Scottish independence: Anti-Scottish jibes boost separation, Michael Gove warns Right
Education Secretary Michael Gove, who was born in Edinburgh and raised in Aberdeen, called on his Tory colleagues to stop complaining about issues such as Scottish funding and Scottish MPs voting on English matters – warning that they are promoting separatism.
The minister, who is a leading member of David Cameron’s inner circle, gave his warning at a Press Gallery lunch in Westminster on a day when the SNP produced a dossier of new powers, which have been rejected by unionist parties.
Nationalists say this undermines the Prime Minister’s promise last week that a “No” vote on separation would lead to even more devolution.
SNP Treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie argued that some of the powers rejected would need to be revisited if Mr Cameron was serious about moving towards a so-called devo-max settlement.
But Mr Gove insisted that Scotland would have to wait to see what the outcome of the independence referendum would be before new powers were discussed beyond those already being put through with the Scotland Bill. He also insisted that Mr Cameron is “an asset” to the pro-UK side of the referendum campaign, although he admitted his party had made historic mistakes north of the Border.
Mr Gove, who is one of many Scottish Tories in English seats, suggested the referendum could be won by appealing to a shared British history and values.
He said: “One of the things I wanted to emphasise is that this is an argument that has to be won on several dimensions.
“Firstly, we have to persuade Scotland that its future is stronger in the UK than it would be if Scotland were to separate. We are stronger as a result of a our common endeavour over 300 years, we’ve achieved amazing things together, we pool risk more effectively, we safeguard the weak more effectively, we project our values because we stand together.”
But he said that the threat from separatists existed not just with the SNP but also south of the Border. He said: “There is a threat from Scottish separatism, but there is also a threat, under appreciated, from English separatism as well. I think there is a specific threat from my own political tradition.”
He highlighted members of his own party who have been arguing in recent weeks that Scotland should be allowed to go partly because the Conservatives only have one seat there.
He said “There are some people on the Right who say the Scots want to leave – let them. That is entirely the wrong attitude.”
And he insisted that grudges on the West Lothian Question and a belief Scotland is better funded through the Barnett Formulas should be put aside for the greater good.
He said: “The country was Great Britain for a reason, because we stood together and stand together. If we turn inwards and against each other then I feel we will undermine something that is precious and our country will be a diminished presence in the future.”
Mr Gove’s intervention came as the SNP released a dossier of new powers which had been rejected by the coalition parties and Labour during the Scotland Bill debate. These included devolving corporation tax, air passenger duty, fuel duty and alcohol duty, as well as control of the Crown Estates properties the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and regulation on all air weapons.
The items were all amendments put forward by the SNP to the Scotland Bill, which is currently going through the Lords.
Mr Hosie said: “There is a long list of powers which ministers in Westminster and Labour have told us are impossible. But if David Cameron was serious last week that a ‘No’ vote in an independence referendum still means more powers then he is going to have to revisit these issues because there cannot be a serious transfer of powers without them.
“What he said is not playing well with voters because people are telling us that they have heard it all before. We need to hear details of what he meant or else his words are empty rhetoric.”
Mr Gove said that no progress could be made on more powers until the issue of the independence referendum had been resolved. “Once that has happened we will need to have a long discussion with the political parties and civic Scotland about how to proceed,” he said.
A UK government spokesperson added: “The Scotland Bill proposed the largest transfer of financial powers from London to Edinburgh since the creation of the UK, and is based on cross-party consensus. The real question is whether the SNP will support that transfer of powers in the interests of the Scottish people.”
Government sources also said that the SNP has yet to detail its proposals for devo-max, the so-called second question in their original proposals for a referendum currently being consulted on. There has also been frustration that the SNP has avoided giving details on the implications of independence to defence, currency and welfare.
A senior government source said: “It is a bit rich of the SNP to demand details from us when it has been going to extreme lengths to avoid giving any details on important issues which will effect how Scots decide.”