John Reid: Union only way for best of both worlds

Lord Reid has called for Scots to vote No in the referendum. Picture: TSPL
Lord Reid has called for Scots to vote No in the referendum. Picture: TSPL
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THE coming months will be the most important in the history of our country. They will decide the future, not just for today’s generation, but for those who come after us. Separation is not just for Christmas; it is irreversible. The stakes could not be any higher.

I support Scotland’s partnership within the UK, not despite being Scottish, but precisely because I am Scottish. I want the best for my country and the welfare of its people. I want us to have control of our own uniquely Scottish affairs, while also having the power to extend our influence, strength and reach through our membership of the larger economic and political unit of the United Kingdom. In short, I want us to have the best of both worlds.

That’s what devolution gives us. That’s why I fought for it for so long, against some of those who would now rather forget they opposed it for so long – like Alex Salmond. And now the SNP wants to gamble with that future – and with people’s livelihoods – on a set of false pretences.

Firstly, the pretence that separation from the UK will be all reward and no risk. There are huge risks involved – in terms of our economy, finance, investment, employment, pensions, defence, security and in many other areas. People have a right to argue their case for separatism, but I would respect them more if they did not pretend that there are no risks involved. That is a cruel deceit. If you want divorce then don’t pretend you can keep the benefits of marriage.

The positive case for our partnership of the UK lies partly in its capacity to reduce these risks through a larger, stronger economy, a centuries-old stable structure for investment and a greater capacity to weather the economic storms. The financial crisis of 2008 is the best example of why pooling and sharing resources across the UK is a strong Scottish case for staying in the UK. When the Royal Bank of Scotland, based in Edinburgh, was on the verge of collapse, its toxic debt was greater than the whole GDP of Scotland. The only thing that saved it, and the jobs of thousands of people in Scotland and throughout Britain, was the strength of the UK economy.

Secondly, I reject the pretence that we have to choose between being Scottish or being British. In fact, people are perfectly capable of being both – and many of us may also feel, for example, a bit Irish, or Polish, Pakistani, Indian or Lithuanian. That is not a matter of shame, it is a matter of pride. None of this undermines our loyalty to, or love of, Scotland. It is an arrogant presumption to insist that it does.

Being part of the UK does not diminish our Scottishness. On the contrary, it provides a platform for us to reach out to the wider world in our Scottish expertise, values and reputation.

When Scottish men and women working for Scottish-based British companies succeed, it doesn’t just strengthen the British economy, it strengthens our economy here in Scotland.

When Scottish scientists, doctors, inventors, engineers, academics and the rest travel the world with British institutions, it doesn’t reduce the reputation of Scottish education, it increases it.

When Scottish Olympians such as Allan Wells, Liz McColgan and Chris Hoy stand on the winners’ podium holding Olympic medals as part of team GB, they don’t abandon their Scottishness or their country’s reputation. Scotland’s name is celebrated alongside Britain’s.

When Alex Ferguson led an English team to victory in the European Cup, did anyone doubt that he was Scottish, just because he was leading an English team?

We remain as Scottish as we ever were. But as part of the UK we pool and share our resources for the benefit of all. This allows us to tackle injustice and poverty and provide greater opportunities for future generations of Scots.

So many of the institutions incorporating our values of fairness, compassion, openness and dynamism have emerged from that partnership in the UK. The National Health Service was founded by a Welshman, while the welfare state was designed by an Englishman. The BBC was founded by a Scotsman and the minimum wage introduced by a Scottish-born, British prime minister.

So we have a strong positive case to make for our partnership in the UK. To question the risks inherent in abandoning those advantages is not negative – it is wise; and essential. They are about fundamental issues. And they are not going to go away, Alex. So try answering them, instead of blustering. For starters:

– What would replace the pound?

– How would we get back into the European Union and would we lose the UK’s special deals on border controls, the rebate and the Euro?

– What would happen to pensions, which will be more difficult to fund in the years to come as Scotland’s pensioner population rapidly outpaces the number of people in work and paying tax?

These are key issues for Scots with a mortgage, a pension or whose job depends on us being part of the UK currency.

Those campaigning for the break-up of the most successful economic, political and social union the world has ever seen need to be more honest about the risks going it alone would involve. It’s one thing for them to claim that separation is worth those risks, to have the courage of their convictions. But it’s quite another to pretend the risks don’t exist. Telling us that it will be “alright on the night” won’t wash.

If we leave the UK there is no going back. Everybody in Scotland has a responsibility to get involved. If this is just a debate between politicians the public will switch off. Don’t wake up the day after the referendum wishing you had done more to keep Scotland in the UK.

I believe we will win this campaign because the arguments of both the head and the heart are overwhelmingly in our favour. We really can have the best of both worlds – a uniquely Scottish identity and place in the world, without losing the back-up that comes from being part of something bigger. We are stronger and better together.

Lord Reid of Cardowan is a former home secretary, secretary of state for Scotland, defence, health and Northern Ireland.