David Mundell: ‘Scotland now blighted by zealotry’

Scottish Secretary David Mundell. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Scottish Secretary David Mundell. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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THE SCOTTISH Secretary has claimed that Scotland is still blighted by “zealotry” a year after voters rejected the idea of independence.

David Mundell also accused Nicola Sturgeon of “bluff and bluster” over her threats to veto the devolution process - and warned there is no alternative but independence, which has been rejected by the Scottish people.

We’ve had a lot of weasel words about another referendum

David Mundell

Mr Mundell said the latest Scotland Bill, the second in three years, will be the last and will provide “a stable devolved settlement to which the alternative is independence”.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney yesterday echoed Ms Sturgeon’s warning she would “not be prepared to agree to something that is unfair to Scotland”, insisting he would “have no hesitation to refuse to recommend a bill that did not properly allow us to address our own priorities”.

The SNP want full fiscal autonomy, a proposal which was backed yesterday by the Scotland Office’s former director Alun Evans. But Mr Mundell maintained it would be disastrous for Scotland’s economy and said it is not an option.

Holyrood has the right to veto Westminster legislation on devolved issues but Mr Mundell told an audience in Edinburgh “there will be a very high price to pay with the people of Scotland” if the SNP majority rejects the Scotland Bill.

“I think it is a package of measures which will serve Scotland well,” he said.

“There has been argument for individual change, including full fiscal autonomy, as the bill passed through parliament but I am not persuaded by any of those arguments.

“I do agree with the point that we are not in a place where we are going to have a Scotland Bill 2017, 2018 and 2019.

“We have reached a point where, I think, we have the potential for a stable devolved settlement and to which the alternative is independence.

“It will, as ever, be up to the people of Scotland to determine which they prefer.”

He said the SNP’s threat to veto the Scotland Bill is simply “a message to their own supporters”.

“I don’t think for one minute that they would set aside the possibility of raising £11 billion in income tax revenue, £4 billion of VAT receipts, £2.5 billion of welfare responsibilities,” he said.

“It’s bluff and bluster but it is consistent with their approach that I have seen throughout my term.

“I read in the Sunday papers that ‘John or Nicola is coming down to London to sort us out’, and then we’re able to have perfectly cordial and effective discussion.

“I think that message is for SNP supporters and there is absolutely no prospect that that will be done. If it was, I think there will be a very high price to pay with the people of Scotland.”

In a speech at Edinburgh University’s Old College, Mr Mundell stressed five times that “independence is not inevitable”, following a string of polls which indicate that most Scots believe Scotland will be independent in the short to medium term.

But he said independence is possible unless unionists continue to make the positive case for keeping the UK together.

He urged Ms Sturgeon to kill ongoing speculation about another referendum, accusing her of stoking “zealotry” and “intolerance” by refusing to accept the September 2014 result.

Alex Salmond was preparing “to work constructively and positively to implement the will of the people” if Scotland had voted Yes, according to a text of his prepared victory speech unveiled yesterday, and Mr Mundell urged Ms Sturgeon to adopt the same approach to the No vote.

Mr Mundell said: “We’ve had a lot of weasel words about whether or not they plan to have another referendum. I think it is for them to set out exactly what they are playing at, and what their proposal is.

“It’s time for her to move on. She could kill all this talk of a referendum tomorrow. She’s making a speech, and I suggest she says in that speech ‘We are not going to have another referendum for a generation’.

“It is very disappointing that we have moved from what was always my concept of Scotland as tolerant, big-hearted, inclusive, to being quite intolerant of certain views, a sort of zealotry among some advocates of certain propositions.

“There is a responsibility incumbent on all of us in politics to stamp out some of the more negative activity, and we have seen that primarily in social media.

“People tweet that I am a liar, and what I find particularly disappointing is that most of them are 60-year-old men and the young people are a lot more responsible on social media.

“I acknowledge that people argued for independence and supported Yes, I respect their right to hold that view and to debate it, but I want to see those people who supported the UK afforded the same respect and ability to set out their views.”