freedom from hierarchical rule, for human rights and for the rule of law.
And tracing Coke’s defence of common law, the work of John Locke and the Bill of Rights of 1689 right through to the first of the Reform Acts, Macaulay concluded that ‘the authority of law and the security of property were found to be compatible with a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known’.
And in the mid to late 20th century, this idea of liberty increasingly became the foundation of a new international order where the right of everyone - human rights - should be respected by everyone. On an island off Newfoundland in 1941, Churchill and Roosevelt together drew up the Atlantic Charter, and by beginning the system of international law based on the fundamental rights of all human beings, Britain led the way in asserting the inviolability of individual rights, irrespective of race or nationality and made the freedoms so dear to Britain the cornerstone of a new international order. And a few years later Britain led the way in the European Convention of Human Rights so that the same insistence on tolerance, the same defence against the arbitrary power of governments, the same fundamental rights and implicit mutual obligations between all human beings could provide protection to all individuals wherever they were.
One view of the American tradition of liberty manifests itself in the ‘leave me alone’ state. But while concern for privacy is central in our tradition, the British conception of liberty which runs though and defines much of our national experience has not led, at least for most of our history, to notions of the isolated individual left on his own — it is privacy not loneliness that British people seem to value. Nor did it lead to selfish individualism.
Instead, throughout the last three hundred years in Britain, as Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has eloquently described, the progress of the idea of liberty has gone hand in hand with notions of social responsibility: ‘the active citizen’, the ‘good neighbour’, and civic pride, emphasising that people are not just self interested but members of a wider community - sustained by the mutual obligation we all feel to each other.
As Gertrude Himmelfarb puts it, in Britain the enlightenment focus on asserting the rights of individuals was accompanied by a cluster of ’social virtues’ —- benevolence, improvement, civic society and the moral sense underlying shared purpose. Thus John Stuart Mill did not, in the end, call for unfettered freedoms, but argued that ‘there are many positive acts for the benefit of others which he may rightfully be compelled to perform’.
So I recall a British story of liberty rooted in tolerance, the liberty that is necessary to uphold the dignity of each and all; reinforced by due process against the exercise of arbitrary power; best advanced in the modern world when we recognise the responsibilities we owe to each other; and now as a new generation expands the frontiers of liberty, also increasingly about empowering the individual to make the most of their potential. As T. H. Green put it: ‘when we speak of freedom as something to be so highly prized, we mean a positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying, and that, too, something that we do or enjoy in common with others’.
Indeed, from more than a century ago, in the view of British thinkers - not just Green but Hobson, Hobhouse and Tawney - freedom could only be fully realised when society was prepared to overcome the barriers that prevented people from realising their true potential. Hobson put it as a question when he asked: ‘is a man free who has not equal opportunity with his fellows of such access to all material and moral means of personal development and work as shall contribute to his own welfare and that of his society?’.
So in this modern view freedom comes to mean not just freedom from interference, but also freedom to aspire - the opportunity and the chance to live a rounded life in which for everyone there is a place for choice and talent to flourish.
So I am in no doubt that our freedoms, our openness and tolerance, and our very enterprise and creativity which flow from these qualities — what we value about being British - emerge from this rich and historic tradition.
Yet all too often on the political right, liberty has been reduced to a simplistic libertarianism in which freedom and licence assumed a rough equivalence, and the absence of government from public life seen as essential to maximise liberty - such as in the 19th century with the continued acceptance of child labour.
And some politicians of the left have mistakenly seen liberty at odds with equality and were too often prepared to compromise or even ignore the sanctity of freedoms of the individual.
But these simplistic caricatures are unacceptable: we need a more rounded and realistic conception of liberty.
In a world of increasingly rapid change and multiplying challenges - facing for example a terrorist threat or a challenge to our tolerance - democracies must be able to bring people together, mark out common ground, and energise the will and the resources of all.
It is the open society that responds best to new challenges and we are fortunate in being able to do so by drawing on that British story of liberty.
Indeed, the components of our liberty are the building blocks for such a society:
our belief in the freedom of speech and expression and conscience and dissent helps create the open society; our determination to subject the state to greater scrutiny and accountability sustains such openness; the reinforcement of civic responsibility and the empowerment of the individual gives our country the underlying strength we need to succeed in the years ahead.
And while some people argue that in this changing world the concern for liberty has to take its place behind other commitments, I am convinced that both to rebuild our constitution for the modern age and to unify the country to meet and master every challenge, we need to consciously and with determination found the next stage of constitutional development firmly on the story of British liberty.
This will only be possible if we face up to the hard choices that have to be made in government. Precious as it is, liberty is not the only value we prize and not the only priority for government. The test for any government will be how it makes those hard choices, how it strikes the balance. To claim that we should ignore the claims of liberty when faced with the needs of security would be to embark down an authoritarian path that I believe would be unacceptable to the British people. But to ignore the duty of government to protect its people - and to be unwilling to face up to hard choices - is the politics of gesture and irresponsibility.
In my view, the key to making these hard choices in a way that is compatible with our traditions of liberty is to, at all times, apply the liberty test, respecting fundamental rights and freedoms, and wherever action is needed by government, it never subjects the citizen to arbitrary treatment, is transparent and proportionate in its measures and at all times also requires proper scrutiny by, and accountability to, Parliament and the people.
And so I want today to give you some examples of how in accordance with this approach we can, consistent with our security and the other priorities of government, do far more to entrench liberty in our constitutional settlement.
First, it is the British way to stand up for freedom of assembly, speech and press.
Wherever and whenever there are question marks over the ability to express dissent I believe that the balance should be with those taking action to defend and extend the liberty of individuals and their freedoms to express their views within the law.
So as I set out before the summer, I think it right - in consultation with the Metropolitan Police, Parliament, the Mayor of London, Westminster City Council and civil liberties groups - to review the law to ensure that people’s right to protest outside the very heart of our democracy - the House of Commons - is not subject to unnecessary restrictions. And the Home Secretary is publishing a consultation document on this issue today.
Alongside this it is important, as the Government has made clear, that charities are guaranteed the independence and the right to have their voice heard and to campaign on the issues that matter to them.
In addition, there is a case for applying our enduring ideas of liberty to ensure that the laws governing the press in this country fully respect freedom of speech.
The key is to achieve the right balance between freedom of the press, the protection of individual privacy, and public safety and security - and I now believe there is more we can do to ensure that freedom of expression and legitimate journalism are protected.
We agree with the Select Committee on Culture that a free press is the hallmark of our democracy, that there is no case for statutory regulation of the press, that self-regulation of the press should be maintained and that it is for the publishers themselves to demonstrate by their decisions that they can sustain and bolster public confidence in the way information is gathered and used.
But for our part - and to make sure that in pursuing essential policy objectives like combating terrorism and tackling hate crime any new measures do not curb legitimate liberties to speak and be heard - Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice, will investigate the idea of a freedom of expression audit for future legislation.
Last year, in a draft bill, we published proposals which would limit media access to coroners’ courts. Having undertaken extensive consultation we have now decided not to go ahead with these proposals.
No one wants to see criminals profiting from publishing books about their crimes. At the same time, we must ensure that the freedom of the press to investigate and report is maintained. Our preferred option, subject to further technical examination, would be for the public to have the right through civil orders to recover payments made to people where these payments can be constituted as benefits of crime.
The wilful abuse of personal data is of serious concern so there are proposals currently under consideration to clamp down on those who profit illegally from trade in personal data. But Jack Straw has asked the Information Commissioner to produce guidance, in consultation with the Press Complaints Commission, to make sure we take into account concerns about the new rules - which allow for a prison sentence of up to two years. Clear guidance will make sure that legitimate investigative journalism is not impeded but that the sanctions provide a strong deterrent to protect individual privacy.
Because liberty cannot flourish in the darkness, our rights and freedoms are protected by the daylight of public scrutiny as much as by the decisions of Parliament or independent judges.
So it is clear that to protect individual liberty we should have the freest possible flow of information between government and the people.
In the last ten years in Britain we have created a new legislative framework requiring openness and transparency in the state’s relationships with the public. The Freedom of Information Act has been a landmark piece of legislation, enshrining for the first time in our laws the public’s right to access information.
Freedom of Information (FoI) can be inconvenient, at times frustrating and indeed embarrassing for governments. But Freedom of Information is the right course because government belongs to the people, not the politicians.
I now believe there is more we can do to change the culture and the workings of government to make it more open — whilst of course continuing to maintain safeguards in areas like national security.
When anything is provided without cost, it does risk being open to abuse. However the Government does not believe that more restrictive rules on cost limits of FoI requests are the way forward. And so Jack Straw has decided, and has announced today, that we will not tighten FoI fees regulations as previously proposed.
We do this because of the risk that such proposals might have placed unacceptable barriers between the people and public information. Public information does not belong to Government, it belongs to the public on whose behalf government is conducted. Wherever possible that should be the guiding principle behind the implementation of our Freedom of Information Act.
So it is right also to consider extending the coverage of freedom of information and the Freedom of Information Act. And we are also today publishing a consultation document to consider whether additional organisations discharging a public function - including in some instances private sector companies running services for the public sector - should be brought within the scope of Freedom of Information legislation.
Freedom of Information is not simply about current discussions within government but about the restrictions we place on the publication of historical documents.
It is an irony that the information that can be made available on request on current events and current decisions is still withheld as a matter of course for similar events and similar decisions that happened 20 or 25 years ago.
Under the present arrangements historical records are transferred to the national archives and are only opened to public access after thirty years or where explicitly requested under the FoI Act. It is time to look again at whether historical records can be made available for public inspection much more swiftly than under the current arrangements.
There are of course cost and security implications of a more open approach which we will need to examine thoroughly. So I have asked Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief of Associated Newspapers and member of the Press Complaints Commission - working with Sir Joe Pilling, former Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Office, and the eminent historian David Cannadine - to review this rule. And we look forward to receiving their proposals in the first half of 2008.
At the same time, we know that increasing the flow of publicly available real-time data about what is happening on the ground - whether about local policing or local health services - is vital in enabling people to make informed choices about how they use their local services and the standards they expect. And even in the most sensitive sphere, national security - where everyone agrees that some safeguards have to be in place to respect confidentiality - it is right to consider the circumstances in which we open up more information for debate. For the first time - starting later this year - the Government will publish, for parliamentary debate and public scrutiny, our National Security Strategy setting out for the British people the threats we face and the objectives we pursue. New rules will also govern a more open approach to the working of the Intelligence and Security Committee and I have agreed with the Chair of the ISC that Parliament should have a clear role in the appointment of members to the Committee.
The advancement of individual liberty depends upon the protection from arbitrary interference of the person and private property and, above all, the home.
I am aware of concerns that have been expressed about the powers of public authorities to enter homes and business premises without permission - powers that have been granted piecemeal over the years in pursuit of generally agreed public goals such as the protection of children, action against criminals - and, more recently, suspected terrorists.
In the last year we have tried, in the interests of protecting the privacy of the home dweller, to regularise the circumstances in which bailiffs have permission to enter homes.
But I believe we can go much further.
There are a surprisingly high number - at least 250 - of provisions granting power to enter homes and premises without permission. This high number reflects how often they are drawn very narrowly - not least because of our traditional respect for liberty and privacy.
I share the concerns about the need for additional protections for the liberties and rights of the citizen. And I believe that one of the strongest guarantees is a clear understanding of what these rights are and that is more difficult with the very existence of hundreds of laws.
So the Home Secretary is working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to examine, in the name of clarity and the greatest possible protection for the individual, the scope for bringing together all existing police powers of entry into a single understandable code. But, besides the police, many other public authorities covering areas like public health, animal welfare, health and safety, and customs and excise, also have powers of entry. So, alongside the review of police powers, the Home Secretary will establish and coordinate a wider review of all other powers of entry.
But it is not enough to clarify and subject these powers to the liberty test. Any change should be and will be accompanied by guidance on how these powers should be exercised and the rights members of the public have to take action if those expectations are not met. And we should consider whether we need to do more to offer redress for the individual against any disproportionate use of powers by the state.
In the same way as we do more to safeguard privacy in the home, so too we will review in consultation with the police and civil liberties organisations whether we need - whilst never compromising our security - to improve the guidance for police officers on the exercise of Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act — so we can both ensure that they have the powers they need and preserve trust in the way power is used.
Up until now our concerns about privacy have focused on the physical space of our homes and neighbourhoods. What is new about 21st century ideas of privacy is that they rightly extend far beyond the home right across our lives to the way information about us is handled.
This is the century of information. Our ability to compete in the global economy, to protect ourselves against crime and terrorist attack, depends not just on natural wealth or on walls or fences but on our ability to use information - in industry, in our schools and universities, at our borders, in our police forces and intelligence services. And it is clear that we can use DNA to help solve crimes and we can use new powers of access to information to deny terrorists and criminals financial freedom and the ability to move across borders.
At the same time, a great prize of the information age is that by sharing information across the public sector - responsibly, transparently but also swiftly - we can now deliver personalised services for millions of people, something not dreamt of in 1945 and not possible even ten years ago. So for a pensioner, for example, this might mean dealing with issues about their pension, meals on wheels and a handrail at home together in one phone call or visit, even though the data about those services is held by different bits of the public and voluntary sectors.
But if Governments do not insist on accountability where people’s data is concerned - and are not held independently to account - then we risk losing people’s trust which is fundamental to all these issues and more.
And as what is possible changes, so the protections we afford to individuals must change, and we must respond to the need for a more secure way of establishing and protecting people’s identity; to the new opportunities to use biometrics to identify false passports or DNA to solve crime; to the need to deny terrorists and criminals financial freedom and the ability to move across borders; to the pressure to provide more personalised public services. In all these areas the challenge is both to be able to use, where appropriate, the opportunities of new technology in pursuit of security or in pursuit of justice — and simultaneously to put in place proper standards and oversight to protect liberty.
The information age has, as Tom Friedman has so well drawn out, flattened hierarchies and potentially increased the power of all citizens. So we should not fear the advent of the information age - and it should not lead us to abandon or fear for our values - but at the same time I believe we require a new and imaginative approach to accountability and to winning people’s trust in the ways in which information is held and used.
In previous centuries people’s identities were protected in the only ways people knew how - with the requirement to register at the time of birth, marriage and death. Today we have the benefit not just of the fingerprint technology of the last century but advances in biometric technology in this, that can protect individuals and society against crime, fraud, illegal immigration and terrorism - and protect for each and every individual our own identity.
With identity fraud on the increase the need for this personal protection is increasing, as was recognised in the recent report by the All-Party Group on Identity Fraud. Banks, credit card companies, retail stores and computer companies now all use sophisticated identification techniques, including biometric technologies, to identify people.
And on those occasions where we already have to identify ourselves - when we open a bank account or withdraw money, pay for something, cross borders or register with a GP - citizens themselves are recognising that it is in their interests to have a modern and secure means of identification which better protects against crime, fraud and illegal immigration and also protects each of them as individuals, their property but also their privacy.
And so the issue for the future is not whether biometrics are used - they are now already being used by companies, by retailers, on new laptop computers in place of passwords to protect personal security and privacy: the question is how they will be used and under what protections for the rights of the individual.
This is an issue for both private and public sector transactions alike. And whatever views people have in the debate we are currently engaged in about the management of identity for entry into our country and in other respects, I believe we need a wider debate - right across the public and private sectors - about the right form of independent oversight and parliamentary scrutiny and safeguards.
So notwithstanding the continuing debate about identity cards, it is right that the Information Commissioner - independent of Government - should continue to have, on behalf of the public, oversight of how Government collects, hold and uses data — testing it against the best data protection laws and ensuring individuals will have the right to see the information held on them. And it is the British way to insist that we do all we can to protect individual citizens and their rights. So we must always ensure that there is - as we have legislated on ID cards - proper accountability to Parliament, with limits to use of the data enshrined in parliamentary legislation, the exercise of responsibilities in this area subject to regular and open scrutiny by Parliament, with detailed reports on any new powers published and laid before it.
These are issues not just for us but for others — and I know that similar debates are going on around the world. Jack Straw and I have asked the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas and Doctor Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, to undertake a review of the framework for the use of information - in both the private and public sector - to assess whether it is right for today’s landscape and strikes the right balance —– giving people the protection they are entitled to, while allowing them to make the most of the opportunities which are being opened up by the new information age.
Concerns people rightly have about modern protections for personal privacy are matched by concerns people rightly have about the protection of time honoured rights in the face of unprecedented new threats to our security.
Terrorism can today strike anywhere and anytime.
The very freedoms we have built up over generations are the freedoms terrorist most want to destroy.
By insisting that liberty is and remains at the centre of our constitution, we rightly raise the bar we have to meet when it comes to measures to protect the security of individuals and communities against the terrorist threat.
For me this means that any necessary steps we take to enforce security must always be accompanied by the strongest of safeguards to ensure there is scrutiny, accountability and transparency in the decisions that are made and that at all times we preserve the primacy of independent courts and strengthen accountability to Parliament.
I am in no doubt about the desirability of a debate over pre-charge detention. It is central to our tradition of civil liberties that no one should be held arbitrarily, and it is right that the longer someone is detained, the more concerns there are about arbitrary treatment.
The police and others - including the independent reviewer Lord Carlile - have argued that the clear trends in recent terrorist cases towards greater complexity, greater numbers and international links suggest that in the future 28 days may not be enough and we are also considering other proposals including post-charge questioning.
But weighing that case for an extension of days against legitimate concerns about arbitrary treatment, I know the importance of making sure that whatever specific changes are agreed for special, perhaps exceptional, circumstances that might arise, there will be - and must be - greater protections for the individual —- both greater legal or judicial safeguards on executive decisions and more intensive scrutiny of them by Parliament.
Our commitment to liberty - to the restriction of arbitrary power and to the empowerment of the individual - is of course also the foundation for our recent proposals on constitutional reform launched in July.
I believe that trust in our institutions can only be strengthened if our constitutional reforms are explicitly founded on British ideas of liberty — and that it is imperative that in every generation we re-examine areas where the executive has discretion and where to limit that discretion would be in the interests of good government.
In my first days as Chancellor of the Exchequer I gave up power to the Bank of England. To restore the credibility of government economic policy we had to constrain the power of government to put the politics of the moment ahead of the national economic interest.
Now - in my first few months as Prime Minister - we are consulting on other areas where the Prime Minister and executive should surrender or limit their powers, re-examining patronage where it is arbitrary and at all times seeking to bring the executive under democratic control.
In my statement to Parliament before the summer, I proposed that in twelve areas important to our national life the Prime Minister and executive should surrender or limit their powers - the exclusive exercise of which by the government should have no place in a modern democracy - including:
- the power of the executive to declare war;
- the power of the executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament;
- and powers in the appointment of judges — ensuring the independence of the judiciary and recognising their role in safeguarding liberty.
Further consultation documents on those reforms are being published by Jack Straw today.
These are the specific measures we are taking forward now, but we are also beginning a wider, longer-term debate about how best to entrench liberty in our constitution itself.
Today, Jack Straw is signalling the start of a national consultation on the case for a new British Bill of Rights and Duties - or, as I said in July, for moving towards a written constitution.
This will include a discussion of how we can entrench and enhance our liberties - building upon existing rights and freedoms but not diluting them - but also make more explicit the responsibilities that implicitly accompany rights. We will also examine the rights and responsibilities that flow from British citizenship, informed by the work being carried out by Peter Goldsmith on citizenship.
The debate about a Bill of Rights and Duties will be of fundamental importance to our liberties and to our constitutional settlement and opens a new chapter in the British story of liberty. So it is right that the discussion should engage those of all parties and none who believe in our democracy and the importance of liberty within it in a constructive dialogue. And this debate is not just for one party or one year but for all parties and for this generation. I hope other political parties will join this dialogue.
At all times in our history we have had to debate how the need for strong and effective government can be combined with the pursuit and preservation of liberty.
Such debates are both inevitable and desirable.
The challenge for each generation is to conduct an open debate without ever losing sight of the value of our liberties.
Indeed the character of our country will be defined by how we write the next chapter of British liberty - by whether we do so responsibly and in a way that respects and builds on our traditions, and progressively adds to and enlarges rather then reduces the sphere of freedom.
And as we make these decisions, we must never forget that the state and the people are not equivalent. The state is always the servant of the people.
We must remember that liberty belongs to the people and not governments.
It is the challenge and the opportunity for our generation to write the next chapter of British liberty in a way that honours the progress of the past - and promises a wider and more secure freedom to our children.
Labour's Secretary of State for Scotland, Jim Murphy's speech to the 2009 Labour Party Annual Conference.
Wherever I go in Scotland I am in awe not just of the beauty of our country but the brilliance of our people.
Our cities that have helped shape the world can still have their best decades ahead of them.
Visiting our islands and seeing the wind and wave power technology of the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland and in Aberdeen which we want to be the renewable energy capital of Europe
On the River Clyde hundreds of apprentices I met making Britain safer by building Royal Navy ships
Labour's Secretary of State for Scotland, Jim Murphy's speech to the 2009 Labour Party Annual Conference:
Parents I listen to balancing all the pressures of modern life and putting their children first.
Scotland's pensioners who worked hard and saved hard to make Scotland all that it is - probably the most powerful small nation on earth.
And we are stronger, fairer and more self-confident. But after repairing decades of Tory damage we still have a lot to do to build on our success.
Of course we have so much in common across the UK but there are also many differences - that's the nature of devolution.
But the one big choice over the next year is the same - Labour government or Tory government; Gordon Brown or David Cameron; Gordon's experience or the most superficial Tory leader in modern history.
And David Cameron wants to make the Tories a one nation party again - but that nation isn't Scotland.
In Scotland David Cameron is even less popular today than Mrs Thatcher was in the 1980s - but he is no less a threat to Scotland's families and our economy.
And the Scottish Tory candidates are probably the most hard-line in living memory.
They think the only problem with the 1980s was that their party didn’t go far enough in cutting back the welfare state and they can't wait to finish the job.
Back then they allowed generations of Scots to get stuck on the dole and would have done the same in this recession because they opposed Labour's £500 million investment to prevent the newly unemployed from becoming the long term unemployed.
Of course Labour will cut costs, but we'll protect frontline services. However, the Tories would make savage cuts immediately, they would risk the recovery.
Because they believe in small government; in the politics of sink or swim and in the politics of your on your own. Today’s Scottish Tory candidates are Mrs Thatcher’s grandchildren.
And Scotland's distrust of the Tories isn't just because of what they did in government in the last recession but because of what they have said in opposition throughout this one.
They are probably the only opposition party anywhere in the world demanding that their government does less to help those on modest and middle incomes during this global recession.
In Scotland they are hated by many for their past and distrusted by most because of their present.
The Tories still don't get Scotland. But Scotland gets them. And doesn’t want them back.
It will take an enormous effort from us but we have the team to do it. I am delighted to introduce Labour's Leader in the Scottish Parliament and Scotland's next First Minister Iain Gray.