Scottish independence: SNP just cannot see that, amid challenge of a lifetime, unity is better than division – Christine Jardine MP

Sometimes it feels as if Scottish politics is caught in some strange Orwellian nightmare, with constant repetition of the same unchallenged dogma.

It’s Westminster’s fault. The Scottish Government runs things better. It’s Scotland’s oil. Oh yes, that old favourite is being aired for a comeback.

While the rest of the country was preparing for a weekend celebration of 70 years of stability and unity, the SNP was polishing up its old separatist war cry for another assault on the Union.

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Their timing is at best questionable, at worst offensive, but above all dumbfounding.

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I am sure none of us needs a reminder of the crisis we are all facing. One look at our most recent energy bill, a glance at petrol station prices or a visit to the supermarket will provide evidence enough.

Nor can we forget the fact that, over the past two years, it is the joint financial strength and resources of the UK which have helped us through the worst series of crises in living memory.

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I haven’t always agreed with the specific policies of the Conservatives but I recognise that, without our mutual British support network, the picture would have been much bleaker.

Yet this is the moment the SNP has chosen to invest in another referendum. And, with it, make the astonishing claim on TV that somehow a windfall tax on the super-profits of energy companies is unfair on Scots who will have to share the support with people across the UK.

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Now is not the time for another divisive referendum on Scottish independence (Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
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In the moment when the Conservative government finally bowed to pressure to act to help hard-pressed families and pensioners across the country, that was the response from the SNP spokesperson. The implication and consequence would be to abandon struggling friends and family in the south to cope with spiralling costs because we live closest to that now-discredited carbon fuel resource.

It was, it is, some of the worst of nationalism.

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But perhaps that is because the SNP government has got itself into a little bit of a financial pickle at Holyrood and they need a distraction.

The sowing of division is, of course, not an answer. But sometimes it seems that it is the only way that the SNP knows.

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All the latest figures show us that, despite what they would have us believe, the economy in Scotland is fairing worse than it is in the rest of the UK.

The Scottish Retail Consortium recently reported that our shops are finding it more difficult to bounce back from the pandemic than those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our economy has consistently been outpaced by the rest of the UK.

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And yet when the SNP’s Finance Secretary rose to her feet this week to tell us how her government would deal with the ongoing crisis, she clung to that old, worn out mantra. Another independence referendum. That division again.

Our NHS staff are exhausted, our teachers are stretched and businesses are crying out for help to recover from Covid. Just a few weeks ago ahead of the council elections, both the Greens and SNP told us of their commitment to local authorities.

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But in the Finance Secretary’s statement, the cash for those councils was effectively frozen for the remainder of this parliament. Cuts to services and to jobs will be unavoidable.

Then there was the blandly labelled rural budget presentation which, when measured against inflation, will mean a real-terms cut of eight per cent in support for food production, investment in agriculture, the environment, and other services. Similarly the justice budget for the police, the courts and prisons faces an uphill battle.

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And just exactly how is our economy to grow and internal investment be encouraged, if our enterprise agencies have less to work with?

Instead this Green-washed SNP government would rather invest £20 million in a repetition of a bitter, divisive and expensive debate that is more likely to bring economic damage than benefit. I am tired of it.

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Not just of the constant picking away but that our tax money is being used for a purpose that half of us do not want: separatism.

Surely it is a time to focus on priorities that will bring relief from the immediate pressures of the current crisis and build for a better future. To use all our resources to grow the economy and stop wasting valuable public funds on failed projects like those ferries that can’t sail or a fiasco of a census which cost millions and fulfilled little, if anything, of its purpose.

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The First Minister is, as of last week, the longest serving in that office since devolution. It takes time to make long-lasting, societal, systemic change. A lesson I have learned since my election.

But I believe that, over the length of her tenure, far-reaching reforms and progress could have been achieved.

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Yet instead in Scotland we see that life expectancy has fallen; drug deaths have soared; the poverty-related attainment gap remains as wide as it ever has been and the NHS needs help.

I want my representatives to invest in projects that will pull us out of this mire, not for them to hope that as the worst beckons they can use it to get the separatism they want at the expense of good governance.

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Oh yes, I can hear them already with “if we had all the levers of power”, but that is no excuse for not using the ones you have either fully or efficiently.

I am no fan of the current incumbents of numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street, but equally I don’t think they can be blamed for a specifically Scottish malaise.

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That responsibility sits squarely with those at Holyrood to whom it was devolved. I want the best for my country, for Scotland, our people. In the midst of the challenge of a lifetime, unity is surely better than division.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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