The ballot boxes were barely packed away on Friday morning when Nationalist politicians started making their all-too-predictable calls for another independence referendum. This time, the hysteria was ramped up several notches, with Nicola Sturgeon performing the role of a Poundshop Pasionaria, claiming that Scotland was being “imprisoned” in the United Kingdom. The Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, an unlikely Caledonian Che Guevara, went one step further, with a rant about Great Britain now being a “dictatorship”.
Not that you would have known it from the rhetoric being deployed, but there were two winners from the General Election last week. Undoubtedly the SNP did well in Scotland, winning 47 out of 59 seats (48 if you include the suspended Neale Hanvey in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) and achieving 45 per cent of the votes cast. Across the UK, it was an extraordinarily successful night for the Conservatives, the best result in more than three decades, and delivering to Boris Johnson a convincing majority with which to deliver Brexit and implement a Conservative manifesto.
Whilst predictable, SNP claims of a mandate for another independence referendum do not stand up to much scrutiny. Many SNP candidates stated explicitly that a vote for them was not a vote for independence. The First Minister herself campaigned on a “Stop Brexit” platform, travelling around the country in a bright yellow bus with that slogan emblazoned on the side. In my experience, people were voting SNP for a variety of reasons, including dislike of Brexit and Boris Johnson, rather on the single issue of independence.
‘Once in a generation’
But, even if a vote for the SNP could be taken as a vote in support for another referendum, the reality is that the SNP achieved just 45 per cent of the vote in this election – and gained fewer seats and a lower vote share than in the 2015 General Election. There is no majority in Scotland in support of another independence vote on these figures.
It seems almost tiresome to have to repeat that we were told that the 2014 referendum would be a “once in a generation” event. In that referendum, which had the highest participation of any political event in my lifetime, people in Scotland voted comprehensively to affirm our current legal arrangements, whereby matters of the constitution are reserved to Westminster. Just five years later, nothing has happened to overturn that result.
That, of course, hasn’t stopped some in the Scottish Labour Party to rush lemming-like towards the edge of the cliff, demanding that Labour rethink their position on independence and another referendum. It is little wonder that we witness the ongoing decline of what was once an all-powerful force in Scottish politics when it has representatives who are so lacking in the courage of their convictions.
The Scottish Conservatives are absolutely clear where we stand on this issue, and that is in resolute opposition to another independence referendum. We have just seen the election of a Conservative Government across the United Kingdom which is very clear that consent for indyref2 will not be granted for the duration of the coming Parliament, and it would be a betrayal of those who voted for us if we were now to go back upon that promise.
That said, there is work for us to do. Boris Johnson must now demonstrate in office that he will govern as a One-Nation Conservative, with policies to benefit the whole United Kingdom. And, with a whole tranche of new MPs representing what were once safe Labour areas in the Midlands and North of England, there is every expectation that promises to rebalance the economy, and strengthen parts of the UK distanced from London, will be a priority for the new administration.
Now we know that Brexit will be delivered, this is a time for constitutional stability, not more uncertainty. We could well see a Brexit boost to the economy south of the Border, but any bounce held back in Scotland because business here is concerned about the impact of another independence referendum.
For that reason alone, the new UK Government is quite right to rule out indyref2, however hysterical the language being deployed by Nationalist politicians.
Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland & Fife