Scotland's unionists need a new vision to counter passion of rival nationalists in Holyrood and Westminster – Malcolm Bruce

By recognising what we can do together, not concentrating on what drives us apart, we can create a federal United Kingdom with a place for Scotland, writes Malcolm Bruce
Unionists wave Union Jacks as pro-independence marchers carry Saltires through the streets of Glasgow in 2018. (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)Unionists wave Union Jacks as pro-independence marchers carry Saltires through the streets of Glasgow in 2018. (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
Unionists wave Union Jacks as pro-independence marchers carry Saltires through the streets of Glasgow in 2018. (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

With lockdown easing, the constitutional future of Scotland is back on the agenda. When Liberal Democrats in Scotland met virtually to grill our candidates for leader, Ed Davey and Layla Moran, the hustings spelled out the task facing the successful candidate.

How can we make the case for keeping Scotland as a self-governing part of the UK as emotionally telling as the nationalists’ passion for independence?

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Given the toxicity of the Tories and the supine equivocation of Labour, how can the Liberal Democrats be an effective force to challenge the SNP at next May’s Scottish Parliament elections?

If anyone was not already in doubt, neither the visit from the Prime Minister to Scotland last Friday nor the First Minister’s frosty disengagement is the right approach. Surely, the time has come to recognise that our destiny should not be decided by the character and personality of the current leaders.

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We must look to our hearts and express what we care for. For me, it is precisely because I care about Scotland that I strongly oppose the SNP and their obsession with independence.

During my political career, I have not just campaigned for Home Rule, I worked in detail to deliver it while the SNP strutted on the sidelines and contributed nothing.

The world is in a bad place

My plea now to my fellow citizens of Scotland is to face the world with our eyes open.

The world is in a bad place – confused, divided and distracted. It is misleading to believe that Scotland, simply by stamping our feet and leaving the UK will leave its problems behind.

The SNP clearly articulate the disruption that Brexit brings. The same arguments apply in spades to Scotland opting in a fit of pique to leave the UK.

I dislike intensely the ideology of the Brexit-obsessed Conservative Party and despise the cheery incompetence of the privileged clique that constitute the present Government.

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But my reaction is to face reality and recognise that the people who share these islands – which whatever the constitution we will continue to do – will need to regain our senses and work for a better shared future.

Care home travesty

Quick fixes rarely work. Thirteen years of SNP Government have seen Scotland slide. They have comprehensively failed to prepare us for the independence they crave. We cannot allow ourselves to believe that Nicola Sturgeon’s calmer communication compared with Boris Johnson’s blimpish incompetence makes us fit to fly.

A smaller more dispersed population and earlier lockdown have helped. However, care homes have been a travesty and Scotland has had to mirror the UK strategy not least because funding furloughs and business support and other measures totalling almost £10 billion is beyond the reach of any conceivable Scottish budget, in or out of the UK. Of course, this is our money, too, but we share the burden with the rest of the UK.

To Scottish citizens striving to get on, build their career, their trade or their businesses and provide for their families, both the UK Government and the Scottish Government are hell bent on disruption that makes their lives more uncertain and more difficult than they need to be.

Two opposed nationalist-inspired Governments make life harder and more uncertain. It is crudely a distraction from the monumental incompetence of the SNP that has seen our once proud education system slide into mediocrity.

Contempt for all things British

Our economy is unbalanced – too dependent on public sector jobs and with an oil and gas industry facing major challenges,

Our successful financial and related service industries are totally integrated into the UK economy as are our growing food and drink and hospitality industries.

The Nationalists’ contempt for all things British belies our history, shrinks our reach on the world stage, alienates our customers and, potentially, drives away visitors.

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To build our way out of this existential mess, we need to work together not snarl and snap at each other.

The Liberal Democrats want to build a federal United Kingdom by recognising what we can do together, not concentrating on what drives us apart.

We have a beautiful country in which to live and attract and welcome visitors. We have food and drink, hospitality and skills for which the nearest and easiest market is the rest of the UK. We have the diplomatic reach of the UK around the world.

Scotland’s identity never in question

Our closest kith and kin are on these islands. Those who seek to sunder these are our family but are they our best friends?

I refuse to accept that rejecting the easy blandishments of independence makes me unpatriotic. No! A thousand times, no!

Scotland is a great country. Its identity is never in question. We led the Enlightenment within the UK. We can continue to do so – not by leaving but by staying – using the powers we have won, showing what we can do with them and challenging the rest of the UK to do better.

When I sit back this summer and look around, I see proof of what we can achieve together and be inspired about what we can do in the future. That would be something to be proud of.

Malcolm Bruce is a Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and former Liberal Democrat MP for Gordon, former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and former deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

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