OUR three parties are founded on very different values and we have always disagreed passionately on the content of policy, co-write Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie
On 18 September, however, we will find ourselves united. Scotland will decide on that day whether or not to leave the United Kingdom and set up a separate state. And while politics is often about what’s in the day’s news or the latest set of government figures, this is not an issue that can be reduced to the fleeting issue of the moment. This is an irreversible decision that will last for good. Despite the differences that divide us on the kind of society we want to see, on this we are clear: Scotland is better off as part of the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom is better off with Scotland in it.
Our case is rooted in the foundations of the United Kingdom. Working together across the UK, Scotland has been a force for good in the world. Working together, we as a country contribute more than £10 billion a year in global aid. Working together, we created the NHS and the welfare state to ensure that, no matter where we live, there are entitlements and rights for everyone. We all will admit, for different reasons, that the UK has got some things wrong; but we learn and build together – from Newcastle to Stirling, from Cardiff to Aberdeen. Scots have been at the heart of that success story, driving it, leading it, and inspiring it.
Yet that is not the only reason why we support a No vote. Our case is bolstered further by the way in which the UK has evolved: for all its achievements and successes, it has also allowed the space and freedom for the nations within it to prosper and thrive. We live in the same house, but this has never been a country that has demanded we conform to the same house rules.
Our devolution journey in Scotland is the perfect example. Scotland’s distinct traditions in education, law and religion have always been respected. And the advent of the Scottish Parliament delivered control of our domestic agenda – decisions on our schools and hospitals taken closer to home whilst working together in the world as part of the UK; the best of both worlds. We have debated and disagreed but distinctive policies on areas from smoking legislation to equal marriage and free personal care are testament that Scotland is shaping its own future.
All three of our parties – in Edinburgh as well as down South – have upheld the principle that if Scotland wants to leave the UK, then that is our right. No-one should stand in our way. So when the nationalists won their majority in 2011, we all agreed a referendum should take place – made and run from Scotland.
On 18 September, we will have that choice. It puts Scotland at a fork in the road. If we vote to leave the UK it will not be – as our Nationalist opponents have it – a further extension of devolution. Devolution within the UK will end, and Scotland will have to start again as a new state. We know the SNP is passionate about its independence plans but the truth is that we are still unclear about what happens after that. We don’t yet know what currency an independent Scotland would use. The SNP has not provided clarity on how it would negotiate EU membership. The Scottish Government last week even conceded it had done no work at all on the inevitable set-up costs that would be required.
But what happens if we vote No? The Nationalists will claim over the coming months that a No vote is an opportunity missed. They will warn that to vote No will be to pass up the chance for Scotland to find a better way. The problem with this argument is that it is 100 per cent wrong. The ground has shifted under the Nationalists’ feet. For we are now clear: a No vote does not mean no change. A No vote opens the door to more powers for Scotland. And if people do vote against independence, we can get on with the job of reforming the Scottish Parliament for the better.
More powers for Holyrood are coming already. Within months of a No vote, the Scottish Parliament will start to set a part of your income tax rate, driving real power and responsibility out of Westminster and into Edinburgh. The legislation has been passed: the powers are on their way. But we now want to go further. All three of our parties have now backed a further extension of powers at Holyrood. And while the details of our plans differ, they all include a commitment to drive more taxation and more social protection to Holyrood. We all believe that the parliament needs to have more responsibility over the money it raises, not just the money it spends, in order to create a more mature politics in Scotland. And when we talk of new powers we are not just talking about powers for Holyrood. We will be true to the central principle of devolution and devolve power down from Holyrood to people and local communities.
Our plans have been published. At next year’s general election, they will all form part of our manifestos. Rightly, we will have a vigorous debate about the substance of those plans. We do not hide the fact that we have different visions; in a democracy, that is only healthy. All of us are looking forward to an honest, passionate contest of ideas about who best can seize the spirit of what has been achieved in Scotland and take it forward. Then all three of us have said we will legislate as soon as possible afterwards, on the basis of people’s consent. No ifs, no buts – we are all committed to deliver.
It leaves the people of Scotland with a clear choice. A No vote on 18 September will advance powers for our Scottish Parliament. A Yes to separation will end it. A No vote on 18 September gives us the chance to take the uncertainty of separation off the table. A No vote will free up Scotland to grasp the chance of a more powerful Scottish Parliament and a better United Kingdom. It really is the best of both worlds.